HITTING THE MARK
As a life-long fan of comic strips in newspapers and magazines, not to mention the Sunday funnies, I read with interest this piece on how comics are faring in the digital world, especially with the onset of mobile distribution*. As the New York Times explains,
In November, United Feature Syndicate, which distributes 50 comics, including “Peanuts,” “Dilbert” and “Get Fuzzy,” made its full archives and portfolio available free on its Comics.com Web site. The company also added social networking features for tagging and rating comics. Visitors can have comics sent to them via e-mail or RSS feed.
Cartoonists are not waiting for the syndicates to develop new business models. They are posting to free sites like Comic Genesis and Webcomics Nation. Some Web comics, like “The Argyle Sweater” by Scott Hilburn, have been picked up for syndication, but that is unusual. Even more rarely, a Web comic might attract a large following at a stand-alone site; such is the case with “Penny Arcade,” a video gaming strip.
There is a fair bit of entrepreneurial effort online with cartoons over the past few years. One of my staples is the Cartoonbank, which has an interesting history, as this New York Times interview with it's founder from last year explains:
The paradox of online of course is that it shifts the model from too little to too much. There's only so many cartoons one needs to digest in a newspaper or a magazine (unless of course it's the Sunday funnies, in which case it'll take a while). Online, the problem quickly becomes one of abundance and how to cope with it all and find the stuff that's really funny for you. Again, the first piece above explains:
"...But Brian Walker, a member of the creative team behind the comics “Beetle Bailey” and “Hi and Lois” — both syndicated by King Features and created by Mr. Walker’s father, Mort Walker — warns that too much exposure “can take away from the strip itself.” If a comic’s characters are everywhere, he asks, why bother reading the newspaper strip?
And Mr. Walker, who is also a comics historian, believes that comics are best appreciated on paper. He likens reading a comic on a screen to watching a movie on an iPod: the general idea comes through, but some of the essential artistry is lost.
It's a brave new world, and like most things online these days, it's a blessing and a curse for both publishers and consumers.