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Webcomics: The Future of the Industry?

Webcomics. They’re huge. Some are big business, even having enough clout to hold entire conventions. Now, I understand that it’s not an exact one-to-one comparison. I mean, most webcomics are released one page at a time, whereas comics are entire monthly books. And I know, a lot of the popular ones are one strip comics like Penny Arcade or whatever Married to the Sea is, but listen, there are many comic-page webcomic out there. Like Derelict for instance. It’s not like it’s unheard of.

So, yes, webcomics are a force to be reckoned with, I don’t think anyone would argue that. However, I put the question forth: are they the future of the comic book industry?

The Question of Quality

Anyone can make webcomics. It’s their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. There are a ton of bad webcomics. A ton. Sure, there are bad comic books, but the number is mitigated by editors and a difficult process breaking in. Some less-than-great material slips by, but for the most part it’s all pretty good.

So out of a variable ocean of terrible comics, there are only a precious few that can held up to the standard of your average comic book. That seems to be a strike against them. After all, with our current paradigm, the really popular ones are made into physical comic books, like God Hates Astronauts and Atomic Robo. And Axe Cop.

However, let me lay this down. Comic books have seen a recent surge in popularity. The Big Two have put the pressure on, causing some creators to head on over to creator-owned companies like Image or Avatar. It’s not too far fetched to imagine that if, one day, those companies put on lots of undue pressure a bunch of creators would flock to a webcomic format to get their “true vision” out there. Crossed has it’s own webcomic out there already. There’s a precedent!

Plus, imagine the new crop of up-and-coming comic book writers and artists. I mean, people in the industry are already telling them to start webcomics, as it’s the easy way to showcase their work. It’s not too far off to imagine a world where websites have their own shared universe comprised of multiple comics made by a bunch of other creators. It’s just a matter of talent meeting its audience. Speaking of…

Popularity. GROWING Popularity.

Penny Arcade gets an estimated 310,333 visitors per day. Per day. Adding up to about 111,719,880 a yearRegular comic books are lucky to get a few hundred thousand readers. Why the disparity? I believe it’s because webcomics are both free and easy to get. Instant gratification that doesn’t cost anything. Physical comics can’t compete with that.

It’s a huge tick in the webcomics as the future of the industry box. Imagine that same type of audience but focused on comic books! The industry would absolutely explode! There’d be such a surge in innovation, fandom, and just sheer quantity. It’d be a new boom, like the one in the 90s, but hopefully one that doesn’t result in the near destruction of the medium.

Hold on, though. How feasible is this? Would the Big Two start offering their comics for free? Well… probably not. At least, not the popular ones. Good news is, we both know the comic book industry is much bigger than the Big Two. Other comics, other companies, maybe even divisions of big companies (like Image — “Image Online” or something) could begin experimenting with the medium. If they get a taste of that huge audience, they’ll 100% zero in on it. Then, if the industry moves itself into more of a webcomic format, restructuring how they profit, it’ll force the “big leagues” to try and follow suit. In fact, it’s already kind of happened:

Everything’s Going Digital Anyway

I buy all my comics online. I mean I collect, sure, but all my current ones are bought online. It doesn’t compare to holding a physical comic, no, it can never match that, but convenience wins out every time. I can have thousands upon of thousands of comics and not worry about space (the primordial enemy of comic book collecting). Plus, reading in panel-to-panel Guided View is one of the best things to hit comics since Photoshop.

It’s the future. It’s inevitable. Print media a dinosaur on its… death… bed? It’s not a great metaphor, but you get it. The comic book industry was apparently hesitant to go digital at first, but a few sources have said that they compromised by keeping digital prices the same as physical copies, making them mostly profit. And it’s doing wonders for business. The next step seems logical: an exclusively online comic book.

Hold on! There’s a difference between a comic book bought on an online marketplace like Comixology and a webcomic, I hear you say. And there is. However, answer me this: in this world of all-digital, why would you restrict yourself to having someone else publish your stuff?

Obviously Marvel wouldn’t risk letting, say, the Amazing Spider-Man title out online for free, but imagine a webcomic featuring one of their lesser known character and/or titles (a Werewolf by Night webcomic, an Amadeus Cho webcomic, a Lockheed webcomic, etc) hosted on their site. That way, that enormous audience is driven to their site where they can then see their merchandise, where they look around, where they can buy. From there, you can simply sell the webcomic in trades just like every other one out there. It’s a no brainer!

But I don’t know. I’m still undecided. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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