On Webcomics: The Digital Divide

By | Monday, December 09, 2013 3 comments
If you look on Amazon, you'll find that there are exactly four books about webcomics available. The most recent of them was published in April 2008. Brad Guigar has a new one that is JUST coming out now, but I don't believe it's available in print quite yet. Of the four available, one is a history and the other three are more How To guides. And of those three, two of them are beginners' guides that seem to be aimed at someone who just saw xkcd for the first time and thought it might be fun to do a webcomic. How to Make Webcomics by Scott Kurtz, Kris Straub, Dave Kellett and Brad Guigar by contrast is for cartoonists. And, while it does provide insights from four professional webcomickers, it's still largely presented as a single perspective. That is, from humorists who've been doing webcomics for a decade or longer.

Don't get me wrong. It is an excellent, excellent book. But they flatly admit in the book that they don't have much experience in dramatic, long-form serial storytelling or strictly biographic works or editorials and so on, and I know I've heard at least Kurtz and Guigar note elsewhere that it would be impossible to mimic their breaking in stories simply by virtue of the fact that the web has changed several times over since they first started in the late 1990s.

Ryan Estrada is, as I've noted before, a powerful force in comics in part because he gets shit done. "Hey, I've got an idea!" Boom, put it out there and see if it works. "Hey, I've got another idea!" Boom, put it out there. "And another!" Boom. They might work, they might not, but he's working from a pragmatic perspective that he's going to keep trying things, keep what winds up working and discarding what doesn't. He threw out a tutorial recently on "How to make and sell ebooks of your comics in like 12 1/2 seconds." It was simple and straight-forward, and struck me as pretty blindingly obvious for anyone who's ever even considered making a digital version of their book. Yet it garnered a bit of attention because no one else seems to have actually sat down to write this stuff out.

Here's the thing, though: these perspectives, as well as my own, are digitally biased. The people championing webcomics and digital comics the loudest are largely the people who have been championing webcomics and digital comics the longest. (Mark Waid seems to be the biggest exception here.) I don't think it's preaching to the choir exactly, but the people most qualified to write/talk about this material have so far out-paced everyone else that we start running the risk of taking everyone's knowledge for granted. The Kurtz/Straub/Kellett/Guigar book came across to me as well-written with solid information, but maybe that's because I'm too aware of/involved in this. Maybe it's far, far above the heads of people just trying to get in.

What Estrada was writing about seems almost self-evident to me, but that it received the attention it did clearly proves otherwise. It was a piece that folks removed from webcomics and digital comics could see as wholely original. It provides an easy framework to get started without getting into a lot of esoterica nuances and complexities that almost certainly scare off a lot of people.

Now, I wouldn't expect my Aunt Barbara to know anything about webcomics. My guess is that she hasn't read a comic of any sort in decades. Similarly, I wouldn't expect her to do much investigation into anything about webcomics. Not really her thing. But what about the guy who's been eager for a chance to draw the X-Men since he was twelve, and only after he started getting into his twenties that it occurred to him to do something on his own? That type of guy is going to be completely familiar with the process of creating comics, but perhaps not the specifics of creating one for digital distribution. That's the discussion Estrada -- and as far as I can tell, no one else -- is having.

I don't expect I'll start trying to horn in on that; I'm talking about the stuff that I personally find interesting. I don't care to rehash stuff I've known for years. Unless there's a new twist or angle on it, it's just old hat for me. How exactly Guigar covers all this in his new book, I don't know. But even if he takes the exact same approach Estrada does, we're still only looking at only two people talking about webcomics development at some intermediary level. Seems to me that there ought to be more.

Not necessarily in print -- print books about anything web-related tend to get dated really quickly -- but in whatever venue(s) are accessible by those not already ensconsced in webcomics. Is that a podcast, or a YouTube series, or a series of blog posts, or...? I don't know. But the more I watch Estrada do his thing, the more impressed I am with him overall, and I think he's an excellent role model that just-starting-to-get-into-web-stuff creators should look to emulate. And maybe some veteran webcomickers can pick up a few things, too!
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Johanna said...

Just out of curiosity, what are the other three books?

Webcomics by Steven Withrow and John Barber, 2005

Webcomics 2.0 by Steve Horton and Sam Romero, 2008

The History Of Webcomics by T Campbell, 2006

Johanna said...

Ah, I've read T's book. Not bad, very much a time capsule now of course, although he disavows it.