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International Webcomic Showcase Tour

I will be soon meeting with the director of a contemporary art museum about doing a possible showcase tour of webcomics at contemporary art museums world-wide. What I would appreciate is constructive input on how to set up such a tour so it can be more fine-tuned and solid when I talk to her. Here is my current idea on how it could be done:

Twenty webcomic artists would be chosen to have their work featured on the tour. The idea is to show the broad spectrum of webcomics today. In other words, all twenty won't be gamer webcomics. Ten of the spots will be reserved and offered to the most popular webcomics to draw in the crowds. The other ten would be stellar examples of fine artwork and help present the broad spectrum of webcomics today. In other words, the second ten would fill in the spectrum gaps the most popular webcomics leave void. Yes, that might even mean a furry webcomic would be part of the tour.

The only webcomics that would be considered are ones that offer their current installments and archives free to the public. When talking to the director over the phone, this is something she is very adamant about. That and they have to have a substantial archive and a solid history of regularly posting new installments at least once a week. The more times a week, the better. Ten would be selected based on their web traffic and the other ten would be selected for how they fill in the spectrum gaps, as explained in the previous paragraph. Which second ten would be approached would be heavily influenced by who the first ten recommend for such consideration. All twenty would have to commit to attending the end of the month "meet the artists" events (see two paragraphs below).

Each webcomic artist would have to make a complete story arc that would be enlarged, printed, and then hung on the museum walls. This story arc would be an original and not put on the net until after the tour is done. The reason for this original exclusive is to provide further incentive for the fans of these webcomics to come to the museums.

Each museum that's part of the tour would exhibit the collection for three weeks. At the start of that time period, there would be work done to get the featured artists to appear on local radio talk shows to help promote the exhibit. Appearances can be made over the phone. There would also be articles in the local newspapers. Then on the weekend that ends the exhibit, the featured artists and their spouse / significant-other would be flown to the museum to chat with patrons over cocktails, hold panel discussions, participate in Q&A sessions, sign artwork, chat with the local press, and things along those lines. The exhibit would then be boxed up and have a week to get shipped to the next museum and put up for public display.

The museum's gift shop would sell the compilation books and tie-in merchandise of the featured webcomics for the month the exhibit is there.

The showcase tour could take years to work its way through just the US museums of contemporary art and many more years to do the world. The director said that the "minor" artists could be changed every year to give more of them a chance to be shown. And once the tour has run its course, she laughed and said it could repeat itself all over again since it will have been years since any museum last hosted it.

As for funding of this tour, the director and I tossed around ideas. She thinks the best scenario is a single wealthy patron that is willing to foot the bill. The bill being shipping costs, the expense of flying in the artists for the final weekend at each museum, and hiring me on as the tour manager. She asked if there is currently a wealthy individual that is a patron of webcomics and I told her I haven't heard of one. She said that's bad and good. Bad in that one would need to be found. Good that if there isn't one, this fact can be used to pitch to get one. Apparently, there are wealthy individuals that would like to be "the" patron of a new art form. Other funding sources would be her museum's board hiring me on to run this tour as a service to contemporary art museums world-wide. She gives a 50/50 chance that her board would go for that. Other funding sources would be the National Endowment of the Arts (though it might restrict this to just American webcomic artists and American contemporary art museums), art foundations, and art-friendly corporations.

I did propose still another possible source of funding and that being an annual donation drive spearheaded by webcomics. This tour promoted by the webcomics and donations solicited from their readers. The director saw problems with this. Would webcomic artists do this with no guarantee that they would be chosen to be featured on the tour? Is there enough webcomic fans that would donate enough money to do this? Her off-the-cuff guess is that the tour would cost a million dollars a year to do. Most of that cost being the flying in, putting up in a hotel, feeding, and other expenses of bringing the artists for the "meet the artists" events. She did say that if major webcomics agreed to do such a donation drive, that would be a very strong selling point to a museum to be the parent museum for such a tour. In other words, money talks.

As for who I am, I am a long-time marketer (scroll down to "Scott Jensen" at this link: http://www.fariel.com/About/), have been a fan of webcomics for many years, and am looking for a change in my career. Being the full-time tour manager for this idea would be a nice change.

The above idea in another form has been presented on some webcomic forums. That form was as a series of for-profit globe-trotting webcomics-only conventions. Here's a link to one such forum where that version was presented: http://www.talkaboutcomics.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=321972#321972 However, at the moment, I think the museum angle is a better one ... though I am still open to arguments for the convention version.

What I would appreciate is your thoughts, suggestions, comments, and constructive criticisms. The above isn't etched in stone. I seek input to improve it.

Thanks in advance!

As this is the only place

As this is the only place where I have posted this version of the idea, no, I haven't heard from any other webcomic artist.

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Shishio's picture

That's good to hear. Good luck.

By the way, have you heard from any other webcomic creators? About whether they would be interested in this or not?

One-liners - Preparation H. Shrinks Hemorrhoids.
New Comic Posted 06/23/06

The meeting with the museum

The meeting with the museum director went fine. She had some more questions but nothing major. She is now going to present the idea to her board of directors. If they're interested, I'll make a presentation to them.

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Shishio's picture

Yeah, you're right, the process is really subjective. But I don't think there is an objective way to judge the things you're talking about. You could also try looking at the WCCA to get an idea of what comics creators consider to be the best.

And no problem, I want to see webcomics, and their creators succeed, so I'm happy to help further the cause any way I can.

One-liners - Preparation H. Shrinks Hemorrhoids.
New Comic Posted 06/16/06

Yes, I know of WCCA. But

Yes, I know of WCCA. But there's a problem with using their awards as the selection basis for the tour I'm suggesting. That problem being a lot of the WCCA-nominated webcomics are very little known by the general public. WCCA is the webcomic community tipping its hat to those in its ranks. I do see the value of it, but don't see it meshing with my proposed tour.

However, I would strongly suggest that WCCA take the next step and get publicity for its winners outside of the webcomic community. Here's some ideas along those lines:

WCCA contact Google and see if they would be up for promoting the WCCA nominees the week before the vote and the winners the week after. Even the day before and after would be WELL worth it. Colorful versions of the Google name done by webcomic artists everyday (or changing every hour) as a pay-back for Google to do this for WCCA. I think it would drive a TON of traffic to WCCA and the nominated/winning webcomics if WCCA could pull this off.

A similar idea for WCCA is doing something likewise with Slashdot.

And then there is an even more ambitious idea for WCCA...

Approaching the A&E (Arts & Entertainment), Bravo, Cartoon Network (during their "Adult Swim" time frame), Nichelodeon, or even G4, MTV, VH1 or Spike and seeing if they would be interested in holding the award ceremony as a live event. Then again, I would recommend the major networks be first approached. No harm in pitching them. At the very least, it would hone the pitching skills of the WCCA rep. And a "little" help by way of a letter writing campaign by webcomic fans to the targeted network would also help. If WCCA could land such a deal, the pay-off for the industry would be massive.

However, I'm sure WCCA members have thought of all of the ideas above. It would be interesting to read the threads where they have discussed it and learn what they have attempted so far and the results generated. If anyone can post links to such threads, I would enjoy reading them.

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Shishio's picture

To be honest, as someone not well-versed in webcomics, I had no ideas for the selection process of the second batch of artists. I don't know, maybe open up a vote to creators and fans who would be able to attend? Or take suggestions and have them reviewed by the Museum committee?

And you bring up a good point. I suppose that Museum exhibits would be a lot less popular than comics. So maybe the meager popularity of comics could prove to be a boon in this case. (Comparatively speaking.)

One-liners - Preparation H. Shrinks Hemorrhoids.
New Comic Posted 06/16/06

I don't consider myself

I don't consider myself well-versed in webcomics either and that was why I thought recommendations from the most popular artists would be as good of a way as any for selecting the second ten. It would also help the second ten artists since they would know they were there on tour because the first ten thought they merited it. I would then circulate the nominated names among the first ten and listen to what they thought of each. If I had the authority, I would then make the cut ... and make a lot of webcomic artists anger at me for not picking them. *laugh* However, if the tour has a single wealthy patron, the final decision on all twenty would likely be made by them since they're footing the bill ... though they would very likely listen to my recommendations being their tour manager and originator of this idea. Same would like be the case with a museum committee since I doubt any of them would feel they could speak with any authority on the issue. Whichever way, the first ten would be a relatively easy decision since it would be based on traffic count and then which would be up for doing the tour. The second ten would be far more subjective no matter how it is done. But if someone has a better way of selecting the second ten (or first ten), I'm all ears. Laughing

And, Shishio, thanks for giving all of this a lot of thought and your time. It is much appreciated.

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Shishio's picture

I was suggesting you simply use a slightly different method to select the first ten artists, not suggesting that you cut the numbers down.

It's good that Museums are more openminded today, but comics aren't popular. Surely the director realizes this?

Still, sounds like you have put a lot of thought into this, I hope you can make it work.

One-liners - Preparation H. Shrinks Hemorrhoids.
New Comic Posted 06/16/06

I got ya.

To get the museums, they want to see popularity of what they're getting. The more popular, the better chance they'll option for the exhibit. And what you're suggesting for the first ten is what I essentially accomplish with the second ten. Same result but with bigger draw potential. Speaking of which, what were you thinking should be done with the second ten with your system of selection?

As for comics' popularity, popularity is in the eye of the marketer. Wink Comics are a LOT more popular than the average exhibit at contemporary art museums. Pick any comtemporary art museum. Visit their homepage. Check out their current and future exhibits and you'll understand my point. I have seen comic artists visit here in Madison at the local comicbook shops. They line the people out the store and around the building. Museum directors drool at the thought of that happening at their museums.

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Shishio's picture

Well, as I said to you on the Talk About Comics forum, it sounds like a good idea if you can get funding for it. Of course, the negative and apathetic attitude held by most of North American society towards comics could prove to be a serious obstacle.

But maybe instead of the ten most popular creators, you could decide on ten genres to choose from, and pick the most popular creator from each. (i.e. Creator of the most popular fantasy comic, of the most popular science fiction comic, etcetera.)

I think the two most popular comics are Penny Arcade and Player v.s. Player. So, that would mean at least two gamer comics would be represented, which seems kind of redundant.

One-liners - Preparation H. Shrinks Hemorrhoids.
New Comic Posted 06/16/06

Are you saying...

Shishio,

Are you suggesting cutting down the number of artists from 20 to 10? I was suggesting 20 so ten popular ones could draw in the crowds and the other ten flesh out the spectrum. That the popular ones might be a bit redundent would be OK given this. Possible redundancy was raised in my discussion with the director and she agreed with my take on it.

And when I talked to the director, I was initially advocating 100 artists. A hold-over from the convention-version of this idea. She said that would likely only be possible if they took turns being flown in for "meet the artists" events (20 this time and a different 20 next until all 100 have made appearances) or no artists were flown in to make an appearance. If it was the latter, she said all the tour would need is a "nursemaid" (a.k.a. tour manager) to tend to it, but it wouldn't be as big of an audience draw and museums want to draw in as many people as possible and thus would count no artists against the tour and might not take it on then.

Her husband (our chat was on speaker phone at her house) suggested possibly that only the artists that would be willing to fly in for the "meet the artists" events should be considered. That would reduce the costs to just shipping and a nursemaid while still giving the museums the draw of in-the-flesh artists. Both the director and I expressed doubt that there would be even 20 webcomic artists that would be able to foot the monthly bill for airline tickets, hotel rooms, and meals. From the feedback I have gotten on some of the webcomic forums from the artists themselves, I believe that would be pretty much the case.

As for negative attitudes towards comics, I raised this specific point with her. She said thirty years ago, museums were snobbish and didn't really care how many people attended them. They were only concerned with "milking" major gifts from the wealthy elite. Then the smash-hit King Tut tour hit the US and it changed museum minds forever. Today, museums want to be popular. The traffic count is part of a museum director's job performance evaluations these days. Museums are also wanting to bring in the unusual topics to attract audiences that normally wouldn't give them a second thought. She pointed out that not long ago Guggenheim even had an exhibit on the history of motorcycles and she says that shows just how much museums are now trying to reach out to all populations. Thirty years ago, museum directors would have fainted at the thought of trying to attract bikers as attendees.