The Comixpedia End of 2005 Roundtable
Xaviar Xerexes: What technical developments from this year do you think will have lasting impact? Things that come to my mind include stuff like comics on the iPod and the PSP, the Tarquin Engine and Joey Manley's WebcomicNation service.
Daku: As much as I like what the Tarquin Engine does for infinite canvas I don't see it truly revolutionizing anything. The heaviest impact oï¿½n our little community will probably be the PSP. There was already a movement started to get comics on the cell phone, but there just weren't any big players backing it like Sony is for the PSP.
Phil Kahn: Everything is still so new It's really hard to say. WCN, like I said, is going to show its value in time. And the Tarquin Eengine is still in my mind the best way to go about infinite canvas. I don't know about reading comics on a PSP or an iPod. They'd probably look really small and pixelated, although I guess I'll just have to see. Otherwise, it feels like we're still experimenting. So we'll have to let time tell what'll work the best.
William G: As much as I think the Tarquin Engine rocks, it requires some flash knowledge to work it. And the Infinite Canvas software is an Apple only thing. Which I think will always be a stumbling block to their long term success. PSP and iPod are good portable tools, but I'm doubting their usage will deviate enough from their base purposes of games and music to have a large impact on webcomics. WCN... Looking at how many Modern Tales creators are leaving the subscription model and jumping to it, I think it may be have the bigger impact of the examples you cited.
But I think the most important tech improvement this year has been the surge in broadband users. As well as 1024 x 768 resolution monitors becoming the norm. The means of distribution has finally caught up to webcomics, and I think that has helped greatly.
Bob Stevenson: Rather than pick one development here, I've become interested in a class of developments. Webcomics seem to be putting its own house in order. We've had webcomics news venues and review venues and creator groups aplenty that have done some of this, but this year I think we added some interesting new forms of organization: Comic Nation, WCN, Oh No Robot, WCE roundtables, even our very own podcasts.
Doctor Setebos: If I can reword this to be the technical development I HOPE will have a lasting impact, I would have to say Oh No Robot. To have a user-crafted full-text search tool for your comic is a fantastic idea if people get involved (that's the caveat). I hope to see this project get more recognition next year and have major cartoonists contribute to the effort. It could be a fantastic tool, but it isn't useful unless it has significant content.
Also, in addition to this, can you call the Webcomics Encyclopedia at comixpedia.org a "technical development"? Because if it fits into this category, it deserves recognition.
A webcomics search tool like Oh No Robot fits hand-in-hand with an encyclopedia devoted entirely to webcomics. The two services have the potential to be extremely handy tools to the future of webcomics.
Karl Kuras: The big innovation has been the podcast. This allows for a new, cheap way to communicate with the fanbase. The big advantage to webcomics, over traditional comics has been the boundless space for additional material. All the successful comics have used the blog format to add content and build community (heck, Penny Arcade wouldn't be readable without the blog most of the time) and adding an audio component just further builds the relationship between audience and creator. Podcasts are going to keep expanding and becoming a common place item accompanying webcomics.
Eric Burns: This year, the "webcomics community" developed the technology to completely blur the line between creators and audience. Podcasting and blogging have become huge -- and fans have had a tremendous impact this year, in ways that before now they could only have inside of individual comic communities. Obviously, Websnark's a success story there, and I'm proud to be a part of it. However, it's just one side of an overall "lowering of the barriers for entry." With tools like Typepad or Blogger, it's simple and inexpensive to launch a blog that can draw a lot of readers. With the massive increase in average bandwidth and the significant improvement in both recording technology and search engines, podcasting has really taken root.
With Webcomics Nation, folks scared off until now by Comics Genesis's rather baroque updating system have an easy turnkey solution to launching their webcomic. With programs like Comic Life now out there, any cretin can make a webcomic about revolutionary war statues and put it on the web later that afternoon. And now, Oh No Robot is poised to not only make comics searchable, but harness the power of the fanbase for good -- in exactly the same way that Comixpedia.org lets that community come together and build the reference materials needed for newcomers and old hands alike. These days, everyone gets to pitch in.
Wednesday White: As above.
Gilead Pellaeon: Nods to Doctor Sebetos. There was no technological innovation with greater potential this year than OhNoRobot. This is what webcomics (and heck, even comics in general) have been waiting for. Some way for a reader to say "Remember that one strip where the guy said 'poopie' and it was hilarious?" and then be able to instantly search up and find that strip. I can't tell you how many long and frustrating searches I've had over the years with print comics looking through collected volumes and Ucomics.com trying to find "that one strip".
WebcomicsNation may seem neat right now, but that's only because everything that came before it was so danged clunky. It's going to be the next generation Webcomic content management system, the one that takes the principles of WebcomicsNation and then makes it good, which will really have a resounding impact.
Also, Burns reminded me of the goodness which is wikis and Comixpedia.org. A webcomics version of the Wikipedia is just what this community needs.
Ping Teo: Although to be fair, the folks over at Comic Genesis are slowly revamping the old Autokeen code and coming up with an easier, "less baroque" way of doing things. It's still in the works, of course, but the new control panel Kisai came up with is a vast improvement already. It's almost as easy to use as the WCN control panel, for one.
Xaviar Xerexes: What in terms of what you wrote about this year resonated the loudest with your readers?
William G: Hahahahahahahahaha! Man... Let's just say: Gamers have turned frothing-at-the-mouth-crazy into an artform that would make Osama Bin Ladin throw down his microphone and exit his cave going, "Shit man. I'm out classed."
Karl: On the gigcast, we discussed the growing tensions between the print and webcomic worlds and how they are beginning to both butt heads and cross-pollinate. The world is changing and no one knows what part of the pie they will end up with.
Doctor Setebos: HAHA! Good one! You know I have no readers.
Daku: There's been a few articles which have generated some of the greatest responses. Early on it was my review of Sore Thumbs, but that was eclipsed by our passing mention of Wikipedia deleting webcomics which didn't have enough presence. Podcast-wise the hottest topic has easily been the manga debate.
Eric Burns: It was a weird year for me. On the one hand, my essays about personal things reaped far more commentary than anything else I did. Writing about the decline and fall of Western Civilization or Sluggy Freelance? Got some mild notice. Describing hanging out at the mall waiting for new tires? HUGE response.
On the other hand, when I deviate from webcomics, I get people pissed off at me. So, on the whole, "fucked if I know."
Wednesday White: If Technorati's anything to go on, I don't think I have readers.
Phil Kahn: Interestingly enough, I got the most feedback from my NaDruWriNi Post, where I ranted drunkenly about experimentalism and Dots (the candy). A close second is the conversation I had with Rob Balder about how I don't like how Brian Michael Bendis is raping the Marvel Universe (from a strictly rabid fanboy point of view). So apparently, I'm at my best when I'm either inebriated or acting completely irrational.
Bob Stevenson: I'm not sure I've ever had many readers, but just as I was winding things down on the review front, dozens of requests for came in. I have a backlog of something like sixty that I'm not sure what to do with. I don't have the time to give them the attention they deserve, and I'm not even sure how many creators would still want my opinion after a six month lag. I guess the message to me was that lots of creators feel that all the critiques and reviews and snapshots are just not casting their nets broadly enough. I need to get my own concept rolling again, I think.
Gilead Pellaeon: If "resonated with your readers" means generated the most comments and dicussion, it'd have to be my ongoing series on webcomic website design. So far I've covered general design principles such as how your site is structured (comic first, news first, or blog style) and different methods of archiving and I've gotten some good discussion going. Hopefully as I continue to write we'll illuminate even more issues and really help some creators spruce up their sites a bit.
Ping Teo: Probably the "Uncomplicating Webcomics" rant I did regarding the New York Times article controversy. Personally I thought some people were making too much of the prefix "web" before "comics", and lost sight of what it was all about.Another article that got a lot of attention was the soapbox on Women in Webcomics that I did earlier this year, although it sure got a few people rather warmed up as well, to put it mildly.
Xaviar Xerexes: What about your personal favorite posts/essays on webcomics? Can you tell us about one of those?
Daku: This would have to be the Webcomics Examiner round-table discussion on The Artistic History of Webcomics. This should be required reading in any class covering comics. If any article this year is going to be looked back on it will be that one.
William G: They're all my favorites. That's because they're all instant electronic classics of western literature. Like everything I put on the web.
Karl: My favorite was when Owen Dunne announced the deal with Fox. This for me will be remembered as a watershed moment in our community. This is when someone from the old media world finally recognized the strength of the material that was born in ours. If this succeeds our world will never be the same again. We won't be fighting over getting a few page views more, but who is going to get the next movie deal. And with money comes professionalism, and with professionalism comes quality.
Phil Kahn: The growth of "The Dialogue" as a whole has been splendid. At first, there wasn't much writing going around to read. Not enough to satiate the appetite. There's a lot more now, and I'm feeling quite satisfied with the volume of Webcomics Writing. There's always room for more, though.
Bob Stevenson: For me, the most interesting pieces of writing on webcomics have been taking place on the roundtable and advisory board mailing lists. Having been on and off a bunch of them during the past few years I have to say the nature and tone of the behind-the-scenes conversations about webcomics has been changing in some important ways. The talk seems to be increasingly about getting work done rather than where comics can go. It feels like a much more mature conversation.
Doctor Setebos: Anything written by Eric Burns. Seriously. The man's words are likely dipped in gold before being pasted to the internet.
Eric Burns: The hardest thing about the dipping in gold process is the paper catches fire. So we need to etch the words in a polycarbonate heat tile first. Wednesday's gotten damn good at that. Of my own stuff, I suppose the watershed moment of webcomics writing was the Views of the Q-List: The Dumbrella Meet and Greet essay I did. It's one of my best received things, and it really helped shape my impressions of this wild bucking pony of webcomics we're all in together.
Wedneday White: I got nothing.
Bob Stevenson: I have to echo Eric here. That Dumbrella post was my favorties post/essay of the year. It was beautiful.
Gilead Pellaeon: It's hard to look at the mass of review and commentary which has been written and really pull out individual gems. It's definitely an area in which the result is greater than the sum of the parts. That being said, I really enjoyed Burns' post on the nature of Webcomics Criticism. That really made me think. The Artistic History of Webcomics has also been really good as it really provides a nice retrospective of where we've been, and it's hard to think about where we're going unless we know where we've been.
Ping Teo: A lot of good posts on Websnark, but one of Wednesday's posts on the depiction of sexual harassment in comics stands out. It's such a touchy subject and generated a lot of interesting discussion.
Xaviar Xerexes: Looking at comics as a whole (web, newspaper, books, etc.) what do you think happened to the role of the web in the larger medium this year? Did the boundaries between publishing medium blur? Is there any point anymore to thinking of creators as "web" or otherwise or are we moving into a world where oï¿½n or off the web is less meaningful then other differences like genre or business relationship (independent or work-for-hire)?
William G: The web has become the new home for what would have been called in print "Indy comics". And like before, the print companies will always look to the indies for talent to mine. I don't think the line between webcomics and print will blur, so much as webcomics will become a farming system for print. But none of that matters. Comics as a medium will continue to be a culturally obscure bit of geekery until we creators stop making them for other thirty-something geeks like ourselves and start trying to get kids reading. And for our long term survival, that's what we need to do.
Karl Kuras: The web still isn't a viable financial medium (with a very few very notable exceptions, natch). The financial issue is still the sticker in this whole debate, and that is what distinguishes US from THEM. We are the hobbyists, the amateurs, the wannabes. The guys doing rehashed boring Superman stories are the pros. We may be super creative, and cutting edge, but we still have to hold down a day job and burn the midnight oil. Until that distinction is gone, a glass ceiling will continue to exist between our two worlds.
Doctor Setebos: I agree with both William G and Karl. The web truly is the "indy" cartoonists market, since as I mentioned earlier the current tools make it easier and cheaper than self-publishing and there's far fewer hoops to jump through than syndication. The biggest reason for the growth of webcomics is due to its freedom. The creator controls all content, rights, and marketing. It's up to the creator to succeed or fail, and it's singularly terrifying and exhilarating. But in the end, though we wish it were different, there is still a stigma of "us" vs "them" in the web vs newspaper comic industries.
Daku: There's a few points I will have to agree with the rest of the guys. The whole medium seems to think that we're special and therefore we're "indie". Come on guys, indie just implies we don't make money and I can just about guarantee that there thousands more indie print artists then web artists, and vast number of web artists are just print artists who got tired of being turned down. Sites such as Lulu, Comic Press, and 01Comics have started blurring the lines as web artists are finding it easier to get their material in print form, and honestly that's what we all want to do. I think the reason there seems to be a separation between web and print artists is that we as an industry want to be special. The whole separation could simply be there because we put it there to begin with.
Eric Burns: I think we're getting closer to eliminating the distinction between print and web, newspaper and the like except in purely technical ways. I think it was huge when Girl Genius (and the Norm, for that matter) jumped to web-only and found greater success there. I really do. Further, the reason so many old guard syndicated folks like our old friend Wiley hate us so much is because we care less and less about the validation they embrace. When the evolution of the art form is being driven by folks like us, and the newspapers are dying out in general, we find ourselves in Bizarro world. BIZARRO! I also think webcomics -- and what's happening in particular to the newspapers, but to a lesser extent also the comic books -- is presaging what will ultimately happen to things like the music industry. More and more, creators are realizing they have no pressing desire to jump through the necessary hoops to get in the papers or DC, but would rather just do their own thing on the web. Sooner or later, that same movement's going to drive most innovative musicians away from the big music labels. And then from there, handheld digital cameras will start driving independent film and distribution's going to be broadband based. The sad part about all this is no one's going to exactly get rich doing any of these things.
Wednesday White: Those lines have been blurred since the start, and are not getting any muddier. The folks playing with the dread infinite canvas, or producing what amounts to limited animation without any consideration of practical UI, are very much the minority. The difference is simply that print has become more accessible, affordable, and profitable to people who don't have publishing contracts. Webcomics, for the most part, has always been about defining the primary point of distribution, not the only one. Again, I don't think anything's changed beyond broader deployment.
Gilead Pellaeon: I think it's pretty clear that the line between webcomic and print has been blurred pretty handily. I mean, pretty much any print comic these days appears on the web, and pretty much any webcomic could appear in print, thanks to Lulu and the like. What still differs is means of distribution. There just quite frankly still is not a decent method of distribution for webcomics to the general public. This is the same sort of struggle that print comics went through, actually, about 80 years ago, which is why syndicates and major press companies were developed. Not so much to increase the popularity of a given comic as to increase the potential popularity of a given comic via a large-scale distribution system. We in the webcomic world just don't have that sort of system yet. There is no webcomic Fantagraphics. But when there is, then the lines will no longer exist.
Xaviar Xerexes: Give me a bold prediction about where webcomics will be at the end of 2006.
William G: Frank Miller is going to serialize his next Sin City yarn on the Dark Horse website. It's going to get huge numbers, and we're going to see a flood of new readers looking for long form comics. Gag strips will make many cutting jokes about it to cover up for their inferiority.
Karl Kuras: Bold? YDK launches to rave reviews (maybe in the time slot of the now aging Malcolm in the Middle) and immediately becomes a huge success sandwiched between Simpsons and Family Guy. The studios, burned out by super hero flicks and revamps of old horror and scifi movies/shows go looking for new and original content, and suddenly small time creators all over the web are getting fat licensing deals for the movie rights to their work. This will lead to every major comic book creator, people like Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison and all the other cool English guys, to jump in and begin projects of their own. This groundswell of quality work will make print comics obsolete, killing the comic book shop and the few comics that do survive will oï¿½nce again be sold through racks at the local grocery store. All this in just oï¿½ne short year. Now THAT's bold.
Doctor Setebos: Mainstream. As broadband creeps slowly into everyone's homes, and online is everything, people will discover the popular webcomics. PvP and Penny Arcade will be on the forefront of the public onslaught. Journalists from respected newspapers and television news magazines will begin to write intelligent and eye-opening articles on webcomics that actually inform the public of this expansive entertainment industry that is growing daily right there on the internet. More services will be created/shifted to provide subscription webcomic content to the droves of readers that will begin to pour onto the webcomics community by next summer. More webcomics will be signed to those subscription services, and fans will cheer wildly as their favorite cartoonists finally reach the "big time".
But that's nothing. In 2007, webcomics will be the source of world peace and the cure for cancer.
Daku: I like William G's and Doctor Setebos' predictions. Of course to put the twist in I think all this will happen because some big players will move in and try to take it all over. If people like Frank Miller start making serial comics online that's pretty much going to draw the line in the sand for the rest of the artists.
Eric Burns: Hoboken.
Wednesday White: On very large IDE discs mounted inside powerful servers which aren't backed up often enough.
Phil Kahn: Three words - Spatula Themed Webcomics. I can't say any more, Non-Disclosure Agreement.
Bob Stevenson: I spent some time talking with a Nielson executive this fall (the tv ratings folks). He hadn't considered the kind of traffic and market webcomics pull in or more importantly their narrow demographic. I'm not sure I convinced him it was worth any attention, but I'm thinking that some big companies may finally realize there's an underexploited market in the making that's worth throwing some money at. The cost to try something out on a large scale is just too low for someone not to. Sure, we comic creators have talked about how to reach a wider advertising market, but I think services like google adsense and the 360ep signings may have made some of us too passive on that front. Unless our efforts change drastically (they won't), it'll take some of the advertisers coming at webcomics to start realizing the potential on that front. Will it happen in 2006? How much is Rockstar Games paying Tycho and Gabe in 2005?
Gilead Pellaeon: By bold do you mean unrealistic? Because many of these projections are just plain unrealistic. If I were to make what I would consider a "bold" statement, I'd say: Tim Buckley's Ctrl+Alt+Del animation is a resounding success. As a result, some other major webcomics creators (PvP, Penny Arcade), not wanting to look "behind the times" jump on the bandwagon and get some animated versions of their characters going on (this would result in a lot of drama, by the way. Let me tell you.). Then, because "the big guys" are doing it, a lot of smaller time comics start as well. For some comics this would actually be a very simple thing to do. Take for instance Starslip Crisis, whose characters are already Flash sprites. Making Starslip animations would be a cinch. As a result, we see a new era of comic and animation paired on the web. And seeing actual animations of comics makes them much more attractive for optioning by television studios such as Cartoon Network, resulting in a few more signings.
I also foresee that someone in the web hacking community who enjoys webcomics is finally going to get off their lazy butt and write up a decent content management system for webcomics, one which does for webcomics what phpNuke, postNuke, and Mambo have done for news and article sites.
Ping Teo: I suspect Daku is going to be right, and the big companies will start testing to water to see if they can get in on the action as well. What I'm not sure is if they're going to have patience to stick it out though. They'll probably set up a subscription site for a month or two and then close it down and dismiss webcomics as a dismal failure.
Xaviar Xerexes: Alright I've got my
snark tongue somewhat in cheek here, but "Webcomics Community Drama" -- for it or against it?
William G: Since the giddy thrill of either being part of, or watching, TEH DRAMA is the only time we can get "the community" to look beyond the ends of their own noses, I'd have to say that it provides a vital service. So on that note: KAHHHHHHHHNNNNN!!!! I challenge youuuuuuu~! TO THUNDERDOME!
Karl: Love it. It means we are a community, it means we have a voice, and that we can be as petty as the next bunch of artistic snobs. We need to bolster our identity as webcartoonists, and by having these little dramas we get to know eachother better, find out who else is out there in a way that a review just couldn't do, and remind us that we aren't alone as creators.
Doctor Setebos: Absolutely! As William G points out, when the drama hits, that's the only time we can get certain sheltered pockets of the webcomics community to realize that the industry is actually much larger than the one or two comics they just happen to be reading. And like the saying goes, there's no such thing as bad press. It all drives traffic to someone's corner of the universe, and that always has the potential to be a good thing.
Ping Teo: TEH DRAMA is evil. We should not fight amongst ourselves! The laughter or our enemies will be our only reward! Who am I kidding? Secretly we all enjoy it, to a certain extent. Drama is part of the community and always has been, probably always will be. But there are upshots, as arguing with each other stimulates thought, and I've gotten a lot of good ideas reading through the arguments of those involved with TEH DRAMA!
Daku: Love it. Without it I would have to come up with something worth reading instead of relying on all the drama. Kind of wish it would happen outside of PA, PvP, and Yirmumah! so I can find some other players. Webcomic drama has probably been the easiest way to find new strips.
Eric Burns: I'm actually getting a little tired of it, but it's been a long week so take that for what it's worth. Here's the thing. There will always be drama. We're creative people -- both creators and fans -- mashed up together with opinions running wild and forced through a machine that looks like a video game. There will always be drama, because we have the raw materials that make drama in abundance all around us, and lots of folks running around with matches.
Wednesday White: If we put a fraction of the energy that goes towards stupid, stupid drama into bettering the comics, the infrastructure behind the comics, or the study of those comics, we would never have to have another conversation about whether or not the mainstream media recognizes us as a valid, accessible artistic movement. We would already be there, and no one would be able to question it.
Phil Kahn: Weds has got it absolutely right. Teh Drama is a waste of time and energy that could be spent on doing other far more productive things. And Will? I have no time for you.
William G: WHAT?! KAAAAAAHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!
Phil Kahn: Oh, that's clever.
Bob Stevenson: It is at once our biggest problem and our greatest gift. I think the banter ends up creating a sense of community and familiarity that, for the most part, outlasts the passions of the moment. And that the whole thing takes place on blogs imposes something of democracy on the whole thing that's refreshing. The "big boys" get down there in the pit and wrastle with all-comers, and the populist in me loves that. The historian in me thinks it's also an important symbol for the medium, its intimacy, its immediacy, its accessibility. And as for Websnark, where lots of the drama seems to stew, Eric seems to me the most potent of referees, absolutely open, fair and honest despite the muck.
Gilead Pellaeon: Drama is a good thing as long as it doesn't escalate to the point where it leaves people feeling bitter or disenfranchised. As long as the drama remains an interesting debate and not a simple flamewar, there's always ground to be gained by seeing the different opinions. And in many cases drama makes the comics involved much better (in the short run anyways) because it gives the creators the feeling that they have something to prove, and also releases some creative energy from the sheer excitement of it.
Xaviar Xerexes: That's it for the roundtable. Thanks again to everyone for participating.