Posts Tagged ‘ Webcomics ’

Webcomics Roundup: Trends for 2014

DemonFor me, the most exciting new webcomic in recent months is Jason Shiga’s Demon. As the author of Fleep and Meanwhile, any new project from him is worth a note. He describes this as his most ambitious project to date, though. It’s going to be the story of a man who tries to figure out a supernatural event (he keeps committing suicide but waking up unscathed), which leads to him using math and logic to commit ever-bigger atrocities.

It’s not structured like a typical webcomic. Shiga has already written the 720-page story, and the plot moves slowly, letting the story breathe as if the reader has the whole work in front of them instead of just a daily update. But also, he’s selling subscriptions to receive the comic (as paper or PDF) monthly, with the catch that the subscription will let you read through the story slightly faster than it shows up online. Whether or not that “look into the future” is important, I am intrigued by the idea of supporting a webcomic by buying issues as it comes out instead of maybe buying a book after the fact. You can sign up with monthly Patreon payments or in one lump payment on his site, and you have until the end of April to join in time for the first issue.


Other than Demon, my main focus on this article is looking at current trends in webcomics. Demon introduces one of them very nicely, though: Patreon is becoming a real success, with more and more webcomics signing up. These are almost universally established ones, so I don’t expect it to provide an income for anyone who is new to the scene. Still, it’s wonderful to think that the creators in this popular but low-paying medium might start to earn a reliable income.

Also, I am pretty proud to say that I recognized Patreon’s potential months before any big-name webcomics were signed up. As just another random hobbyist, I don’t usually get to identify trends until they’re already known. This time, though, I can claim credit for a great prediction.


Super-EnigmatixAs an example of a less insightful article of mine, I talked about the blurring lines between print and web comics back in 2011. That was still noteworthy back then, though certainly not a new idea. Three years later, we see this cross-over all the time. If anything, what surprises me now is that the barriers between the two still exist at all. At this point, it’s only the established patterns of their different fan-bases that keep the two apart at all. Creators are moving between these two sides more than ever.

LumberjanesIf you want a couple recent examples, cult artist Richard Sala is publishing his new work as a webcomic. Super-Enigmatix has his usual hallmarks, with horror elements and a visual style like an expressionistic children’s book. The introduction leans heavily on cliché, but it’s building some intriguing elements already. And if you want to see a webcomic creator moving into print, check out Lumberjanes #1, which is out from BOOM! Studios today. This is co-written by Noelle Stevenson, whose Nimona was last year’s best debut on the web.


What does the future hold? I don’t have anything definite to point to yet, but I’m starting to wonder whether we’ll see a move towards syndication or work commissioned by other sites. I first noted this last year regarding all the established talent who was making comics based on NAMCO video games for Shiftylook. But since then, The Nib has opened on the online magazine Medium, serving basically as their comics page. It features everyone from Tom Tomorrow to Zach Weinersmith and Rich Stevens. Stevens has also started making a regular comic for Macworld.

This all seems to be more than just a coincidence, but it’s too early for me to tell if this is really a trend. As far as I know, no one has talked publicly about what work like this pays, and how it compares to running a comic on your own site. I’m very curious about how it impacts the audience, as well. Presumably, these creators are directing their loyal audience to these other sites, and in turn people who frequent Medium and Macworld are learning about comics like Diesel Sweeties. Maybe the key to success will be to maintain this mix to cultivate your dedicated audience while also getting the general public’s attention. Whatever the reason, though, there’s a certain irony to the idea that as traditional newspaper comics die out, their replacements may be finding their way back to a syndication model.

I’ll keep checking in with all these trends as they come up. Meanwhile, if you have any leads on the pros and cons of these new options for syndication, I’d love to hear them.

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End-of-2013 Crowd-Funding Roundup

Back in the middle of the year, I posted a few essays about the current state of crowd-funding. It’s been a while, and I want to check in again with a few links and comments. Crowd-funding is still new and evolving quickly.


Maze of Games cardFirst, some optimistic news. Sometimes I can be cynical about Kickstarter campaigns for unprofessional projects that disappoint everyone in the end, so it’s good to remember the things that they can do that normal commercial ventures can’t.

The Maze of Games was a Kickstarter campaign by Lone Shark Games to create a cool-sounding “puzzle novel”. It completed its funding back in March, but has missed the November delivery date. Earlier this week, the team posted an update to say that the book definitely would not be available on time to deliver as a Christmas present. As an apology, they’re creating a holiday card with an extra puzzle on it. It’s being distributed online to all backers, and if you intended to give the book as a present, you can ask for a physical copy of this card to be sent to you. Lone Shark asked that people only request the hard copy of the card if they needed something to give to someone who would eventually get the book as a present.

Ok, so this is another example of a Kickstarter project missing its timeline, and a card saying “you’ll get this book in a couple months” isn’t as good as actually receiving the book. But I find it pretty impressive that the team could ask backers, on the honor system, to tell them whether they needed the extra collectable card in the mail. I’ll bet you that most people do answer that honestly. The creative team is trying to do something extra for their supporters, and those supporters won’t take unfair advantage of it. I like seeing the community that these campaigns are building.


Broken TelephoneOn a sadder note, I’ve been following Ryan Estrada’s Broken Telephone campaign lately. With less than a week to go, it may still reach its funding goal, but it’s not a sure thing at all. This never should have been a question. Estrada is trusted name in webcomics who has been around for years, and he has a clever idea: Eighteen interlocked stories will be delivered one at a time, “book of the month” style, in which the hero of one story is the villain of another. Estrada is pushing a pay what you want model with a minimum price of only $1, so there’s no reason not to give this one a chance.

A creative, inexpensive product from someone reliable? Why is this having so much trouble meeting its goal? Well, this is the first Kickstarter campaign I’ve seen that really embraces a pay-what-you-want approach. You can get the entire project for $1. $18 gets you a small add-on, and $48 gets a bunch of Estrada’s old comics thrown in. There’s no option for a physical book, because a project delivered in installments only makes sense when digital. So basically, the only motivation to pay more is in supporting the art.

If you do the math, it’s obvious that a lot of people are paying more than the minimum. It still may not be enough, though. This is the first project I’ve seen that really tests whether backer generosity alone is enough to get a new project funded. Pay-what-you-want models have so far been the domain of the Humble Bundle and similar systems, in which people sell already-created works at a discounted rate. Kickstarter is for people to create new things, and so there are costs that can’t be ignored.

I hope the Broken Telephone campaign succeeds. Whether it does or not, though, I wouldn’t encourage people to follow this model in the future.

[Update: The project ended up funding, and getting several-thousand-dollar-boost once it reached the goal. Estrada also pointed out that while this earned less than the similar project he Kickstarted last year, the average amount per backer was higher. He has cultivated an audience that he can rely on to support him in projects like this. I think he’s only netting a few thousand dollars for a year’s worth of work, so I’m not wildly optimistic, but at least my initial pessimism was overblown.]


SFAM panelFinally, you may recall that I was excited about Patreon a few months ago. I hoped that it would provide a way to give webcomics the regular income they needed to keep going for years, since Kickstarter’s model of funding specific projects doesn’t really apply to that. Well, we now have a webcomics artist I really like, Jon Rosenberg, trying the system out! He’s looking for readers to sponsor his continued work on Scenes From a Multiverse, and I really hope it succeeds. All it takes is $1 or $2 a month from is most committed readers.

I’m not sure whether Rosenberg’s campaign is the best test case or not. His bonuses for backers don’t add much value – I’d think that bonus strips and art would be a natural fit for webcomics. Also, his stated goals ($2000-$4000 per month) are pretty high, and he only promises a few comics per week even if those levels are hit. I understand where he’s coming from. Rosenberg has been making webcomics for well over a decade, and now has a decent freelance career to support his family with. His standards for succeeding with webcomics are higher than a lot of young eager artists who would be thrilled to get an extra $50-$100 per comic. I do think a top-tier webcomic deserves to bring in that sort of money, but I just worry about the first high-profile test setting the expectations to that right away.

Either way, though, it’s a reminder that crowd-funding is still changing fast. I hope that Rosenberg’s campaign succeeds, but whether it does or not, I would like to see other people following his lead.

[Update: Rosenberg met his first goal in a little over a week. And in that time, Zach Weinersmith also launched a Patreon site which exploded into the several-thousand-dollars-per-month range almost immediately. I’m thrilled about the potential this new system offers.]

Webcomics Roundup for the End of 2013

It’s been a while, but I want to get one last webcomics post in for the year. True to my headline, this will be an unfocused roundup of topics.

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Webcomics Roundup: Q2 Miscellany

I have (as always) been inconsistent lately about my monthly webcomics articles. Not a lot of new ones have grabbed my attention lately, though. Comic Chameleon, which I reviewed on Sunday, is about the only new notable event in the webcomics world that I know of. But I do have several items that seem worth mentioning, even if they aren’t strictly new. Here is a quick list of webcomics miscellany.

(And yes, I did time these articles so that this one could refer to the just-reviewed Comic Chameleon, but they would each count as a different month’s webcomic article. Not that anyone cares but me, I’m sure. You don’t write for an amateur blog in 2013 without being a little bit obsessive, though.)

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Comic Chameleon (iPhone App Review)

Comic ChameleonThough Comic Chameleon isn’t the first iPhone app devoted to web comics, it bills itself as the first one made with the comics creators’ permission, and to share revenue with them instead of stealing their audience. That’s an admirable goal, and I was excited about this project. Unfortunately, so far it’s just not worthwhile. It’s telling that I put this review off for a while, always telling myself that I should use the app more before writing about it. I’ve finally accepted that I’m just not going to use it much more, because it doesn’t offer me a good comic reading experience.

Looking at individual comic pages isn’t a bad experience. I mean, the comic is there on the screen. You can read it just like you would in a web browser, and swipe to move through the archives. It does let you view alt text, which is something that is otherwise inconsistent on the Safari app. But if you want to read the news posts and comments that go along with the posts, see the jokey titles that each episode of Dinosaur Comics gets, or otherwise see more than the comic, this app will not match the web site experience.

The big innovation in Comic Chameleon is that it lets you browse panel by panel instead of scrolling and zooming manually. This is an impressive achievement, as I’m sure it took the creators a long time to mark each panel (sometimes with creative choices when the divisions aren’t clear). I use this feature sometimes, but usually prefer not to. The layout of a comic is important, and these comics were designed to be viewed one page at a time. You could make a comic designed to be viewed panel by panel, but these ones weren’t. If the page doesn’t fit on the iPhone screen, I prefer to zoom and scroll myself. At least that keeps my relationship with the page intact. The knowledge that I’m the one looking at a piece at a time allows me to appreciate the page as a single unit in the end. Yes, that usually requires one hand to hold the phone and another to pinch and zoom, so the app’s system is better if I’m holding something in one hand and want to scroll through comics with only one hand free. But that’s maybe too specific a niche for this app to target.

A webcomics app should do more than just let you browse through comics, though. As a way to keep up with your favorite works, Comic Chameleon fails. The main screen is a scrolling list of every comic supported by the app. There’s no way to make a list of favorites or hide the ones you don’t want to read. It also doesn’t track what you’ve read in each comic, so you have to open up a comic to find out if it’s been updated. If the comic tells a story, and you are more than one update behind, then too bad! You’ll start at the most recent one and have to scroll backwards through possible spoilers to manually find the right point. (Yes, you could also find the sub-screen that lists all comics by date, but do you really remember the exact date you last checked in on the comic?)

Comic Chameleon arguably works as a hub to check out comics you might not have heard of before, but honestly, I have no need for that. I don’t have enough time to check out all the recommendations I already get. What I want is a simple way to find out which comics I like have updates, and to see those updates in order. Right now, a basic RSS reader works a lot better than this dedicated app.

So far, the only comic that has been interesting to follow through this app is A Softer World. The comics are short enough to be readable on my phone in landscape mode, there is no plot so I don’t have to worry about reading backwards until I have caught up, and since the website only has new news posts every few weeks, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Also, it comes alphabetically at the start of the list, so it’s not a pain to get to. No other comic can replicate those benefits, though.

It feels churlish to complain about a free app, especially since the ads go towards people who deserve the money. But it makes comics harder to follow, not easier. I’m still hopeful about this concept in general. It’s always been difficult for webcomics to find revenue streams, and inexpensive apps sound like a perfect fit for them. In fact, I don’t even count Comic Chameleon out yet. It could easily add subscription features in the future. It seems that all the work for version 1.0 went into setting up the technical features, including the (significant) effort of a protocol to let it see full comic histories and panel breakdowns. Right now, though, it has the building blocks but no useful UI. I worry that as it is, the app just won’t bring in enough ad revenue to keep them working on it. If they do, I’ll definitely follow up with a new review. For the time being, though, keep reading your favorite webcomics on RSS and websites, and find other ways to support them.

Grade (version 1.0): C-

 

Are We Entering a Post-Webcomics Era?

I’m becoming a little wary of writing about how the webcomics industry is changing, because every time I look back on those articles six months later, they seem so obvious that I’m a little embarrassed to have written them. But I want to respond to a blog post from Monday written by John Allison (of the excellent Bad Machinery).

Titled “Post webcomics“, Allison explains his worry that we’re leaving the era in which webcomics like his could succeed. His take is that online comics of the past decade used a dedicated website to create an identity and maintain loyal readers. Now that most people experience the internet through social media services instead of individual websites, that relationship between artist and audience is lost. Instead, sites like Tumblr let many more people distribute comics, but everything goes into a single messy feed that doesn’t promote loyalty. Allison’s concern is that it’s becoming easier to get people to click a Thumbs Up button, but harder to find anyone who will stick around to give you money.

I want artists to get paid for their work, and I sympathize with Allison’s concerns. However, I don’t think it’s really getting harder to succeed. It’s not like the webcomics industry has ever been a safe, static one, and I’m sure Allison (who has moved confidently between three major comics now) understands this. Yes, the trend towards social media sites is a challenge, but the movement towards social media itself is an opportunity. By definition, social media gives you the chance to create the fanbase and identity that Allison wants his website to provide. The recent explosion of webcomics Kickstarter projects is evidence that fanbases are still willing to support creators. In fact, Kickstarter is a brand new way for webcomics creators to make money. We also seem to be getting closer to iPhone apps that provide a small, regular revenue stream for creators. And as sites like ShiftyLook show, webcomics have become so popular that companies are willing to fund them for their own marketing purposes.

That last point is my key takeaway. Not because I think that corporate sponsorship is the wave of the future, but because webcomics have become that popular. I remember in the heyday of John Allison’s alleged “webcomics era”, when Joey Manley posted his predictions for the year 2007. Chief among them, that popular comics would become ever more entrenched and that no new ones would challenge their popularity. That seemed self-evident at the time… but 2007 turned out to be the year of XKCD. Since then, we’ve seen the rise of Homestuck, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Axe Cop, and many others. (Not to mention juggernauts like Dresden Codak, which existed before then but hadn’t yet become popular.) Name your ten favorite webcomics, and I’ll bet you that Manley’s prediction predated half of them. The webcomics world is a much more diverse, vibrant place now than it was at the end of 2006, and a lot more money seems to be changing hands as well.

If I were going to summarize the difference between making webcomics now and making them in the last decade, it wouldn’t be in terms of websites vs. Tumblr streams. Instead, I think the difference is that webcomics readers used to be a small, dedicated scene, and now they’re basically the world. In 2006, your webcomic could only be successful if virtually everyone in the community was aware of you. Today, there is no “community”, because “people who browse the web for entertainment” describes pretty much the whole developed world. You could be virtually unknown in the wider world and still have thousands of true fans willing to support you. That requires a different way of approaching things, but it’s not necessarily bad.

Yes, Allison is right that 99% of the audience is just going to glance at comics as they stream by. But if the audience itself has increased one thousand-fold, then the 1% who are active represent a huge increase overall. It’s always been true that most webcomics will fail to find an audience, and that most people at comic conventions won’t appreciate Bad Machinery. Allison has seen that before, and I think his current worries come just from seeing a different angle on it. It seems to me that the webcomics industry is healthier now than it’s ever been.

Webcomics: Scenes From A Multiverse

SFAM panelThough Scenes From A Multiverse started a few months too early for me to discuss on this blog, I probably don’t need to explain what it is: Jon Rosenberg of Goats ditched that comic’s convoluted story and just started writing new jokes in different settings (“destinations”) every day. From kitten holes to dungeon divers, his Mulitverse is full of fresh character designs and hilarious ideas. Rosenberg’s sense of humor can be offensive, as any reader of Goats knows, and he isn’t afraid to wade into political or religious topics, but as long as that doesn’t turn you away, SFAM is one of the best webcomics out there.

It’s almost a shame that Rosenberg jumps between topics so quickly, because every couple weeks he has an idea that would be worth a long-running daily strip. And that’s where SFAM’s original gimmick came in: The plan was for Rosenberg to post five strips each week, and over the weekend readers would vote on a “repeat destination” to visit again the following week. Any destination that won five times would be retired until there were enough winners to vote on one for a focused, week-long story. That brings me to the reason for this article, because last month Rosenberg announced that the weekly votes would end.

I can see why he did it. Almost every time, the latest winner would be chosen again, meaning that new winners could only appear every five weeks when there was no reigning incumbent. And since ending the voting and letting his own muse take control, Rosenberg has done some great work with those Dungeon Diver characters. On the other hand, I do miss the votes. The feeling of participation was a lot of fun (even if I almost always voted against the incumbent, and therefore lost regularly), and I enjoyed the unpredictability that came from Rosenberg coming up with follow-ups to something that had been planned a one-off joke. The quality of the comic has increased slightly in the past month, but my interest has decreased slightly.

And that brings me to my humble suggestion. As a board game player, I know that there are lots and lots of systems out there; The choice isn’t just between the previous voting system and none at all. Once we’ve identified the problem, we can find a solution. My preference would be to structure each week with three new destinations and two repeats. With two winners every week, it would be much easier for a good new idea to win a chance for a repeat, and the people who always vote for the incumbent would be divided and therefore weakened. There are so many good comics that having more repeats would feel like a fulfillment of potential, and I think it would actually be more fun to see additional ideas being developed over time. (It’s good that we don’t have a story as involved as Goats had, but a little more continuity won’t hurt anything here.)

Will this happen? Probably not. I should have brought this up this before Rosenberg made his choice, not afterwards. But this was a big change to one of the best webcomics out there, so I think it deserves some discussion.