040 Where are Web Comics headed, and do we need to be an asshole to know the truth, or can we just be cool about it?
Since for some reason I can’t respond to Joey Manley’s latest blog entry on his site (I keep getting some weird error message) I guess I’ll just do it here. But let me give you some background. First, Valerie D’Orazio posted this. Read it, it’s pretty interesting.
Got it? OK, now here’s Mr. Manley’s.
The gist: D’Orazio thinks that within a few years time Marvel, DC, or some other publishing company will swoop in and take advantage of the increasingly popular venues on the internet (i.e. specific blogs or web comics) by buying up the best of the best and making them subscription sites, while stressing that their brand is the authority (for web comics, blogs, etc.), effectively making all other venues irrelevant. Manley, clearly taking issue with her lumping web comics into the mix, not-so-respectfully disagrees, flat out saying that D’Orazio is wrong. He cites the web comics creators who commented on D’Orazio’s blog, basically saying they’re doing fine and it would take a lot for a D.C. or Marvel to buy them out. He also says the internetZ is very big and there’s room for everyone so play nice.
“But what’s your opinion on this, Paul?” It’s true, this is my blog so rather than spew out other people’s opinions I might as well offer my own insight, right? After all this is a topic I’m interested in, and after the Comics and New Media debacle at Comic Con some real and interesting discussion about web comics is very welcome here at Wednesday’s Child.
Overall I think it’s clear that Manley’s argument is flawed, and for a few reasons. First off, in his third paragraph he says
I don’t say this to call her out necessarily, but to point to it as an example of the kind of thinking that I’ve been running into pretty consistently since becoming CEO of ComicSpace and meeting lots of people in the “comics industry” (quotes because the Marvel/DC axis is not the only comics industry — it’s one of several, and not even the biggest).
Now, when you talk about the colloquial “comics industry” rather than the comics industry proper, yes Marvel/DC actually are the big boys. I’m not even sure the companies he mentions afterwords,the rest of the “comics industry”, have more pull even if we are talking about the industry proper; DC is owned by Warner Bros., and both Marvel and D.C. have become powerhouses in the world of film as well as comics. Their resources are superior to many other, if not all other, comics-based companies. So, yes, Marvel and DC are formidable, to say the least.
However, while Valerie uses DC or Marvel as an example, she explicitly states in the entry, “If I was DC or Marvel (or any other media company)…” So, ok, let’s say Scholastic, United, or Viz are more financially equipped to buy out certain web comics. The concept is exactly the same isn’t it? If Scholastic bought all of the best web comics and started their own site, discouraging people from viewing other comics, its the same as if Spider-Man and Wonder Woman were doing it.
Second: yes, it’s all well and good that these creators are doing well for themselves now, and its nice to see idealism at this stage; that sort of “damn the man! you can’t buy me!” mentality that comes with freelancing and ends with a steady paycheck. But I doubt whatever “expense” it would take to buy them out would be any skin off of Paul Levitz’, or Joe Quesada’s (is anyone above him at Marvel?), or Richard Robinson’s back, especially when one of these companies can offer mass marketing and merchandising well out of those creators’ reaches. If after a few years web comics skyrocket into incredible popularity then what Valerie’s saying makes good business sense, and publishers would be foolish not to capitalize. It’s happened with independent film companies, TV stations, radio stations, etc.– what makes web comics immune?
Lastly, this comment:
I’ll make a prediction of my own. Marvel and DC are no more in a position to ‘take over’ webcomics than they are to ‘take over’ any of the other comics industries
is a little ridiculous, no? This is not like Marvel saying “hmm I think I’ll purchase Scholastic today”. “Web comics” is not a company, its a series of independent creators and smaller websites (and a series of tubes). That means you buy out one by one by one until you have all the ones you want, and it makes the rest irrelevant because they’re not under the Scholastic or Marvel or whatever banner. Its the same exact thing that’s happening with “real” comics– yeah, Fantagraphics and D&Q and all of those great small publishers make amazing, subversive material. But its really just that: a counter-culture within a counter-culture. The “big two” still have the larger market shares, and with Diamond’s new standards that’s only going to get worse. The caveat here is that on the web its much easier and cheaper to produce for a site or blog than it is in print, but I think this will more be a victory by promotion rather than by capital. Sure there’s room for all kinds of websites with all kinds of services, but some will be more accepted than others and a web comic on the Zuda imprint gets more publicity than one on Modern Tales.
His post is dismissive at best and patronizing at worst, and his stance is that he knows more about the subject than his reader does and that’s that. And that’s true, if we were talking about the current state of web comics. But what we’re talking about is the future which is, if you’ll excuse my French for a second, something he doesn’t know dick about. Me neither, and neither do the Valerie D’Orazios, or the Richard Robinsons of the world, so we’re all just speculating, and I think he’s wrong, and he can think I’m wrong, and I’m coming from historical perspective and he’s coming from personal experience, and that’s all fine. Hey, if he ends up being right I’ll be the first person to say his dick is so much bigger than D’Orazio’s. I’ll write a whole post about it. The subject line will be Look at the size of that cock, you guys. But you can’t title a blog entry Occasional Superheroine doesn’t know what the fuck she’s talking about, and go around making bold statements like “you’re wrong”, and then follow it up by saying you’re not trying to start a fight. Because, yeah congrats, I’m sure more people read your blog today because of it but there’s no need to be such a dick you know?
To get a quick idea of what the Comics and New Media panel at Comic Con was all about, let me first give you a run-down of the panelists: Josh Neufeld, writer/artist of the web comic A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge , a true story of real survivors of Hurricane Katrina; Larry Smith, editor of Smith Magazine, whose website hosted A.D. during it’s original complete run; Lisa Weinert, an editor at Pantheon, who are publishing an A.D. collection; and Kate Lee, Neufeld’s agent. I had unwittingly become part of a giant advertisement for A.D.! Way too meta.
Friday afternoon I walked into my first panel, expecting to see Graphic Novels and Academic Acceptance only to find that it had been moved from 3:30 PM to 7:00, replaced with Comics and New Media. Right off the bat I was let down, as the Academic Acceptance panel was one I was looking forward to since I first saw the panel lineup. It didn’t help any that there were horrible technical issues, either; a video they planned on showing wouldn’t play sound, and three different A/V guys had to come in throughout the panel to try and rectify it.
While they were trying to fix the video we got to hear about Josh’s comic, which seemed like a really interesting idea. He traveled to New Orleans after Katrina and met a group of strangers with their own unique story to tell, and started updating Smith weekly with comics about each of their lives. The most intriguing aspect of this to me was that it allowed for instantaneous feedback from the characters themselves. The idea of creating a story that is largely biographical and being able to change it on the fly in order to preserve accuracy is one I had not really considered before this, and I admit the possibilities of this can lead to really great storytelling.
After more and more talk of A.D., however, I began to realize something was amiss. Smith had already stated his website housed more than just Neufeld’s comic, why weren’t these being addressed? What about the inherent issues of new media culture vs. print? Were they waiting until after the video to discuss these things? Finally the technical problems were fixed and we got to watch and listen to a video which was basically a recap of what we all heard the panelists talking about, and then…. nothing. Q&A time.
I was stunned. I don’t mind panels about a specific work, but don’t trick people into wasting an hour of their lives on something they weren’t expecting. I was looking for COMICS AND NEW MEDIA; intelligent discussion on the future of comics in the age of new media, points about print vs. new media, the pros and cons of both, etc. I did not even remotely get that. The only points that touched on the supposed topic of the panel without audience participation were:
- When publishing a web comic in book format the web comic’s very existence can be used to help publishers promote the work, due to all of the extras (videos, podcasts, etc.) on the website.
- Webcomics are more accessible to a general audience, and therefore are instrumental in bringing new readers into comics.
- Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace are good ways to promote your comic.
Chelsea and I got so little out of the panel itself that I felt inclined to raise my hand and ask a question which I felt was fundamental to the very discussion of comics and new media itself; that is, with all the burgeoning technology we have nowadays and web comics becoming more and more popular what keeps print relevant? Or going further: IS print relevant? Because all you hear in these conversations is, “web comics are great, and they’re really becoming more legitimate in terms of an art form… but gee, nothings going to replace print”. Well why is that the case? This economy is a prime example of a time when free web comics and news sites stand to make more money than a newspaper or publisher. Hell, I read one article saying it would cost the New York Times less to send Amazon Kindle e-readers to subscribers than to print and deliver the paper every day. Hell, I get all my news from the free Times iPhone app myself. And what if Marvel or DC decided to go COMPLETELY digital? The possibilities are endless there. The answer to my question was typical of this argument: “people just like the feel of the paper in their hands”. Well eventually that answer isn’t going to cut it anymore, and real studies are going to need to be done, and real discussion is going to have to come of it, because if you sleep on new technology you’re gonna be eaten alive.
All in all, I was thoroughly disappointed in this panel. As an advertisement it was great: I plan on reading A.D. and buying it in print if I enjoy it enough (you should really take a look at it, the art is gorgeous). But as a panel on comics in new media I was let down by the lack of insight and discussion that seemed so ripe for the picking.