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2004: A Year in Review

As 2004 packs its bags and prepares to turn over the keys to the new year, we thought we would take this opportunity to look back at certain significant or just really amusing webcomics-related news stories throughout the year.

If we missed your favorite event, feel free to add your own thoughts.

January

Comixpedia began 2004 with an issue devoted to gaming webcomics. It’s one thing to know that there are legions of fans of such webcomics, but it’s quite another to hear from each and every one of them what they think about our modest publication and its reviews. It was nevertheless an exciting start to the year and although it’s never fun to receive a full-throttle flood of flames and abuse, it was perhaps a sign that Comixpedia had actually grown enough in stature to be worth such an effort.

Also early in the month, DrunkDuck (webcomic provider) and BuzzComix (top list for webcomics) entered into a "resource sharing" merger. Woo-hoo. Outcome and analysis? Um, maybe someone should write an article about it…

Mid-month, the first of many "comic ripper" controversies started up around Comictastic. It’s difficult to describe what exactly the program does because even the words you use can contribute to an argument about bias. It’s kind of like a programmable VCR or TIVO for comics crossed with your own comics page ala the daily newspaper – but with comics you specifically choose to peruse.

And Keenspot finally launched a new website redesign, hauling the site forcefully out of the 1990’s. Thanks be to the Great Designer in the sky!

February

February marked Comixpedia’s one-year anniversary. Comixpedia celebrated by trying to explain to people how the webzine does things like reviews and features and art. No one seemed to notice.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (better known as MIT) launched the first of four presentations in its New Funnies Lecture Series. The first starred Randal Milholland of Something Positive, Jonti Picking and Chris of Weebl and Bob, and Stephen Notley of Bob the Angry Flower. The second event, which starred JD Frazer of User Friendly, occurred at the end of the month.

Warren Ellis hyped Bitpass, the first micropayment system endorsed by Scott McCloud. This year, a lot of webcomics explored the use of micropayments although the jury is still out on whether they will become any sort of dominant business models for webcomics.

WebcomicsNation finally showed some sign of actual activity with the public beta test of its greeting card service. The anticipation continues to build.

Comixpedia ran the Blind Date event, and fun was had by all except those persons (who shall remain nameless) who thought it was actually a hook-up service for lonely webcomicking singles.

The Alternative Press Expo (APE) happened and many pictures were posted and endless con reports were written. Here are a few of them.

Broken Saints signed a deal with Dark Horse. Although there is debate over whether Broken Saints is a webcomic or animation, this is yet another indication that traditional media are keeping an eye on non-traditional work.

March

March marked Modern Tales’ second anniversary. Congratulations to them.

London hosted the first ever dedicated webcomics event in the UK, and possibly the universe: the UK Web & Mini-Comics Thing

Keenspot announced that 2003 revenue was up 81.2% over 2002. Maybe the economy really IS getting better?

Modern Tales announced a "corporate comics" service and sought collaborators to bring it to fruition.

The third presentation in MIT’s New Funnies Lecture Series was a panel with Richard Stevens of Diesel Sweeties, Sam Brown of Exploding Dog, and Steven L. Cloud of Boy on a Stick and Slither.

In late March, Comictastic’s programmer posted an open letter to cartoonists, contributing to the RSS tempest-in-teapot. He failed to explain why people shouldn't just use regular RSS readers already, but he eventually added ad support to the Comictastic program.

Jeffrey Rowland ALMOST quit WIGU. Then he didn’t. The known world sighed collectively in relief.

April

April started off by completely failing to be funny on April Fools’ Day.

MIT closed out its New Funnies Lecture Series with a presentation by Fred "Piro" Gallagher of MegaTokyo.

Three webcartoonists were nominated for Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (aka Eisners): Derek Kirk Kim (serializer.net), "Best Short Story" nomination for Same Difference and "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition" nomination; James Kochalka (AmericanElf.com) "Best Title for a Younger Audience" nomination for Peanutbutter and Jeremy's Best Book Ever! ; Mike Hawthorne (Modern Tales Longplay) "Best Continuing Series nomination" for Queen and Country.

The 24 Hour Comics Day was on 4/24/2004. Sleep deprivation occurred at fifty-eight event locations, not counting individuals and folks who didn’t register. So many cartoonists, so little sleep.

May

In May, Comixpedia managed to generate a lot of heat over its cover art, featuring a nude woman and an iMac. The work was illustrative of the issue’s NC-17 theme, but many felt it was, at best, unexpected for a publication that many people read at work and, at worst, utterly distasteful and offensive. However, flamage levels never quite reached January’s temperatures. In response to reader complaints, Comixpedia created a home page without the monthly cover art.

The annual Webcomic Awareness Day (although it appears that it’s now called "Online Comics Day") took place. Keenspace went down on cue.

Next, there was a Historical Romance Comic Crossover Event. The sound of bodices ripping was deafening.

Time magazine’s online edition reviewed Derek Kirk Kim's print publication of Same Difference in the Time.comix section. By the end of the year, Kim managed to win an Eisner and a Harvey (to add to his Ignatz Award from last year). Sweet!

In one of the year’s watershed events, Randy Milholland challenged the readers of his webcomic Something Positive to donate $20k (roughly his annual salary at his desk job) so that he could quit the job and do the strip fulltime for a year. In an amazing turn of events, they actually did it. This was the first in a series of related events, where comickers pleaded for large sums of money to handle various life events.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) called attention to the U.S. "Parents' Empowerment Act" bill. "This bill is troubling on several levels," explained CBLDF Director Charles Brownstein. "It appears to allow for civil actions against any, or every, member of the dissemination food chain, from the retailer to the distributor to the publisher, of work that an individual parent may object to. So any citizen, using their own sense of what is obscene or harmful to minors, can bring suit. Considering that comics still suffer the cultural and legal stigma of being perceived as a juvenile medium, this bill could become a dangerous weapon in the hands of an individual who walks into a comic book store and is shocked to find that comics offer much more than Archie and Superman."

And tragically, prolific webcomic writer Michael Buonauro committed suicide. His family has discussed establishing a Michael A. Buonauro Foundation in his memory. His mother, Judy, wrote a final note on Michael’s website.

If you remember Michael once in a while, remember his wonderful and strange sense of humor, his way with words, his great smile, his good heart and that his family grieves for him forever.

With much thanks and gratitude,

Judy

June

Jeffrey Rowland got bitten by a brown recluse spider. In real life. Much debate ensued about whether the bite gave him super-powers.

For reasons known only to themselves, Wired magazine covered sprite webcomics. In detail. On the plus side, it was written by Lore Sjöberg, so it didn’t suck as much as it could have and as a bonus, Comixpedia got a mention.

In another major event, the Flight anthology (containing work by many webcomickers) became available for pre-order. The Flight anthology was extremely well received and a major topic of discussion for webcomic folks (and others!) at the San Diego Comic-con.

Early online comics publisher NextComics vanished.

In mid-June, the Webcomics Examiner, another webzine about webcomics, launched.

In the first of MANY such efforts to follow Randall Milholland’s success, Jon and Philip of Goats launched a fundraiser.

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) held its third annualMoCCA Art Fest. MoCCA is a small comics convention that is held in high regard by the comic community. Couple of con reports. Also at MoCCA, Derek Kirk Kim won a Harvey, "Best New Talent," for his Same Difference and Other Stories print collection.

On the heels of sorrow, C.Ulture Shock creator, and popular webcomics fan, Serena Ulrich died. She will be missed.

July

Sequential Tart gave out its annual "Tarties" awards. Very amusing. The webcomics ones are down near the bottom of the link (as usual).

Free Comic Book Day happened again. Keenspot continued to give out free books from Keenspot and Keenspace artists, but the general public stubbornly went on ignoring comic books. And that’s too damn bad.

The second Drunk Duck print collection was released. Even more webcomics in print… seemed to be the way to get taken seriously this year.

The Modern Humor Authority, a webzine covering pop culture, including webcomics, debuted. There was a bit of a kerfluffle about whether it was a real webzine or a parody. The jury remains way WAY out on the topic.

The Web Cartonists Choice Awards happened. And still, debate continued over how they should be organized, voted on, and given out.

Connecticon, a sci-fi and fantasy convention covering anime, gaming, role playing, etc., happened.

July closed out with San Diego’s Comic-con International, which hauled in over 100,000 sweating, stinking comics fans dragging their bored significant others and squalling whiny offspring. Long and dreary details recorded by the Comixpedia Features Editor.

On a happier note, two webcomickers won major awards at Comic-con: Lea Hernandez, Girlamatic.com won the Lulu of the Year award. And Derek Kirk Kim won an Eisner for "Talent deserving of wider recognition."

August

Scott Kurtz offered PvP free to newspapers (this was actually announced on the final day of Comic-con). Some pundits predicted the imminent death of all newspaper cartoonists (doomed, if not by the force of Kurtz’s personality, then by apoplectic strokes).

The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) announced that it will start classes fall of 2005. Here’s to hoping the academic output will help legitimize comics as a worthwhile endeavor! And also, here’s to big words!

Keenspot announced their move to a small town where they are scheduled to save the local economy as well as sad and lonely puppies with big eyes. Actually, the Crosby family bought an old schoolhouse and the other half of Keenspot remained in California. More details here.

The Penny Arcade Exposition (PAX) happened. Webcomic-sponsored or webcomic-events are still rare enough that we goggle at their existence. Goggle. Goggle. OOOoooh.

And Websnark sprang fully formed from Eric Burns’ head without so much as a headache… at least at the beginning.

September

Mike Krahulik (Gabe) of Penny-Arcade and his wife spawned. Little gamers indeed.

Michael Jantze, creator of The Norm comic strip, quit newspaper syndication. In a slightly odd turn of events, Jantze’s wife (in an effort to keep Michael from giving up on the comic) began working on getting people to cough up cash for subscriptions to read future installments of the comic on his website. Although Jantze is but one of several artists who used variations on the donation or subscription drive this year, he is the first formerly syndicated one to do so. The final shake-out of this trend (and the fate of these individuals) remains to be seen.

Graphic Smash celebrated its one-year anniversary. Congratulations!

T Campbell, well-known webcomics writer and the author of FANS!, started the Washington Webtoonists group, purportedly to demonstrate that he is not a robot.

Dylan Meconis’ Bite Me ended. On purpose. As planned. Weird.

The Webcomic List presented comics awards. In a shocking turn of events, most of the winners were gaming comics.

Eric Burns joined the Comixpedia writing team with his column "Feeding Snarky." In celebration, the Comixpedia editors jumped around and squealed like 8-year-olds on a birthday cake sugar rush.

Alexander Danner and Joey Manley launched The Graphic Novel Review, an online magazine for reviewing graphic novels. A happy event except for the fact that editing the site drastically limits any time the very intelligent Danner can spare to write for Comixpedia. The Comixpedia editors cried bitter, salty tears.

PvP was nominated for an Eagle award. But only Eric Burns had ever even heard of the thing.

A whole lot of people made fun of Scott McCloud. We tease, because we love.

October

Small Press Expo (SPX) happened. James Kochalka, won the Ignatz for "Outstanding Online Comic" – his second year in a row in this category – for American Elf. The category was added in 2002, when it was won by Jason Little for Bee. (Svetlana Chmakova, Chasing Rainbows (www.girlamatic.com, www.svetlania.com) was nominated for the "Promising New Talent" category this year, but didn’t win.) Also at SPX, PV Comics announced its move from a subscription business model to a free-content business model.

Keenspot launched its newspaper comics page and made it into The Turlock Journal in Turlock, CA.

The Life's So Rad archive vanished, taken down by Corie Marie Kitley as she publicly quit webcomics. Why is this news? Because most of those who drift away from webcomics usually leave some element of themselves online.

KeenToons.com launched for real this time.

PvP made it into the Kansas City Star newspaper. The panic over imminent death of all syndicated cartoonists flared back up again. Then PvP made it into The Evening Bulletin (we’re skipping ahead to November), a paper available in downtown Philladelphia. O, the fear… THE FEAR!!! IT BURNS US!!!

It's Walky ended. Some people freaked out.

Comixpedia ran the Fright Night event. Some form of Fright Night has taken place for SIX years in a row now. Whoa. Ancient history.

Joey Manley launched another part of WebcomicsNation, the Small Press Swapmeet. Documentable progress.

Penny Arcade kicked up its Child’s Play fundraising plans another notch with a dinner and auction event.

November

Amber "Glych" Greenlee scored a publishing deal with Sonic Publishing to print No Stereotypes.

The Webcomic Secret Santa event was announced.

PvP actually won an Eagle award, for "Favourite web-based comic." (The silly spellers are Brits.)

Warren Ellis, famous print comic guy, noticed webcomics. Wide-spread hyperventilating reported.

December

WIGU really IS ending, but not for another couple of weeks. We are sad.

The deadline for signing up for the Webcomic Secret Santa event passed. December 22nd, 2004 is the day of revealing.

In retrospect, 2004 was the year of BUSINESS and SERIOUSNESS. Many webcomickers ventured into print and found themselves taken much more seriously, some even winning awards. Some printed their comics as collections, or made concrete plans for printing. Others entered the newspaper game, seeking to change the current business model. Whichever the path, the profile of webcomics is certainly rising in the public’s eye. But are they sacrificing the unfettered creativity of the web? This will be an interesting question to pursue for 2005.

A number of webcomickers left their jobs or lost their jobs and turned to their community for support. And so far, those communities have come through and passed along considerable funds (a little bit at a time) to support their favorite webcomickers. Whether this trend can be supported in the long term remains to be seen.

More webcomic reporting has come online, much of it worthwhile and admirable. Multiple organizations had webcomickers in as event speakers. Webcomic-specific events are occurring with greater frequency. Webcomickers made further inroads into the traditional comic awards, even going to far as to break out of the ghetto of webcomic-specific categories.

In 2005, the results of these ambitions and actions will be intensely absorbing to watch. Good luck to us all, and to all a good night.

Re: 2004: A Year in Review by Kelly J. Cooper and Wednesday Whit

Geez, I didn't mean to make anyone cry! But I do appreciate being appreciated. At any rate, with my semester from hell coming to a close this week, I have every intention of putting together some new pieces for the 'Pedia in the near future.

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