Thursday, February 22, 2007

Online Comics and Beyond

More of a spin-off from my previous post, the phenomenon of online comics isn't new and in fact, it's been tackled by several people before, especially Scott McCloud (not to be confused with Connor, Duncan, or Quentin McCloud). Scott pointed a lot of possiblities from web comics, everything from near-infinite strips to "choose-your-own-adventure"-style comics where by clicking hyperlinks you enter a new panel, to something as practical as microcurrency. A lot of his ideas are innovative. Some, like the 24-hour comic strip, has taken off. Others, not so much.

Why I'm interested in the online comic format is because it provides a neat solution to DC's attempts at a weekly comic (and if the rumors are true, the same can be said for Marvel). Or perhaps even going beyond the weekly comic and delivering the daily one (or most likely somewhere in between). Daily strips aren't new of course -- we see them regularly in the newspaper. But the power of online comics is that it gives this in the hands of the creator instead of looking for a third party to publish it. And as a consumer, it's a quicker and more direct way to receive it.

Let me backtrack and talk about the weekly comic format. What makes the format difficult aside from the production process is the printing and distribution process. Experienced creators might not find printing difficult -- but it takes time. There's no circumventing that. Well, time and capital. So if you have seven days in a week, that's at least one day (I expect it takes two to three days in the real world) off your timetable. And then there's distribution, bringing it to retailers and into people's homes. Unless it's through the Internet or you have your own shop (and just one shop), shipping it takes manpower and time. If you plan to deliver to the entire US for example, that's taking lots of manpower and time. Again, it might take a day for you to do so (again, reality is less conservative). So that's five days left to produce your comic. And that's assuming you're involved in the entire process, no coordinating with an artist or an inker or whatever. Online publishing significantly saves you time, manpower, and money on those two steps.

Of course web comics isn't as progressive as people want it to be, at least not yet. Perhaps one of the biggest online comic success stories is Scott Kurtz, especially considering he's been picked up by a mainstream comic publisher (no, Image does not count as an independent comic publisher). Yet Scott's success isn't one that's solely dependent on online content. His comics goes to print via Image for example. The real money I think (but since I'm not privy to Scott's financial records, take this with lots of salt) is his partners, the ads, and the merchandising. Don't get me wrong -- Kurtz isn't as rich as Bill Gates. But he has made the transition from having a day job and doing comics on the side to making comics his day job.

Another success story is my personal favorite, Rich Burlew. Rich's name might not be as popular as Scott's, but he revolves around a niche market: D&D. His comic, Order of the Stick, is a meta-D&D strip. To some people the numbers might not add up but it did. Rich's strategy was publishing his strips in a book which fans got to order (again, the revenue is still in purchasing print copies of a comic instead of simply micropayments) and that's how he was able to quit his day job and focus on the comic and his game writing. Oh and the occasional merchandise as well. For me Rich's story is interesting because the comic isn't necessarily mainstream, or at least perceived by people as mainstream. But because he has a focused market, it sustains him. (Again, by no means is he rich, but at least it's paying for his living expenses.)

But all that aside, perhaps the biggest potential for online comics isn't necessarily the hyperlinking (although it would be interesting to read one) or the near infinite space one could use. I think right now it's in the ruthless efficiency, of publishing comics in a short period of time. Kudos, of course, to DC with pulling a weekly comic in print in the US. Right now people are still attached to the print medium. It'll be interesting to see how it'll develop a decade from now. Maybe McCloud's idea of purchasing comics via the micropayment scheme comes to fruition (think pay-per-view comics). Or maybe some guy like Elbert Or will come along and think of something else.

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