Anyone reading this column likely has a similar understanding of webcomics. I think of them as comics done for the web by enthusiasts, both amateur and professional. To me, a webcomic is what you see if you go to Piperka or Belfry and click randomly for a while. (There are plenty of other sources that achieve the same effect.)
Lately, I have spent time talking to people who come to webcomics in a different way than we did, and I've discovered how straining it can be to have successful interactions with them, regardless of how much you like them personally.
Some people come to webcomics from newspaper comics. Some come from another medium, like painting. Some come from animation.
Zuda created its own spin on webcomics, and the owners of that site are probably as surprised by the outcome as everyone else. The work is too diverse to sum up, but it disproportionately speaks of being the offspring of web married to print. The kind of webcomic that wins an Eisner.
The downloading comics on phones movement is sure to bring new approaches and interpretations, especially since it has its own formatting requirements. That's going to bring a new vision of what a webcomic is, and we may see a linguistics war with digital comics fighting webcomics.
To me, webcomics are like the punk explosion of 1976: music was getting stale, no one could get their tapes heard or signed, dominant names were decadent and indifferent. Cartoonists turned to the web because every other way was increasingly horrible, and though many found life in zines, they ate more paper than text, and more postage.
I'm not impressed by spin talking about early webcomics as pioneering. If they were specifically designed for the web, I can see a claim, but what I've seen is stuff that resorted to the web, despite the technical barriers. Today the web is an attractive option not because of a forgotten title from 1998, but because the same elements needed for commerce also make it easy to do a comic.
In the months to come, big sites by big outfits are going to appear. They are going to be talking "webcomic, webcomic" and describing various visions. Some will bring archives of fifty year old material. What we have now -- a very dynamic, evolving status quo -- could be muffled by the relative size of these new colleagues.
You can't work with someone when your understanding of the fundamentals is different.
I'm trying to get ahead of the curve, before big events transpire that become all the news in blogs and forums. I hope to get you thinking about what you stand for, and who you'll embrace, before the arrival of someone with lots of promises sweeps half the cartoonists off their feet and guts out our various institutions.
We are growing, we are loaded with original visions and talent, we are learning how to be profitable and we are absolutely unprepared for a usurper.
Remember: I am older than the majority of webcartoonists. I've run a lot of enterprises, and I've seen what happens to me or to my vendors and suppliers and customers when a big presence moves into the area. I've lost a third of my accounts in a month from such events. I learned to be resilient, and prepared, and I'd say that in our current state, we could be redefined out of existence within two years.
Don't say you weren't warned.