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Economist article about the "webcomics revolution"
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ewomack
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 2:08 am    Post subject: Economist article about the "webcomics revolution" Reply with quote

Positively the LAST place I expected to see an article about webcomics was in the Economist. But apparently anything can happen, because the 12/22/12 - 1/4/13 issue had a short article, about 3-4 pages, on the so-called "webcomic revolution." It starts with Bill Watterson's negative attitude towards syndicates and how he wished comics could be "published differently." The article then launches into the "revolution" supposedly led by all of the comics that seem to appear in any and all major media articles on webcomics: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Dinosaur Comics (is that one still going?), XKCD, Ctrl Alt Del, Megatokyo, Penny Arcade, "Hark, A Vagrant!" (wasn't that one retired?) and "The Oatmeal" (which is always accompanied by its startling annual income, about $500,000 in 2011 - see? I did it too!). The article ends on Watterson again with the line "The revolution he wanted is now unfolding."

Maybe in terms of the internet itself the "revolution" has unfolded, but 99% of the mainstream articles about webcomics feature one of the sites listed above. Regardless of what one thinks of them (and I'm not trying to razz any of them), they seem to have a strange kind of webcomics media monopoly outside of the internet. Doubtless this media coverage gives these sites exposure that other sites can't conceive or dream of. Like all "revolutions" the webcomic one seems to have solidified on a chosen few. This is likely because journalists who know nothing about webcomics get assigned to the topic and simply turn up what others have already reported on, namely, the comics in the list above.

So are we seeing a "revolution" here or just another example of market consolidation? Those who already have exposure get more exposure in an endless snowball effect. And others are left wondering what makes the chosen few so special and marketable. But the article also says "...now that everyone can be a cartoonist, almost everyone is... new cartoonists, however good, can struggle to get attention, yet alone make a living." It also says the internet both liberates and threatens web cartoonists as new avenues of humor, including the simple plopping of a caption onto photographs (a la "LOL CAT") seem to gain headway.

So has the internet really changed the situation? Before we had a few extremely wealthy cartoonists (Charles Schulz at one time took in a million a month) supported by newspapers and a vast swath of cartoonists who had to support themselves by other means. Now we have a few extremely well promoted cartoonists who do make a living, though not an exorbitant one, supported by the open internet and a vast swath of cartoonists who have to support themselves by other means. Has this really been a revolution? The internet has definitely helped countless people get their material out there for viewing, but is that all? Or are the pre and post internet comic worlds so distinct as to evade comparison?
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vulpeslibertas
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 2:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, it has been a revolution, and it has been generally beneficial.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Twenty years ago I remember everyone in the comics industry talking about a similar revolution of self-publishing and creator-owned property. And also complaints among the lower-tier creators that the media coverage tended to focus on the creators who were big names already, like the crowd of Marvel artists who jumped ship to form Image. Like they needed the boost or something.

The more things change, the more they stay the same... Wink
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 11:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Every new technology results in a "revolution" filled with wildcatters crawling all over the wilderness of the new idea to make their dime and leave their stamp on the world. The only thing that makes the webcomic revolution unique and interesting is that technological upgrades have made access to the medium less expensive and more available, causing a continuing posponement of the "Gatekeeper" phase of the cycle.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 29, 2013 3:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, I think like any media, webcomics have their success stories and their unnotables. The only difference between it and traditional media is that rather than the gatekeepers being a few players, it's the masses as a whole.

Now, this is both good and bad. It means the initial barrier to entry is lower, and that creators have complete control over their properties. The downside is that there is no external aid to help people either - so you're on your own to promote and acquire the initial eyeballs.

The key is that it's not better or worse this way - just slightly different.
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Spencey



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PostPosted: Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Traegorn wrote:
Well, I think like any media, webcomics have their success stories and their unnotables. The only difference between it and traditional media is that rather than the gatekeepers being a few players, it's the masses as a whole.

Now, this is both good and bad. It means the initial barrier to entry is lower, and that creators have complete control over their properties. The downside is that there is no external aid to help people either - so you're on your own to promote and acquire the initial eyeballs.

The key is that it's not better or worse this way - just slightly different.


Well put.
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2013 6:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Traegorn wrote:

The key is that it's not better or worse this way - just slightly different.


I'll say it is better, much better. The nature of webcomics has given more popularity to the styles of writing (and other forms) that I like, and also at the prices that I like.

What counts as "better" is entirely subjective anyway, so I might as well be blatantly subjective in my critique. Webcomics are better because I like them more, end of story!
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vulpeslibertas
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2013 2:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I second Marscaleb here.

Comics are now more available to the general public, and more people can more easily produce and distribute comics. The fact that there are still Kings of the Heap, does not alter the fact that there are now more kings, and they have overall less power, and fewer peasants with more power.

The "Webcomics Revolution" has not been a sudden and complete overthrow of the old way of doing things. But it has still taken major steps toward democraticizing webcomics. In the popular political vernacular, instead of the 1% versus the 99%, we now have the 2% versus the 98%.
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afterthedream



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PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2013 8:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

vulpeslibertas wrote:
In the popular political vernacular, instead of the 1% versus the 99%, we now have the 2% versus the 98%.


Careful, now. That kind of language has been known to cause certain members here to throw a shitfit. Laughing
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2013 3:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

^^Troll is trollish.

Freefox wrote:
The "Webcomics Revolution" has not been a sudden and complete overthrow of the old way of doing things. But it has still taken major steps toward democraticizing webcomics.


It's not really a "way of doing things" so much as it becomes the way things get done. Part of it has to do with literal government control of a medium, as with the Hayes Act and the establishment of the FCC. It also, however, develops naturally in most cases (especially where physical technology is involved): camera mobility tools, larger, higher quality films, and sound (not to mention certain visual effects) all conspired to take quality film-making out of the hands of all but the front-tunners. The same can be applied to the increased power of radio transmission (although the cost of radio licensing may have had more influence).

Webcomics have enjoyed a particularly beneficial spot on the technology curve, where new technologies, rather than increasing the price of the medium, actually decreased it. When I first started (in 2004) Keenspace was just getting off the ground, and there were no other free providers (I was sharing a server with some friends who all had various reasons for needing server space), now I can afford the monthly fees on a server of my own with ten times the bandwidth and file space.

Poser started as a low-cost (and effort, for the artist) human body modeller for 3DS. By the time I started Casual Notice, it had become a production program in its own right, and Blender and Daz (which started as a 3d party add-on for Poser) had brought high-quality 3-d modelling into common students' price range (free).

Elsewhere on the web, Autotune software has made possible at low cost the sort of engineering miracle-working that once took an entire studio and hundreds of thousands of dollars (making crappy singers sound like robots that can carry a tune).

Coincidentally, the sort of mocking that has been received by moral alarmists like Jack Thompson has prevented any of the sort of government intervention that resulted in the Hayes Act and the CCA.

So, in a very real way, Webcomics are sitting in a sort of goldilocks zone where conditions are exactly right for a free market of artistic expression.
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2013 4:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmmm... contemplating how involved in this conversation I want to get...

@afterthedream, truth is rarely careful, is it? Very Happy

@casual, I disagree with your interpretation of the data. Even in the webcomics world, it now requires a greater investment of time and money to compete at the top of the market. However the market is broader and it is easier to compete in the low-to-mid segment of the market.

In the film industry, which you are giving as an example, the same holds. It requires tremendous resources to compete with Disney at the top of the market. However, it is much easier and cheaper to produce a quality independent film than it was 50 years ago. I have three cameras, video editing software, access to 3D rendering software, and a DVD burner. I could relatively easily produce a film equivalent or superior to something from the 1950's.

To produce a blockbuster, yes, I would need massive resources, but this is less true today than it was 50 years ago. There are more companies producing blockbusters, and I believe it is easier for an independent filmmaker to enter the top of the market. (This does not mean that anyone can do it*, but there are more opportunities, more niches to survive in) Overall, the film industry is healthier, producing more films, with higher quality, and allowing more people to produce them.

*And this is really the source of the debate. We, sitting here, realize that we can't compete with Disney. We couldn't compete with them then, and we can't compete with them now. From our perspective, we see no real change. We see Disney as a gatekeeper, preventing competition from succeeding as they have. This doesn't change the fact that there are more people who can compete, and there is more little-league field to play on than there used to be.

Webcomics are not in a goldilocks zone, any more than film is. Everything which you have said of webcomics is also true of film, and most of what has been said about film is also true of webcomics. It would be extremely difficult for you or I to compete with XKCD or Gunnerkrigg Court. But we can present successful webcomics that are not blockbusters, and there are more blockbusters and successful comics than there were 10 years ago. We can't compete with Disney or Universal. But we can make successful films that are not blockbusters, and there are more blockbusters and successful films than there were 50 years ago.
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ewomack
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2013 7:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The internet has definitely allowed webcomics a huge potential audience. Pretty much anyone who has the minimal time and money required can post something. I used to just draw comics in a notebook and throw them in a drawer. Sometimes I would take them out and show them to people, but the possible audience was less than 50. Now literally thousands of people see these things a year. I'll never meet 99% of them and maybe only 5-10% of them ever contact me directly. And yes some people hate them, but I've also developed a small appreciative following, which has really kept me going. None of this would have been possible prior to this "revolution." Of course I never dream of making a living off of my site (I also haven't tried), but the possibility of even a small audience makes the effort worth it.

What the democratization of comics has done is really skew the notion of "talent" and "what's good." I hear people bandy about the word "good" and "talented" all of the time when reviewing or discussing webcomics. What hyperaccess to distribution has shown more than anything is that there's a lot of talent out there and a very fluctuating definition of "good." The old pros look less uniquely talented than they previously did (to borrow a phrase from Nassim Taleb). We now know better that talent, ambition and drive is not the sole privilege of the very few (many probably suspected it before). Only the very few were granted access to mass audiences and thus appeared uniquely talented.

I think the democratization is overall a good thing for people in general. Creativity is a fundamental human drive and everyone should do it, be it webcomics, painting, dancing or speed eating (ok, maybe not speed eating). People can now look at the vast amount of webcomics out there and say "I can do that!" and they can if they have basic skills. It doesn't matter if they create the next Calvin and Hobbes or if their work resembles something Beavis & Butthead would come up with. They can throw themselves in the large vat of stuff that now swirls everywhere and someone somewhere will probably like it.

Nothing has only upsides of course and the new access has turned into a vast universe of material that would be impossible for one person to peruse in a lifetime. Stuff, even great stuff, gets hopelessly lost in this new world. And those who have access to more traditional media (magazines, TV, newspapers) still have an advantage, at least for now. This is how things have more or less stayed the same and only a privileged few will have the access to make a living off of webcomics.

I just hope that someone doesn't turn off easy access to the internet. That could really happen at any time now. Laws that could potentially limit what goes on the web and at what cost could easily get drawn up in response to an emergency or some national security issue. The recent "internet revolutions" of the middle east will probably not be allowed to happen again and authorities may see a need (for good or bad reasons) to close this massive stage down. I hope not, but we'll see.
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2013 11:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

afterthedream wrote:
vulpeslibertas wrote:
In the popular political vernacular, instead of the 1% versus the 99%, we now have the 2% versus the 98%.


Careful, now. That kind of language has been known to cause certain members here to throw a shitfit. Laughing


Casual Notice wrote:
^^Troll is trollish.


I rest my case. Cool
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2013 12:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If there is to be any pointless trolling going on, I insist on being a part of it.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2013 12:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As to the Economist article, I can't deny some of the points made, but overall I can't say I agree. What drew me to comics initially was their unique medium for STORYTELLING. But look at the comics the article is discussing... none of them is really telling a story. They are mostly disconnected strips that you process in 30 seconds before moving on. It's a perfect fit for our ADHD Internet culture, but I wouldn't call it a revolution, since to me revolution implies progress or a step forward. I'm not hating on those comics- they're amusing and good at what they aim to do. But I think comics have the potential to be so much more. I'm thinking back on creative and socially-relevant graphic novel series like Preacher, The Invisibles, Transmetropolitan, DMZ. There are quite a few quality long-format story webcomics out there, but so far none of them come remotely close to matching the popularity or financial success of the ones mentioned. Not sure what can be done about it, but until that day comes there hasn't been the type of publishing revolution I'd like to see.
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