Why Do Online Comics by Iain Hamp

How The Awesome Power of The Webcomics can help Print Comics Creators?

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how the world of print comics and the world of webcomics interact with one another (or, as is more often the case, fail to interact with one another). I suspect that there are a variety of reasons for those who do print comics to have not embraced webcomics (beyond the loopy evil webcomics zealot in me who wants to think, “HA! They feel threatened by the awesome power of The Internet!”).

Maybe they haven’t really even thought of it, or perhaps they just haven’t gotten around to exploring the idea further. There might be some binding agreements they have with their publisher(s), and they don’t have the rights to put their stuff on the web or the time to do something on the web. It could be they don’t see the potential of a website with their comics on it, from a marketing perspective. And, maybe it just isn’t their thing. Some people have a real need to touch their comics in order to enjoy them. My personal feeling is that comics are for reading, not touching, but that’s just one man’s opinion, and another column for another time.

Back to my point, though, I am doing the opposite of what I am about to talk about: I have been working on webcomics for almost five years now, and have quite recently begun exploring the idea of collecting some of my work into print. Actually, the plan is to release several comics on the web for sale via BitPass, then collect them into a print anthology at a point. So I’ve been looking around lately at some of the options out there for getting my books printed, and part of that process has been to look at what other independent comic creators have been doing to get their own work in print.

One of the creators I came across was Neil Kleid, a Xeric Foundation grant recipient who is putting out a book called Ninety Candles. The concept grabbed my attention, there was a handy brief preview available, and I found myself wanting to look at an actual physical copy of the comic.

Which presents a problem.

I could be totally alone here, but a five-page preview of a 48-page comic is never enough to convince me to buy it outright, unless the creator has a REALLY good track record for pleasing me with his or her (or their) work. My comic collection consists mostly of things I got to read a good portion of (if not all of) before buying them. I buy them because I want to read them again and again, because they are inspiring to me in one way or another, and/or because I want to loan them to friends so they can enjoy them and, hopefully, then go buy copies for their own collections.

Sadly, getting a good solid look at Ninety Candles before I buy it will be a difficult prospect, because I either have to order it directly through Diamond at a local store (because even the giant comic stores around here aren’t just going to order it speculatively, no matter how much I beg), or wait until SDCC and hope I will be able to look at it there. Neither of these is appealing to me, really, especially since SDCC just happened, and I have no idea if Rant Comics will be there next year.

So what is there do be done about this? Well, my first thought when I wanted to read the comic, but realized how difficult it would be to make sure I wanted it before I bought it, was that I wished it were online for me to read. The “World” part of WWW cuts the distance barrier out of the equation quite nicely.

A lot of independent print folks may think putting their comics on the web for free and then trying to charge for them in print would be business suicide. I personally don’t think this is the case. Consider the evidence: I am basing what I know on the slew of webcomics that have at one point or other gone to print and sold very well. In fact, they have sold well not only to those that hadn’t read it online, but also extremely well to those who have already read the stories in their entirety on the web. They had read it all for free, yet still wanted to pay bucks to have a print copy in their hands.

Whatever the reason though, suppose you don’t want to put your comic on the web for free, but I still want to read it online before I buy a print copy of your comic. There are still options left for everyone to win. The best, in my opinion, would be to offer the comic for sale via BitPass (or a system akin to it). Let me say without hesitation that I would LOVE to pay 50 cents to read Ninety Candles, and there are probably dozens if not hundred of independent print comics out there that I can say the same thing about. Once I had read it, and enjoyed it, I would then be a lot more likely to go order the comic in print and spread the word to all my independent-comic-geek friends about how great the book was. In the case of Ninety Candles, the whole thing costs me $6.45 instead of $5.95 (50 cents for the BitPass version, and another $5.95 for the book). I don’t know what the profit margin on the book is, but the profit margin on the BitPass comic is 85%.

Here’s the part where I throw in the free set of knives to the deal; BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Let’s say that a creator whose print work I was considering were to put one or two of his or her works online, in its entirety, for me to read, whether for free or via BitPass. Not even necessarily the print comic I was considering, just some good examples of completed stories they have told, long or short. If I really liked them, then suddenly you are in my mind a proven creator of things I like to read. Okay, now I’ll probably order that book I was considering, even though I haven’t seen the whole thing. You’ve given me some way to gauge that I can trust your ability to tell a story well based on my criteria of a well told story (whatever that may be).

For the last couple of years, I have been approaching the idea of why one would do online comics mostly from the perspective of someone new to the idea, but not someone new to the idea that has already established a fair amount of roots in the print comics world. As I come to understand that side of comics publishing more and more, my hope is to find other ways in which using both the Internet and a printing press can maximize the comic experience for creators and readers alike. At the very least, I’m hoping to open some cans of worms and get some good debates going. It has been my experience that print comickers and webcomickers can often seem like the Hatfields and McCoys, and I’d like to do my part in bridging that gap. Because to me, it isn’t about CMYK vs. RGB, it’s about making comics that are fun for the creator to create and the reader to read, regardless of medium.

And, for the creators, maybe making a buck or two along the way. Be nice, wouldn’t it?

(NOTE: I used Ninety Candles from Rant Comics as an example, but I want to make it clear that it is simply because that comic is what sparked a lot of this thought that I used it in particular to illustrate points. I don’t mean to say that Rant Comics or Neil Kleid are against the use of the Internet for publishing or promoting comics in any way. )

Iain Hamp is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.

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