The webcomics blog about webcomics

After The Newspapers, Or, Post Post

Lotta confusion about what Scott Kurtz really means in his open letter; on first readthrough, I wasn’t entirely clear on what he was proposing and why, so I called him to ask. And just to save time, we’ll posit that Kurtz is one of the polarizing figures in webcomics, has pissed off people by word and deed (although in person, I’ve always found him to be amiable, and he’s always offered me every courtesy), and there’s baggage associated with almost everything he says. So underneath the strata of history and emotional color that will inevitably cloud the issue, what was he trying to say?

What he’s really interested in is preserving the experience of spreading out the Sunday comics on the floor. And he’s not sure how to do that, so he wants brainstorm around a table with people who might have ideas. Hey, that was easy.

This isn’t about getting webcomics into the newspaper (although that may be a side effect), and it isn’t about promoting webcomics to a wider audience (ditto), and it isn’t about artistic merit (where the opinions fly fast and thick, and Kurtz may have fatally insulted many who could have helped him). It’s about acknowledging that the comic strip is probably where everybody who’s reading this right now learned to read, and we may have seen the last generation to have that experience.

Partly that’s because the newspapers (as Dave Kellett reminds us — it’s about two dozen comments down the list) are on a downwards spiral, and partly because the creative community of comickers (both here, and in print) haven’t come up with the next the delivery mechanism, one that will have the same ubiquity that newspapers are losing. That’s the bottom line — Kurtz is writing open letters (instead of doing things behind the scenes) and trying to stir up some shit up out of a sense that we should preserve that experience for future generations.

And before you dismiss the need, that delivery mechanism ain’t webcomics — at least, not yet. Ask 1000 random people on the street if they read the comics in the paper today, and even if they didn’t, they at least know what you’re talking about. Everybody knows that The Newspapers carry The Comics. Ask those same 1000 people what webcomics they read today, maybe 40 will know that such a thing exists, and 20 will have an answer for you.

Right now, everything that we in the webcomics community have done to make “our” (speaking in the broadest possible sense) comics more widely known and acknowledged, for the past 10+ years, has resulted in that miniscule slice of the popular consciousness. What was long the most popular and widely-seen form of artistic expression in this country is experiencing rebirth and invigoration on the web, but only for the nichest of audiences.

What Kurtz is proposing isn’t an invasion/takeover that will save the newspaper comic, make the medium vital again, and reverse a decades-long decline in that particular sector of journalism. He’s proposing that we ask the question, What comes next? It’s going to require people on all sides of comics, people who love creating comics, and those who love reading them, and those who just want to make a buck helping the first group stay in contact with the second.

Maybe that means that webcomics do invade the papers on their swan dive towards oblivion, just long enough that a friggin’ lot of people pay attention to the comics page again, so they’ll follow to that next delivery mechanism; maybe not. He doesn’t know, I don’t know, and no one person knows enough about paper stock, advertising, finance, postal rates, hosting, intellectual property, marketing, and each of a dozen other areas of enquiry that all bear on this issue. But a group of people comparing notes on what’s worked for them and (just as importantly) what’s failed for them, might point everybody in new directions.

Collectives are one way to exchange that knowledge, but collectives (as we see them now) consist of like-minded people mostly moving in parallel paths; maybe what’s needed for a good cross-pollination of ideas is a full-bore collision of minds from lots of different disciplines. We’re making progress, no doubt, but evolution is a slow, incremental process, and maybe what we need is that metaphorical meteor crash to jump-start things.

And the result of such a collision (if it ever occurs) may well be We can’t come to consensus, or Y’know, I think what we’re doing now is the best we can do and we all give up and go home — hey, dinosaurs were even cooler than comic strips, and today they only exist as a narrow slice of their once-thunderous diversity, so why should comic strips be any different?

Or such a collision might spawn a whole bunch of other questions that have to be answered before we see where this medium is going. Or it could be that the necessary personalities can’t really exist in the same room in significant numbers, and we get a lot of light and heat and drama and not much substance.

One way to find out.

Love him or hate him, noble effort in service to art or clusmy ego-stroking self-promotion exercise, turning point in the history of webcomics or just shouting on the internet, it doesn’t really matter. Kurtz has started a discussion that I think is worth having. As much as I can, I’ll contribute. Anybody else wants to join in? I got your first beer.

Well, I’ve been trying to respond, but my comments have been “mysteriously” marked as spam for the last couple of days.

It doesn’t matter anyway. No matter what I say, DJ and Xerxes and Journalista will twist my words into some Machiavellian intent.

The bottom line is that I got my own thing going. I don’t NEED to figure this out. I just really wanted to because I think we’re losing something important.

I don’t think kids these days are getting excited about any form of a “funny pages” and somebody should fix that.

So whoever is leading this, the key is in Watterson’s speech.

Good luck.

I’m still wondering why this never happened back around 1990. It seems like such a good idea in any of the proposed incarnations we’ve been talking about here and elsewhere (syndicate-printed/artist-printed supplement for papers, a magazine, weekly “free” paper). When Watterson gave his speech, it was pre-Internet/pre-popular Internet, so his comments then didn’t really take the ‘net into account. In some way, it seems the Internet took the place of his proposal, minus many of the established professional cartoonists he was aiming it at. I’d love nothing more than a return to the experience of reading the large-format printed Sunday Funnies, because even in the Internet Age, that IS something decent worth saving. Granted, it’s not for everyone. Some people today are so “plugged-in” they wouldn’t or couldn’t appreciate such an endeavor, and that’s fine. But print isn’t dead, and print as a medium will be around long after the newspapers have folded or moved online. So why the heck don’t we try it?

No need to say that. If you actually feel like something should be done want to do it, then get the best group you can together and if you come up with something move ahead with it and then make the announcements after that’s all settled.If it works out then Journalista can say “hurray” except probably you shouldn’t be too concerned with whether they are cheering you on in the first place?

Let’s look at Zoinks as a sample webcomic anthology publication. In one flip through, you can usually find at least one comic about baby eating, roofies or molestation, which is going to put off your average reader who picks it up off the street.
I’m not a big fan of censorship, but if webcomics are really going to get the mainstream audience, they’ve got to grow up and get rid of this “anything goes” attitude. Shock value is a crutch, and is pretty much guaranteed to keep a comic out of mainstream publication.

The suggestion of “an all comic strip newspaper” has been brought up repeatedly over the years.
Uh, people, it has been done before. It was called the invention of the comic book.

Yes, long before they put that world famous caped hero on the cover, tossing a car into a wall, the syndicates decided to make a little extra money off their comic strips by putting collections of them together in magazine form, on the cheap, and selling them in the news stands.

Strange how ideas come full circle.

I think I saw Time namechecked above. Here on their blog site is an entry, at the end of a string of entries which started with a discussion of Achewood. It reprints a comment acquired by the entry previous on the string, in which “a reader named Amy” notes much the same status quo as I described in the top comment here. But then she argues in the other direction than we are: that the fragmentization of the market is to be embraced (which kinda makes sense, since it’s the status quo), and that “personalization is the future.”

[…] And, lastly, News Free Comics. Hmmm. […]

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