We're in an era of an explosion of creativity in comics. Technology often seems to drive innovations in comics. The information era has proven a great boon for comics artists finding a new voice for themselves. The good and bad of this is that it now costs nothing to put your work in front of the public. The trick lies in finding ways to get noticed and to get paid for it. Still, artists are developing their work directly online and many find this as the easy on-ramp to success.
Whether finding a jumpstart through crowdsourcing websites, or philanthropic organizations like Kickstarter, or recognition via awards like the Eisner or Ignatz awards that now recognize webcomics, artists no longer need to please an editorial board to show that their work has value, their portfolio need not be vetted by a jaded pro at one of the big houses, nor do they need to staple a zine together and spend a few hundred dollars at Kinkos copying their pages them selling them to friends. The wide open nature of the web means all they need to do is put in the work of developing a great property, then find some way of drawing attention to it.
Selling their strips as apps or funding their work via advertising space on their pages and publishing online alone are two ways artists make money without even printing books. Fortunately for those of us folks who are still living in "the 1900's" (as my students say) much of the best work does find its way into print. Many savvy publishers buy properties that have already garnered an audience via webcomics. Some publishers even give a free taste of the books online before publishing in print knowing there is a crossover between the various media.
As a buyer the ability to see snippets of content before publication helps in the selection process. There are few reliable sources of reviews of comics and so much of what makes a comic valuable is whether the art works to tell the story (more than to add supporting detail). To be able to do more than glance through a few pages allows library and school buyers to confidently buy a book with the limited budget they may have for comics.
After the jump we'll see a few titles that first found their audience online before jumping to the page.
Celadore, by Canaan Grall
(DC Comics' Zuda Books 2010)
A Buffy clone, though neither suffers from the imitation. With appealing cartoony characters and interestingly nasty monsters, the comics format allows for cheaply spectacular special effects and broad humor. The dialogue is witty and crisp, the art is full-color and amusing. Action bounds along at a breakneck pace with laugh lines every few panels, reading like a sit-com on the page.
This series was an early attempt from DC Comics to find and develop a market online. They seemed to have difficulty finding a way to profit from it, since the comics fan of their market base preferred to flip pages and collect physical books. DC Comics Zuda imprint was an idea that was perhaps ahead of its time. Or perhaps it was a strange hybrid of two clashing eras. Using the cache of a big publishing house to draw submissions they developed an online-only content page where artists could submit 8 pages of their work and readers could vote which ones deserved to be printed. Canaan Grall's Celadore worked, as the last Zuda imprint before DC Comics abandoned the project. Personally I'm eagerly watching to see if Mr Grall publishes anything else in the not-yet-obsolete medium of images on slices of dead trees.
Recommended for Young Adults (cartoony gore, big honking monsters, amusingly non-lethal lopping of limbs, some innuendo). (YA J 741.5973 GRAAL)
Gunnerkrigg Court (series) by Thomas Siddell
(Archaia Studios Press)
Think: 'goth Harry Potter'. British artist/writer gives another take on boarding school wizards (and other special talents) with mysteriously epic subplots or epically mysterious main threads, whichever. Strong female characters, Manga-esque lines but full color throughout (albeit with a gloomy palette.)
This series began as an online webcomic before finding a publisher in Archaia. Self-publishing meant the funding was not available for a large print run and fans had to wait for the successive volumes as the author had to hold down a real job while keeping his hobby alive.
We shelve it with Young Adult due to spookiness, occasional blood, and coming of age themes. (YA J 741.5942 SIDDELL)
Copper, by Kazu Kibuishi
GRAPHIX; Reprint edition (January 1, 2010)
A beautifully rendered webcomic series starring a young boy and his grouchy and cynical puppy in a series of surreal dreamlike interludes. Working solely in digital format the images are painted with light and have the depth and beauty of a large production animation. A wry gentle earnest wistuflness suffuses each comic, akin to the humor of Charles Schultz as rendered by the anime studios of Hayao Miyazaki. Translation to a page loses a little bit of the luminous beauty but it still translates. We keep it in our comic strip collections in the kids room even if the nuances may be lost on a younger audience. (J 741.5 KIBUISHI).
As a labor of love Kibuishi's comic drew admirers from other artists working solely online and their feedback inspired him to edit and curate the Flight anthology series (741.5973 FLIGHT) to showcase many other overlooked artists working online. This spotlight procured deals for many of the artists therein and also recruited artists to work with Kibuishi on his epic and wonderful Amulet series (YA J 741.5973 KIBUISHI).
First Second Press
First Second Press is an imprint of Roaring Brook Press and MacMillian Publishers. created by author/artist Mark Seigel to bring quality graphic novels to print the pyublshing house is PR savvy and web-smart. Committed to keeping a web presence to tease interest in their titles they maintain a section of their web page for the sole purpose of serializing upcoming titles before they come to print.
Sailor Twain, Zahra's Paradise, Americus and others are titles that drew audiences first online. Being an artist himself (First Second's Sailor Twain, and also the Seibert award honored book To Dance) CEO Mark Seigel has said that he has found it useful to have a ready audience waiting his works to keep himself on deadline. Publishing Sailor Twain updates twice weekly he discovered that he was effectively crowdsourcing his research of period accurate details to add verisimilitude to his tale of the Hudson River steamboat in Sailor Twain, as readers were supplying corrections and detailed information on minutia (as detailed as the width of the planks and number of nails in the deck of the ship).
Zahra's Paradise, by Amir; Illustrated by Khalil.
(2011 First Second Press)
This book was notable as a real-time serial comic, updating on a weekly basis the authors were detailing the struggles of life in Iran after the elections of 2009 and the public unrest in that country that followed, and even spread to other countries in the middle East during the Arab Spring uprisings. The mononymous authors were updating their strip while the struggles spread through out the middle east, and were able to answer questions in the comments section of the First Second website while the strip was active.
The story follows the process of one family trying to track down a son/brother lost in the crackdown on protesters following the contentious election of 2009. The art is black and white inkwork, as I think many artists were inspired by the deceptively clean lines of Majane Satrapi's Persepolis, this book echoes her style. The art serves the story well if not quite measuring up to Ms Satrapis' composition and symbolism. Still characters are distinctive (no easy trick in line art when all your male subjects have short black hair, and all women wear headwraps) and they manage humor among poignant moments, grief, frustration with a modern government that nonetheless combines the worst of bureaucracy and religious imperiousness. The book is worth reading for its current relevance and insight.
(741.5955 AMIR, in our adult section due to adult themes, violence, sex)