The ComixTalk 2010 Roundtable
Submitted by Xaviar Xerexes on December 16, 2010 - 02:27
I used to ask about the divide between web and print comics. As both people making comics and people reading comics become increasingly flexible in their approach to comics what is the relationship between digital and print now?
Alverson: Outside the superhero/comic shop realm, I think digital is taking the place of single-issue comics. Superheroes and a handful of other comics sell to the hard-core Wednesday crowd, but that experience is less important -- and may even be a deal-killer -- for other potential readers. And since there are only about 3,000 comics shops in the U.S., huge swaths of the country have nowhere at all for people to buy pamphlet comics. Only a handful of publishers (Marvel, DC, Archie, and Boom! Studios) are able to distribute floppies outside comics stores.
Going straight to trade is not easy -- single-issue comics help publishers and creators spread out their costs and build an audience before taking the plunge with a thick, expensive graphic novel. Digital is the logical solution to that. In fact, in the manga realm, Viz basically switched over to a single-issue model with its Shonen Sunday and SigIKKI websites, which put up new manga a chapter at a time, then pull most of them down once the print volume is out. And Tokyopop is releasing Hetalia one chapter at a time on comiXology.
Tyrrell: Independent, creator-owned comics will make different decisions than corporations that are managing legacy IP. It doesn't matter if first (or primary) publication is bits or atoms, except that nobody's managed to embed DRM on printed material.
Davis: Even putting aside the new digital apps, the wall is pretty permeable on both ends. Most of the webcomickers I read make a good chunk of change selling print books, and I do notice their books in brick and mortar stores from time to time. And there are comics like The Adventures of Superhero Girl, which actually started life in a Halifax alt-weekly before Faith Erin Hicks decided to syndicate it online as well. Just a few weeks ago, James Stokoe posted the first hundred pages of his comic Murderbullets online. And hey, we’ve got Bill Amend doing guest strips for xkcd.
Heater: Mainstream still seems largely defined by the print-to-digital flow (the money, after all, is still in print). Indie comics, depending on the particular artist, can go either way. I’m seeing a number of cartoonist offer work online for free and later anthologize it. Anecdotally, the offering of free material only seems to drum up interest in the purchase of a physical anthology. Dash Shaw is a good example of a cartoonist harnessing the seemingly limitless potential of the Web to push the boundaries of print.
MacDonald: I think you see almost every creator putting some of their work on the digital platform even if it's just as a sampler. The Girl Genius model -- digital serialization for eventual print -- was so revolutionary a few years ago. Now it's ubiquitous.
BTW, I do have to add the caveat that print is not dead and has a bright, vibrant future as well. They are different approaches to the same thing. Everyone talks about how interactive digital is, but I love being able to flip back in the pages of a book and look up something that I missed the first time. Plus, books don't need batteries. Our brains process printed information differently than electronic information. I think this is going to become part of the dividing line for what's native to print and what's native to web.
Cruz: There’s still a barrier. I’m still an avid comic book reader, so I follow plenty of comic sites as well. Very few of the print comic sites also follow webcomics. They’re basically two separate genres. Want to follow superheroes, the guys in colorful tights who clobber each other on the big screen? Well, then print comics are for you. Want to chuckle at a strip that you can post on a messageboard and laugh at with your virtual comrades? Webcomics, then. The iPad’s not going to change this divide. If those comics catch on (and right now, that’s still a big “if”), then the print vs. webcomics divide will shift to digital comics (or iPad comics) vs. webcomics, with readers and creators aligning almost exclusively with one side. It’s a divide that’s been around as long as Marvel/DC vs. indy comics, and it’s something that I think will continue into the digital age.
Marshall: I think there's still a pretty big divide between online comics readers and print comics readers - making it difficult for publishers (and publicists and creators) to find success on both sides of the print/online border. While that divide might become more fluid in the years to come, I don't think this was the year that print and online audiences became interchangeable. I think there's still some time before readers weigh print and online comics similarly. We're still operating in an environment in which print comic readers generally see online comics as a completely different (and often lesser quality) product, and vice versa with webcomics readers and the way they see traditional print comics.
Who do you think were some of the most influential people this year in terms of their impact on digital comics? Who moved? Who shook?
Alverson: David Steinberger of comiXology, because for most people, comiXology is the default comics reader. It's the easiest to use, it has the most comics (including Marvel and DC), and they also provide the infrastructure for a number of single-publisher apps, including Marvel, DC, and Boom, and single-series apps such as Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead.
Hikaru Sasahara, the president of Digital Manga Publishing. Despite its name, Digital is primarily a print publisher, but their online manga site eManga is getting bigger and pulling in works from other publishers. I think this is essential, to have a site that focuses on a particular type of comics (in this case, yaoi manga) rather than work from a single publisher, and it's one reason why scanlation sites have done so well. Sasahara is also pioneering a new way to publish manga online, essentially a legal form of scanlation in which licensors would permit the use of the manga, and fans would translate and edit it, all for no money up front but a cut of the profits once it sold.
MacDonald: I also have to give big props to David Steinberger of ComiXology. As he's fond of bringing up, we all laughed when we first met him and heard about his plans, but now he's the go to guy for most of the industry. In a world where big talk is the common currency, David has been about results first, talking about them second. It's really refreshing.
I was impressed with how a lot of the DC crew went through a very difficult year. Jim Lee, the new co-publisher, has always been a big computer nerd, and digital enthusiast, and putting someone as well spoken and well informed as he is in charge of the digital world for one of the major publishers radically upped their visibility and also what they are comfortable with in the digital realm. Despite all the ups and downs of Zuda, I think Ron Perazza also showed himself as a class act with a lot of faith in digital. With DC's digital department moving to LA it will be interesting to see how the integrate with the studio.
Meredith Gran and her comics and Webcomics Weekend were also very important. I wish I could have gone to the latter -- I have a lot to learn about and it sounds like a fanatastic incubator. It was fascinating to watch how Kate Beaton handled her popularity and the growing opportunities that it afforded her. She also touched off a very strong debate on issues that have been bubbling under with sexism, and I think that whole debate shocked a lot of people.
This is definitely some self aggrandizement, but I thought ICv2's Digital Comics Conference, which The Beat co-sponsored, came off very well. Milton Griepp did a good job of getting people from different parts of the digital world to speak, and I felt that attendees really came out of it better informed and inspired than they went in. I hope so anyway!
Cruz: Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade somehow ended up as the #15 on the Time 100 most influential people list, proving that Internet voting is easily gamed.
Davis: I keep coming back to Kate Beaton and Lucy Knisley, who have both taken their work far beyond the core webcomics audience. Not only did Marvel publish them both, but Beaton also had a comic in The New Yorker, which seemed like a light bulb moment for a lot of people. Not that these cartoonists need the vindication of old media publications, but that these traditional publications may be looking for just the energy and innovation that exists among webcomics artists. And Knisley’s recent work has had such widespread appeal -- from her fan squeeing moments over Harry Potter to her “It Gets Better” entry.
Marshall: I think the Goats and Octopus Pie books published by major mainstream book publishers made a big impact on the industry, even though they might not have sold up to publishers' expectations. The books looked amazing, and offered a great indication of the life the comics can have outside of their websites. If creators and publishers can find the right balance in publishing strategy, expectations, and presentation, there's a great relationship to be had there. I also feel like ZUDA shutting down made a big impact on the scene, and felt like sort of a no-confidence vote in DC's online comics strategy, which actually spawned a few great comics (like High Moon, for example). I'm eager to see what they do next as far as original online comics, as there were definitely some successes there despite the many criticisms.
I'd also include New England Webcomics Weekend. I'm proud to say I've been able to attend the last two years, and Meredith Gran, Rich Stevens, the TopatoCo crew, and everyone else involved with the event deserve heaps of praise for what they've done with that convention. In two short years, it's become the digital comics equivalent to the MoCCA Festival, with all of the unique tweaks, quirks, and appeal that sets webcomics apart from print. It's easily one of my favorite shows of the year.
Cruz: Another person who shook the webcomic world was the creator of "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day". (I know her name isn't exactly the biggest secret, but since she's in hiding, I hate to think I helped any of her enemies in any way.) The online protest, which involved a lot of webcomic creators and, yes, actual webcomics of Mohammed, started as a stand for free speech. What happened is a modern example of how politics have changed thanks to the Internet. The cause got co-opted by people who believed more in an anti-Islamist stand than free speech. The original proponents changed their view on the subject and went out of their way to say they respected Mohammed. And then the death threats, which were pretty serious considering someone really did die for drawing a comic about Mohammed before. While "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" probably never accomplished its goal, the entire event showed how effective online art can be, and unless you respect that power you really are putting your own life in jeopardy.