The Rise of Web Comics

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They tend to be a bit overly verbose at the Economist, so rather than regurgitate the entire two thousand word opus I figured I could highlight a few of the most interesting ideas that they brought to light.

Columns, Daniel VanderMolen, Homepage Sub  •  Jan 29, 2013

The other day while I was stuck at the dealership waiting for them to put new snow tires on my 2013 BMW M5 I decided to fire up my iPad 4 to peruse my stock portfolio, which is when I happened upon a really interesting article on the Economist about the rise of web comics!

Alright, full disclosure, those first few things aren’t true.  I drive a Chrysler Sebring, I don’t  have an iPad 4 (or 3…or 2…or 1…I don’t even have a Mac), and my stock portfolio isn’t so much perusable as it is, say, nonexistent.

Oh yeah, and I certainly don’t read the Economist.  Just between you, me, and the rest of the fine people who follow Indie Reader, I honestly think it kind of sucks.

However, what is true is that I do try to keep up on all of the relevant web comic news that the World Wide Web has to offer, and low and behold, a bit of random Googling the other day lead me to what turned out to be a very interesting Economist article about the influence that the internet has had on comics.

Talk about getting blindsided by an unexpected source.

The main crux of the article deals with the effect that the death of the newspaper industry has had on the comic industry (and the formerly lucrative world of syndication).  After a rather lengthy history lesson detailing the rise and fall of publications across the globe, they connect that particular development with the advent of web based projects.

“The decline of newspapers and the rise of the internet have broken that system. Newspapers no longer have the money to pay big bucks to cartoonists, and the web means anybody can get published. Cartoonists who want to make their name no longer send sketches to syndicates or approach newspapers: they simply set up websites and spread the word on Twitter and Facebook.”

They are talking specifically about cartoonists here, but it seem like that particular statement goes a long way towards encompassing the evolution of indie publishing as a whole.  The internet is essentially a vast land-grab for authors of all shapes and sizes looking to get their work seen, and the boom of web comics proves that there is success to be found by way of the do-it-yourself mentality.

When I first developed the idea for my web comic I knew there was absolutely zero chance that I’d be able to find someone willing to publish me right off the bat.  The internet was my only option.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the extremely kindhearted sugar daddy of a comic artist who agreed to collaborate with me on the project I honestly don’t know if it ever would have made its way to hard copy. And yet, three years and two successful printings later, I still consider our web domain to be home, and probably always will.

But with such immense freedom there also comes certain undeniable pratfalls.  Specifically, with our self-published work being so readily available, what’s to stop it from being, um, so damn readily available?  Pertaining to comics, this is what the article had to say:

This new world, in which humour spreads instantly and globally, threatens webcomic artists at the same time as it liberates them. Cartoons can spread around the web without crediting their creators; copyright thieves can sell unlicensed merchandise. Cartoonists need to be entrepreneurs, as well as artists.

Which gets to one of the big issues of the day:  How do we maintain creative integrity while at the same time recognizing that we need to be equal parts author and businessperson?  It’s nice to say that we’re all doing this for the love of the art form, but as anyone who’s ever toiled away, pumping their life and soul out into the ether will attest, it’s also nice to get paid sometimes.

Web comics are perhaps the epitome of this particular conundrum.  In the age of Facebook and Twitter they are ideally suited for sharing, which is great for exposure but doesn’t go very far towards satiating the pocketbook.  How many times have joined in on a social media induced chuckle over the latest offerings from “The Oatmeal” or “Dinosaur Comics,” before moving on to the next status update without nary a thought to who was responsible for creating it in the first place?  I’m guilty of it.  We all are.

So what do we do about that?  At this point, I’m not sure if there is a right answer.

In many ways authors are entrepreneurs too, we just tend to be so focused on getting our businesses off the ground that we far too often neglect to consider what it might take to keep them afloat.  It truly is a brave new world of self-publishing, and the opportunity for indie authors to make their mark has never been greater.  If the recent boom of web comics has shown us anything it is that success is possible, we just need to figure out a way to make it sustainable.

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