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Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Recap

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Try to Keep Up

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: PvP

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Inspiration

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Black Ink

Look, I've been travelling all week and will be rolling into C2E2 almost as soon as I step off the plane on the way home, so today let me just point you to Black Ink, a documentary that's being Kickstartered right now. The movie examines "the contributions to the comic book industry by people of color." But we're less than two days before the campaign is over and it's still a few thousand dollars shy of being funded. (At least as of this writing.) I put in $100 -- what can you chip in?

Yesterday, I was talking about how things are speeding up and business models need to be changed/updated with more frequency now. And that it's increasingly difficult for individuals trying to make a go of things because their expertise is in making comics, not keeping up with technological changes and business distrupters and the like.

Of course, it's not impossible. And as I sat there thinking about webcomic creators who have weathered at least a few substantial shifts (which would include pretty much anyone working today who had started, say, five years ago) I thought to take a moment to look up just how long some of the "old guard" webcomikers have been at it. I started (and stopped) with Scott Kurtz. I started with him because he has been around a while, and has been a vocal advocate for webcomics for many years. I stopped because he started PvP in 1998 -- just shy of two decades ago.

It's easy to see Kurtz's style of illustration and humor evolve over time. What's not as evident is his changing business models. PvP actually started under a gaming website before Kurtz took the comic out on its own within its first year. It was published in print by Dork Storm Press for a year beginning in 2001, and was picked up by Image in 2003 (allegedly after seeing a piece in Wizard Magazine that included/referenced the strip I'm running with this post). Kurtz offered the strip up for free to newspapers in 2004. There was an animated cartoon version that began in 2007. He launched a spin-off strip called Table Titans in 2013, roughly at the same time he hired Dylan Meconis as a writer and Steve Hamaker as a colorist.

The update schedule has changed, the number/types/placements of ads has changed, the types and production of items for sale has changed... I haven't tracked all of the changes super closely, but I daresay every aspect of the comic/site/business has been completely overhauled at least twice since it first launched.

I'm pretty sure Kurtz will be the first to tell you that he had no idea what he was doing when he started. Just looking at everything he's done and all the approaches he's taken, one gets the sense that he spent a lot of time just throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck. Which is fine when you're in your 20s and haven't exactly become reliant on webcomics as your primary (sole?) means of income, but it doesn't take much imagination to see why you'd be less inclined to just throw everything at the wall when you're in your 40s and have being a webcomiker has been your career for well over a decade.

I don't have a real point other than to give a tip of the hat to Kurtz. Not only has he stuck with PvP for nearly two decades, outlasting many traditional publishers in that time, but he's been pretty damn successful at it to boot!
I find myself repeatedly returning to ideas from Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. One idea he spelled out -- in fact, the idea behind the premise of his book -- is that the world is in fact getting faster. It's not just your perception as you've gotten older; the changes happening in the world are coming at you quantifiably faster than they used to. (I suspect it's at least partly to blame for the current political trend across the globe to veer back towards 1950s sensibilities.) Some of these changes stem from technology, and some stem from more people having greater access to technology. Regardless of where they come from, though, the world is changing quicker than it used to.

I do my best to keep up. I'm actively connected to the web probably most hours of the day, and I've got streams of information coming from multiple different channels simultaneously. Much of it is inconsequential, of course -- pictures of people's dogs or what they had for lunch -- but even the pieces that don't have a strong influence on my life can still help paint a picture of what's going on in the world.

But for people who don't/can't keep up -- and it's getting increasingly difficult to do so -- they cling to outdated ideas and practices that no longer make sense. For example, there's been talk lately about saving coal mining jobs. Except that at least a few coal mining companies are currently devising exit strategies from the business because it's no longer profitable, and in fact more jobs were lost in retail in the past two months than have been lost in coal mining over the past two decades! Trying to save an industry that actively doesn't want to be saved in the face of bigger job losses in completely different sectors makes no sense whatsoever, unless you're relying on business information that is decades out of date.

Likewise, in comics, it doesn't make sense to sell pamphlet comics to the direct market if a book's target audience is more likely to buy a trade collection from a more traditional bookstore. In terms of broader business discussions, this typically isn't a huge problem. Major publishers and bookstore chains generally have market experts who, while they might not be able to always predict where the market is headed, are specifically tuned in to the industry buzz and can suggest changes based on market shifts. As noted above, this has become increasingly difficult to do in light of the speed with which changes take place, but there is at least someone on staff whose job is, in part, to keep track of these things.

The problem comes in because of one of the other recent changes that not everyone has picked up on yet: the gig economy. We're increasingly in an era where individuals are more in charge of their own businesses, even if that business is just themselves. These are the creators tabling at shows, running Kickstarters to fund their next book, doing webcomics and trying to sort out how to make money there... These are folks who are effectively out on their own (not always by choice). They used to be in a challenging spot before, but it's become even more challenging recently.

It was challenging before because it requires a whole slew of skills they might not like or be fully prepared for. They just wanted to make comics. Which is a great ideal, but that also means sales and marketing and record keeping and all sorts of other fun stuff they need to do on top of making comics. But what makes it more challenging now is that they've got that rapidly changing landscape to account for as well. As soon as they settle in to a business model that seems to work, some external forces swoop in to change the landscape entirely. Print-on-demand did that. Ad blockers did that. Kickstarter did that. Patreon did that. Who knows where the next distrupter will come from?

But the point is that more of these disrupters will keep coming in and changing how they do business, whether they want them to or not. And that is going to make being on top of things more and more critical for creators as they move forward. Large companies not only have those experts watching business trends but they have a financial cushion to moderate fast external changes. Most creators don't have either luxury so it behooves them to stay as informed as possible alongside making comics people will enjoy!
I'm running a bit late this week, but here are links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Kickstarter, Part 2

FreakSugar: Fanthropology: Marketing Authenticity

The Comics Alternative: Webcomics: Reviews of Conceptual Heist, Ménage à 3, and Smash: Monstrous

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Faves

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Beyond English

SANE Journal: Review of Captain Marvel and the Art of Nostalgia

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Spider-Everyman

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Tracy via LaGuardia
In the summer of 1945, New York City's newspaper delivery drivers went on strike and refused to deliver any newspapers. The strike lasted a little over two weeks and while many people could still turn to the radio for news and entertainment, the particularly visual nature of the newspaper meant that some favorites -- most notably, the comics -- fell by the wayside in people's day-to-day media intake.

As part of his weekly radio address Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia at one point suggested listeners gather their kids and he would read them some of the day's funnies. He then proceeded to read Dick Tracy. It's not that hard to find a clip of LaGuardia reading the paper, but I thought today that I would pair that reading with the actual strip in question from July 1, 1945...

I think that describing a published comic verbally is incredibly difficult to do well. How do you think LaGuardia did?