Are Webcomics Evolving Toward Digital Comics?

If you’re at all interested in comics, webcomics, and digital comics, or just publishing in general, go check out artist and writer Dani Jones’ recent blog, “Digital Comics: A Call to Comic Creators.”

For those of you making comics, like me, your ears certainly perked up at her title, right? Basically, as a new owner of a shiny iPad, Dani’s looking for some digital comics to download onto her new comics reader. And she’s coming up a bit short.

She also has some great ideas about how to make your webcomic a digital comic. Which is exactly what we did with IN MAPS & LEGENDS. Here’s a link to our site, for more info: http://inmapsandlegendscomic.com

But first, a quick definition list here:

  • Webcomic: A comic that you read on your computer, using a web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox. You can also read them on an iPad or iPhone, but a webcomic is set up for reading on a computer screen. You usually need to be online to read a webcomic.
  • Digital comic: A comic that you usually download, either in PDF or CBZ format, or a format specific to the online comics distributor where you purchased the comic. Usually includes an entire issue of a comic. Once you have a digital comic downloaded, you can read it whenever and wherever you like.
  • Online comics distributor: A storefront, like Comixology or Graphic.ly, that you access as an application on your iPhone or Droid phone, or on the web. From the storefront, you can preview, purchase, and download a digital comic to your device or computer.

I wanted to share a couple bits from my response to Dani’s blog post, with some added thoughts about the two types of comics:

I kind of feel like there’s a shift away from Web to digital — by which I mean people aren’t reading online, on their computer so much as on some sort of reader, smartphone, or other device.

I have a weird feeling about the future of webcomics. I love coming across a new comic on the web, even if it’s almost always in the middle of chapter 2 or 5 or 8, and I have to play catchup. Latest find? Jackie Rose.

The cool thing is that the archives for the entire run of the webcomic are almost always available online, usually marked by a link that says “First.” So you can read all the previous installments and get up to speed.

But then, when you’re up to speed, the slow crawl of pages begins. I had a big problem with this when I was reading all the Zuda comics online, and then when our comic started publishing there — you online got one page a week! Hard to get a real sense of urgency and continuity when your story is unfolding that slowly. Some webcomics update 3 times a week, like the lovely Sailor Twain (M, W, F), but even that pace can feel glacial.

Of course, what it really makes me want is a trade paperback, where I can read the whole thing all over again, in one sitting. With digital comics, you usually get a whole issue — 20-32 pages, in most cases — so you don’t have that long wait. Much closer to the experience of reading individual paper comics from the comic shop. Another plus for digital, I guess.

There’s also the issue of price — most webcomics are free. That is awesome.

Digital comics usually come with a fee (though many distributors like Comixology let you read the first issue of a series for free, for the most part, which is a great tactic).

As I said on Dani’s blog:

This is a great time to be a comics creator. People are willing to pay for your stuff. Just not TOO much. I think 99 cents is the perfect price for a 20-26 page comic. I start to pause before hitting BUY if a comic is $1.99. I’d definitely pay the same amount for a single issue of a comic as I’d pay for a song on iTunes.

I just wonder, with webcomics, will people pay for something they can read online for free? That’s where digital comics and webcomics are going to collide, I think, and not in a good way.

I have this sense that webcomics may not survive the wave of digital comics that’s coming. So in a way, I’m really glad that the whole webcomics aspect of Zuda went away (before the Zuda imprint itself went away altogether last week!), as sad as that was at the time. I’m biased, of course, because we’re putting out a digital comic, but I feel that digital comic are the wave of the future, and webcomics are going to be left behind by readers.

Just a gut feeling, really. I have to start gathering some hard evidence on the issue. But things are changing so fast, it’s hard to get a hold of any really meaningful facts. It’s like the wild West, on smartphones and tablets instead of horses and stagecoaches.

You know, I feel like I’m just getting started on this topic, but I’m running long, and I have a bunch of deadlines breathing down my neck (including issue 2 of IN MAPS & LEGENDS, coming out in less than two weeks!). So I’ll talk more about the benefits (and drawbacks) of going digital, and what I think’s gonna happen to paper comics (short answer — they’re not going away any time soon, just like paper books aren’t going to die out either).

So — if you’ve got any questions or stuff you’d like me to try to address in my usual roundabout way, leave a comment or shoot me an email! This digital party’s just getting started!

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9 thoughts on “Are Webcomics Evolving Toward Digital Comics?

  1. I think we might get there eventually, but I think that’s dependent on having devices that are better suited to comics. Either that, or the format of the comic page needs to change.

    For instance, I read the sample of In Maps and Legends on my 13″ Mac. Basically, I had to either read it at full screen, and lose the quality of the artwork, or zoom and then scroll around the page looking at different parts of the page. That’s fine for one page, or even for 8 pages, but 20 or 30 pages? I think I’d get fed up soon. We comics work fine simple *because* they so much shorter and there’s only a page or so at a time.

    Maybe digital comics simply need fewer panels per page, but I could see that would reduce the flexibility of the format. Maybe things work better on the iPad.

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    1. Hey Patrick — thanks so much for commenting. You make a great point, and that’s the assumption that everyone is working with a widescreen monitor, and/or everyone has a gadget to read digital comics on. I sometimes forget that, tech snob that I am. 🙂
      One very cool thing about some of the comics distributors out there is that they offer different reading formats. All sites offer full-screen mode, but Comixology, Graphic.ly, and Robot Comics have additional formats that allow you to read a comic panel by panel, zoomed in, with almost movie-like effects.
      These modes were made for small screens like that of a Droid phone or an iPad, but they also work for your computer screen. It’s a nice new way to read a comic.
      I’ll do a comparison in the next week or two of the different reading formats available — you make some great points. Thanks! I know I hate scrolling too.
      Also, thanks for checking out the preview!

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  2. Interesting thoughts, Michael.

    I do wonder though, if your hunch that “webcomics may not survive the wave of digital comics that’s coming” is more wishful thinking than anything else. From a readers perspective, the webcomics model is hardly broken. And I don’t see the end of people wanting to read entertaining free content on the web any time soon (be it comics, blogs, news, videos, etc.)

    So, for the strong webcomics that put out a quality product and build a large readership who will support the site by buying print collections (or digital collections) of their work, and other merchandise, that business model will likely remain viable.

    I’m of the opinion that the fact that I put out so much content for free via a webcomic model allows me to sell far more in print than I would have had I not been building a webcomic readership. We’ll see if that remains true for digital sales as well.

    I do like how you’re looking at many different platforms for the release of your comic. I think your site is very attractive and the many options a reader has to read your comics is clear. Still, I’m wondering whether there aren’t aspects of the Webcomics model you couldn’t still be employing on your site. For example, why do I have to leave the “In Maps and Legends” site to read “In Maps and Legends”?

    For the next year, I’m going with a “have it your way” approach with my books.
    – Want to read it for free online as a regularly updating webcomic? You can.
    – Want it in print? You can buy it.
    – Want it for your iPhone, iPad, Android, etc? It’ll be on a few digital distributor’s sites.
    – Want it on your Kindle or Nook? It’ll be there too.

    As I said, this is the Wild West, so who knows how things will shake out. I guess I’m hedging my bets by spreading my chips all across the table.

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    1. Hi Tyler — thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I really like the “have it your way” approach you’re taking. Getting content into all those formats can be tricky, expensive, and/or time-consuming, though. (This is coming from someone who spent the past day organizing issue 2 for almost a dozen different distributors, each who require a different version of the comic and all the meta-data that goes with it…)
      I’ve had other people tell me that webcomics are going to continue just fine, thanks, and that’s an angle I hadn’t thought about enough — people who do the comics for the love of it won’t stop doing it. I guess I was thinking more of those of us who want to make some money off of it as well… Thinking long-range here, really.
      As for why we don’t have any pages of MAPS at the MAPS website, well, we’re trying to get folks to buy it. Niki and I both feel that people won’t buy it if they can read it for free elsewhere. That’s our approach, and we’ll see how it all plays out. We could be completely wrong.
      As you said, anything goes right now. It’s just fun being part of all this chaotic change!

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      1. I’m feeling you on the formatting thing. Spent about 4 hours last night getting a book ready for Graphic.ly. (Of course, part of that was my own sloppy file management from earlier.)

        But, compared to the time it takes to actually create the comics, a little extra reformatting time, done once, really is a drop in the bucket. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.)

        Hope you’ll keep us updated on how things go for you!

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      2. I’ll definitely keep people posted on the process — I’ve been so close to it for the past 3 months that I didn’t really realize all the cool stuff going on with our comic and the industry itself. High speed change.

        Thanks for dropping by, Tyler! Good luck with your comics — let me know when they’re up on Graphic.ly.

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