The Comixpedia End of 2006 Roundtable
Xerexes: What webcomics stories from this year do you think were the most important? Or if not important, at least the most interesting to you.
Draper Carlson: The story that I found most significant was the changing nature of webcomic economics. Long-established print publisher Slave Labor began selling digital copies of both old and new titles. Former publishers of comic issues Airship Entertainment (Girl Genius) and Lightspeed Press (Finder) seem to be doing quite well with their "serialize on the web/print books yearly" paradigms. Various aggregators switched from subscription to ad-based models, using free readership to build audiences which could be monetized in other ways. There are so many choices out there that asking people to pay up front seems less desirable; let them sample what they want and then pay for more permanent editions once they become fans. (This is the opposite of the Slave Labor model, but they still plan to sell print collections later on of their digital-only titles.)
I was also pleased to see the Nan Grant announced, and I look forward to seeing the work of the winners.
Danner: In talking about webcomics getting recognition, let's not forget American Born Chinese being selected as a finalist for The National Book Award. I know a lot of people see awards as being largely meaningless, but the truth is, they really can make a substantial difference in the commercial viability of a title. It factors into bookstore and library purchasing and generates curiosity among readers. At the bookstore where I work, I'm sure I'm the only person who had even heard of ABC before that nomination. But two days after that list came out, we had a short stack of them in the store and they sold almost immediately. We've had to repurchase it at least twice already, that I know of. And the book didn't even win!
Pellaeon: I think two of the biggest stories both had to do with syndication: Rich Stevens taking Diesel Sweeties INTO syndication, and Dave Kellett taking Sheldon OUT OF syndication. It was so funny to see everyone saying "Yay Rich Stevens got syndication, he rocks, this rocks, this will be so good for his comic!" and then seeing everyone saying "Yay Dave Kellett got free from syndication, he rocks, this rocks, this will be so good for his comic!" The point is, Kellett went in the wrong way as the little guy trying to make it big while Rich is going in the right way as the big guy giving the syndicates a hand. And it points to some interesting directions for the future.
The other big news was animation, with the big battles over the relative quality of Ctrl-Alt-Del The Animated Series and now the announcement of a PvP animated series produced by the same production company (Blind Ferrett Entertainment). This is VERY interesting.
Daku: I would mention Scott Kurtz winning the Eisner (Best Digital Comic) and the purchase of Drunk Duck by Platinum Studios. The former because it's good to get re-affirmation that one or people is good and the later because it's one of the first steps of the rest of the comic world really taking notice of webcomics.
Millikin: I don't think anyone's mentioned the Penny Arcade Child's Play charity yet. Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins have really raised the bar to the point where if you want to stake a claim of doing the most important thing in webcomics-related activities for any particular year you've got to somehow top "We helped buy half a million dollars' worth of toys for sick and dying children."
Rouse-Deane: I always find the interesting stories being those that have webcomic creators basically getting the recognition they deserve. They spend hours creating, designing, drawing, etc. and usually for free. Two such stories were Zach Miller winning a Lulu Blooker Prize Award and DJ Coffman winning the Comic Book Challenge with his Hero by Night project.
Xerexes: All interesting stories about webcomics. Some of you, however, took my last question to be about webcomic "storylines" -- so what storylines this year that really grabbed you?
Burns: The ones that leap out have been the Narbonic "Madness" arc (and most of the other Narbonic storylines this year), the "Death of Faye" and the attendant subarcs in Something Positive, the "Faye's past" arc in Questionable Content (no relation between the two Fayes), and the "Esther and the Boy go to Wales" arc of Scary-Go-Round. But all those stories pale in comparison to Achewood's "The Great Outdoor Fight," which quite honestly might be the best webcomic story since we started having webcomics stories.
Russell: God, I so totally agree. Excuse me while I geek out. â€œThe Great Outdoor Fightâ€ was a turning point for me in webcomics appreciation. I'd sampled Achewood on multiple occasions, but didn't get that the comic was best enjoyed in fortnight-sized chunks. Then that GOF storyline came along. Soon I was devouring the entire archive, hectoring my wife to do the same, buying WAY too much merch and evangelizing to anyone I thought might enjoy it.
What's wonderful about â€œThe Great Outdoor Fightâ€ is how Onstead has his cake and eats it, too. It's a satire of two-fisted tales that also rouses you like a good two-fisted tale should. It satisfies the reader on multiple levels that really ought to contradict each other. Sometimes this happened in a single strip: I'd be laughing at all the pseudo-poetic man-bluster, and then Ray would rip a cowboy's face off and I'd actually gasp.
It was this crazy Jenga tower of jokes, surprises, character moments, killer dialogue, hard-boiled action and heartbreaking little friendship beats that never toppled. AND it had this whole other fan-participation front with the Great Outdoor Fight wiki. Anyway. It was just this astounding, full-bodied comics experience that seemed to spring out of nowhere. We won't see its like often.
Tyrrell: "The Great Outdoor Fight" achieved the impossible -- it converted members of the "I don't get it" crowd into dedicated Achewood fans. What Jon Rosenberg has been doing with Goats over the past year is breathtaking in its scope (planning out a 7 year series of story arcs? Insanity!), and watching the relationships of Erin Winters, Dark Esther, and The Boy in Scary Go Round (through two or three separate story arcs) has been alternately sweet, hilarious, and poignant.
Xerexes: Do you think the medium of webcomics grew this year or did it stagnate? Which creators do you think contributed the most?
Pellaeon: Oh, it's definitely growing. Leaps and bounds. I mean, look at all the creators who went full time with their webcomics this year (Ryan North, Jon Rosenberg). When a strip like xkcd is capable of supporting its creator, you know things are growing. And look at Penny Arcade: 4 million readers?!? Sure, a lot of those don't read anything more than Penny Arcade, but the PA guys are actually really active in the webcomic community and promoting its growth, so I think they are siphoning off a lot of newbies to other webcomics as well.
Burns: A little of both, really. There continues to be significant growth of strips on the web (and good strips, to boot), and we continue to see a lot of excitement growing in both the potential and execution of webcomics. At the same time, the whole concept of the 'webcomics community' seems to have grown stale -- this is the year a lot of web cartoonists seemed to realize that there isn't a single webcomics community, and that the fanbases of different comics might have nothing to do with each other. In the end, the medium of webcomics is becoming exactly that -- a *medium* for storytelling, cartooning and sequential art -- and the fandoms and communities that grow around specific comics are now outstripping any concept of 'webcomics' as a whole.
Tyrrell: Nothing but growth across the board, and I think we can credit a lot of it to Ryan North. The tools that he's released (Oh No Robot, RSSpect, and especially Project Wonderful) are making it possible for people to take it for granted that a robust infrastructure for webcomics need not be an impossible dream.
Milikin: Webcomics have definitely grown, and are completely out of control despite the best efforts of some to force them into a neat little box. There's so much growth every day in world wide webcomics that nobody can possibly hope to keep it all on their radar, let alone contain it. The 2006 growth at the Modern Tales sites alone was huge enough to fill several internets. Between Shaenon Garrity becoming editor of Modern Tales, Tim Demeter taking over as editor of Graphic Smash, Serializer relaunching, the opening up of free archives across the formerly all-subscription sites, the launch of the free version of Webcomics Nation, Lisa JontÃ© becoming editor of Girlamatic in late 2005, creators like Chris Onstad moving their work to Webcomics Nation, all the great comics created by new and classic artists on the Modern Tales-related sites like Ryan North, RenÃ©e French, Ursula Vernon, Merlin Goodbrey, AndrÃ© Richard, Patrick Farley, Chuck Whelon, Matt Bayne, Sam Henderson, Karen Ellis, and Neil Babra.
Multiply that type of growth times what's going on with ACT-I-VATE and Dumbrella and Clickwheel and in the other four corners of the Ultimate Fighting Octagon of world wide webcomics and it's pretty clear that the Big Bang we started back 1995 or so is still expanding at an explosive rate. Or maybe exploding at an expanding rate, I don't know. But that's really the way it has been since the mid-nineties -- if anyone has ever thought they've had a firm grasp of every comic on the Internet they've only been deluding themselves about the size of their own blind spots in relation to the size of the internet. For example, Olia Lialina (experimental film maker from Moscow) and Dragan Espenschied (the 2004 People's Voice NET ART Webby Award winner from Germany) can team up to draw Zombie & Mummy on an old Palm Pilot for the Dia Art Center in New York and yet they don't get nearly the mad props as they would get if I ran each and every one of the internets myself.