The webcomics blog about webcomics

The Limits Of Infinite Potential

So after a few hiccups, the live-from-Webcomics-Weekend episode of Webcomics Weekly is available at Webcomics, webcomics, webcomics, webcomics! Listening to it sparked a few memories from the recording session and kicked my brain into one of those rapid streams of thought that I feel compelled to share (plus I have only a short time today before I have to get on a plane and these thinky pieces don’t require a lot of links).

At about the 34:30 mark, the discussion of what a new-model publisher could provide to the world of webcomics gets brought up (it’s similar to the model I’ve referred to as Aduz in these pages).

This put me in mind of the initial steps towards that model that have been/are being taken by Topatoco and ComicSpace. To my eye, Topatoco is running itself as a boutique service, where CS (with its hosting, and integration with other business services planned, and its open call for partners in the shirt business) is looking more like a high-volume/economies of scale operation; my suspicion is that both models have the potential to succeed simultaneously in their only-slightly overlapping spaces.

This, in turn, put me in mind of something that Steven Cloud said in the Print/Web/Bear panel — in response to Chris Hastings telling us that he knows how Dr McNinja will end, Cloud took a contrary position. BOASAS, he said (and this is an inexact quote because I was moderating instead of note-taking), is a barley-disguised discussion with himself that will die when he does. This, still further in turn, put me in mind of Cloud’s earlier statement that he doesn’t make money from BOASAS — it’s the job that he hates that pays the bills.

That, finally, brings me to my point. Webomics (and more generally, the internet; I had this conversation with my master’s thesis advisor back around 1990) is an inherently democratic medium; the barriers to entry are so low that everybody has a chance to be heard. This isn’t to say that all voices are equally loud — like it or not, <insert Famous Person here> is always going to have more hits/friends/followers/whatever than you — but the opportunity for any random person (“you”) to reach a receptive audience far outside your immediate physical place exists in a form that was inconceivable only 20 years ago.

But that reach doesn’t mean that everybody has an equal chance of capturing the lightning in a bottle that will make them (modestly) rich and/or (partially) famous.

For some time now, the promise of webcomics (at least to me; your mileage may vary) has been the potential for so many more voices to be heard than would through traditional channels; all you needed was the raw talent, and that would win out. But you know what? There’s a hell of a lot of talented creative types — writers, actors, singers, dancers, sculptors, storytellers, take your pick — and history has always seen fit to ensure that 99.9993% of them will never make a living at their chosen form of expression.

Take the wannabes and the self-deluded out of the equation (even though it’s the cattle calls that drive American Idol — lack of talent as entertainment, how meta can you get?) and leave only the truly skilled and you’re still looking at long odds. Maybe somebody in LA can answer this one for me — how many card-carrying members of SAG, AFTRA, WGA, and the other creative organizations ever get to quit the cater-waiter job?

I’ve been looking forward to the triumph of the professional for so long that I’ve overlooked this basic law of nature: your talent is just one part of the equation, along with luck, timing, good genetics¹, and a bunch of other things out of your control. The number of people who can make a comic into a career (or who could if they cared to, cf: David Morgan-Mar PhD, LEGO®™©etc) is both much greater thanks to the internet and more finite than we would all like.

Which sort of brings me back to that first point of discussion, and how the success of webcomics opens up opportunities for supportive businesses. Is the sphere of revenue-producing webcomics going to be relatively limited, resulting in boutique approaches to a modest number of potentially-high earners? Or will it be broader and more readily reward the approach that casts a wider net? The success of one camp (the creators) will necessarily intertwine with that of the other (the providers).

My mind’s not made up, but I forsee a discussion over much beer with Eric Burns-White, Xaviar Xerexes, and other members of the webcomics punditry at next year’s NEWW. In the meantime, your thoughts, please.

¹ Good looks less necessary for webcomics success than many other creative fields, but probably couldn’t hurt.

Agreed on the idea that Topatoco, ComicSpace, and any number of other webcomics-related businesses have an opportunity to succeed alongside each other. This isn’t the kind of field where a natural near-monopoly, or even a small number of relatively dominant players, seems likely. I see it shaking out less like the comic book industry, with its two or three big guys, and more like the blogging world, with automation services and collectives and software platforms and all manner of other businesses abounding. I hope!

[…] [Commentary] The limits of infinite potential Link: Gary Tyrrell […]

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