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Eric: From consolidation to diversification.

So I'm reading today'sPenny and Aggie, and I see that T. Campbell and Gisele Lagace are moving from Modern Tales to Comics Sherpa, in a full on bid for traditional newspaper syndication. That's on top of John "It's not a week if Eric doesn't mention him on Websnark" Troutman and Meaghan Quinn moving off the Manleysites to Keenspot.

Is this a Bad Sign for Joey Manley? Nah. There's probably plenty of other strips queued up for his sites. And, as Campbell said in the letter he sent about this, there's a real "comic book aesthetic" to a lot of Modern Tales/Graphic Smash/etc. (Though to be honest, Narbonic's on there and very successful, so it's not 100% that way). Besides, people move around, looking for the best model and venue for their strip. But Campbell and Lagace really pushing for full out syndication surprises me. I mean... you don't hear about people pushing for the syndicates any more. Not in the webcomics world. The only other strip that's really pushing in that direction is Todd and Penguin, and that was on Comics Sherpa (which is run by uComics, which is run by uClick, which is run by Andrews McMeel Universal, which also runs the Universal Press Syndicate, which syndicates little known newspaper strips like Doonesbury and For Better or For Worse and Gar-fucking-field.

These days... there's a real feeling on the web that syndication isn't needed, that it isn't even desirable -- that if you syndicate, you lose control over your creation and your licensing and you undergo restrictive editorial oversight. It's almost odd to see a couple of webcartoonists saying "hey, I want to be in the newspapers. I want to get paid for this -- paid by someone else, someone who isn't me doing all the grunt work -- and get the exposure of hundreds of newspapers printing my work."

I'm down with that, and I wish them luck. I wish they'd had a deeper archive to start shopping to syndicates, but the premise is one that could work, and Campbell certainly has the writing chops and Lagace's art is both beautiful and strong enough in linework for crappy LPI printing onto newsprint (this is important -- not one webcomic out of ten would look good in the lowest common denominator printing of most newspaper presses. Lagace's art could work without major trouble.)

So I wish them luck, but I wonder if we're beginning to see a trend. A trend away from the online syndicates like Keen or Modern Tales and towards loose affiliations (like Dumbrella) or going it alone (like Real Life Comics after they left Keen) or even... dare I say it... the traditional newspaper syndicates.

The next few years are going to be very interesting.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at November 29, 2004 10:07 PM

Comments

Comment from: TODCRA Productions posted at November 30, 2004 12:08 AM

I think for me, on the subscriber end, it gets to be a little frustrating because it doesn't seem that a lot of the cartoonists take the sites seriously enough (I think this might be a vicious cycle, though; they don't take it seriously, turning off subscribers, and the declining rates of subscriptions validate the cartoonists in not taking it seriously, since, you know, people seem to be losing interest). I just cancelled my subscription to Serializer (though, I do still have a year left, so there's always the possibility that I'll resubscribe), just because most of the strips I subscribed for, except for K. Thor Jensen's "Red Eye, Black Eye" (so that'd be the Achewood Sunday Comics, the one by Kochalka and Devlin, Smell of Steve, Magic Whistle, Pup, Mjau Mjau) all basically stopped updating (or updating very sparingly, like, once every few months), and I got to the point where outside of Fridays to get REBE, I never check Seralizer anymore, because it's not worth it. And since I don't like/don't care about/don't want to make the investment of wading through archives on stuff that didn't seem to really grab me with the othe comics, it's just not really interesting to me. So, I cancelled.

I am subscribed (still and forever more) to American Elf though; this is actually what made me want to give Serializer a shot (that, and when I did, everyone was still updating), since, well, Kochalka's brilliant, and also some kind of machine. So, I gave it a shot. I also wanted to help out and show my appreciation monetarily (though I also buy merch from these artists), though I'm not sure exactly how much of my money went to Onstad or Jensen; although the impression I get is "Not very much", since IIRC, Onstad's mentioned in an interview or something that Serializer wasn't worth it, and that was why he sort of let it wither.

Granted, some of the Serializer Achewoods are the best, but he also puts those in the books (which I compulsively buy), so I'm not really missing out or anything. It's just a little frustrating, you know? And since K. Thor's going to publish a book of REBE, it's not like I feel that I need to keep paying for the archives, since I'll just pick up the book as soon as it comes out.

I do think it's a good idea for them to serialize Jeffrey Brown's "Unlikely", although, I've got that in GN form, so that's not really a draw for me. But it would be if, say, I didn't know about his work (although, with my so-infrequent-checking-schedule, would I even see it to check out? And if I did, would I just go "Oh, it's YA series I don't give a damn about" and not check it out?).

That, and, also, I'm not afraid of scrolling to the right, I just fucking _hate_ it. I swear, the Serializer layout is one of the worst I've ever seen. But, then again, I'm not reaaallly a fan of the Infinite Canvas Ideal either (unless something really interesting is done, but a lot of times, it seems that those who partake of the Infinite Canvas are doing so just because It's The Internet, And That's What You Should Do Apparently, and I really don't like that sort of thing; everything should have a _reason_ -- does it advance the story/say something about it? If not, then don't do it. If it does, hey, knock yerself out. But that's just me, and I'm kind of a crank.). So, yeah. I don't know. I wonder if some of the Modern Tales/etc. cartoonists are feeling the same way I am on the other side of things.

(BTW, I did mention most of this to Joey Manley when I unsubscribed, and the reply I got was of the sort that sort of implied that he realized the problems, and was working on fixing them; this is what's making me glad that I have ~1 year left on my sub, so I _do_ have the option of re-subscribing, but yeah.)

So, anyway, though, yeah. I don't necessarily mind paying for internet content, but if I'm paying for a sub, I'd prefer more consistency in updating; although this is a weird blip on the "donations/no control" versus "subscription to an individual comic/more control" thing; I'm not subscribing to, say, Achewood Sundays, I'm subscribing to a service that happens to include Achewood Sundays. In the former, I think that if Onstad just said "Eh, screw this, this is boring", I'd be right to say "Hey, I'm paying for this! I don't care what it is, just throw up some sketchbook junk if you want, but give me my content! Or my money back!", where if I had just donated (which, well, I have), I couldn't say Jack (as you've mentioned before. But with this -- I can't say "Hey, Onstad! I paid for this, update!" because I didn't pay for _that_. I paid for this weird nebulous thing that happens to include that, but if the reason I did it happens to go away, there's nothing I can do, really. I mean, I can unsubscribe, sure, but that's not going to really have any effect on Onstad. And, that's the one thing that I think doesn't quite work with MT/Serializer/Etc -- if it's not worth it for the _cartoonist_ (i.e. if the Onstad thing about not being worth it is true), then the rest of the service suffers and the thing collapses. It doesn't matter how much talent they get (which they have a lot of, I mean, for reals; look at the list of reasons I subscribed -- that's actually quite a bit of strips), if they can't _keep_ the talent, it doesn't work. And the sad thing is, too, if I cancel my subscription, it might send a message to, say, Manley (I'm just using him as "guy who runs everything" -- Manley actually seems like a really cool guy, and I have absolutely no beef with him or anything), but even if he fixes those problems, is Onstad really that likely to go back, or is he more likely to go "Well, hey, you said it'd be worth it before. No thanks."

(And, to be fair -- I can't put all the blame on the business side. There's a very good chance that some/all of the abandoned strips weren't done because of a "not worth it v. worth it" equation, but just because of inspiration drying up; losing interest; the story turning out to not work (serialized stories _are_ hard); tough times in RL or just not really wanting to do it anymore. So, yeah. And, in this case, it's Manley who's punished for people hanging him out to dry, which _sucks_. Seriously. (Although, I don't get why, say, Smell of Steve seems to update so erratically, or Magic Whistle/Mjau Mjau not at all, since those are archive comics, and the cartoonists _are_ doing them, since they actually run in alternative weeklies every week or every month or whatever. There must be something more to it than, say, Henderson being too lazy to email Manley a scan of his latest page, right? Because if that's it? That's just really unconciably lame, since it's screwing someone over just because you can't be arsed. That _sucks_.))

Uh, this is way, way longer than I intended, so I'll shut up now. (But REBE is still updating! So, people who are subscribed? You guys should _totally_ check that out. That strip is great.)

Comment from: djcoffman posted at November 30, 2004 12:48 AM

Been there done that.... moving towards the papers is the wrong way, unless you consider something like Keenspot is doing. Use it as a supplimental source to see your work and fulfill a need. Newspapers are going down FAST. Faster than I thought. I really wish more people would put more effort and personality into their own works, rather than chase the dollar or mighty sponsor or contract.

I'd love to move to Keenspot. They have the right idea and, it seems like a LONG TERM plan of some sort. Im down with that.

Comment from: T Campbell posted at November 30, 2004 11:21 PM

Been there, done that! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Most of my thoughts on this subject will be on the Penny & Aggie forums (which, by the way, will continue to exist after the move). But in brief, newspapers are not going down so fast that the Web "market" of banner ads is outperforming them quite YET.

As for Keensyndicate, I have serious, serious doubts, but they're better addressed elsewhere.

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