The webcomics blog about webcomics


Let’s get some announcements out there before all the air conditioning overloads the power grid, takes down power and communications, and eastern half of the country devolves into barbarism and anarchy. If I don’t survive until Monday, it’s been a blast, and thanks to all my readers.

  • There’s emails that get immediate attention when they cross my virtual desk — and given all that he’s done for capital-w Webcomics with ComicPress, Tyler Martin is fairly high up the Pay Attention list. In addition to designing the dominant webcomics WordPress plug-in and his own webcomicking (sadly over, it seems), Martin has done design and infrastructure work for more webcomicky sites than you can shake the proverbial stick at, and he wanted to share some news about one of those:

    Skywriter Media and Entertainment Group, and Roddenberry Entertainment are joining forces to develop an animated kids’ comedy series, Gene’s Journal, based on the hilarious webcomic created by Trevor Roth and illustrated by cartoonist David Reddick. Gene’s Journal is the untold, true story behind the adolescent years of Gene Roddenberry. It was during these years that Gene was continuously abducted by aliens for the extraterrestrial purpose of studying human beings –- all of his experiences recorded faithfully in his boyhood journal.

    There’s a lot more there in the usual corporate-PR speak, but that’s the gist of it; many congrats to Roth and Reddick. Oddly enough, I’ve been thinking about Roddenberry quite a lot this week, probably because of the recent episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson‘s podcast, where he spoke at length with Nichelle Nichols, which naturally meant that Roddenberry came up.

    Complex guy, ol’ Gene, had some cheesy ideas and some incredibly important ones. It’s a good listen, as is the second half of the interview with Ms Nicholls about her years of effort as a booster of NASA and the space program. Coming in the same week that Atlantis touched down and brought our current manned spaceflight program to an end (without an immediate successor), it’s inspiring and a little depressing at the same time.

  • Not only are their people whose emails are automatically a priority, there are people whose actions are. Maybe the absolute top of the list is Scott Kurtz, who I find to endlessly fascinating: willing to take risks, to experiment with his business model in public, to get into more online arguments than is probably good for him (but where he’s also often making the best points, at least when everybody’s willing to step back and let their emotional responses cool off a bit). I enormously respect that he’s not afraid to offer up his mea culpas in public, and that he’s made a concerted effort to grow beyond his hothead tendencies.

    So when he announced today that he’s breaking one of the major taboos of webcomics, I paid attention. Specifically, he’s taking sponsorship dollars for in-strip content. Not ads, not side-strips that aren’t part of the “real” PvP, but honest-to-Hawking paid product placement. This can be done, very carefully, without coming off as a giant shill (in his announcement, Kurtz mentioned Mad Men as the exemplar of this¹), in part because:

    The PvP gang has played Dungeons and Dragons, gone to see every Star Wars film, quote Trek non-stop and choose Coke over Pepsi. I’m already doing it, I’m just not getting paid for it.

    That’s the key part there — Kurtz has spent a dozen years establishing the — for lack of a better term — credibility of his fictional characters; the longtime and casual reader both can easily discern the products and services that the characters use because it comes from who they are. At least a third of Brent Sienna’s character development comes from his Apple cultishness.

    If Kurtz can find sponsors that aren’t afraid to let him play with their brand (including making fun of them if it serves the story arc), sponsors that would make sense for his characters to interact with, then I can see this working. In the hands of a creator more … mercenary is the word I keep coming back to … this could turn very bad, very quickly.

    Kurtz, on the other hand, has a certain reservoir of trust built up in his audience: trust that he cares about the characters and story, that making the strip as good as possible comes first and foremost, that if it doesn’t work out in a way that betters the strip he’ll abandon the experiment.

    The announcement came today as the story arc that’s been running this week finally mentioned the sponsor by name — had Kurtz not done so, my guess is that he’d easily be halfway through the quarter-long sponsorship before people started to suspect there was a financial interest. I think that this is going to make Kurtz’s ad guys work harder than they ever have before, and it’s not clear to me that every quarter will have sponsorships that meet Kurtz’s criteria² lined up as the previous one expires.

    We’re going to see people trying this that don’t do it well, and any success that Kurtz has may not be repeatable. But as always, the dude is interesting.

  • For those of in San Diego this weekend, you can see Kurtz on two panels, as well as others of interest to webcomics types:

    On Saturday, Kaja & Phil Foglio talk steampunk (room 23ABC, 10am); Kurtz talks digital disruptions with Mark Waid (room 8, 2:30pm); the Halfpixel Gang record Webcomics Weekly live (room 25ABC, 5pm), and then Mike & Jerry have the PA Q&A in the same room (6pm).

    On Sunday, Los Bros Nicholle talk Axe Cop (room 6DE, 10am); Keenspot get Keen (room 4, 3pm).

¹ Although I think a better example might be a Mexican telenovela that’s set at an ad agency, and as a major plot thread is developing an ad campaign for Ford. The punchline being, the in-show ad campaign is actually being used by Ford in Mexico (or, more precisely, the ad campaign used by Ford in Mexico has been back-fitted into the show to create the fiction that’s where it was created).

² From the announcement:

  • The product would have to be something I believed in.
  • The product had to be something I would comment on in PvP anyway.
  • The client would have to be forward thinking, and geek savvy, and be able to poke fun at themselves.
  • The client would have to understand that the inclusion of their company into the strip would have to serve the greater story or humor.
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