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Open Soapbox: The Immediacy of the Web

I'll admit it. When Paul Daly, my creative partner on Athena Voltaire, suggested that I contact Joey Manley and Chris Mills about pitching our feature to the Modern Tales family, I viewed it as a stepping stone to getting Athena in print.

Somewhere along the way, my thinking began to change. Don't get me wrong; I would dearly love to see our heroine in print, but now I look at the two delivery systems (print and web) as synergistic rather than mutually exclusive.

There's something about the immediacy of the web.

I'm not just referring to how quickly I can get a page into the hands of ace colorist Chad Fidler (although that's pretty cool). Or how I can upload a page mere hours before it's supposed to go live for the viewing.

I'm actually amazed at the immediacy with which I can introduce people to my work and to comics in general.

A little background: I started illustrating for roleplaying games back in 1989 and since then, it's always been an adventure to explain just what it is that I do for a living. Family, friends, neighbors—it's usually the same old story. Following a chorus of comments like "cool" or "wow," I get the inevitable question: "Where can I buy this stuff?"

And that's where I lose them.

Somewhere during the explanation of a specialty store, I see the eyes glaze over and I can almost hear an audible click as the brain shuts off. In an era of "everything at our fingertips" shopping – either at a mall or via the web – destination shopping at a specialty store is intimidating to the casual customer. "If it takes too much effort to pursue something that only may be interesting, then, screw it, I'll just stick with what I know," seems to be a prevalent response. It may not be verbalized, but the vibe is there.

Or maybe the words "comic shop" or game shop" conjure up images of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and that's where we lose the potentials.

Regardless, webcomics are our way around this. Our Trojan Horse, if you will.

People far smarter than me have written about the impact comics have had on popular entertainment. From the top summer blockbusters to network television, comics' influence can be felt. People who love The Matrix and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the WWE are all potential readers of adventure comics.

They just don't know it yet.

No matter how cool contemporary graphic design is for comics, your pal in the next cubicle may feel uncomfortable to be seen in public with the latest issue of Wildcats. Trade paperbacks certainly feel more like a book than monthly pamphlet comics, but no matter how much your lab partner in Chemistry class enjoyed Lord of the Rings, she gets weirded out when you slip her a Sojourn collection.

Yet these people waste countless hours on the web looking at some of the most moronic entertainment conceived by human beings (gerbil in a microwave, anyone?). Not only do they check out this vapid crap, but they forward it along to everyone they know!

Somehow hyperlinks circulated around work and school are above blind judgement. If the subject line says "Check this out" and comes from a friend, usually it will get checked out—far more readily than you loaning someone a comic or trade. And it's a hell of a lot less effort to click on a link than it is to get directions to the local comic shop.

And that's why webcomics are cool. I can send out an email to my family and friends with a hyperlink to Modern Tales. My wife can forward it around her office. Faster than John Madden can say "Boom," people can be introduced (or re-introduced) to comics. No more excuses about not being able to find the comic shop, or no parking at the comic shop or whatever of the myriad of lame put-offs that we've all heard.

It's like a Trojan Horse – by the time they've clicked on that hyperlink, you've already exposed them to comics, probably with far fewer misconceptions than they would have had if you tossed Kingdom Come on their desk. (Regarding Alex Ross' brilliant work, I actually had someone say "They look real, but it's still guys in tights.") They see a comic, and instantly make a negative judgement.

That's where we come in.

Hyperlink.

Click.

Before they know what hit them, they're there.

Comics.

Remember this the next time you're at work in your cubicle talking with a co-worker about last night's episode of Alias. Or when you and everyone from your dorm floor are planning to go out and see Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King. Or when you get The Complete Indiana Jones Boxed-Set this holiday season and sit down to watch it with your family. These same people may well enjoy Rip & Teri, Sorcerer of Fortune, or Athena Voltaire.

All you have to do is send them that simple hyperlink.

Will webcomics save comics as we know them? Not necessarily. But it sure helps to have a way to show people how cool comics are. Once we get them hooked on the webcomics, hopefully it's easier to get them into the stores.

Synergy, not mutual exclusivity.

Hyperlink.

Click.

You're there.

Comics.