It's the end of the year and what better time to talk webcomics with a great group of interesting creators and commentators. For this year's roundtable we talked about favorite and new webcomics from 2009; iPhones and iTablets; developments in the business of comics; developments in the subject matter of comics; webcomic awards; and predictions for 2010! I'm joined by Gary Tyrrell, Delos Woodruff, Shaenon Garrity, Fesworks, Derik Badman, Larry Cruz, Brigid Alverson and Johanna Draper Carlson.
Let me introduce our panelists:
- Gary Tyrrell is a man of opinions, which he will gladly share with you. He is also a fan of webcomics, of which he consumes six or seven dozen on a regular basis. These two tendencies collide Monday through Friday at Fleen, where he is the editor, head writer, and general dogsbody.
- Delos Woodruff writes about comics at The Art Patient. He can often be found digging around in the webcomic back forty for items of interest. When not doing that, he stays busy working his day job and chasing after his three wonderful children in upstate New York.
- Shaenon Garrity is the creator (or co-creator) of Skin Horse, Narbonic, Smithson, and Lil Mel. She's also written about comics at numerous sites ranging from Comixology to ComixTalk.
- Fesworks currently co-hosts the Webcomics Beacon podcast. He's also worked on several webcomics, including The Crossover Wars, a multi-webcomic event and is the curator of the Jenny Everywhere Shifter archive.
- Derik A. Badman writes about webcomics and is the creator of Things Change, The Metamorphoses Comic and Maroon, A Webcomic in 52 Parts.
- Brigid Alverson writes about manga at MangaBlog and webcomics at Paperless Comics. She is the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog and writes a regular webcomics column for Robot 6. She also is a freelance journalist for Publishers Weekly Comics Week and SLJTeen newsletters. She lives in Melrose, Massachusetts, where she works as assistant to the mayor when not hanging out with her husband and two teenage daughters.
- Larry "El Santo" Cruz writes about comics at The Webcomic Overlook.
- Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics of all kinds online since 1992. She has also written for a range of magazines, half of which no longer publish, and served as DC Comics' webmaster back when they thought online should be a profit center instead of a marketing expense. Follow her at Comics Worth Reading, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
I guess I always start off with this question. What were your five favorite webcomics from 2009 — defined as comics published on the web (regardless of where else it was published). Not necessarily the "best" but the ones that really stuck with you for some reason.
Badman: Aidan Koch's comics on Flickr; Jason Overby's comics on Flickr; numerous wonderful comics from the Belgian site GrandPapier such as Sacha Georg's Surface, A La Plage by Pascal Matthey and G Rom's Elements; and all the stuff Blaise Larmee puts up.
Woodruff: Dovecote Crest, Kukuburi, Bear Nuts, Tune and I'm late to the party with getting into Dinosaur Comics. It's hard to pick just five and I'd feel better if I was mentioning five relative unknowns. Is that weird?
Fesworks: One would have to be The Ten Doctors, for sure. While it's been going for a while, I totally got into the series. It's a fan comic of the television show Doctor Who, bringing all 10 doctors and many of his companions together. The best fan comic of any subject I've seen. It finished this year as well.
A guilty pleasure I'd add to this list is the NSFW comic Oglaf, with the bulk of it's current archive from this year. Oglaf does everything wrong, the right way. I'm also throwing in Union of Heroes (available in German and English), Which is a nicely done superhero photocomic that I got into. Union of Heroes also pointed me towards comics that are multi-lingual, and THAT is something I hope becomes more and more likely in the coming years.
Garrity: I don't feel like I read a lot of webcomics, and yet I have too many favorites to narrow the list down to five. Girl Genius continues to be ten tons of fun. Kate Beaton's history comics (Hark A Vagrant) are just about the funniest things I've ever read. Dylan Meconis's Family Man makes my jaw drop. I love Erika Moen's diary comic, DAR. Oh, and Danielle Corsetto's Girls with Slingshots is a great strip, really well done.
Alverson: Unshelved is a a comfortable habit, like a glass of warm milk. A glass of warm, sarcastic milk, that is. Xkcd is required reading in our house, as I'm an MIT dropout married to a physicist. Sometimes I roll my eyes, but when Randall Munroe nails it, he really nails it. Hark a Vagrant makes me laugh so hard it endangers my health and alienates all those around me. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage — geekiness and hilarity unite! Family Man is so good, it's hard to believe it's a webcomic.
Xerexes: I really enjoyed the science and history stuff this year, especially xkcd, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, and Hark a Vagrant. I'd add Bryant Paul Johnson's Teaching Baby Paranoia which continued to impress me with his art and just plain cleverness. I also liked a lot of steampunk-flavored titles including Girl Genius, and Freak Angels.
Badman: Interesting that almost all the comics listed (except mine) are long serials or long non-serial series (like xkcd or Dinosaur Comics). Are webcomics still primarily working on the newpaper strip, mainstream comic model? I guess serialization is the key, instant constant gratification.
Cruz: This is always a tough question for me. It’s like trying to figure out what your favorite pizza topping is. My colleagues seem to have answered with absolutely fabulous recommendations, so I’m going to tip my hat to some less heralded favorites: Daisy Owl, Sin Titulo, Gun Show, Gastrophobia, and the one comic that has most rapidly taken the spot on my must-see shortlist, The Meek.
Draper Carlson: My favorite webcomic is always Sinfest. I read it daily online and was thrilled to get the Dark Horse reprint this year so I can read it offline as well. I also enjoy DAR for Erika Moen's openness and lack of fear. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, is a favorite because I can't see anyone else in another medium taking a change on it, but it's so creative in its use of computer pioneers to parody "scientific" attitudes and self-importance. Plus, it promotes how important Lovelace was to the foundation of the field, and I'm all for activities that battle the sexism of some of the technology-minded. My Milk Toof is charming and uses custom sculpture and photos, which I find refreshing to the medium. And Lucy Knisley's ArtJournal is simply lovely, especially in its use of color, and very thought-provoking and deep in its observations. (Since cheap color is one of the benefits of working online, I applaud those who take advantage of it.)
I wanted to follow up on Brigid Alverson's comment about Family Man — is there still a perception that "webcomics" are inferior to more traditional forms of comics?
Badman: I think there's a certain amount of that prejudice "If it's so great, why didn't someone publish it." But the same prejudice can apply to minicomics (and was often applied to self-published comics in the 80-90s when there was a glut of such). D.I.Y. will always look inferior to people who put a lot of store in the editorial power of publishers.
Alverson: Well, first of all, although we all know better, a lot of people think webcomics are weaker as a medium because there are so many bad ones. There are a lot of good ones, too, of course, and those are the only ones I look at, but since anyone, regardless of talent, can publish a webcomic, the Internet is flooded with amateurish comics that any self-respecting editor would have kicked to the curb. The result is that to the casual observer, webcomics may very well look like a weaker medium.
But I had something else in mind when I made that comment. Simply put, you work harder when you get paid. That’s just human nature. When you sign a contract with a publisher, you generally get an advance and some assurance that you will be paid for your work. When you draw a webcomic and put it up on the web, you have no such assurance. It’s good business to do your best work in a paid venue and put less effort into something with no guaranteed payoff. Dylan Meconis puts a huge amount of work into Family Man. She thinks through the page layouts, she draws in the details, and she researches everything. She isn’t tossing half-finished sketches onto the web (something a lot of better-known artists have been known to do), and she hasn’t stopped updating because something better came along. She draws as if she were being paid to do it, and what’s more her production values, website, everything about it, is also professional quality.
Draper Carlson: For me, I would phrase it differently. The perception is that media with gatekeepers are superior to media where anyone can participate easily. If you can impress a gatekeeper, that is, convince a publisher or someone else to take a chance on you, then the idea is that you've passed an important hurdle. So yes, people think that big-company edited comics are better than most webcomics, but I think people also think that edited comics are better than many self-published comics.
Note that I don't necessarily believe this, I'm just explaining the rationale I see behind the attitude. Me, I've seen webcomics better than any print comic — but they're few and far between, just like the the most exceptional work in any other medium.
Were there any comics that debuted on the web in 2009 that really stood out for you?
Badman: Jesse Moynihan's Forming started in January and has been a crazy ride for 12 months now.
Woodruff: Space Avalanche always evades my expectations, which I like.
Cruz: LaMorte Sisters, the 2009 Zuda Comics instant winner, was pretty much a hit with everyone that read the first 8 pages. It’s hard to quantify why. I think we know how the team behind Black Cherry Bombshells works. And we’re all sort of kinda excited to see that with better art. Plus: vampire women. Vampires are totes cool!
Fesworks: Comics I've been pleasently surprised with and hooked on this year include The Intrepid Girlbot, a silent comic featuring a robot with image issues; The Paul Reveres, a new twist on Paul Revere's ride… ala battle of the bands; and Tiny Kitten Teeth, a webcomic visual throwback to the like of the old Golden Books.
Alverson: I liked Warren Pleece's Montague Terrace a lot, even though I had to read every comic twice to figure out what was going on. Dan Hess's Weesh is an all-ages gag strip with a bit of a bite to it, kid-friendly but delivering plenty of laughs for grownups as well. I loved Sydney Padua's Lovelace and Babbage comics, although there are only a few stories. I hope she keeps this going. And I'm keeping an eye on Schmuck.
Garrity: I'm really enjoying Endtown, by Aaron Neathery, which debuted on Modern Tales in March. If you're not reading it, you've totally got to get on the ball. It's a daily strip set in a weird and imaginative postapocalyptic future, starring a guy and his rhinoceros girlfriend (some really bad stuff happened to the gene pool back when society collapsed). I've known Aaron for a long time, and I've always been in awe of his cartooning chops. Also, we're both doing strips with cranky talking vehicles.
What do you think about comics on the iPod and other small screens? There's an aesthetic and a business aspect for creators to think about when putting comics on to that kind of platform. And then for readers is the experience good enough? Will it get better with newer devices to come — things like the rumored iTablet?
Draper Carlson: I think many webcomics are better on small screens than other kinds of comics, since many webcomics are strip-oriented, and the smaller format loses less in translation. Plus, they often depend on the text instead of the image, which also helps. I do think that doing iPod-only comics is a bad idea. Why limit your audience that way? If you're going to go digital, make the comics available on the web as well.
Garrity: I've been involved in some efforts to reformat comics for cell phones and iPods, but I think the issue will become moot as display technology improves and screens get bigger and crisper. As it is, you can read webcomics on the iPhone on their websites — you don't need a special webcomics browser or anything.
Draper Carlson: This is an excellent point. I read webcomics on my Android smartphone through the RSS reader and the web browser. I see no need for a comic app. The only reason I can figure many people create iPod apps is because the audience there is willing to pay small amounts for content, as Brigid points out, while that's not true on the wider web. As smartphones become more ubiquitous, I'm not sure that advantage will continue.
What is an advantage that is rarely talked about is the ability to download PDFs, CBRs, and the like. When I travel, I don't want to pack a whole bunch of comics, risking damage and taking up too much space, nor do I have a continuous internet connection (although that will change as well). So loading a bunch of PDFs on my laptop is the best way and easiest way to keep up. But now we're wandering away from the topic of webcomics.
Alverson: I think the iPod and other handhelds will continue to be a small but significant part of the comics world for a number of reasons. From the consumer's point of view, the iPhone (and the Android) presents the dual advantages of portability and ease of purchase. Since I always carry my iPod, I always have something to read in my purse, and since all comics come from the iTunes store, buying them is easy. From the creator's point of view, there is a significant business advantage: People are trained to expect to pay for iPhone and Android apps. This is in sharp contrast to the internet, where people expect everything to be free, and if it's not, someone will make it free, just to do it. Having people pay for your comics directly is a simpler business model than supporting them with ads, merchandise, and donations.
Aesthetically, it's a different medium and you read it in a different way. Some comics are easily adapted and even read better on the small screen; I preferred the iPhone version of Archie's Freshman Year, for instance, because the pages in the print comic were cluttered and busy. Reading it one panel at a time was simply a smoother experience. I just read a post by a seventh-grade teacher who said his students preferred the iPod version of Bone for the same reason.
Other comics, mainly ones with big, complicated splash pages with bits of text all over the place, look terrible on the iPhone, and I'm not entirely convinced that readers that zoom you from panel to panel are the answer. The tablet may be the answer to that question; while it will lack the portability of the iPod, it should represent a considerable gain in aesthetics, and it won't have the first-generation feel of the Kindle. The Apple version, of course, will have the iTunes Store working to its advantage, so expect content to be paid on that platform as well. Some people think it will be the perfect comics medium, and that may be a stretch, but I'm looking forward to giving it a test drive.
Woodruff: I'm just speculating here but I personally think that handheld devices will help things like comics flourish when the devices hit small book/planner size, are durable and primarily touch driven. No one wants to lug around a full size laptop and no one wants to have to peer at too small of a screen all the time. Think about Penny's book from Inspector Gadget. It would be just about right for casual use and pretty sturdy. You need to be able to throw it in your backpack or gym bag and not worry about it.
Badman: I've not read any comics on an ipod/phone/mobile device, so I can't speak from experience. I do believe that the screen/display quality of ebook readers (and other less specifically "reader" devices) will soon get to the point where comics can be displayed with quality. Personally, I dislike any kind of comics reading that forces my reading attention onto a single panel or section of a page (like a lot of Flash based comics readers do). The layout of a page as a whole, and the interactions between the panels, images, colors, etc on a page are such an important part of comics that I don't want that aspect excised from the medium.
That said, I do think better digital reading experiences need to be figured out for comics online in general. The old model of display one page and clicking "next" endlessly is just too slow and unwieldy for any kind of sustained reading. Had I some kind of small device I would certainly have given Lewis Trondheim's iphone comic a try.
Tyrrell: Since I got a smart-phone this year, I'm becoming more familiar with reading comics on something with way too little display space — it can be done, but mostly I find it disjointed, verging on being a chore. If we get something tablet-sized it may go a long way to changing my mind, but right now any comic not expressly designed for that size, resolution, and loading speed? Entirely a matter of necessity over preference.
Cruz: With regard to the mobile devices, I love the idea. I’m personally using my Blackberry to check up websites more and more frequently, and webcomics are one of those sites that are really difficult to read on the small screen. Plus those comics that use a Flash interface just don’t work on mobile devices at all. I have to say, though, some comics I’ve seen seem to be tailor made for online. Set To Sea looks great on my Blackberry.
As for the iTablet/Kindle market…. I don’t know if I’m still 100% convinced that this is the future of publishing. I mean, it has to go somewhere what with the print market dying, right? But I’m not sure people would want to necessarily pick up something additional to their laptop to lug along with them. Then again, I’m a bit of a late adopter when it comes to technology.
It seems likely that we're very near the end of the life of the current "floppy" comic book format with many more creators moving serialization to the web. We also continue to hear the drumbeat of stories chronicling the decline of the newspaper business. Is the end of serialization of comics on paper inevitable? Is that a good or bad thing for comics? Can you imagine a world where new technologies reinvigorate a means to serialize comics on paper to a mass market?
Draper Carlson: If we're talking the American comic business, especially the branch dependent mostly on superheroes, they aren't going to be as affected because they're already existing mostly on the dedicated fan of nostalgia. They want to read the characters they've known for decades, and they want to read them on paper.
Small press creators, on the other hand, were already being driven out of the dedicated direct comic market, thanks to increasing catalog minimums, so going online makes more sense for them. Build an audience, refine the concept, get plenty of practice meeting deadlines and telling stories, and then bring out a satisfying chunk of story to the bookstores. I think that's a good thing, but then, with two exceptions (Love and Capes, Comic Book Comics), I don't keep up with stapled comics any more. I want to read book-format comics, so that's what I buy and support. Including print collections of webcomics, which I buy when it comes to my favorite strips.
Woodruff: Comics are considered inexpensive and light entertainment. It seems that paper books will always be desired by fans but casual readers are looking for cheap throwaway entertainment. If you could get comics reliably into dollar stores maybe they could come back.
Draper Carlson: Reducing the price and losing more money than publishers already are isn't a workable strategy. Those driven by price are already reading manga scanlations and superhero torrents for free. If they want to save money, they put more effort and work in; if you want the casual reader, they're already buying manga at the bookstores or getting Marvel Adventures digests at the library.
Garrity: It's not just comics; the publishing industry is hit hard across the board. In fact, comics may have a better chance than prose of surviving in print, because it'll take a while before it's as easy and convenient to transfer comics to a digital format as it is to, say, download a novel to Kindle. The floppy and newspaper strip markets are struggling because the markets themselves have enormous built-in flaws, and the current print recession has just worsened the existing problems. It's not good for cartoonists because it seriously constricts the available paying markets, but it's hard to fix.
Alverson: It seems likely that we're very near the end of the life of the current "floppy" comic book format with many more creators moving serialization to the web. We also continue to hear the drumbeat of stories chronicling the decline of the newspaper business. Is the end of serialization of comics on paper inevitable? Is that a good or bad thing for comics? Can you imagine a world where new technologies reinvigorate a means to serialize comics on paper to a mass market?
You know, I remember when comics cost 12 cents, and floppies were the only format. (*Reaches for cane to beat some sense into the young'uns.*) That model worked because comics were a mass-market medium. Now comics cost $4 and can only be bought in special, inconveniently located stores. That¹s fine if you're marketing to the base, but you can't bring in new readers if no one knows your product exists. That's why I'm intrigued by Boom! Studios' move back to the newsstand, which seems to be doing well. Put comics in front of the kids and they will buy them, especially if they are already familiar with the property (i.e. Toy Story, Wall-E, etc.). It's not really an issue of technology, it's distribution and marketing. I really think serendipity drives a lot of leisure purchases, especially where kids are concerned.
Cruz: I’m surprised it’s lasted in this format as long as it has. Paying close to $4 for what’s essentially something that’s Part 1 of a, say, 6 part story? Which you end up having to wait for the payoff over 8-10 months or so? That’s ridiculous. This is why everyone’s gravitating to the trade paperbacks: you get the entire story without the waiting period and its costs less. I think the death of the “floppy” comic is not only inevitable, but it’s also a good thing.
I’d like to think of the webcomic model as a modified form of the trade paperback. Rather than having to pay for partial content in 6 supposedly monthly installments, it’s free. And for those who prefer reading on paper or having something nice on their bookshelves, there’s the collected works (i.e., the “trade paperback”). I don’t think it’s much different from the old model, except they’re eliminating the middleman and passing the savings on to you.
Badman: I think serializing on paper as a mass medium is going to die, but, with the decline the mass produced comic pamphlet there is a certain rise of the comic as handmade art object, though I guess that is independent of serialization itself. I don't think it's good or bad for comics… it's change, it's evolution. With all the great comics I get through my RSS reader each day or week, I don't miss getting pamphlets at all.
Tyrrell: Weirdly enough, as we get further into the age of comics in digital formats my weekly purchases of floppy comics keeps going up. I like the physicality, I'm not immune from the collector's impulse … and lots of creators that work on the web (people like Randy Milholland, Box Brown, Lauren Monardo & Stephen Lindsay) are putting time and effort into floppies because they still have an appeal for both creator and reader.
Fesworks: With the emergence of things like comic viewing Apps on mobile devices, the Kindle and the Nook; there is no shortage of non-paper ways to read comics. However, when computers and the Internet took off, it was theorized that people would use less paper… in fact, people started using MORE paper. I think it will be a long time before physical reading material goes away. However, I think your typical trades will see more of a decline; whereas free online comic content will see an increase in physical book sales. People just love to physically have something, but I'm not naive. I'm certain that the future will eventually tip scales to the opposite, if looking at the music industry is any clue.
How will comics creators organize themselves in this new world — does EVERY creator have to be an entrepreneur assembling a business out of a mix of other companies' services and do-it-yourself work or there be other models emerging? What trends have you seen in 2009?
Garrity: I hope alternate models emerge, because I'm terrible at the entrepreneur thing. "I was never a salesman," Harvey Kurtzman once said, and I have the same problem. But I haven't really seen anything come along beyond the usual combination of elbow grease, salesmanship, and luck. One hopeful trend is the enormous diversity of audiences and interests you now can tap with webcomics…as long as they're kind of geeky. A few years ago, when it seemed like a webcomic had to be about video games or anime to be successful, who would've guessed that the biggest thing on the web would be xkcd, a sitck-figure strip about math? That's deep geekery.
Tyrrell: Some of the most important people in the world of comics-on-the-internet occupy space on the second floor of a converted mill building in Easthampton, MA. The distribution services provided by Topatoco over the past couple years have been critical to the success of literally dozens of creators, but with their move this year to becoming a book publisher, along with their prints-on-demand capabilities, are pushing them towards becoming the one-stop shop of business services for independent artists. I believe they will shortly be in the position of providing the services of a traditional publisher, but being a fee-for-service business instead of a we-own-your-IP business.
Badman: I think we'll see more people collaborating and pooling resources (like Act-I-Vate (though I sure wish there were a better way to filter their posts)). Maybe we'll see more companies taking on webcomics as iphone type serialization options… I'm not much of a trend watcher, when it comes to business models.
Alverson: While there are some publications that incorporate webcomics into their mix, Smith Magazine and Narrative come to mind, the entrepreneur selling merchandise is still the dominant model. However, I'm also seeing a lot of people who don't necessarily think of themselves as webcomics creators, but use the web for comics that haven't found a home elsewhere (older work, things they haven't been able to get into print, works that are still in development). Generally these folks are quite professional, with their own well-designed websites, regular update schedules, etc. Examples of this would include Ethan Young's Tails and Rich Tommaso. The flipside of that is that for a lot of creators the webcomic plays second fiddle to their higher-paid print work or day jobs in the field. That sometimes means that good comics get dropped in the middle when a creator is in demand.
Woodruff: It seems as if banding-together in loose collectives might be one trend on the horizon. You get a creator or two who can also do web stuff, a couple of social promoters, someone to source for cheap merch to print on and a few creators with different kinds of styles who all share the home site and cross promote… it could work for awhile or for a long time with the right people.
Fesworks: I can't look at this question and not immediate think of comics in newspapers. In short, I'll say that their current model will NOT work with the coming technologies and trends because they are so NOT DIY. There are too many people involved for your typical newspaper comic, that it will not be as profitable as a DIY comic or webcomic. But to avoid going into more of that argument, I for sure see a BOOST in more successful, DIY comics and webcomics.
Draper Carlson: I suspect that many creators will want to follow models that worked in the early years without realizing that things have changed. You can no longer be one of the first people to put out a video game comic and get attention just for that. Unfortunately, I suspect many creators will continue to devalue the work of support staff. I'm thinking, in particular, of editing, which gets a bad rap but would benefit a number of projects. A small entrepreneur wants to pinch pennies, smartly, and may not know the best time to purchase services from others. But to make it easy for them winds up reinventing the syndicate or similar organizations. It's a tough question.
Cruz: I think a lot of this hinges on how the brick-and-mortar publishers (Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse) adapt to the web. There’s going to be a mix. There are just some things that are better done with the support of teams of people. And if webcomic properties are going to one day be on par print comic counterparts in terms of marketing clout and pop culture penetration, I’d imagine you’d need a larger support team than just one writer and one artist. The most telltale trend I’ve seen in 2009 are the huge pushes DC has been making with Zuda Comics and Marvel’s dedication to its digital properties. Neither are perfect, but I think both are in an experimental phase at the moment. Once they get all the kinks worked out… watch out.
What new stuff this year — in terms of tools, services, websites, etc — did you think improved how webcomicsdom works from the creators to the readers to anyone else involved in it? And as much as anything new happened this year, I was struck by the seeming lack of big announcements from more veteran webcomic entities like Comicspace and Keenspot.
Tyrrell: I'd like to see some of the long-delayed business services that ComicSpace has been promising start to get offered. Hell, I'd like to see other people that think they can provide these kinds of services jump in — they won't all be equally good, they won't all attract the same clients, but right now, there's a pretty big need that's only likely to grow. I think it's just a matter of time before we see some partnerships between these services companies and tradition fee-for-service businesses like agents, lawyers, and accountants. It will not be long before you sign with one of these services shops and they hand you a menu of all their offerings and you check off which things you're going to farm out to them.
Woodruff: Twitter and maybe Facebook serve as neutral grounds for people to communicate. Readers can access creators and give feedback very easily. I notice very few trolls on Twitter as opposed to forums and even blogs with comments.
Garrity: One side effect of the increased diversity of webcomics is that it's harder to keep up on all of them, and a website has yet to emerge to fill that need. Fleen does what it can, and Websnark has restarted on a limited basis, but I'd love to see more dedicated webcomics blogging.
Fesworks: Well, we all know that WordPress has certainly been big for webcomics. For the longest time, ComicPress has been the foremost application in comic presentation, however little creators may have customized it. More recently, Webcomic+Inkblot has been picking up steam and has debuted several additional ways to present one's comic as well. I'll go on record to say that Webcomic easily surpassed ComicPress as far as functionality and usability, though ComicPress hasn't stopped improving either. Which one you choose to use may be a matter of taste.
Alverson: One thing that's all over the web at the moment is the microfinancing site Kickstarter, which several creators, including Spike, creator of Templar, Arizona, are using to raise working capital for new projects. This is still very new, and it will be interesting to see where it goes.
I think that as the web matures, people are veering away from mass hosting sites like Keenspot. It¹s not that hard to set up your own site with your own, easy-to-remember domain, a nicer design, and total control of the ads. There is a paradigm shift going on within the Modern Tales family right now; Girlamatic has relaunched and has a lot more energy and a much more visible editor, which makes a noticeable difference. I'm watching to see if this idea gets any traction.
Are you interested at all in the notion of the webcomic as a medium? Was there any experimentation with the "webbiness" of webcomics this year that stood out for you?
Cruz: Nawlz, to me, is still the gold standard with which to integrate storytelling with animation and sound. That didn’t happen this year, though.
The Prisoner Online Graphic Novel did try their hand this year at motion comics, and despite totally hating the revamped Prisoner, I thought they pulled it off fairly well… better than how you’d imagine a webcomic based on a TV show property would go. I can also see how these comics could someday become the mainstream notion of what webcomics should be. They’re fresh. They’re new. And, it may seem weird to us as comic readers, they’re easier to follow from a standpoint of linearity. Not everyone has an easy time reading comics. Many more people know how to click buttons on a Flash interface.
Garrity: There hasn't been enough crazy experimentation lately! Thank goodness for Cat Garza, who's returned to webcomics with Year of the Rat. He's doing the great hairy funky dance everyone else is too boring to try.
Draper Carlson: I don't think of it as a separate medium. Is anyone going to talk about how silly "motion comics" are as a category, though? I think that's an idiotic, exploitative way to try and wring more money out of existing content.
Tyrrell: I think I'm just using the word "webcomics" out of habit now. Apart from MS Paint Adventures, there's not much that's using the web for anything other than a distribution channel.
Badman: I occasionally become interested in the interactive qualities of hypertext for comics, but I don't see much of it happening. I tried a hypercomic for a chapter of my webcomic this year and went searching for examples/models/ideas, but all that I found was rather old. That seems to have been something taken up by a few pioneers early on and then mostly abandoned.
Alverson: I'm not seeing a lot of it, frankly. The vast majority of webcomics are still three-panel gag strips and longer-form stories in a print page format. Where I am seeing some experimentation is with handhelds, particularly the iPhone, where the medium is still new enough that it is very much part of the message. The most ambitious example (I haven't read it yet, but it sounds intriguing) is Evan Young's The Carrier, which incorporates e-mail, geolocation, and other iPhone features into a real-time graphic novel. This sounds like a completely different type of experience and I'm very curious to try it.
Webcomics certainly get a lot more recognition now as part of comics. In terms of awards though, is the current approach of creating a "webcomics" category really the best idea? Should we be pushing for greater acceptance of comics on the web within traditional awards categories, or more separate categories for webcomics or what? With the seeming death of the WCCAs, should anyone worry about whether there is still a separate awards program for webcomics?
Tyrrell: I'm torn about this the same way that I'm torn about there being a "Best Animated Feature" category to the Oscars. On the one hand, to say that the method of filmmaking means that "Up" (the first 10 – 15 minutes of which was as good a piece of filmmaking as we saw this year) gets shuffled off to the Cartoon Ghetto away from the "real" movies is idiotic and insulting. On the other hand, knowing that it could be ignored entirely is equally irritating.
The real problem is that with so much very good work being done (either primarily or initially) online means that creations with fundamentally different tones, formats, and goals end up being lumped together. There's probably no way out of this trap except to keep producing work so damn good that it can't be ignored; in some places, that process seems to be reasonably underway (such as this year's Shuster Award nominees).
Garrity: I'm very happy that the Eisners and Ignatzes now have webcomics categories. Otherwise most webcomics would get shut out, and there's a lot of cool stuff happening on the Web that deserves attention. Also, can I mention that Girl Genius won a friggin' Hugo Award this year? It's not just the comics industry that's starting to pay attention.
Xerexes: And let's not forget that Howard Tayler's Schlock Mercenary was also nominated in the same category (Best Graphic Story) that the Foglios won.
Badman: I don't think the "webcomics" category is the best idea, but it fits within the frame of most comics awards where they are still subdivided into format (ongoing series, collected volume) and "job" (penciller) type arenas. I'd like to see models based on criteria such as genre… or do what the awards in Angouleme did last year where they just picked 40 or so "best" works and then the main award and runner ups were based on voting of some kind. (Though they have apparently turned away from this model for the coming year.) In the end, I don't pay much attention to the awards. I look at the results and they always differ so much with what I would pick, that I find them less than useful.
Alverson: I'm already on record as saying that I think that webcomics should be included in all categories, not set aside in their own category. There are two reasons for this; one is the incredible diversity of webcomics and the other is that the border between web and print is pretty fluid. We have already see the web and print editions of Brian Fies's Mom's Cancer get two separate Eisner nominations. Creators are using the web instead of floppies to build an audience for their print graphic novel, and they are putting previously published print comics up on the web. While I can see having a specific award for best web design or something, a great comic is a great comic no matter what the platform.
Draper Carlson: I think it's perfectly fair to distinguish based on the distribution format used. Having a separate webcomic category in awards makes sense to me the same way there's a separate audiobook category in book recognition programs and sales outlets. But that's in comparison to "best graphic novel" categories. When it comes to "best writer", "best artist", etc., I think webcomic creators should be eligible along with everyone else.
Fesworks: This is a touchy subject for me, as I believe that "general" webcomic awards do not work. At least when you are trying to make a "definitive" awards event for a mix of 15,000 amateur and professional webcomics. It can't work. This is not the academy awards where numbers are few and manageable. Reader and creator "voting" is a joke at such a large scale. People are also focused on labeling webcomics this and that, when many defy fitting into just one category. Now this does not mean that smaller communities can't make awards for webcomics, to represent their own opinions and help promote comics they think others should read. We need MORE people promoting GOOD webcomics.
Let me see if I can construct this question coherently — has the balance of comics permanently shifted at this point to something more like the diversity of the larger literary world where you have a ton of styles and genres available and the industry isn't built around one genre (superheroes) or style (manga)? Particularly in terms of mixing up styles and exploring new genres I think we're in a golden age of creators filling a lot of niches now (and not all of those niches are niche in size).
Tyrrell: Yes. Inarguably, yes.
Garrity: Yes, but, like I said above, the genres are mostly pretty geeky. The Act-I-Vate group has an interesting selection of comics that break the mold. They're muy macho.
Woodruff: It's getting there. Circumstances, timing and the right outside promoter could propel comics back into a more general audience. You also can't tell all stories in a Kirby-esque or manga-esque way so the visual language of comics may need some adjustment before mass appeal can come back. Sigh. If it's not obvious by now, I am always asking myself how very different things would be if only we did things a different way.
Alverson: Yes. Superheroes seem to be doing pretty well, but webcomics, manga, and bookstore distribution of graphic novels have brought sequential storytelling to the rest of the world. For example, the vast majority of the people who read Chris Muir's Day by Day on political websites probably don't think of themselves as comics fans, and I'd wager the same is true of readers who hear about Fun Home or American Born Chinese on NPR and then buy it at Borders. As for niche interests, I have recently run across webcomics aimed at bicycle enthusiasts, paintballers, and community organizers. While they may be sparsely distributed geographically, those readers can form a big community if they have a single gathering space on the web, so "niche" doesn't have to mean "tiny" any more.
Fesworks: I believe that it's in a constant state of flux. You'll always have people that will try to make a comic focused on a particular style and/or genre; as well as those that constantly try to do something new or a mixture. The web makes comics much more accessible to see other people's work, and get new ideas. What's "generally popular" will still move along with the times and society's thinking, but I don't think that affects what most webcomickers will produce. Niches can easily expand and captivate a larger audience. New ideas are constantly tested and frequently accepted in all areas. I don't really think people really care about genres or styles as much as they think they do.
Badman: The balance has certainly shifted a lot, though I suspect the viewpoint on that would depend on who you ask. I'm certainly heartened on a personal level by not having to explain "comics" to someone if I talk about making or writing about them. I don't have to say "No, not Batman, not Garfield" anymore like I did 10+ years ago.
I really like how the manga market has been shifting a bit into more genres and styles (I do not agree that manga is a "style" unto itself).
The real mainstream (ie not Marvel/DC) of comics seems to be going much more the same way as the book market, where autobiography, topical subjects, and young adult (y.a.) are taking precedence over literary or arty productions.
Cruz: It’s getting there, but I think there are just some styles people prefer. Webcomics in particular revolve around what’s popular with, say, nerds at the time. Which is why you see the popular ones catering to gamers. I’d imagine there’d be more math/physics based comics, but very few are as clever about it as Randall Munroe. But still, ask yourself this: how many webcomics are about nerdy shut-ins who play video games all day? And how many webcomics are about, say, people who like sports? It’s skewed toward the first. I’m sure you can argue that there are webcomics that deal with different subjects — and THERE ARE! — but they aren’t as popular as your nerdy shut-in webcomics. Look, Love & Rockets were around during the 80’s, and Pete Bagge’s Hate was kicking in the 90’s, but that doesn’t mean that superheroes weren’t the big game in town in those days.
And I guess I always ends with this question. Give me a bold prediction about webcomics for 2009.
Alverson: Apple will finally release their tablet, and the combination of display quality, ease of use, and actual payment for creators will quickly make it the dominant platform for comics. The internet will have to make do with stick figures and furries, and my iPod will self-destruct on orders from Central Administration. But I'll love it!
Woodruff: I have this feeling that someone with a lot of comics will drop out of the Internet and take a huge swath with them. Say someone with thousands of comics under on their site has a massive server crash and the comics are all just gone. Or like Geocities – they just take down the server one day because they are done with the business. I wonder what would happen to all those fans that gather on sites like those if something like that happened… would they seek out new life in other comic arenas? Or would they boldly go…
Fesworks: I predict that we'll see more successful webcomics that are much better defined overall. We'll also see more reader's spending money on the webcomics industry than ever before; however, webcomic creators will likely be spending MORE money on assorted tools of the trade.
Draper Carlson: A shakeout as people get tired of trying to do this for money. Those who love it will stick with it, perhaps erratically, but those who have dreams of becoming the next Scott Kurtz will have to realize that they may not make it. I guess that's not bold, since it's already been happening.
Badman: Umm… enough well regarded print creators/publishers move into "webcomics" that it is no longer considered a separate entity from "comics" but is rather just another form for publishing/reading. Instead we'll see more of the genre, mainstream/alt, etc. types of divisions we see in the print world.
Tyrrell: The prominence of both Easthampton and Portland (OR) in the webcomics scene will lead to a serious of vicious East Coast/West Coast battles. Eventually, the Canadians will be forced to intervene and restore the peace. In the smoldering aftermath, with casualties high on all sides, Wiley Miller will improbably emerge as the world's most popular webcartoonist.
Cruz: Bad Machinery will turn into Scary Go Round, the same way Outland turned into Bloom County.
Garrity: Hollywood will make a totally boss movie of Cat and Girl.