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WHY DO ONLINE COMICS

Taking It To The Streets

Mention the name "John Cusack" or "Nightmare on Elm Street" to the average Joe or Jane on the street, and chances are very high if they haven't actually been entertained by them, they've at least heard of them. Tell the same people your favorite online comic is "Sluggy Freelance" and not only will less than one percent of them have heard of Sluggy Freelance, a vast majority will not even be able to wrap their minds around the concept of "online comics."

The ratio of people who understand the basic idea of what an online comic is versus people who can figure out how to get their VCR's to stop blinking 12:00 is probably around 1 in 100 on the generous end. When I ask people if they read comics, some of them used to actually read print comics (and virtually all of these people had parents who threw them out for some reason, thus killing the hobby for that person), many used to read the strips in the newspaper but are too grown up and/or pressed for time to read them now, but almost none of them would even consider actually taking the effort to go online, punch in a website address, and read a comic, even one as good as When I Am King, Nowhere Girl, etc. Maybe the people I talk to aren't representative of the general public and I'm dead wrong. I sure hope so. I'm also not betting on it.

I am trying to take on this challenge. I would like to ignite the spirit of comics in more people and show them how it can be as valid and worthy a form of entertainment as television, movies, or video games. The question is, how does one go about doing this, particularly on a budget of pennies? If the answers weren't hard to come by, we'd already be there, so it's something I think is worth serious thought. Adults think they're too old for such things. Kids have such an attention span deficit it is very difficult to compete for their free time with Lara Croft, the Backstreet Boys, and Pokemon. It seems to me there are two parts to reaching into these people's hearts and making them care about reading online comics.

First of all, we need to have a "killer app." For those not in the know, I'm referring to the kind of example of work that would captivate people's minds in mass quantities, something outstanding people across many types of audiences can relate to and find great value in. When Myst came out for the PC it didn't just sell Myst, it sold computers! When The Matrix came out on DVD it was the kind of movie you wanted to have the best audio and visual quality possible for, so people finally gave in and bought DVD players. When Superman died, the comic book industry boomed back into existence in a major way. Sure, a lot of people bought the Death of Superman as an investment, but I have to hope that some of those same people had something else catch their eye in the comic store and stayed excited by comics for a long time. So when the right comic comes into existence on the internet, is marketed properly, gets buzz generated like Blair Witch or A.I. did, and maintains quality for a while, people will hopefully come to see what all the hubbub's about.

Which leads to the second part of the battle, keeping the readers interested for the long haul. Once you get them into your store, how do you sell them your product and make sure they keep coming back for more? Well, of course you have to offer a quality product and make sure that quality never fades. Perception is reality, and if you are late or do a sloppy job just once, people are going to remember that a lot more than all the times you came through for them. On a larger scale, though, making the audience interested in online comics in general is as important as making them interested in your own work. This industry, in particular, is largely driven by the creators supporting each other, and a good word in a prominent spot on a popular website can make your own site flourish with visitors. So to design a site, its content, and the location of its content to facilitate an enjoyable experience at your web page and at the same time giving some "if you liked this, you'll also enjoy..." suggestions, is where I feel online comic creators can do the most good right now towards keeping their readers drooling embarrassingly for more.

(Sorry for commenting on an

(Sorry for commenting on an old article, but I just started reading.)

The issue of popular perception is certainly one of importance, but the internet as a wide public phenomenon is still in relative infancy. It's been accepted as a tool for communication, commerce, and (only fairly recently) information, but its value for entertainment is still mostly as a novelty and an underground source for mass media entertainment.

But as much as I hate Time's Person of the Year gimick, it's true that the burgeoning digital landscape is in the process of reshaping the world. And we now have a generation just reaching adolescence who have always been wired and who view the internet as unbiquitous. If you polled people on a sidewalk about their knowledge of webcomics, you'd probably get blank stares, but if you polled myspace users, you'd likely get a very different result. And I'm sure you'd get different results if you did such a poll when this article first came out vs. as I type now in 2007.

Online entertainment as a viable commercial enterprise is an idea just starting to reach wider circles and, like the early days of the motion picture industry, we're still mostly viewing it as a novelty and diversion. I agree that we need a few more great works before the public will recognize media such as webcomics as legitimate ones, but they're not far off. I don't know if it's going to take 10 or 20 years, but within our lifetime traditional media are going to be perceived as crumbling dinosaurs.