The New Medium
I don’t know how I managed to miss this, but a couple of days ago PW Beat mentioned that Marvel was going to produce their own original webcomics (here too). These include two rather lightweight-sounding titles with obvious ties to this year’s blockbusters: “Iron Man: Fast Friends” and “Incredible Hulk: The Fury Files” (with the Sam Jackson Nick Fury).
This comes on the heels of PW Beat’s previous report that periodical sales have been declining for the 7th month in a row. This is not new news, by the way. Print comic readership has been on a steady decline for a long, long time. I remember reading an interview with Spawn‘s Todd McFarlane in the 90’s mentioning that there was nothing that could be done to stop comics’ spin into irrelevancy. (This was before he went full-throttle on his admittedly successful toy business.) Some blame the ghettoization of comics to comic book shops (i.e., the direct market). Others blame the extremely lax publishing schedule as of late, as comics tend to never meet their publication dates. (The theory here is that once the comics get collected in trade paperbacks, no one will care when the single issues came out.)
Maybe Mr. McFarlane had a point. But maybe there’s something else at work altogether. What if we’re in the middle of a shift of comics making the leap from one media to another?
Look at digital cameras, for example. When they first came out, I remember reading a Consumer Report article. The lead paragraph in their film camera section mentioned that while they thought digital cameras were poised for growth, they didn’t see them, in any way replacing film. Where are we now? This is how all new technology starts.
What if, one day, all comics are going to be webcomics? Marvel seems to be taking tentative steps into the medium — though, last year, Marvel already made huge waves by putting their archived comics online. What’s the thinking here?
Could it be that Marvel Central has concluded that digital has matured to the point where it’s more accessible and superior to print? Think of the advantages:
- No need to step into a stinky comic shop. You can peruse comics in the comfort of your own laptop.
- The internet is almost a perfect fit for the comic medium. When reading online, no one likes to take too long, and people tend to read things with less words.
- The print publishing industry is kind of a dead end, currently. People read newspapers from websites, not newsprint.
- It’s probably cheaper to do. At least you’ll be saving up on print costs.
- The business model — where issues are published and then compiled in Trade Paperbacks — actually works better online. You can release small, issue-like installments on the web, and then can be bound in TPBs when the entire story is completed.
- Marvel and DC seem to be banking more on the cultural relevancy of their characters rather than sales of periodicals. Is it possible that Spider-Man and Superman can be made more culturally relevant by opening their stories to the general public rather than to the circle of obsessive nerds that hang around at a comic shop?
- As R. Stevens recent travails with Diesel Sweeties has taught us, getting printed on a national scale is no longer the Holy Grail for comic writers that it used to be. For him, the webcomic was more profitable.
If my suspicions are true — that Marvel is planning a shift to going mainly online, perhaps on a long term basis — what does this mean for existing webcomics? I can only assume that it would be a good thing. A major publisher shifting to webcomics bring major media to the genre and medium as a whole. Then again, given that the Big Two like to pick up independent publishers from time to time, only to neglect them after a while (what ever happened to Malibu Comics?), this might also usher into a period of consolidation, where lesser webcomics fall by the wayside and the remaining successes line up behind the major publishers.