When established creators talk about changes in the industry decentralising audiences and reducing the scope and scale of ‘success’, how does that affect your sense of ambition?
Do you think the major stardom of certain past cartoonists is out of reach for our generation, and that we have to look for multiple successes with niche audiences to establish ourselves as recognisable creators? Or do you think older commentaters are simply wrong, and work with the hope or intention of creating a lasting legacy in our new media environment?
I am constitutionally incapable of doing anything that is not reaching for the masochism stars. I wouldn’t be sinking my time into this tedious, nerve-wracking shit if I didn’t think I could go somewhere, do something with what I produce. The digital platform only “reduces the scope and scale of success” for those few who would theoretically have found their way into the mainstream - print comics at the big two, or Sunday syndication. The vast majority of us are not those people. We are not doing that type of work, and without the digital platform, many of us may not have even known that what we want to do, is possible. The decentralization of audiences certainly hasn’t limited our success, as we would not exist outside that phenomenon. Besides, one can easily argue that the “niche success” we find out here, is the proof of concept we use to leverage ourselves into the mainstream. I’m far more ambitious than I would be, if I thought the best I could do was a monthly 24-page glossy with a colorist and letterer.
Yeah, maybe the fact that I exist means people who absolutely HAVE to read a comic, aren’t cornered into reading about Wolverine if they don’t feel like it. Maybe the proliferation of options makes some house artist/writer just that much less successful. I don’t begrudge that guy. I can see how it might be unnerving to see people turn their attention to disparate formats. But? I’d never advocate returning to an apparent creative monopoly in comics, much as it might benefit that guy in the short term. The medium would lose a lot of creative diversity. Through that lost diversity, new readers are lost. In a roundabout way, doesn’t a monolith limit that house creator? Aren’t I preaching to the choir?
Yeah, my childhood exposure to comics was a lot of underground independent, xeroxed in somebody’s basement type of thing. I think of the “decentralized audiences”of webcomics as the new forum for underground comics. Where before you had to hustle your ass sneaking issues into airplane seats and waiting rooms and the like with those little tear-out mail-in subscription cards stuffed inside to expand your readership beyond your immediate local neighbourhood, now you can sow the seeds of a comic online and reach a worldwide audience instantaneously.
Like, yeah, you might not be the next Jim Davis with your own Paws Inc churning out merchandise with your characters’ faces for the masses, but most people who make webcomics don’t WANT to make Garfield so much as they want to make a new generation’s versions of, say, Bone or Usagi, and I think that the success popular webcomics see absolutely compares to the underground creator-owned scene of days gone by. Most people making webcomics don’t want to play by the lowest common denominator rules that newspaper comics have to or the micromanaged shared-sandbox at Marvel and DC. The creator-owned scene is and always has been a very different beast and if anything I feel like the new means of distribution and consumption make that particular environment easier to navigate.
There are over 7 billion people in the world, and more of them get access to the web every day (and as long as they can order, they can get print comics too).
We’re not competing for a limited audience. We’re inviting a growing number of people to our vast variety of comics parties. There may or may not be a “big two” structure to the future, but that doesn’t mean we can’t build our own lasting legacies. You don’t have to enter the U.S. print mainstream to have your work passed down from one generation to the next. Just inspire enough people, and they’ll want to give your work to others as a gift. That’s humbling. Your work will stay alive as long as it can be shared and loved. Maybe those people will check out the next comic they stumble on, too, and the comics industry will continue to grow as a whole. (I firmly believe the overall comics industry is growing, not shrinking.)
My own comic isn’t even possible in print, being animated. So I’m technically limited to.. what? A worldwide audience? My problem isn’t how to become an official star. My problem is how to connect to the dispersed people who could love my comic, if only they knew it existed. That number could potentially be quite high—there are a lot of people out there, after all. Even if only one in a million people like my comic, that’s still way more than enough to make me happy.
I just have to find them, and help them find me.