Itâ€™s Business, Itâ€™s Business Time. Part 3: Longform Comics Need to Man-Up
Submitted by Tim Demeter on August 15, 2007 - 12:35
I was never a fan of newspaper comics. Calvin and Hobbes may have been the first comic I ever read, but once it ended, that was it for me, everything else seemed formulaic and contrived to me with no room for any real artistry. That may or may not be true, but itâ€™s how I feel.
Now, comic BOOKS, thatâ€™s another story. Just as Calvin and Hobbes was ending I began devouring X-Men, and Spider-Man and Batman, and itâ€™s where my love of comic comes from, what originally inspired me to make a career out of comics.
Those are the kind of comics I love and the kind of comics I want make, but theyâ€™re not dominating the web.
You donâ€™t need to be Todd Allen to take a look around and see that the comics that are the true success stories of digital comics have more in common with the sensibilities of Bill Watterson than Will Eisner, and I think thereâ€™s a reason for this.
The web reads and functions very similar to a newspaper. People tend to check it daily, but in controlled bursts, rarely reading anything of great length. A quick chuckle is ideal for the websurfer, because, well it's right in the name. That user is surfing, not standing still for any one thing. This is not a hard and fast rule, obviously online gaming and communication can consume hours upon hours for some, but there is an interactive element there holding their attention. Straight-up reading tends to not hold people's online attention nearly that long.
This is tough duty for a serial comic meant to be read as a singular story, be it finite or continuing, because reading that story piecemeal is not how it is intended to be read, and archival reading can be a chore. (Back to that â€œI donâ€™t want to spend hours sitting at my deskâ€ point from yesterday.)
The other problem this poses is that it is very easy for those of creating longform comics to look at the current successes in digital comics and try and borrow their tricks, and itâ€™s become pretty evident to me that will not work. This makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways, as just because a long form comic is online itâ€™s still as different from a short form comic as a newspaper strip is from a graphic novel.
Say what you like about the subscription model, and accuse me of sucking up to the Colonel if you like, but that was as close as long form comics have come to making a decent dime. As Joey has recently mentioned, yes, there was a ceiling, but it was an attempt to work with the notion that long form comics numbers arenâ€™t at the level of short formâ€™s for the reasons above and more and make it work. Donâ€™t worry, Iâ€™m not saying Iâ€™m going to go and lock Graphic Smash back behind paypalâ€™s iron curtain, not at all, that concept did plataeu, but my point here is Joey tried something that went against conventional wisdom, and no, no one got rich, but Iâ€™m not seeing that drive to try anything else new right now, and thatâ€™s where Iâ€™m going here.
The fact of the matter is that pageviews + ads + t-shirts are not working for longform comics right now, at least not in a direct sense like itâ€™s working for others and I think itâ€™s time for longform digital comics to start to stop trying to copycat what works for our short form peers and start looking for the unique properties of our chosen method, what itâ€™s strengths are, what itâ€™s weaknesses are, and how we can use the former and minimize the effects of the latter.
Now I know Iâ€™ve spent a lot of real estate saying nothing we donâ€™t already know here, but thatâ€™s not what this post is about. Like unto my favorite JLU character, Iâ€™m not the answer, Iâ€™m just the Question, and I donâ€™t have the answer. I canâ€™t because it will take years of effort to prove any idea is right. Personally, I have a lot notions regarding backing up a webcomic with PDFs or CBZs or Mobile Content or other downloadable add-ons that more closely simulate a comic book the way the web simulates a newspapaer.
In the meantime, the web is a great place to build your audience and hone your craft regardless of your genre or style, and those are elements that are hard to put a price on and can lead to great things down the road which Iâ€™ve seen happen time and again and with increasing frequency as the days pass, but I really do look forward to the day where we see a longform comic rise to the ranks of the webcomic greats we know today.
Think ya got it in yaâ€™ grasshopper?