Kleefeld: From Atlas Shrugged to webcomics
So what do Ayn Rand, AIG, and Marvel’s Secret Invasion have to do with webcomics? Let Sean Kleefeld (who has an MBA, I was surprised to find out) walk you through it:
I’ve always tended to be a bit more on the cynical side. Still hopeful, but cynical nonetheless. Lately, though, I’ve felt that cynicism growing more pronounced and I suspect it’s due to several factors. First, there’s news almost every day about some selfish bastard screwing over hundreds, if not thousands, of people for their own greedy purposes. AIG execs, Madoff, take your pick. I also happen to be reading two books that deal with the issue: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and Leadership Redefined by Todd Dewett.
“Sean, what in the hell does this have to do with comics?!?”
Civil War. Countdown. Secret Invasion. 52…
Pick any company produced comic series. Heck, any of their regular titles: Action Comics. Uncanny X-Men. Justice League. Amazing Spider-Man…
These books are created under the same business circumstances. No, I’m not talking about “editorial interference” or anything like that. Editors, by and large, hire the writers and artists they think will do a good job on a specific title. But there’s a much larger business behind that. Do you think Tom Brevoort or Matt Idelson or Mike Marts or Axel Alonso only have to deal with their creative teams?
No, of course not! They have to deal with their bosses, their peers, the printing reps, the distributor reps, the office admins at all sorts of locations… the list goes on and on. Now, certainly, some of those people are going to try to be helpful and do the best job that they can. But some of those people will also undoubtedly have their own agendas, which may or may not coincide with the production of a good comic book.
The individual impact of any one of these people might be small, but the cumulative effect can be huge. Especially if you’re not Marvel or DC (whose relative sizes give them at least a little leverage).
The ‘So What’ here is that there is an alternative. An option where there aren’t dozens of people getting between the creator and the reader. An option where the only person to be cynical of is the creator him/herself. There’re no office politics. There’s no catering to sensitive egos. There’s no having to deal with incessant fools if you don’t want to.
The option, of course, is webcomics.
(You knew that was coming, right?)
Now, go read Tozo or Charles Christopher or Odysseus or something!
Now, as much as I love Sean Kleefeld (and I do love you man, in a bromance way), this seems to be the same argument we always get whenever we talk independent vs. publisher-owned comics, or, in a macroscopic scale, small business vs. big business. Sean’s probably right … for now. But his assumption assumes that webcomics will always follow a small business model. Which I don’t think will be true for very long.
Commenter JM Brown mentioned not too long ago that some really good webcomics are slipping through the cracks, and he’s right. The infrastructure for promotion isn’t there for creators just yet. Everything’s word of mouth … which is great, mind you, but it does have its limitations. (How many people do you think were familiar with the three webcomics he mentioned, as opposed to the thousands of comic book fans following Secret Invasion and 52?) And when that infrastructure does get established … I envision webcomics, one day, gravitating towards a centralized system similar to Marvel and DC.