The webcomics blog about webcomics

Some Things Come In Clusters

Today, in various corners of Her Majesty’s Commonwealth, John Allison and Ryan North are united in the knowledge that today is the most special of days, the anniversary of their births 34 and 30 (respectively) years ago. Welcome to the primes of your lives, webcomics dudes.

  • Making the rounds — Steve Lieber is a comic book writer and artist (primarily working out of Portland’s Periscope Studios, home of more than one webcomicky type), perhaps best known for his work on Whiteout (the very good comic, not the middling movie). That’s thing A.

    This past Sunday over at the 4chan board devoted to comics, a poster put up scans of all five issues of Underground, a recent miniseries by Lieber and writer Jeff Parker. Underground has been well-received critically, but has not seen sales figures commensurate with its overall quality; the original poster wanted more people to see it. That’s thing B.

    When these two things meet, ugly outcomes are usually the result — creators have (rightly) an interest in people paying for their work, and having the entire damn thing spread around for free (particularly on a niche title selling not too many copies) can have a measurable impact on the rent and groceries fund this month. But when a work is not widely known, making it more widely available can entice people who wouldn’t have found it otherwise to discover both work and creator, and may (let’s emphasize that may) lead to sales down the line; indeed, this is the entire model that webcomics (as we use the term in these parts) is predicated on.

    Key thought, though — it’s a model that creators opt into, rather than having their work distributed outside their control. There have been public internet poo-flings over such events in the past, (often for the posting of only selected excerpts of comics instead of complete stories), accompanied by legal notices and DMCA takedown requests. So Thing A + Thing B couldn’t possible end well when Lieber virtually wandered into the 4chan discussion.

    Except that it did. Lieber engaged with the original poster and other commenters, an unusually civil (downright pleasant and respectful, even) discussion ensued (remember, we’re talking about a comment thread on the internet here, and outside of The AV Club, any right-thinking person’s rule should be Never read the comments), and all went away happy. Then it took a turn for the surreal. Yesterday Lieber posted about his experience at 4chan and for a kicker, included the full content of Underground for free download. As he put it:

    I just participated in a genuinely fascinating discussion, and I think it’s old dog, new tricks time.

    After much discussion and email, we’re going to try to offer the book in a proper digital format via Comixology. Til then you’re stuck with pdfs.

    Give it a read! If you decide you’d like a hard copy, the best thing you can do is order one through your local store. If you’d prefer mail, try our friends at TFAW, or just get it directly from our us:
    Periscope Studio Etsy store.
    (The book has been selling out really quickly, so if it’s not there, bug us and we’ll restock ASAP.) [emphasis mine]

    Two thoughts came to me as I watched this one play out. Firstly, I find the timing of Lieber’s reaction to be interesting, given the talk at last week’s Festival of Cartoon Art and the Dave Kellett talk therein. From Alan Gardner’s livetweeting of Kellett’s presentation:

    • comics are a slow building relationship with readers. Paywalls and paid apps make that relationship harder.
    • how to be a successful cartoonist: be accessible, be entertaining, be kind.

    I don’t mean to imply that Lieber took Kellett’s talk as guide or direct inspiration, but I found Lieber’s self-assessment, it’s old dog, new tricks time, to be revealing. Lieber isn’t a grown-up-with-the-internet (or grown-up-with-a-computer, or likely even grown-up-with-my-own-electronics-before-high-school) type. He’s about my age, north of 40, but in a field of sometimes significantly younger colleagues who did grow-up-with-x. I’m guessing that he’s at the low end of the age cohort that Kellett was aiming his talk at, the end that most likely to be able to make the transition to new business models in artistic endeavours.

    The second thing that struck me? I’ve seen more than one reference to the Lieber/4chan interaction described as “Lieber wins”. And I thought Isn’t it funny that “wins” has two very different connotations? In one sense, “winning” means that somebody else loses, and the encounter was fundamentally adversarial.

    But in another sense (and the sense that I think applies here), there’s “winning over” the other party, making somebody else not a defeated adversary, but an ally. With a bit of logical flexibility (and perhaps artistic jiu jitsu), Lieber’s turned a situation that has historically meant confrontation into one where he’s been rewarded with new readers, perhaps new sales, and gets to experience personally the effects of a new business model.

    Maybe he stays with it. Maybe he doesn’t. But he’s seen alternatives to traditional business and recognized the value in exploring them. I’d call that a win-win.

  • In other news, Andy Bell sounds as if he’s braced for a fresh round of fan hatred and loathing, as a new Android variant goes up for very limited order on Halloween Day at 2:00pm EDT. Looks appropriately spook-tacular, which pretty much guarantees a sellout and disappointed would-be buyers. Thems the breaks, and good luck to all who want to grab the creepy little guy. I’ll be right there with you trying to get my order in, so do me a favor and ignore the FAQ that Bell put together to make the purchasing process more likely to succeed? Thanks.

[Creative Webcomic Art Business Models]

Making as much of your stuff free as possible has always been the Internet’s most distinguishing characteristic and the most criticized aspect of Internet business models by traditional businesses. Those who succeed most are those who can afford to give away the most because they have so much more besides the free stuff to sell.

I really like how Web comic creators are creating Artist Editions of their physical comic books and graphic novels that include some form of customization or personalization, such as an actual handmade picture drawn right onto a page in the book by the original artist. Some even include a text box on their website ordering page where the buyer can type out what he wants the seller to write or draw and sign in his book by hand. In my opinion these one-on-one efforts at individual care and one-of-a-kind uniqueness are less contrived than the artificial scarcity (and artificial value) offered by limited editions. And I’m sure there’s also plenty more we can offer our readers beyond our websites mimicking what artists do at comic cons.

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