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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).

“So what?”

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.

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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 March 18, 2009, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Everything’s word of mouth … which is great,

    I’m going to go ahead and disagree with you on this one.

    I almost never pay attention when people recommend web comics, because I find that most of the people who read them are massively more forgiving then I am.

    Via word of mouth, mediocre, high school art gets transmogrified into great art. formulaic storylines become great writing. Cliched repetitive gaming comics become hilarious.

    And it’s not limited to just random internet guys; Present company excepted, I find that the webcomic review sites tend to do the exact same thing.

    Maybe other people grade on a curve or something, but there are webcomics out there that have professional art and professional writing. When somebody says “Comic X has great art!” I never know if that means it has really brilliant art that puts many professionals to shame, or if it’s, um, Dominic Deegan.

    So I just don’t pay attention to word of mouth.

  2. You’ve got an excellent point, there — certainly something I didn’t address at all in my post.

    But, truth be told, the original intent of my post was simply to cathartically vent my current cynicism and open up some more room for hope and optimism. It wasn’t until about half-way through that I even thought to try to rein the subject back around to comics.

    You’re quite right that it’s more big business versus entrepreneurship models. We’re even starting to see big business models applied to webcomics, notably with Zuda and, to a lesser degree, with many of the webcomic collectives that have sprung up like Webcomics Nation and Drunk Duck.

    That being said, the internet generally still gives a leveling effect, so that a Chris Onstad can at least reasonably compete against the latest Zuda winner. Compare the eye traffic of, say, xkcd against the free comics available online from King Features Syndicate. Without having exact figures to study, I daresay that the numbers are much more in favor of the “little guy” than they would’ve been a decade or two ago.

  3. Via word of mouth, mediocre, high school art gets transmogrified into great art. formulaic storylines become great writing. Cliched repetitive gaming comics become hilarious.

    Eye of the beholder. This much is apparent in webcomics than any other medium. Big business is out to make money. There’s no denying this. The only way to make money is by targeting the largest group of people. The result is something generic that appeals to nobody because it tries to appeal to everybody.

    Obviously, if you’re not a gamer you won’t like Dueling Analogs. If you haven’t played WoW you won’t care about Cru the DwarF. Never grew up with table RPGs? Then Order of the Stick is way out in the left field. Never read Krazy Kat or Little Nemo? Forget about understanding Minus.

    Generally speaking, webcomic artists promote like minded webcomics. If you read a gamer comic and they promote someone else, chances are it’s another gamer comic. There’s an exception to everything, but the power of webcomics is that there’s an audience, somewhere, that appeals to your specific tastes. The same can’t be said about big press comics.

    Your brilliant and my brilliant are two different things.

  4. The “You’re not my target audience [for example: gamers]” excuse does not excuse anything from being bad. Dominic Deegan is still bad even if you go around playing D&D. (or whatever.)

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