The ComixTalk End of 2007 Roundtable
Our third annual virtual round table on the year in webcomics features comments from Gary Tyrrell, Dirk Deppey, Tom Spurgeon, Heidi MacDonald, Brigid Alverson, Derik A Badman, Reinder Dijkhuis, and JT Shea and Scott Gallatin.
For the December issue, we assembled our third annual virtual round table on the year in webcomics. (You can read our previous roundtables here: 2006 and 2005.) Our panel discussion was conducted by email.
Gary Tyrrell is the lead writer and editor of Fleen, a collector of webcomic and cartoon art, a once and future volunteer with the CBLDF, and a resident of New Jersey. He can often be found in the vicinity of his wife, his dog, or beer.
Dirk Deppey is the online editor of The Comics Journal and author of its weekdaily weblog, Journalista. He was managing editor of the print version for just over two years. He lives in Arizona.
Tom Spurgeon is the editor of The Comics Reporter. He is a former editor at the Comics Journal. He wrote the comic strip Wildwood for King Features from 1999-2002. He is a Sagittarius. His go-to karaoke song is Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. His favorite elementary school gym activities were parachute, kickball and high jump.
Heidi MacDonald is a well known comics commentator and journalist and the author of The Beat. She has worked for Disney and Warner Bros./DC Comics, editing both licensed characters and original concepts, and currently edits a line of graphic novels for Fox Atomic/HarperCollins. As well as working as a contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she co-edits the weekly PW Comics Week comics newsletter and has served as a Consultant for the New York Comic-Con. Heidi is also the co-founder and a former board member of Friends of Lulu, an organization for women in comics.
Brigid Alverson is a journalist and the blogger behind MangaBlog. Her work has appeared in Publishers's Weekly Comics Week, Shojo Beat, and Comics Foundry. Her two teenage daughters keep her firmly grounded in reality.
Reinder Dijkhuis writes and draws Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan and draws White House in Orbit in collaboration with Norwegian writer Geir Strom. He lives in Groningen, the Netherlands where besides creating comics in a studio he shares with cartoonist Jeroen Jager, he writes at his blog Waffle.
Xaviar Xerexes: ComixTalk does focus on webcomics (or perhaps better to say, comics published in a digital format). So I'll lead off with a very webcomic-specific question. Defining webcomics simply as a comic that is published in its entirety on the web (regardless of where else it's published) what were your favorite five webcomics in 2007? Any favorite new finds for 2007?
Gary Tyrrell: Five is a tough limit! In no particular order: Dr McNinja, Dresden Codak, xkcd, Little Dee and Sheldon made me happiest this year; they all seem to be on a consistent roll. Favorite finds were Planet Karen (been around a while, but I'm late to this party) and Octopus Pie.
Derik Badman: Cameron Stewart's Sin Titulo has been slowly building tension and interest since it started, I love it's Auster-esque film noir aspect. Lewis Trondheim's Les Petits Riens continue to bring a smile to my face, I'm looking forward to the English edition from NBM so I can get all those French colloquialisms right. I'm not usually reading the most popular things, but xkcd has even got me as a fan. Nick Mullin's Carnivale makes brilliant and innovative use of word balloons. Vulcan and Vishnu by Leland Purvis is perhaps one of my most favorite webcomics. Purvis' sense of pacing and diagrammatic art is brilliant.
Brigid Alverson: I'm really enjoying two of the stories serialized on Netcomics. Dokebi Bride is a Korean manhwa about a shaman girl who is struggling with spirits. It's a nice story about the way traditional ways mix with modern life, and the art is absoutely gorgeous. The other one, cm0, is a soap opera about a college professor who is involved with a student. I just discovered Nick Mullins this year, and I love Carnivale because he does such a great job of capturing emotions and even events without using words. AD: New Orleans After the Deluge is a jewel of a comic, and it really uses the multimedia capabilities of the internet by adding links to video clips, podcast interviews with the characters, and lot of other good stuff. And Penny and Aggie is just plain good fun.
Tom Spurgeon: I read very few comics regularly on-line and don’t really make distinctions between webcomics-only webcomics and comics that are also in print I happen to read on-line. The ones that I read are pretty standard. Les Petits Riens, Perry Bible Fellowship, Achewood, Cul-de-Sac and Pat Oliphants’s work could be a top five. As for new discoveries, I’m now just diving into what’s out there beyond a real surface appreciation so I’m not prepared to answer that. I did like Sin Titulo.
Dirk Deppey: I read probably a dozen webcomics a week, not counting manga scanlations. My five favorites are John Allison's Scary Go Round, Chris Onstad's Achewood, R. Stevens' Diesel Sweeties, Chris Muir's Day by Day and Tatsuya Ishida's Sinfest. The others: Danielle Corsetto's Girls With Slingshots, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik's Penny Arcade, Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius, Kevin Church's and Benjamin Birdie's The Rack, Fred Gallagher's MegaTokyo, Dorothy Gambrell's Cat and Girl, Emily Horne's and Joey Comeau's A Softer World, and my big find for the year: Tyler Page's absorbing collegiate soap opera, Nothing Better.
Heidi MacDonald: I have to confess, I am not a big webcomics reader! There are a few I follow, however. I always say my favorite webcomic is Raina Telgemeier's SMILE in that whenever I see a new episode I read it immediately. How can you not wanna know what happens when your front teeth get knocked out? Perry Bible Fellowship is another must read. The two new favorites of '07 are Josh Neufeld's AD: New Orleans After the Deluge and The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl at Transmission X. As for a fifth – I always read Incidentally, as well. I read webcomics mostly through my LJ feed – it's definitely the easiest way for me to keep up, although now that it's been sold to the Russians I fear for the future.
JT Shea and Scott Gallatin: Our five favorites are Sinfest, You'll Have That, Schlock Mercenary, Planet Karen, and The Devil's Panties. Our favorite new finds are Kukuburi; Pinkerton; and Dog Eat Doug.
Reinder Dijkhuis: I've been finding myself less drawn to webcomics in 2007 than in previous years and have started buying comic albums again. There's still a quality gap to be bridged in my opinion. However, Scary Go Round, Digger, Liliane, Bi-Dyke, Fokke & Sukke and Head Doctor still deliver the goods. New (to me) comics I've enjoyed include Rich Morris's The Ten Doctors (Rich also creates Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic, but I've found that that one is running out of steam a bit), Gorgeous Princess Creamy Beamy, American Gothic, Planet Karen, Lackadaisy, Alien Circus and the completed The Adventures of Boschen and Nesuko.
Xerexes: Comic strips otherwise published in newspapers have been on the web for sometime. Just this November we saw the announcement of a major initiative by one of the big two comic book publishers, Marvel to enter the online space with its archive of comic book content. The big question in my mind is who is Marvel's Digital Comics Unlimited for and more importantly, will it be competitive with illegal means of getting Marvel products online ( i.e., file trading of scanned in comics). What do you think will happen with Marvel DCU in 2008? What about the prospects for other major publishers to distribute their comics online?
Deppey: The appeal of Marvel's initiative will almost certainly be divided between current and lapsed customers of the "Direct Market," the network of North American and U.K. comics shops that buys its wares on a non-returnable basis from Diamond Comics Distributors. I question whether it will be a big enough appeal to make anyone else take notice six months from now, but you never know -- it could happen. The "online rental" model has never really been much of a winner, and Marvel's statement that they're the only place you can get this stuff online only makes sense if you don't know what the initials D.C.P. stand for.
I don't think this initiative will put a dent in online piracy of Marvel's comics for two reasons: Marvel's penchant for big, multi-title crossover events frequently tests their customers' willingness to part with the excessive cash layouts required, and Marvel's decision not to post comics earlier than six months after print publication means that one of the prime reasons why fans resort to piracy -- the aforementioned crossover events -- won't be addressed by the new comics-rental system. Now, running around and suing everyone under the sun for illegally downloading comics? That might put a dent in the piracy problem... but it may also put a dent in Marvel's customer base, if the company isn't careful.
Badman: I haven't looked at Marvel's DCU and I don't plan to. I'm sure someone would be interested, but the model seems flawed from what I've heard about it. I doubt it will affect scanned downloads. You get to keep the downloads and that fits better into the hoarding model of most comics readers.
Spurgeon: I can’t imagine it competing with illegal downloads because it’s not offering the same thing. Does anything truly compete with illegal, free downloads other than legal, free downloads?
I’d be interested in knowing who buys this thing. Unfortunately, since it’s Marvel, THEY won’t even know who’s buying this thing. That’s why I wonder after their pledge to pay artists for this use because I don’t know how they’re going to measure readership for royalties, conceptually OR practically.
That being said, I imagine it will do okay, at least the first year. They may get lucky in that mainstream comics seems due for another consumer diaspora in terms of those guys in suits buying comics heading into their 40s and while still having plenty of money not having the energy to read about them and go buy them every Wednesday. There may be a significant number of people who may end up thinking having a bunch of funny books to keep up on is useful and worth it in the same way a lot of once-fervent ESPN watchers I know have shifted to pod casts and broadband downloads of shows like Sportscenter.
I may buy a year of DCU to catch up on all that weird reading I’d otherwise blow off, like the space titles, or those ones where Norman Osborn is humping various John Romita-designed ingénues, but I’m one of like 18 people with that kind of “professional” interest not already buying or receiving those books.
I think at some point all these companies are going to have to suck it up and just offer $.99 downloads day of sale. Not because it replaces illegal downloads but because it will reach a growing audience of people not served by traditional serial print distribution. But they’re going to put that day off as long as possible.
Tyrrell: It's for obsessive continuity-porn geeks as near as I can tell, and it won't do squat to reduce the number of scans traded. By the end of 2008, DCU will likely have followed all the previous Marvel online initiatives to dominate their industry and Internet mindspace.
No, wait, I meant "... to where websites with bad Flash interfaces go to die."
Alverson: Marvel's DCU will be very popular with that portion of the existing audience that would like to read some of the older stuff but either can't find it or doesn't care about actually owning it. I suspect that's a small group. Unless Marvel comes up with a way for people to read comics on the day they come out, perhaps by adding a premium level, the appeal is going to be pretty limited. As for luring in new readers, it's a good idea on the face of it; someone who saw a Spiderman movie and is curious about the comic probably won't find it at a chain bookstore and may not even be aware of the direct market. Putting it on the net makes it easier to make the sale. On the other hand, charging ten buck for a month's subscription will scare away a lot of those casual browsers. And have they done any marketing outside the closed universe of comics? Say, ads on TV or on movie sites? New readers aren't going to find them if they don¹t know the site exists.
Shea and Gallatin: I expect that you will see DC and other publishers putting more of their back issues online. It doesn't seem like it would hamper their print sales. Also adding back seems like a great way to also draw traffic in to look at your other offerings. With both Marvel and DC, I imagine that is going to be the bigger benefit. DC may be holding back on realising their libraries till they see how Marvel does, but it can't be long till they do.
Dijkhuis: I don't think about Marvel at all.
MacDonald: From what I hear, almost every publisher has some kind of online initiative in the works, although much of it is going to be archival and free. Marvel's DCU seems like a great idea, but the interface doesn't seem to have pleased most people who like to comment on the Internet. Who is it for? Marvel comics readers, the kind who don't already do the download thing? Is there a huge segment of readers who want to read Marvel Comics online who don't already know how to get them? I'm not sure. The fact that royalties for paid comics online are not yet in place definitely strikes a sour note, and may hurt Marvel in the long run, as well.
The major use that I personally would have for it is as a reference tool, and I can see that being useful as a comics journalist. I suspect enough readers who want to read Marvel online "legitimately" will pony up the dough to make it somewhat profitable, but in a world where everyone wants instant "ownership", i.e. the iTunes model, it's going to be seen as flawed and DRM-ridden. Eventually, everyone is going to have some kind of online archive, however. And I agree with Tom -- the 99 cent day of sale download is inevitable.