PW Beat: Webcomics among top stories of 2008, part deux

This is Part II if Heidi McDonald’s Annual Year End Survey, conducted with various comics personalities. This time around, webcomics were front and center, with insightful comments coming from highly notable cartoonist Colleen Doran and publisher Charles Kochman. I’ve posted the webcomic-related content below… though reading the original, as a whole, is well worth your time. I was especially intrigued about Mark Verheiden’s observation how The Dark Knight was the biggest blockbuster of 2008., yet comic sales continue to fall.

Hope Larson, cartoonist

What will be the biggest story in comics in 2009? Comics & the Internet, especially now that we’re in a recession and book publishers are less interested in acquiring graphic novels.

Colleen Doran, cartoonist

2009 Projects: Stealth Tribes for Vertigo with Warren Ellis. This has been going on for some time, but we are literally within weeks of completion now. Also, I recently signed on to do an original GN for Vertigo with Derek McCulloch, the wonderful writer with whom I worked on the Tori Amos: Comic Book Tattoo project. It is being edited by Joan Hilty, who was a wonderful editor with whom I previously worked on Reign of the Zodiac for DC with Keith Giffen.

I’m pulling A Distant Soil out of hiatus as well, to start as a webcomic, and to march to completion in print with Image Comics. There are also couple of other things I can’t discuss right now.

What will be the biggest story in comics in 2009? Again, the economy. The direct market was created as a response to the financial collapse of the 1970’s. The direct market was a new market, so the direct market was all about growth. And when we hear about how comics are immune to recession, that ignores the direct market and how it came into being.

I remember the market correction of the mid-1980’s, when comic companies were branching out onto the newsstands, and some of the publishers not being entirely familiar with the trauma that book returns can bring. I think we’re in for another big round of that. We’re already in the middle of it, actually.

As for webcomics, that arena has huge room for expansion, but who is going to pay for those webcomics is the question. These comics are supported by advertising dollars and product sold to consumers with disposable income. With less disposable income, there’s less cause to buy a mug with a cartoon on it. Advertisers are cutting back.

It remains to be seen if some of the people who are supporting themselves with webcomics will be able to continue. It’s one thing to have an inventory of work that can be put onto the web as supplemental income. It’s quite another to have to produce new work regularly to keep the hit counter up. I bet a lot of people are going to have to cut back. I’m going web with my work because it’s supplemental income, and I don’t have to be self supporting with it, but I will be very interested to see how the numbers add up over the next several months. I really don’t know what to expect.

If anything, the new webcomics market illustrates the importance of owning the rights to your own work. This is a very inexpensive way to publish. If you have inventory, and can web publish a number of works at low cost, even if you aren’t bringing in big bucks per book, you can raise some dough. Whether or not you will want to continue to self publish if the work doesn’t eventually pay for the effort put into it is another matter entirely. But the days when you were likely to lose tens of thousands of dollars self publishing are no more. You just don’t need to take the risk of printing comics and carrying inventory if you don’t want to. if your work goes critical mass and you can take it to print, great. If not, that’s too bad, but at least you can still show your work to people, and the publishing act needn’t put you in the poorhouse.

Charles Kochman, publisher

What was the biggest story in comics in 2008? Webcomics. Just because a comic is posted online does not mean it will sell when collected and printed with ink on paper between hard or soft covers, but the Web has allowed for a preponderance of artists and writers of all ages to express themselves and get their work out in front of people who have never, or will never, step foot in a comic book store. The variety of subject matter and art styles and storytelling that we began to see in 2008 is incredibly exciting. Although I have been lucky to publish Mom’s Cancer and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, both of which started out as Webcomics, and have signed up Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile and Barry Deutsch‘s Hereville, I am looking forward to the day when a Webcomic remains a Webcomic and not a vehicle to attract a mainstream publisher to “validate” its existence with print publication. There are many great Webcomics out there, but so far none have achieved that Sgt. Pepper moment of using the unlimited resources of the internet to tell their story in a way that print never could. Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge comes the closest, but still lacks the unlimited links to YouTube videos and Wikipedia entries and AP stories to support and constantly update the story with backup and enhanced reading experiences, much like a re-mastered Criterion version of a great movie—only moreso. If these still early days of the Internet are analogous to television, then we have moved on from the Howdy Doody and Twilight Zone Webcomics of Compuserve and Quantum Link, and are currently reading online the equivalent of All in the Family, Happy Days, and The Six Million Dollar Man. In 2009 and beyond, we still have the Webcomic equivalents of cable TV, Homicide: Life on the Streets, The West Wing, and Seinfeld to look forward to.

Caleb Monroe, writer

What was the biggest story in comics in 2008?
Taken all together, I think it was Marvel’s digital subscriptions, Zuda, FreakAngels and Dark Horse’s success with book editions of webcomics (most notably Achewood and Perry Bible Fellowship), because…

What will be the biggest story in comics in 2009? I predict in the coming year we’re going to see the first struggling midlist books with devoted followings (the likes of Amazing Spider-Girl, Manhunter, Blue Beetle) that get moved to a digital-to-trade model rather than cancelled altogether. Especially because the impending price-hike will probably hit the midlist the hardest, and may be confined to the monthly mags, meaning trades will be an even better relative bang-for-buck value. For that matter, so will Marvel’s digital subscriptions…

Dean Haspiel, cartoonist

The biggest story in 2009 will be when webcomix start to officially impact print sales as readers assimilate to the various digital formats available in both free and subscriber mode while saving precious trees for quality story collections rather than event comics floppy slaughter. Also, whispers of a new, American imprint that will be equal parts L’Association and 2000AD by way of RAW when a posse of webcomix creators take full control of their careers in the spirit of Will Eisner and launch new franchise fair for the masses.

Ross Richie, co-founder of BOOM! Studios

What will be the biggest story in comics in 2009? How the North American economy shapes retail stores and the publishers who feed them product. How will “Big Event Comics” sustain the top tier and the midlist for the Big Two. And how will print comics continue to work out its relationship with webcomics?

Brian Heater, journalist

What will be the biggest story in comics in 2009?
Why, the depression, of course! That’s the easy answer, right? So let’s go with a less obvious one. My prediction: the iPhone becomes the first great e-comics reader. The screen is small compared to the Kindle, sure, but the colors are brilliant and multi-touch makes for a fantastic comic reading experience. Hopefully the next iteration of the Kindle will be more comic book friendly, but let’s call the iPhone a proof of concept that sequential art can work in e-book format. Format a Webcomic to the device and you’ll be comics’ next billionaire.


About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on January 6, 2009, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. “Format a Webcomic to the device and you’ll be comics’ next billionaire.”

    I would enjoy hearing more explanation of how that’s supposed to happen, or is the comment tongue-in-cheek?

    We’ve had a nice tutorial for formatting by Rob Berry up for almost a year on Psychedelic Treehouse, and I haven’t heard any success stories. The address is


  2. Whoa! Digging up the old articles, I see! I approve.

    I actually think that Brian Heater has a strong point. Desktops and laptops are the standard internet browsers these days, but the trend looks to be headed toward smaller and smaller devices, such as the smartphones and the smaller laptops. Webcomics are the sort of entertainment that looks to be best read on such devices — maybe on the bus or while waiting for the plane. You know, the same locations as where you would normally have read a magazine, newspaper, or paperback.

    I personally don’t think we’ve reached that day yet, but I do think it is coming. Remember when having a screen on your phone was a relatively novel device? It wasn’t that too long ago; maybe less than a decade. Now it’s a standard feature. Today, the smartphones are only starting to show up in the market. They’re toys now, but they might become the standard format for phones in a few years. So what happend if the day comes where the majority of internet users are using hand-held devices? Shouldn’t webcomics adapt?

    (And as I mentioned in the “Set To Sea” review, a lot of current webcomics are difficult to read on the iPhone/iPod Touch.)

    Then again, no one can really predict the future. Maybe smartphones are simply a passing fad, and we’ll be lugging around super-lightweight laptops in the future. Who knows.

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