Here we roll into the end stages of SDCC. Didn’t get to see all the stuff I wanted to, unexpected stories presented themselves, and much happened. Let’s start at the top, shall we?
- The syndicated strip cartoonists held a Q&A yesterday; Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Richard Thompson (Cul De Sac) and Keith Knight (Knight Life) engaged in what amounted to a running discussion on the the topic of As newspapers go, we go, unless we figure out something fast. We want your questions because we need to figure out some answers. Today.
After that brief introduction by Pastis, the very first question was on webcomics (and didn’t come from me). Paraphrasing (since it came a little too fast to transcribe): Where do you stand on webcomics, with a model where you give the comic away and sell goods to make money? Knight replied with a variation on an answer he’s given a couple of times this week: You need to get your work out to as many people, by as many channels as possible, and it only makes sense for anybody in print syndication to look at this approach. But he doesn’t believe in being exclusively self-published on the web, and he doesn’t believe in being exclusively syndicated (and has different projects that follow different models). Money quote (and this one is exact): I learn as much from webcartoonists as I do from [gesturing to fellow panelists] these guys.
Good answer, but the question didn’t directly address an issue I’d like to have seen brought up, viz., what benefit does a syndicate actually provide these days? One may not believe that papers will entirely go away (as does Pastis), and that the physicality of the actual object is something people will want (Pastis again), even while negotiating rights to new channels like the Kindle (Pastis once more) while pondering the question, “Does this add to my audience or take away?”
Mostly though, they saw the problem as one of scarcity of space — asked about legacy strips (repeating the question for the room, Pastis phrased it as How do you feel about all the dead wood on the comics page?), the panel figured they could live with them if there were sufficient room for new strips as well. But below that is a sense of almost visceral dislike of strips that continue long past their original creators. Pastis wondered if there’s another creative form that’s perceived as so transferrable that the creator could die and the kid could continue it and it’s considered just the same.
But at least that problem might not exist in the future — as Pastis and Knight pointed out, for about ten years now, most syndicate contracts and left the copyright with the creator (although the monetary terms are such that while the creator own the strip, the syndicate gets a significant cut). Case in point: books. Why don’t many syndicated strippers have books out? Pastis noted that there’s essentially one publisher of such (Andrews & McMeel), but not every strip cartoonist tries to get books made.
With the avenues of self-publishing, there’s no reason not to have them, although if, say, Thompson were to decide to publish books because the syndicate didn’t want to, they’d still get about 50% of the revenue per their contracts. But Knight did point out that when a particular publisher produced books for him, he got $1 per book sold, and now that he self-publishes, he gets $11 per (this is on rights that were recovered by Knight, so he doesn’t have to share, but still — it might be almost worthwhile as a revenue stream, seeing as how the number of papers carrying strips is dropping).
- I bumped into two of the most generous people in all of comicdom — Jennifer Babcock and Matt Murray had previously been associated with the running of the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art and the annual MoCCA Art Fest, but they and others struck out last Fall to form a new nonprofit devoted to comics scholarship. Turns out what’s normally a tricky undertaking is even trickier in the midst of a worldwide economic contraction, but they’re still plugging away at it, and were very sympathetic towards the current MoCCA folks about the logistical … let’s call them challenges … at this year’s show. There’s a steep learning curve and Murray and Babcock sincerely hoped the current showrunners are able to negotiate it. Like I said, generous; if you don’t do so already, check out their undertakings with the Sequential Art Collective.
- What would happen if the guys behind Halfpixel, Webcomics Weekly, and webcomics.com held a panel and didn’t give any soundbites? Unlike some of their previous appearances which were explicitly pitched as Webcomics Weekly live performances, this session (entitled Webcomics Bootcamp) was a fairly organic conversation, with answers not neatly encapsulated down into short, pithy, ten words answers. Find a recording somewhere (we’ll link to any we come across) and listen to the whole thing — you’ll only miss out on the visuals where Scott Kurtz spilled water on the table and what looked like a large dog laughed at him from the back of the room.
Sidenote: dissatisfied that only four people got to ask questions before time was up, Kurtz, Brad Guigar, and Robert Khoo held an impromptu Q&A session on webcomics business at the Marriott at 11:00pm; anybody that made it there, please send us a summary.
It’s time to wrap this — I still have to write up the SMBC/Cyanide & Happiness/nerdcore show, the story of how I spoke with the publisher/editor-in-chief of IDW about the Bay Boy comics (pretty good outcome on that one I think) and some changes at Keenspot, not to mention news on new webcomics statues, and photos. If I don’t get to all that before tomorrow, deal. In the meantime, the Keenspot panel’s at 11:00 (32AB) and the Zuda version of how-to-do-webcomics panel at 3:00 (4). Hope to make both of those, but I’ve got some other appointments.