The Collective Convective
Keenspot and Modern Tales were Big Pandaâ€™s most influential descendants, at least as of late 2004. But they were far from the only ones. As the number of webcomics continued to grow, the formation of collectives became as easy as the joining of bubbles in a bathtub. And like bubbles, they defied attempts to keep track of them all.
But categories began to emerge: (1) dropdowns, (2) kaffeeklatches, (3) showcase hosts (closed and open), (4) subscription sites, and (5) one pay-per-view store.
These collectives are worth studying, both in success and in failure, for every success shows where webcomics may be heading and where they may not be heading.
Dropdowns challenge the definition of "collective." Turbocool aimed for the least common denominator: it was nothing more than a cross-promotional dropdown list, placed upon each member site and the sites of any theoretical Turbocool supporters.
Turbocool had quality strips like File 49 and Killroy and Tina, but its strips had no incentive to remain members once they established audiences of their own. Also, Turbocool, "the embarrassingly titled webcomics conglomerate," bore the name of a popular air-conditioning unit, which kept it from building up much search engine presence. While the dropdown list still links to the original membership, most members no longer feature it on their sites.
"I donâ€™t think I ever really thought about my break from Turbocool," says Kara Dennison of Conscrew, "and I feel a bit bad about that."
Many other "dropdown" collectives formed, and many disbanded or lost support just as easily, but as of late 2004, they keep forming. There are even portals that collect these dropdowns on one page (collective collectives?). Probably the best are The Webcomic Dropdown Listing and the Keenspace Dropdown Directory. Keenspace is especially fertile ground for collectives to grow, particularly themed collectives like BloodKeen (vampires) and KeenHeroines (strong female characters). However, most non-Keen dropdowns have no such themes. Lacking a clear identity, they seem doomed to Turbocoolâ€™s eventual fate.
If thereâ€™s a success model for such a non-themed, low-commitment group, the Nice probably points the way. You get out of things what you put into them. Beyond the dropdowns, the Nice has forums, a randomized, cross-promotional homepage and higher standards for membership than most "dropdown" collectives. Its homepage announces, "The Nice is a group of cartoonists. We take our art seriously. We provide services to our cartoonists, because we want to see them succeed."
A similarly social, but less socialist, spirit dominates the kaffeeklatches: groups of close friends, bound by affection, respect and common love of cartooning rather than any particular business model or strict cross-promotional interest. Among the examples are AltBrand, Ape-Law, Dayfree Press, Exile Comics, Dumbrella and the now-defunct Collective Inkwell and Rocketbox Comics.
AltBrand boasts forums and once hosted an annual muscular dystrophy fundraiser. This may make it the highest-profile kaffeeklatch. But that isnâ€™t saying much. Bonds of friendship may make webcartoonists happier workers, but they make unreliable brand identities and leave audiences unmoved.
Which has serious implications for showcase hosts, particularly PV Comics.
A "showcase host" is a company that provides hosting for various comics, one central URL for them and some co-branding. Keenspot and Keenspace are showcase hosts (or, arguably, two halves of a single showcase host).
The collaboration of twelve cartoonists, PV began its existence as a scrappy subscription site, but switched tracks to free offerings after nine months. Its work has always had an edgy flavor, leading Eric Burns to call it "the Image Comics of" webcomics. But site founder Logan DeAngelis insists no one deliberately cultivated that flavor. And as they fly into their new business model of free webcomics promoting print comics, DeAngelis maintains that PV is not defined by this business plan any more than it was by the old one.
So what does define PV Comics? "The common denominator between our strips," he says, "is that the twelve of us are friends."
That common denominator may not be enough to set them apart in the gradually mainstreaming webcomics audience.
PV has another thing in common with kaffeeklatches: it has no corporate structure. DeAngelis is proudly "first among equals." That means the real test of PV Comics will come with the changing times. Who can adapt to change better, a loose confederation of equals or a centralized business? PVâ€™s current identity did form by natural coalescence, like Gaia forming from the Void. Perhaps it can do so again when changing times require it. The question of whether it can, and how well, looms over its future.
PV Comics, like Keenspot, is a "closed" showcase host, usually not interested in new strips except to replace old ones. For cartoonists considering "open" hosts like Keenspace, another question looms: pay or free?
The major free open hosts are Keenspace and Drunk Duck. Drunk Duck emerged during Keenspaceâ€™s bad times as a more informal yet better-maintained and coded alternative to Keenspace, with forums, advertiser support and a merchandise store. Despite a memorable icon (which oddly resembles an adult Plucky Duck from Tiny Toon Adventures) Drunk Duck has no more of a brand identity than Keenspaceâ€”virtually anything goes. Their homepage, like Big Pandaâ€™s of old, is more of a shifting meritocracy than a static list of links, due largely to its symbiotic ties with BuzzComix.
To understand BuzzComix, one has to understand the "top comics lists" in whose footsteps it follows. At one time, vote-driven popularity contests like Planet Cartoonistâ€™s top 100 site lists drove a respectable share of webcomics traffic. Cartoonists like Maritza Campos announced their #1 status with pride. As the Web expanded, though, top 100 lists became less and less relevant: the true "top 100" of webcomics no longer needed them much. Buzzcomix has managed to buck this trend through its bond with Drunk Duck and high-profile strips like Girly.
Still, despite Drunk Duckâ€™s quality of service and unbeatable price tag, for sheer high profile Comics Sherpa has become the site to beat. For 100 dollars a year, Sherpa offers hosting, a chance to compete for rankings a la BuzzComix (but only with other Sherpa cartoonists) plus exposure on Universal Press Syndicate's uComics.com site. Theoretically, this places them one step closer to syndication in printed
newspapers-and it definitely entitles. At this writing, four strips have made the transition to uComics.com, and one, very recently, made the transition to print: Suzie View by Tauhid Bondia and Erik McCurdy.
Note, though: among the three other strips is .blue, a series of computer graphics exercises that wouldnâ€™t play well in black-and-white newsprint. Nor does that seem to be the goal for creator Julein Tromeur.
"I had fun doing 30 of them, and I moved on. A few months later I showed them on a forum and had good feedback, so I decided to start again, and I'm having fun every time I'm doing one."
So not all Sherpa users entertain print ambitions. But for most, thatâ€™s the big draw, and Universal plays to that. "Why are we going to all this trouble?" asks their site copy, which then answers, "We're confident that the next Larson, Trudeau or Watterson is out there, waiting to be discovered!" Their history does back them up to some degree: they were the syndicate to take the plunge with Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet.
Comics Sherpaâ€™s only real competition on the horizon is WebcomicsNation. Touted as the Next Big Thing for Modern Tales, WebcomicsNation promises "a comprehensive suite of server-side software tools to help any small press print cartoonist or webcomics creator build and manage his/her online business." It has yet to launch at this writing.
Universal Press has also entered the same competitive space as Modern Tales with its own subscription site, MyComicsPage. All the newspaper syndicates established some sort of beachhead in online comics eventually, but Universal Press stormed right into them, setting up not only a basic "latest two weeks" site for its most popular features (uComics.com), but MyComicsPage, a fully searchable site for the dedicated comic-strip fan. Recently, King Features followed suit with DailyINK, a subscription site featuring their own print-syndicated work.
This has begun to make waves in the online community. How many it will make depends on how close the audiences for newspaper strips and webcomics grow.
Amy Lago, editor of the Washington Post Writersâ€™ Group syndicate, expresses her doubts about that. "The Web audience isnâ€™t always a sign of print success," she says. In fact, WPWGâ€™s biggest recent launchâ€”Berkeley Breathedâ€™s Opusâ€”has actually avoided placing its strips online. Still, Universal Pressâ€™s acquisition rate has been rapid. Perfect indicator or not, the relation between print and online strips appears here to stay.
Two other subscription sites deserve mention. Both have earned their success by appealing to specific and populous sections of the webcomics audience. For their fees, Wirepop offers manga-influenced comics, while Slipshine has pornographic comics (note: this link is not work-safe). Both manga and pornography are well-loved and well-hated in different corners of the webcomics community, but the sites provide high-caliber material in quantity on a regular basis, and their subscribers reward this.
No such high-profile, themed sites exist in the "showcase host" model. Itâ€™s too soon yet to say for sure if that reflects the natural state of webcomics, or if subscription sites have merely been trendy for the last two years. As other webcomics genres come to prominenceâ€”autobiography, superhero, videogameâ€”they will probably attract their own branded collectives, and prove the issue more decisively.
Finally, the pay-per-view store Zero One Comics pursues an avenue unlike that of any other collectiveâ€¦ though individual cartoonists are beginning to pick it up. Itâ€™s an a la carte site where people simply pay for the comics they want, at prices far lower than what a comic-book shop can offer (but per-transaction profits equal to or higher than those of the comic-book business). Jenni and Barry Gregory have been doing Abbyâ€™s Menagerie, one of the most prominent and best-drawn early webcomics, for years. The tried virtually every other business model before settling on this one, which has also attracted webcomics movers and shakers Steve Conley and Steven Withrow. But this traditional "bricks and mortar" approach was virtually unworkable online for such small commitments until a new technology emerged, a technology validating years-old predictions from one of webcomicsâ€™ founding fathers.
Micropayments had arrived.
Collectives remain important to the business of webcomics. Larger companies have a proportionately greater ability to sell ads, sell subscriptions and create and sell merchandise than most smaller, individual players.
But in the ensuing year, micropayments would be one of two factors concentrating some of the business of webcomics back into the hands of the relatively little guys. We will explore these factors in Chapter 9.
T Campbell is a regular contributor to Comixpedia. He is the editor of the Graphic Smash anthology webcomic subscription site and the writer of the long-running webcomic Fans! and other work.
Ha! Well, if Turbocool had to fail, I’m glad it at least managed to live on in our hearts as a symbol of failure.
I’ve been enjoying the series so far, but this installment was disappointing. Not only does it spend little time on the history this time, but it’s often rather patly dismissive of various collectives without giving much examination into why. The “Kaffeeklatche” segment in particular has me scratching my head:
“AltBrand boasts forums and once hosted an annual muscular dystrophy fundraiser. This may make it the highest-profile kaffeeklatch. But that isn’t saying much. Bonds of friendship may make webcartoonists happier workers, but they make unreliable brand identities and leave audiences unmoved.”
In the first place, all of those collectives with the exception of Ape-Law have forums. so I don’t understand why you would make a point of saying “AltBrand boasts forums”. Also, I find the claim that AltBrand is the probably the “highest profile kaffeklatch” pretty weird. I was unfamiliar with it or most of it’s member comics prior to this article, and I have a feeling I’m not alone in this. At the very least, I think claiming that it’s higher up on the radar than Dayfree or Dumbrella would appear to defy observable reality. (I don’t mean this as a knock on AltBrand. They appear to have some interesting comics. I’m speaking more to the reliability of the article.)
Also, how are these groups failures? The article claims they don’t work but never makes a good case. From what I’ve seen of Dumbrella for instance, (Disclosure time: I’m not a member but they host my messsage board.) they have a large fanbase that spills over from strip to strip, they make good money in merchandising (And more recently advertising from non comics sources.) and they have high visibilty on the web. (3 out of 5 of their titles have appeared in Comixpedia’s list of the Webcomics’ top 20.) Dayfree also appears to be having quite a bit of success. (I’m not as familiar with Exile. Ape-Law seems to do pretty well considering many of it’s titles don’t update on a regular basis.)
Like I said, I’ve enjoyed this series so far, but it’s drifing into into editorializing with less thorough analysis and (Consciously or not) a noticeable bias towards the pay model of webcomics. If T Campbell wants to write about why one model of webcomics collective is better than another that’s fine, but why not do it in an editorial on that subject as opposed to this history series?
Everything ever written has a bias. Even the stock market pages.
-Saga of the Ram
So are you saying there can never be too much?
I always list this series as one of the things I really like on Comixpedia, and I was looking forward to this installment. After having a whole chapter devoted just to Joey Manley and Modern Tales, giving large parts of the webcomics scene a couple of paragraphs each is pretty disappointing and weak.
Why, for instance, are webcomics voting lists included in a discussion of collectives? For most people who join them, it’s a question of putting a button on your site and having your relative votes counted and that’s about it. Many of the sites on vote lists are already members of collectives. Really, a whole separate topic on this would have been worthwhile. Instead we are told [i]”One has to understand the “top comics lists””[/i] without ever being TOLD the history of “Top comics lists”. campbell ends by saying [i]”As the Web expanded, though, top 100 lists became less and less relevant: the true “top 100” of webcomics no longer needed them much. Buzzcomix has managed to buck this trend through its bond with Drunk Duck and high-profile strips like Girly.”[/i] While it’s true that the bigger strips get more hits in an hour than most lists could provide in a week, they are still a very big thing with small to medium sized strips. Buzzcomix isn’t erally “Bucking a trend” so much as that when the original version of the Topwebcomics list collapsed, they caught the mantle as the bigger list. There’s like what, three of these things? Also, in recent times they’ve had much bigger name strips than “Girly”.
Another thing, how is Comics Sherpa’s “Real competition” Webcomics Nation? What more do they have to do with each other than anything else in the article? One is affiliated with a comics syndicate and one offers software tools. Where is the major overlap?
Difficult to give anything but a very speculative thought on the last part of this post (Comic sherpa/webcomics nation). It could be said that webcomicnation will be pretty much the only competitor (possibly also Keenprime, but I’m not very familiar with it) to Comic sherpa. They would both compete over the same segment of comic creators, those who are willing to pay for hosting with a large degree of automation. It could probably be argued that both Keenspace and Drunkduck also competes with them, but if one limits the scope to people who want to pay and get professional support etc. then comic sherpa and webcomicnation would appear to be positioned to become the two major vendors of such services.
As mentioned this is highly speculative considering that little is known of the hosting part of webcomicsnation.
I suppose you could make that argument, although Drunkduck does offer an enhanced pay hosting package in addition to it’s free service. Currently Webcomics Nation doesn’t offer anything like this. A month ago I posted a question in Joey Manley’s own forum asking him to clarify what kind of services beyond the swapmeet they were going to offer and was met with silence. At this point, it’s inclusion in the article seems pointless.
I never know whether to respond to criticism, despite how often I do so. I don’t know if it’s my place to enter the critical space that way. But since you’ve asked questions, Steve, I’ll answer as best I can. I’m service-oriented like that.
I was listing everything AltBrand had to offer besides the comics themselves, trying to present a full picture of what they brought to the table.
Your next two questions– why is AltBrand higher-profile than Dumbrella or Dayfree, and why are they all “failures”– are better answered at the same time.
I’ve read some of the strips on Dayfree and Dumbrella, sporadically, for years. And I never *knew* they were Dayfree or Dumbrella sites until I researched this article. (The kind of “peripheral blindness” that afffects webcomics readers, including me, is worth an article of its own.) AltBrand’s existence only popped onto my radar beforehand because their MS fundraiser made a lot of noise and because their links were slightly more prominently displayed.
Note, though: I *never* said these sites were failures. What I actually said was:
“Bonds of friendship may make webcartoonists happier workers, but they make unreliable brand identities and leave audiences unmoved.”
If your only GOAL is to make webcartoonists happier workers, then a kaffeeklatch may be right for you. Take a look at Dayfree’s mission statement:
“To create a small, quality group of webcomics that will be stronger and happier together than apart. We have achieved this modest goal through promotion, community, reputation, and respect.” (from http://www.dayfreepress.com/mission.shtml)
If they’re quickly dismissed from the history, it’s because they don’t seem to be in a position to MAKE history. When Keenspot heads onto the newspaper page and PV Comics publishes an anthology of their strips, it’s news. Take a look at the Comixpedia news archives for Dumbrella, Dayfree and AltBrand…
…and well, they’re pretty much confined to articles about individual member strips (acting independently), convention announcements, and the occasional fun bonus feature.
Bottom line, these groups don’t actually DO much. That doesn’t mean they’re failures, though; it just means that the groups’ goals are modest ones. (Individual creators within those groups may be more ambitious, but for their own sakes.)
Your question about WCN (from elsewhere in the thread): figuring out how to treat WCN has been one of the hardest things about this series. I know for a fact that it’s consuming much of Joey Manley’s schedule and he considers it THE future of Modern Tales. Given that Modern Tales HAS been a history-maker through most of its existence, I decided it was worth a quick nod, even though it’s not here yet.
Penultimately, the pay model bias. I really don’t know what you mean by “pay model,” since most cartoonists are hoping to get paid for their work SOMEDAY, SOMEHOW. From my background, I’d assume you meant subscription sites and maybe micropayments, too. And maybe-maybe pay showcase sites a la Comics Sherpa, too?
If any of the above, then I do think the development of these three economic models is a very significant part of what’s happening in webcomics. Three years ago, only pay showcase sites had any traction, and only recently have they seemed attractive once again. Still, it may be worth analyzing how much progress these models are REALLY making in comparison to the traditional ads-and-merch approach. Could be a good idea for the next chapter. Which segues into…
Finally, my thanks. This discussion has given me some excellent ideas, not only for the chapters ahead, but for further editions down the line (necessary anyway, as new events give us new perspective on old ones). Ferinstance, it’s probably worth incorporating some of that Alt-Day-Dumb discussion into the text.
Further comments and crits are welcomed.
“I always list this series as one of the things I really like on Comixpedia, and I was looking forward to this installment. After having a whole chapter devoted just to Joey Manley and Modern Tales, giving large parts of the webcomics scene a couple of paragraphs each is pretty disappointing and weak.”
T posted an addendum to the previous chapter, so there’s a chance he will on this one too. Although I’m with him on this one…
…let’s not forget we’re talking about the History of Online Comics here. Trying to collect enough info for an article like this isn’t a trivial chore. Making choices in the process is inevitable, and I do believe T’s going the right way, taking out of his article the facts that did not impact on the way we see webcomics.
I have a lot of respect and admiration for the people at Dumbrella and Dayfree Press, but all in honest those collectives didn’t do any more to the webcomic culture at large than their creatures did individually. And the decision to cut out on the comments on those collectives may be merely an aesthetic choice. Talking about every one individually of those could be largely pleonastic, those collectives all seem to start more or less the same way and end the same way.
Webcomic groups could deserve an article of their own. The reasons behind this bonding together could be interesting to follow and study. But I don’t believe they play a major role in webcomics story, at least not yet.
FYI, fixed a couple of typos. My apologies for not catching them earlier.
Kelly J. Cooper
Comixpedia Features Editor
Scary Go Round, Wigu and Diesel Sweeties all joined the buzzcomix list, but apparently withdrew soon afterwards after being criticised for being ‘too big’ for the list
Webcomics voting lists are mentioned in passing here because they’re an integral part of Drunk Duck. The mention is in passing because– by any halfway objective measure I can determine– their influence has grown much more limited over the years. There was a time when REAL top-rated strips like SLUGGY and USER FRIENDLY coveted being #1 on these lists; now they couldn’t care less– and many new, small strips ignore the lists too, a far greater percentage than when I was getting started in webcomics. I think that collectives have taken over a lot of the top site lists’ former role. Can you be more specific about your counterexamples? “Girly” was the biggest name I could find.
Comics Sherpa is a site with a powerful sponsor that offers hosting to cartoonists, plus additional features specifically geared toward cartooning, for a fee. So is Webcomics Nation. Hence the competition.
Thanks for the reply. I think responding is helpful in this case because it helps explain the thought process and furthers the discussion.
I think what I feel are the problems with this particular entry is a combination of the aforementioned “peripheral blindness” and that it seems like you’ve got three things that would work better as separate entries.
I feel like there is more meat for the discussion of collectives than Comixpedia headlines would suggest. Collectives may in and of themselves be about promoting the artists who are members, but how they develop themselves and how they influence other webcartoonists can be of interest. More and more such ventures keep springing up all the time (“Gewd Guys”, “Hot Bullet Press” etc.) and there’s reason to believe that this kind of pooling of resources will continue to be popular with creators. (Even if it’s not always successful.)
I read the line [b]”but they make unreliable brand identities and leave audiences unmoved.[/b]” as a sort of failure, and I’m not sure that it’s completely true. My observation from the Dumbrella strips and forums (I’m focusing on this because I’m more familiar with it. Other people may have better information on other groups.) is that the artists in question have fairly similar sensibilities. (In fact, two strips share a common character…sort of.) There are actually “Dumbrella fans” . You see the many of same people turning up in all the different strips’ forums, and they even arrange events like mini conventions and “Proms” and such. (In a way, much like the Howard Dean campaign, some of this energy is all about college kids trying to hookup with members of the opposite sex. The collective’s main social forum “The Super Mega Party of Fun” is rife with flirting and flashing.) This says to me that there is indeed a portion of the webcomic audience that is not unmoved by the grouping of these strips. I’d also tend to argue that Dumbrella has some historical significance, if only that as a movement (Along with former member Chris Onstad’s Achewood) it’s shown that strip’s that have a more offbeat sensibility can connect with audiences in a sort of indie rock way, and that merchandising can be a major source of strip’s revenues.
I think to really give a good picture of all this sort of stuff, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to follow Al Schroeder’s lead of posting in various forums to get info and suggestions for articles. You may have to separate the wheat from the chaff, but I think it would help a bit in getting more of the big picture on what’s going on in webcomics. (I do sympathize that you’ve taken on a near impossible task.)
My second point is that I think there’s material here that would be better broken down into separate elements, namely collectives, the interaction between webcomics and newspapers and webcomic voting lists.
While I can see that Webcomics Nation may very well have a strong impact on the webcomics community, I still don’t see an especially close relation between the various proposed features and Comics Sherpa. It seems to me that you could get a better discussion going by relating Comics Sherpa and the syndicate sites with the current efforts of Keenspace and Scott Kurtz to offer alternatives to syndicates. At the heart of it, there’s a more direct competition going on here. (Webcomics going into papers, syndicate vs non syndicate.)
I also think that voting lists could well be a topic on their own (Given the soap opera-ish conflicts and successes and failures.) and I wouldn’t count them out yet. While it’s true that the biggest strips no longer participate in them, this has to some degree enhanced the kingmaker status of the sites for medium sized strips trying to become big strips. (A Modest Destiny’s Sean Howard, for instance, credits the old Top Webcomics voting list for helping build up his audience.) Sluggy Freelance might not be playing any more, but hundreds of webcomics (Including my own) have vote buttons in the hopes that exposure on the lists will translate into new readers. It’s still something that has a lot of pull in the webcomics community.
With regards to the “Pay model” comment, I was speaking of subscription sites. I don’t mean to suggest that you are unethically trying to push one model to the detriment of others, but rather that I frequently see a perception gap between people on subscription sites (Who also tend to see things in more McCloudian terms) and the rest of the webcomics scene. It’s the “Peripheral blindness” thing again in terms of not seeing how strips are succeeding without receiving direct payments. I may have overstated this somewhat, but I do think that other models could stand to be more thoroughly explored here.
I’m sorry if I’ve been pretty negative here. As I’ve stated before, I’ve really enjoyed this series overall, and I commend your efforts. It’s just that my main attraction to it is that the historical information on the development, and I’d hate to see that less fully explored as it moves into the increasingly complicated and large webcomics scene of recent years.
[b]I think what I feel are the problems with this particular entry is a combination of the aforementioned “peripheral blindness…”[/b]
I see your point, but if the majority of readers don’t see a collective’s logo, how transparent is it? Either members think their collective is important enough to stick its brand up at the top of their sites, or they don’t. But don’t think I’m dismissing your points out of hand here… read on.
[b]…it seems like you’ve got three things that would work better as separate entries.[/b]
This chapter’s about collectives, not newspapers or voting sites. Newspapers and voting sites are only touched upon to the extent that they influence collectives.
I agree, the relationship between newspapers and webcomics is changing practically as we speak, and there’s a lot of potential for future developments there (GARFIELD still has a lot of reach, like it or not). That will be covered in a future chapter.
Top 100 lists– I dunno. However, a larger piece about the promotional history of webcomics, including ALL the methods used to bring them to people’s attention, past and present– that may go somewhere.
[b]I feel like there is more meat for the discussion of collectives than Comixpedia headlines would suggest. Collectives may in and of themselves be about promoting the artists who are members, but how they develop themselves and how they influence other webcartoonists can be of interest. More and more such ventures keep springing up all the time (“Gewd Guys”, “Hot Bullet Press” etc.) and there’s reason to believe that this kind of pooling of resources will continue to be popular with creators. (Even if it’s not always successful.)[/b]
This chapter’s about all collectives, which by my definition are any group of webcartoonists acting in concert, from the loosest group to the most tightly knit, from the most informal to incorporated businesses and subsidiaries. The way you use the term suggests that your “collective” would be my “kaffeeklatch.”
The majority of webcomics readers aren’t cartoonists, even though it sometimes seems that way, and kaffeeklatches tend to carry much more importance to their participants than to their audience. I have seen SO many kaffeklatches come and go because they didn’t realize this, not only online but in print. Dumbrella may not be one of those, though. Read on.
[b]I read the line “but they make unreliable brand identities and leave audiences unmoved” as a sort of failure…[/b]
That depends on whether failure is a failure to achieve YOUR goals, or a failure to influence history.
As for artistic movements in the webcomics community (some of which are aided and abetted by kaffeeklatches)– Chapter 10.
[b]There are actually “Dumbrella fans.” You see the many of same people turning up in all the different strips’ forums, and they even arrange events like mini conventions and “Proms” and such. (In a way, much like the Howard Dean campaign, some of this energy is all about college kids trying to hookup with members of the opposite sex. The collective’s main social forum “The Super Mega Party of Fun” is rife with flirting and flashing.) This says to me that there is indeed a portion of the webcomic audience that is not unmoved by the grouping of these strips. I’d also tend to argue that Dumbrella has some historical significance, if only that as a movement (Along with former member Chris Onstad’s Achewood) it’s shown that strip’s that have a more offbeat sensibility can connect with audiences in a sort of indie rock way, and that merchandising can be a major source of strip’s revenues.[/b]
This is a strong case for Dumbrella. I’ll see where they are in 2005 and rewrite their description accordingly.
However, some of the reasons for its importance stem from techniques I’d associate with showcase hosts. The indie-rock flavor you identify, for example, which explains why they tend to fly under some people’s radar. This actually reinforces the case that simple kaffeklatches don’t get very far with audiences. To inspire Dean-like loyalty, you have to project a common IDENTITY, and devote a lot of your energies to the good of the group. That means giving up some of your individuality, and that’s a sacrifice not every cartoonist can make.
[b]I think to really give a good picture of all this sort of stuff, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to follow Al Schroeder’s lead of posting in various forums to get info and suggestions for articles. You may have to separate the wheat from the chaff, but I think it would help a bit in getting more of the big picture on what’s going on in webcomics. (I do sympathize that you’ve taken on a near impossible task.)[/b]
I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Check out the ZWOL fora later today.
[b]With regards to the “Pay model” comment, I was speaking of subscription sites. I don’t mean to suggest that you are unethically trying to push one model to the detriment of others, but rather that I frequently see a perception gap between people on subscription sites (Who also tend to see things in more McCloudian terms) and the rest of the webcomics scene. It’s the “Peripheral blindness” thing again in terms of not seeing how strips are succeeding without receiving direct payments. I may have overstated this somewhat, but I do think that other models could stand to be more thoroughly explored here.[/b]
Ummm… I’m still not quite sure whether you mean subscription sites (one model) or “receiving direct payments” (at least four models– subscription, micropayment, donation drive, corporate sponsorship). Chapter 9 is about getting paid for your comics, any which way– including ads and merch (and yes, this discussion influenced that decision). See what you think then.
I’m in a weird place right now, honestly. My involvement with Modern Tales is pretty deep, but I recently had to face that its model would never give PENNY AND AGGIE what we want for that strip. I have some ideas that I think work better with one model, some with another. I like to think that uncertainty makes me more qualified to write this history than if I were a little more intellectually settled.
Maybe the problem is that the webcomics scene has gotten so big and diffuse that we’re both like blind men trying to describe an elephant. As this series has entered very recent events in a still volatile medium, historical significances become more debatable.. Maybe at this point it would make sense to start in with a new series of articles that deal more with future possibilities than historical events.
At any rate, I’m not intellectually settled on the subject of payment models either (What I was referring to previously was essentially models based on the notion of the strip as a product being directly sold to the customer as a commodity.) so I do look forward to your upcoming article and your perspectives on the topic.
Sorry to be so persnickety and thanks for taking your time to write these pieces and respond to criticisms.
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