I’m dating myself a bit by kicking off this week’s column with a Great Space Coaster reference, but I think Gary Gnu was wrong: no news is NOT good news! At least when it pertains to webcomics.
One of the reasons that I was eager to start this column not quite two years ago was that, while there were plenty of large comics/pop culture/geek websites out there, none of them were really talking about webcomics. It’s not like webcomics were being wholly ignored, of course, but the big sites tended to only make reference to them when there was some kind of crossover news item. Faith Erin Hicks’ Superhero Girl being printed by Dark Horse, for example, or Karl Kesel working on City of the Dead. Where it was coming up as a news item not so much for the fact that it a webcomic was involved, but because there was some more traditional association with printed comics. Either a print creator was foraging into webcomics territory or a webcomicker landed some kind of arrangement with a print publisher.
Oh, sure, there was the occasional interview with Kate Beaton or somebody, but by and large there was no regular, sustained coverage from the larger outlets.
That’s of course not to say that there was nothing worth reporting, or that no one was reporting it! There’s sites like Fleen and The Webcomic Overlook, and shows like those on The Webcomic Beacon Network. Those folks, and the others like them, do great work and are fantastic resources if you’re interested in keeping up with what’s going on in the world of webcomics.
But they’re also fairly small operations, often run by only one or two people in whatever spare time they have. They actually remind me of many of the big comic news sites when they first started 15-20 years ago. But look at those sites today. There’s coverage about the Superman and Hobbit movies, and MarvelNOW, and even though I’m writing this at least several days before you’re reading, I can pretty well guarantee there are several headlines on each site with “X-Men” in there somewhere. And there’s probably NOT any news about webcomics.
I find that strange for a couple reasons. First, webcomics tend to play in the same ballpark as the rest of the subjects those sites cover. Even aside from the fantasy and superhero webcomics out there, there’s the whole gamer webcomic genre that caters specifically to people who are geeked out about Skyrim or Assassin’s Creed in exactly the same way people are geeked out about a new Superman movie.
Secondly, webcomics aren’t new or insignificant. They’ve been around for decades now, and often attract more readers than many print comics. Using Quantcast’s estimates, popular webcomics like The Oatmeal easily pulls in over 150,000 unique readers every month, with recent months floating up much closer to 300,000. Even an niche comic like Girl Genius (admittedly, it’s a popular niche comic, but it’s still a niche comic) seems to have around 60,000-70,000 regular readers, which puts it in the same viewership ballpark as Action Comics and Amazing Spider-Man. Based on that, you’d think Agatha Heterodyne would get as many headlines as Superman.
Alas, no. To be fair, the Man of Steel does have a bit more longevity behind him and has reached into a few more media beyond a single monthly comic book. (I hear they’re making a movie where he even makes a cameo appearance or something!) But I’m not talking about a single webcomic here; I’m saying that there’s hardly any coverage of any of them on the big news sites!
Some of that, I suspect, falls back on the webcomickers themselves. The companies that own Batman and Star Trek and all of those well-known properties have people whose job it is to catch the attention of journalists and columnists. Webcomickers are lucky to have ANYONE helping them. So they have to work on generating their own press on top of actually creating the webcomic they’re trying to promote.
But a good deal of that goes back to the people running these news sites. That they largely don’t is evident in that problem I mentioned earlier, where the webcomic stories that do run are often still tied to print in some way. The print publicists are using their talents to promote their print pieces, and that just happens to intersect with some webcomic efforts. Beyond that, it’s up to the individual sites to look for webcomic information which, it seems they’re not really doing by and large. If there’s a webcomic that happens to interest them, and if they’re not busy writing about Spider-Man, then they might do a piece on a webcomic.
Which is really doing a disservice to webcomics, I think. I try to do what I can here, but I’m only one guy and not really good at actual journalism. (That’s why this is written as a column with only a vague sense of being current.)
There’s a LOT going on in webcomics these days. And the people reporting on it generally don’t have nearly the reach of the larger players. So I’d like to put two challenges out there for 2013. First, to the people who work on those large sites: how about putting some real effort into webcomics? Maybe that’s a dedicated webcomic news hound, maybe that’s just having the current staff re-focusing their attention a bit. Second, to the readers here and of those other sites: contact your favorite sites that report on that general geek culture we all love, and tell them you’d like to see more news about webcomics.
In 2011, DC co-publisher Jim Lee unfavorably compared digital and webcomics to dental floss at a retailer meeting in Dallas. The company seemed to start retracting a bit on that this year by releasing their digital comics the same day as their print ones. Let’s collectively see if we can’t make 2013 the year that they can’t not notice webcomics.