I’ve been writing a comics column for years, and it is almost always about print comics. This is akin to a dinosaur, still writing a food column about methane rich ferns and the subtle flavor of stegosaurus versus triceratops meats in the waning years after the meteor has struck.
The future of American comics belongs to the internet, and we print lovers better evolve into a bird or die as museum pieces. I found the beginning of my education: http://webcomicoverlook.com/ , a site dedicated to the amazing variety and innovation of webcomics currently available. Amongst all the talent and nifty reviews was their 2012 voting poll for best webcomic. Of a list of ten, I had heard of four of the entries, and largely I had heard of them because they had print editions.
Everybody should own the Kate Beaton collection. Now, maybe like me you know who she is, but do you know who Ursula Vernon is? Well, she won the Hugo Award in 2012 for Best Graphic Story. That isn’t a webcomics exclusive category. Past winners include Marvel and DC, specifically Y the Last Man and Captain Britain and the MI13, but it has multiple web winners such as Phil and Kaja Folgio’s Girl Genius and Howard Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary. Like me, you may have heard of one of those books, as it has print editions. Do you know who Erika Moen is? Do you know who Zac Gorman is? Web comic fans in the know do, you best believe. Can I use Niche as a verb? Let’s say I can.
Here’s a secret that taste-makers niche in: distilling down the infinite to workable choices can be lucrative and rewarding. Sticking with the dinosaur analogy, we now have a near infinite variety of life forms scurrying around trying to evolve into the next big thing. The stumbling block to enjoying webcomics is their format. I am of a generation that will always prefer a book in his hand as opposed to reading a computer screen. I will spend money collection trades and issues, things I can hold, stack and stock-pile. This same money could be spent buying a reading device, ipad, kindle, nook or what have you, or even a decent laptop. I can then download, browse and sample webcomics for nominal donations, and often free…but I don’t. I don’t support the format because I struggle with its legitimacy. Webcomics aren’t real to me because they aren’t a book, a published physical thing I can hold. This is similar to people’s problem with early TV compared to film. The generations coming up have no such hangups. We are faced with two questions: ARE webcomics reaching more audiences than print? Are we missing out on the next Spider-Man, Watchmen or Batman by not being more webcomic literate? The answer to the first question is “No.” Currently print is still bigger than the web, but time is catching up. The answer to the second question is also “No,” and for a simple reason. The web has a bigger variety, with weirder stories and wider themes.
Spidey, Rorschach and Bruce Wayne will remain print comics, because the folks who want to read about them are OUR generation. The big hits online are going to be things we haven’t even thought of yet.