Some Quick Thoughts on the Future of Webcomics

Last week John Allison of Scary Go Round and more recently Bad Machinery fame wrote a blog post expressing his fear that, as more and more webcartoonists took to social networking sites like Tumblr, it would be harder for them to make money off their work because even if their work went viral, it would get lost in the shuffle of people’s Tumblr feeds and no one would make the connection to them as the creator of that work. As a result, he fears the decline of the sort of “community” that has so characterized webcomics up to this point.

Personally, I think his fears are overblown; for one thing, I find it hard to compare Tumblr cartoonists with other webcartoonists, in part because most blogging platforms that aren’t modified WordPress make poor places to put up webcomics anyway, mostly due to archive management. As such, I suspect most Tumblr cartoonists aren’t very interested in fame and fortune anyway, and are more of the David Morgan-Mar frame of mind, of just wanting to share their creations with the world. In any case, the question is, would, say, Kate Beaton still have attracted a large following if she’d started out on Tumblr instead of LiveJournal? (After all, the former is essentially an evolved version of the latter.) Since most webcomics got their start through word of mouth, I find it hard to believe that the boom in social networking is anything but good for them (though whether it’s good for the quality of content that becomes popular is another matter, if it means the most popular comics essentially become nothing but meme factories).

But Allison’s broader fear is the notion that, for many, “social media ARE the Internet”, making it harder for web sites like his to catch anyone’s notice. I think this too is overblown, but mostly because of a far larger force reshaping the Internet that’s both largely responsible for that notion and that could end up sweeping both visions of the Internet under its feet, one that does pose a tremendous challenge, but ultimately a tremendous opportunity, for webcomics. I’ll have more on that next week.

5 thoughts on “Some Quick Thoughts on the Future of Webcomics

  1. For business purposes, Tumblr and Twitter are largely places to acquire attention and interact somewhat limitedly with your friends/followers/fans/heroes. If people like you or your work enough, they’ll track down your website.

    It’s got to be scary that the way he has depended on doing things is changing. Based on the trends I see, I’d be more worried about being solely dependent on the internet for business of any kind.

  2. The trends I’m talking about are how people are using the internet on all kinds of devices and in all kinds of ways, so it’s difficult to build a ‘standard business plan’ approach to any business activity. And it all changes every six months or so…

    That doesn’t mean there can be no business success but it’s far less sure when your audience can simply evaporate because of some new gadget you can’t support or some other “shiny” thing is more imediately interesting. That’s what I would see as scary if I was dependent on one way of people using the internet… such as readers no longer being chained to 12+ inch screens to view webcomics. Will readers continue to read my standard sized comic if they largely surf the net using their (tiny screened) phones?

    I think social media could replace, enhance or destroy a comic community. However, they are all (really) just chat sessions with different skins. Will some other social fad replace chat sessions in the next five years? Maybe. Maybe not.

    Does that explain where I’m coming from?

  3. Is a comic designed for a phone any less suitable for a standard-PC browser? It seems to me that the trend towards smartphones and tablets encourages flexible website designs that can accommodate any device, which isn’t a bad thing but which most people don’t seem to have figured out.

    There are a lot of webcomics that don’t work well on smartphones, but that’s not the same thing as “relying on the Internet for business of any kind”, which is what you said in your original comment. The Internet is alive and well; you just have to be nimble enough to keep up with the changes in it, which I imagine most webcomickers are.

  4. I also do web design for small businesses and they and most people, in general, are not nimble enough to even be proactive about their websites. That’s the basis of my experience in sharing my thoughts.

    Point to you, though. Webcomic artists are probably more web savvy than your average person.

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