The Comixpedia End of 2006 Roundtable
Xerexes: What do you think were the most interesting developments on the business side of webcomics?
Rouse-Deane: Project Wonderful, you have to mention that. That's definitely the most interesting development.
Pellaeon: No doubt on Project Wonderful. Ryan North is going to make his first million on that thing. Probably his second million too. It makes me sick that I didn't think of it. We've also seen a lot of webcomics try to make it with sponsorships, having people pay to put their ad on a site for a month or something. Starslip Crisis has been a big proponent of this.
Danner: Never mind Project Wonderful, Ryan North himself is the most interesting development on the business side of webcomics. How many useful services can one guy build? He's already the record holder, and he just keeps turning out more.
Millikin: Probably the most interesting webcomics business development for me is the absolutely ridiculous amount of money I've been throwing in my bank account and the accompanying amazing amount of guilt and powerlessness I feel while watching homeless people dying in the streets as my tax dollars go off to fund secret prisons, torture, and war crimes. Some people call this making a living; but it really feels more like making a killing. In a lot of ways, things were so much easier when I was stealing Pop Tarts from vending machines for survival.
Draper Carlson: I was very excited to see favorite series I thought were gone for good find new lives online. I'm thinking of titles like Max & Lily, Eyebeam, Galaxion, A Distant Soil: Seasons of Spring, Strange Attractors, and Xeno's Arrow. It's a great way to expose good material to a new audience, and I'm very hopeful that growing interest will allow more original stories to be created down the road, because I love those comics, and I'd love to see more from their artists. Similarly, it's also neat to see mini-comics that would have previously been limited to 200 or 300 readers find a bigger audience online.
Burns: Diesel Sweeties getting a newspaper syndication deal that didn't snag its rights for self-publication and self-merchandizing leaps right out at me. This is a radical change of business models for the syndicates, and it's a recognition that the old way of doing things just ain't working any more. If You Damn Kid does indeed premiere on Fox and do well for itself, then we'll see a webcomic move from the virtual page to mass media just as well as the Boondocks has done over on Adult Swim -- at that point, the question of whether or not a comic appears in newspapers will grow even more irrelevant than it currently is. (It says something, as a side note, that even after Berke Breathed's loud promotion of the Sunday papers over the web, Opus is now a webcomic as well as a Sunday comic. It's more important to get the strips in front of eyeballs who might want merchandise than anything else, and more and more that means the web instead of newspapers, since people aren't buying them).
The launch of Modern Tales Free continues to deeply interest me -- obviously, there's still some lingering self-interest there, though Shaenon did far more than I ever did with it. As the bastion of pay-for-view webcomics goes to a free and advertising model, we have a real chance to see which works better in today's market.
The most interesting thing I've seen over the past year has to be the first real replicable webcomics business model. Dumbrella, lots of Dayfree Press, bits of Blank Label and others have discovered that you honestly can give up your day job if you really want to. All you need is a good comic that appeals to a solid core of readers -- and finding and keeping those readers is key Â followed by a successful pairing of merchandise. Now, the thing I find interesting is most of that merchandise is tee shirts, and most of those tee shirts don't have the webcomics characters on them, and sometimes a tenuous or no connection to the webcomic at all. Have a look at Questionable Content's tee shirt shop -- or Wigu/Overcompensating's, or Goats, or a bunch of others. With rare exceptions, you'll find funny and cool tee shirts that people will want to buy, but they won't generally have much to do with the strips that 'spawned' them. This is perfectly fine and good. I own some of those tee shirts and I'll buy others when they come out and hit me -- but the question is, are these people making their money as web cartoonists, or are they tee shirt salesmen who have hit on webcomics as good advertising for their store? I don't know the answer. I'm sure it doesn't matter even slightly, either -- except of course that rather than quitting their day jobs, for the most part these guys have traded one day job for another. But since it means they're doing things they enjoy and the webcomics make it possible, I'm willing to count it.
Tyrrell: The sheer number of people that have made webcomics a primary vocation in the past year is the most interesting thing for me. That, and the fact that we're able this year to talk about "the MOST interesting development" in webcomics business, instead of marvelling, "Holy crap, can you believe that somebody can actually scrape by doing this?" In addition to the names that came up before, massive respect to Jennie Breeden (having served the equivalent of an apprenticeship with a series of rent jobs) and Randall Munroe (having been let go by a foolish NASA) for taking the plunge.
Related to that is what I see as a general acceptance idea that webcomics doesn't have a single path to success. Rich Stevens is poised to achieve great success by joining the same syndicate that Dave Kellett is poised to achieve great success by leaving. Joey Manley's revamped his sites and a great deal of the content is now freely available. Not so long ago, you'd find enormous flamewars over the notion of free versus subscription, t-shirts versus books. Now, it seems that all business models in all combinations are valid to the extent that they work for a particular creator.
Russell: One minor motif this year was watching webcomics entrepreneurs realize that "making a killing" required them to pay closer attention to their words during "the drama." This happened several times in 2006 -- but I'm thinking specifically of the flame war that followed Joey Manley's Webhead column about "The Golden Age of Webcomics". Manley ultimately apologized and quit writing the column -- probably after weighing "teh drama" against his growing WCN customer base. I was fascinated by what Manley had to say later -- in the comments section of a Fleen post about DJ Coffman's own flame-war antics as they related to his brand-new Platinum Studios deal:
Many of us in webcomics have lived under the illusion that there are no consequences for obnoxious or mean online behavior -- in fact, in webcomics, it seemed for a while that you could only be rewarded for that kind of thing.... I'm learning, and hopefully a lot of us are learning, that now that webcomics is Actually Getting Real, and serious money is coming into play, courtesy and civility are likely to pay better dividends in the long-term than baiting and harrassment.
I think he's right; I also think that sort of statement heralds the arrival of a mini-mainstream within webcomics itself.
Xerexes: What technical developments from this year do you think will have lasting impact?
Rouse-Deane: Again, Project Wonderful is something that will definitely have a lasting impact because people who never had ads before are using it.
Draper Carlson: The only technical development that made it onto my radar was Joey Manley's announcement of WCN Free, but I don't know if that's particularly significant.
Danner: WCN in general is definitely significant. Content management is about as vital a technical tool as there is for a webcomics creator. And while Webcomics Nation is neither the only, nor even the first such service to become available, increasing competition only raises the bar for all the providers in the field. The "Free" development isn't exactly technical in itself, but it does open up the existing technical features to the more frugal creators, of which there are many.
Burns: I'm the curmudgeon when it comes to 'technical developments' in webcomics. The most helpful things I've seen are things like Girly's bookmarking system (letting you save your place). For the most part, I want the simplest means of getting the comic panels onto my screen to happen and then get out of my way.
Powell: Piperka. I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s from this year, but I certainly only found out about it this year. It has totally altered how I read comics. First off, the way it is set up allows me to actually go through humongous archives chunk by chunk, which meant that instead of just thinking about reading Superosity, Checkerboard Nightmare and Wigu, like I'd been meaning to do for some time, I actually did it. Secondly, it has totally replaced manual bookmark checking. I don't mean to imply that WCN or Project Wonderful aren't important, they certainly are; but Piperka has had the biggest impact on my interaction with webcomics.
Danner: Actually, I have to agree on the excellence of Piperka. There's been a lot of talk about RSS lately, but I can't stand reading comics in an RSS aggregator, so the technology as a whole just doesn't hold much appeal for me. But Piperka has saved me a whole lot of time in checking to see which of my comics have updated. It isn't able to track subscription comics yet, unfortunately, but that drawback aside, I love it and use it every day.
Pellaeon: Oh yeah, I've been preaching the gospel of Piperka for as long as I've known of it. Not only does it track your webcomics, but it has great tools for bookmarking as you read the archives of webcomics, all in one place. Beautiful. Everyone needs to use this service, and to make their website easier for Kari to crawl, because he spends hella time fixing broken archives from lousy linking.
Obviously, Project Wonderful is a big deal as well, practically overnight changing the shape of webcomic advertising. I'm still waiting for someone to take up the call and develop a really good multi-purpose webcomic website management system. Tyler Martin is getting closer with his work on the Comic Press add-on for Wordpress, but there's still more work to be done. Someone take up the call!
Russell: I remember being struck earlier this year when the act_I_vate group was throwing video footage of their New York pub gatherings online -- and, if memory serves, Heidi MacDonald's The Beat linked to it as news. Webcartoonists like Kurtz and Staub who follow the Stan Lee model -- making their own personalities part of the larger entertainment package of their strip -- are really embracing audio/video podcasts, and that's just going to get more and more prevalent. Kurtz is currently running his PvP LiveCast like it's "The Howard Stern Show."
And sometimes it's going to blow up in people's faces.
Millikin: I'd never seen that Piperka site before. I think it's interesting that they've discovered there are only eleven genres of webcomics, and those are Adult, Elves, Fantasy, Furry, Games, GLBT, Graphic violence, Real life, Romance, Sci-fi and Weird. I see that they manage to categorize Fetus-X as a graphically violent weird GLBT romance comic, which is pretty much right on target.
But probably for me the most important technological achievement of 2006 was Dr. Weilie Hu's pioneering penis transplant surgeries at Guangzhou General Hospital which will forever change the way we make webcomics. I'm thinking about getting like a fringe of flaccid zombie penises grafted onto the underside of my arms which will look sort of like my girlfriend's biker jacket from the late '80s or maybe some wings like The Falcon from Captain America comics except with a lot more penises grafted onto my arms that I'll wave in the air like I just don't care as I jump off buildings and fight crime and stuff. That and help bring free Webcomics Nation accounts to everybody in the world. By the way, the Webcomics Nation engine is already amazing, but what I've seen from beta testing some of the new features of the 2.0 version makes the future look even more incredible. There's parts of the next generation interface that feel more like you're using Adobe products then a typical web-based interface. I've probably already said more than too much.