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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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Traegorn



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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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Marscaleb



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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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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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Traegorn



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PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2013 12:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

afterthedream wrote:
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.
I haven't read the article, but wasn't Megatokyo on the list? That's far from a gag a day.
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ewomack
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2013 4:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Newspaper comics started out largely as running serial narratives. Popeye first appeared in a strip called "Thimble Theater" that had continuous storylines that lasted for weeks or months - Popeye debuted in the middle of one of these stories. "Bringing Up Father" was also immensely popular in the early 20th century and also included storylines akin to soap operas. Countless other examples exist from the history of comics.

The era of television and radio likely initiated the transition to gag comics since people probably started to split their time between new media. And the continued frenzy of modern life (why do people no longer have free time?) seems to favor the gag comic format. As already said, you can send a gag to a million friends and most of them will get it instantaneously. It also seems that many long form comics on the internet are sci-fi or fantasy in nature and, though definitely popular genres, are still considered niche by the mainstream whereas gag comics are already established. This in no way means that gag is superior to long form or vice versa. I don't find the comparison useful. Either genre can be done well or horribly. And popularity almost never guarantees quality (and quality has a huge subjective nature to it).

I would probably read more long form comics but I sadly don't have time and I'm not even sure where to start. Digging through the archives of even 10 of the most acclaimed long form comics could take weeks of time that I simply don't have. I'm sure they're great and that I would get sucked in to many of them, but I wouldn't be able to keep up.
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