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Eric: Wow. I get to trash the New York Times. And I'm not even a conservative.

So, the New York Times has a piece on webcomics. And the best thing we can say about the article is nowhere in it were the words "Pow, Zap, Sock! Comics Go Onto The Web!" Don't laugh -- the last serious, in depth piece on webcomics I saw in a mainstream newspaper (well, on the mainstream newspaper's site) was on USA Today, and it ended -- coverage of the Small Press Expo, if I remember correctly -- with an interactive question. "WHAT SUPERHERO WOULD YOU BE! Write us at...."

However, Sarah Boxer's article is pretty poor, all told. Not because her conclusion is necessarily wrong or her thesis is bad. No, it comes down to this: Boxer's research would barely qualify for a Freshman Comp essay, much less a piece of journalism in a newspaper of record. She seems to have drawn her information off of several Comics Journal articles, read Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics, and looked at the Web Cartoonists Choice Awards.

Well, at least she dipped her toe into webcomics before declaring it a failed experiment.

Her conclusions are threefold -- one, that infinite canvas doesn't seem to be a revolution. (Which is no big shock.) Two, that the better Flash gets, the more the resulting Flash Comics resemble animation instead of comic art. (Also true.) And three, there's no good way to make money on the web -- why, people are actually selling subscriptions.

Yeah.

And she quotes Gary Groth a lot. Which is like trying to talk seriously about Evolution versus Intelligent Design, and quoting a lot of William Dembski in the process.

Not that I really expect she spoke to Gary Groth (though she quotes him as though she had). The Fantagraphics blog points to a series of articles on the Comics Journal website where Groth and McCloud sparred on the state of Webcomics. (Articles, I would add, from some years ago.) I don't know if she solicited Groth for quotes or not. From the tone of the article, it's clear she didn't solicit McCloud. Or go in depth into what Webcomics are, what's been successful artistically, what's been successful financially, and why.

She argues she couldn't read Narbonic -- whose name she clearly got from the WCCA -- because it's behind a subscription wall. That's potentially a good argument when comparing Narbonic's merits to, say, Nukees, since Nukees is free-supported-by-advertising. But her implicit comparison is to print, not other webcomics models... and when's the last time you got an issue of Eightball for free? When's the last time you picked up any Fantagraphics book for free? Hell, when's the last time you could pay three dollars and get the last six issues of Eightball for free?

(You could arguably go to a library and possibly -- possibly -- read Eightball for free. You can also go to the Modern Tales site and read several Narbonic storylines for free. And you can also purchase two volumes of Narbonic in print. Maybe not at your local Barnes and Noble -- but I check the graphic novel section of B&N every time I go in, and there's not a lot of Eightball back issues there either.)

The effect is an article on webcomics written by someone who hasn't actually read the comics in question. (She mentions only one webcomic unreservedly positively -- Count Your Sheep. Which she could read for free. Nice to know the Times won't spring for a three dollar one month subscription for her expense account. And also nice to know that she didn't bother to check around for... oh, I don't know... Webcomics resources to use in research.)

Of course, in talking about making money -- and the failures of webcomics to fulfill that promise -- she manages to not talk about PvP, Penny Arcade, Sluggy Freelance, User Friendly, Ctrl-Alt-Del, Something Positive, or much of anything else. In other words, she doesn't know the first thing about the debate of commercial success in webcomics, much less the topic. She doesn't know the Keenspot model versus Modern Tales versus Blank Label versus independent sites. She doesn't know the argument of advertising support versus merchandising support versus subscription versus micropayments. And it's not like it's hard to find evidence of those debates. Just going to Scott McCloud's website would do that.

Finally, she misses a key, crucial point about the artistic side of webcomics. A point vastly more significant than infinite canvas, or Flash. A point which, believe it or not, directly touches on Gary Groth's opinions of us.

Webcomics frees us from Gary Groth. Just like they free us from DC, Marvel, Image and all the rest.

I know -- we're not supposed to lump Gary Groth in with the establishment. However, for decades Fantagraphics has been the eight hundred pound gorilla in the Independent Comics Scene, and Gary Groth in particular has been the arbiter of what is "truly worthy indy" versus the unwashed and unworthy. And, as with all such things, once you become institutionalized you stop really being indy. Groth and Fantagraphics have done tremendous things for the art of cartooning -- anyone who denies that is flat out wrong. Fantagraphics brought us Los Bros. Hernadez. They keep Crumb in print. They keep Dan Clowes in print. And they bring back the treasuries of truly great comic strips of the past. I owe Groth several drinks for The Complete Peanuts alone.

But... I don't read a lot of the Fantagraphics comics line. I don't like a significant portion of the Fantagraphics comics line. I respect those comics, but that's very, very different from liking them.

And sure, I like some of them. I groove on Love and Rockets. I sometimes go through cravings for R. Crumb. I get a hoot out of Angry Youth Comics. But they're not my bread and butter.

And when my only serious source of independent comics was Gary Groth's company, I spent a lot more money on men and women in spandex punching things. Because they didn't hold me.

But these days? I read very little in spandex, and a ton of independent comics. Independent comics that are funny, and poignant, and rich, and deep. Gag-a-day four panel strips and graphic novels one page at a time. And Gary Groth doesn't get to decide what's good and what sucks about them, any more than DC or Marvel do. I get to decide, and those comic creators get to create.

Does that mean there's reams of crap out there? Sure. Of course it does. That's the price of doing business without a significant entry barrier. But it also means there's glorious work out there. Do you think Fantagraphics would have printed Narbonic? Or Yirmumah? or Something Positive? Do you think Scott Kurtz would have an Image book today without the web?

Do you see a Fantagraphics logo on Same Difference and Other Stories? Because I sure don't. And if you don't realize that Derek Kirk Kim's on the threshold of being what Dan Clowes was for the '80s and '90s, you're not paying attention. And where did he come from, get his audience, build his reputation and then break out into print all over the place?

Oh yeah, right here on the web.

Which is also where I discovered James Kolchalka. Who also isn't published by Fantagraphics, I would add. (I wonder if Top Shelf Comix has taken the print indy crown away from Fantagraphics in general, these days. But that's another essay.)

Thousands of people read a comic strip I write, three times a week. Thousands of people. Do you think Gary Groth would publish Gossamer Commons? It's so not his kind of thing it's funny. No one probably would, right now. But we'll have a good shot at a book publication the way things are going now.

Tens of thousands of people are reading this essay. Tens of thousands. Do you think, a year ago (specifically, a year ago this Saturday) Gary Groth would give me a Comics Journal column? Do you think he'd give me one today?

Of course not. And why should he? Why should he publish my comic strip? Why should he publish any of the stuff I mentioned? He clearly doesn't like it.

But I do. And a lot of you do too. And we get to read it.

And that's a Hell of a lot more impressive than animation or canvas size.

It'd be nice if Sarah Boxer had figured that out.

C-, Miss Boxer. Coherently written, but poorly researched. Next time, know your topic before filing.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 17, 2005 8:06 AM

Comments

Comment from: MattMilby posted at August 17, 2005 9:42 AM

She seemed to keep mentioning the inconveniences of reading comics on a computer screen. Personally, I have a modest fifteen inch monitor that's considerably larger than any comic book I've ever bought.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 17, 2005 9:58 AM

I didn't even factor that in. I mean, it's like the classic argument of "I don't like to read books on the screen. I like the tactile heft of an actual book." It's not that the argument is wrong. It's that it's wholly irrelevant. It's a question, in the end, of preference. That's not an indictment of method, when there's clearly a large body of people who do like reading words or comics on a screen.

Comment from: P A Venables posted at August 17, 2005 10:03 AM

Well said. As you read the article you can tell it was the product of no more than one evening's worth of web research -- and sketchy research at that.

As a college freshman paper I'd give it a D-.

Comment from: Stan posted at August 17, 2005 10:18 AM

It's ironic that her main complaint seems to be that some things required a subscription and that she was too lazy to get one. No news medium would ever require a subscription for full access. How can she even attempt to review something without looking at all of it. The infinite canvas beauty of Pup requires reading the heat death of the universe.

It's sad what passes for journalism. To use a phrase like "something called Modern Tales" without describing what Modern Tales is smacks of someone concerned about hitting a word count so she can get back slacking off.

Comment from: Tom Spurgeon posted at August 17, 2005 10:28 AM

Eric, I liked the essay. I do think Gary's more of a ingrained skeptic when it comes to McCloud's rhetoric than an active hater of webcomics. He did publish Hotel Fred, and is publishing R. Kikuo Johnson this fall. Kikuo is someone whose stuff I think is only available on-line right now.

I think I get the general point about the Web as an unfettered publishing platform, although in some ways, that kind of thinking may put you into conflict with some people who think webcomics have special virtue because they're webcomics.

I wrote about Sarah Boxer's column here:

http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/sarah_boxer_on_webcomics_in_nyt/

and agree with some of what you said, specifically the bizarre part about the subscriptions.

Also, just sayin', I don't see any specific reason why they wouldn't consider affording you space in the Journal if you pursued getting a Journal column (there's no reason you would -- it would mean fewer readers!). Bart Beaty who does their European comics column had only been posting to lists before he was given his platform.

Comment from: Grumblin posted at August 17, 2005 10:33 AM

Well, having read the article, I can't say I'm surprised at her conclusions. It fits her aim : writing her personal "intellectual" opinion in as derisive a manner as possible.

Madam Boxer, judging by her words, has an opinion about the web in general. I suspect the assignment of writing this piece was as pleasurable to her as having a root canal without sedation, and left her with a sudden need to shower.

At least there we share a common sentiment. Reading that piece left me with a desire to thorougly wipe my screen. *shudder*

Comment from: Egarwaen posted at August 17, 2005 10:51 AM

Stan wrote: It's sad what passes for journalism. To use a phrase like "something called Modern Tales" without describing what Modern Tales is smacks of someone concerned about hitting a word count so she can get back slacking off.

Not quite. That's a pretty standard phrase. It's generally used to pass off and justify ignorance of technological matters as the irrelevance of those matters. By using "something called", she implies that not only does she not know, but that it doesn't matter. It's a symptom of wilful ignorance and off-the-cuff dismissal of anything new, something this reporter apparently possesses in abundance.

Comment from: Tom Spurgeon posted at August 17, 2005 10:56 AM

I like Eric's essay, I mean.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at August 17, 2005 11:12 AM

In the comments on the Comixpedia article on the New York Times article T. Campbell takes a different view of it, and he has a few good points.

Comment from: joeymanley posted at August 17, 2005 11:27 AM

For the record, Sarah Boxer asked for, and received, free press passes to all the Modern Tales sites while she was writing this article. And then proceeded to treat the subscription wall as an impenetrable barrier anyway. Which is fine. "... as long as they included the URL" is the new version of "... as long as they spelled my name right" when it comes to the old saw about good and bad publicity. And, for the most part, she did include the URL's.

Joey

www.moderntales.com

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 17, 2005 11:28 AM

Tom -- I suppose it's possible they'd let me write something for TCJ. Certainly, they wouldn't let me write anything a year ago. And I'll admit I have something of a blind spot when it comes to how I'm seen outside of... well, myself.

My point remains unchanged, though: with the web, there is no editorial barrier. Now, editors are a good thing -- but there is definitely something to be said for being able to make your site, speak your mind, and attract an audience without having to go through it.

I also didn't mean to demonize Gary Groth per se, I should mention. My point is less that Groth would keep us po' people down, and more that any publisher or editor is going to reflect his or her own editorial and artistic vision. Any of them. The marketplace will drive some of that, and the specific publisher's vision will drive other bits (anyone who thinks Groth is purely market driven doesn't keep up with Groth).

However, with webcomics, we're not beholden to him. Or DC. Or Top Shelf, for that matter. We can take it to the Intarwebs and see who comes by.

Comment from: Nate posted at August 17, 2005 11:39 AM

I wrote this post about the thing that bugs me about the "couldn't read it because it's subscription". Besides the fact that she didn't find the samples (which may just mean they should be more prominently linked, but that I leave to the cartoonists), I'm willing to bet if she'd contacted Joey Manley, or T Campbell, or any of the artists involved and said "I'm writing an article for the New York Times on webcomics. I need access to the archives of Narbonic (or Digger, or whatever), is there any way I could get press access?" they'd have been glad to set her up. Or she could just have bought one month subscriptions to the appropriate comics, and asked her editor for like ten bucks for research expenses.

And now I go and read the Comixpedia thread, and see Joey Manley saying this:

"For the record, Sarah Boxer asked for, and received, free subscriptions to all the MT sites while writing this article. Complaining about having to subscribe to read some of the comics is certainly fair game, though: it *is* an inconvenience to the reader. Just like, you know, paying for the Times is an inconvenience."

So nevermind, I suppose.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at August 17, 2005 11:58 AM

Of course, Boxer's complaint about things "not fitting" make me want to know her browsing circumstances, and whether she was encountering horizontal scroll or just upset that not everything was above the fold at once. I suspect we're hearing poorly phrased usability complaints, not equivalents to "I prefer the heft of paper."

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at August 17, 2005 12:08 PM

Man, P A Venables' comment is a slap in the face to me. I operate on one day's worth of research all the time, and I tell you that it can result in much better information gathering than went on in that article. Just because some people obviously can't gather information well in a short time frame doesn't mean that it's impossible.

In all seriousness, it reminds me of the reaction I got when I wrote about the genesis of video game journalism. One media blog, The Media Drop, discussed my article. The blog does sound a bit dismissive of complaints from specialists (like me with video games, or Eric with webcomics). But it led me to wonder (and this led me to wonder anew) - in their quest to learn how to write journalism, do journalists forget to learn about anything else? Maybe we find so many faults because, despite the aim to find the truth, journalists don't really know anything.

And they wonder why confidence in the media is plummeting.

Comment from: joeymanley posted at August 17, 2005 12:28 PM

Eric:

It seems to me that Dirk Deppey has more respect for webcomics -- and for bloggers, for that matter -- than previous TCJ editors may have had. The door is probably open much wider than you may think.

There was an abortive, pseudonymous attempt at a webcomics column shortly before Deppey took over. I think it only ran for one installment.

TCJ needs that column. TCJ needs you!

The audience is smaller than over here, though, as Tom mentioned -- and the pay is, um, comparable to what you receive for writing for Websnark. If you know what I mean.

Joey

www.moderntales.com

Comment from: Egarwaen posted at August 17, 2005 12:37 PM

W wrote: Of course, Boxer's complaint about things "not fitting" make me want to know her browsing circumstances, and whether she was encountering horizontal scroll or just upset that not everything was above the fold at once. I suspect we're hearing poorly phrased usability complaints, not equivalents to "I prefer the heft of paper."

Bets that she was browsing at some fantastically low resolution, or with a browser window that wasn't maximized?

Comment from: P A Venables posted at August 17, 2005 12:43 PM

32 Footsteps:

Although I get the fact you are speaking tongue-in-cheek, there's no question that writing an article with this kind of sweeping scope would require more research than, say, a singular topic in webcomics, like just McCloud's infinite canvas, or just Joey's subscription model, or just digital conversion of the medium.

Comment from: PatMan posted at August 17, 2005 12:50 PM

Oh no. A poorly researched New York Times article. Never seen one of those before. ;)

I like how she described Narbonic using the current story blurb. That's like telling someone that Superman is about "Clark Kent must now escape from Luthor's evil lair without using his powers".

Comment from: the_iron_troll posted at August 17, 2005 12:56 PM

I don't know if I ever had much confidence in the media, 32_footsteps :). Note to self, read Netjak more often.

I can live with someone in the media writing from a biased position. It's pretty difficult to avoid. But, can't journalists try to research topics properly before commenting on them? If I were someone old and foolish enough to rely on the NYTimes, I'd know as little about webcomics before reading this article as afterwards.

And I really don't see how webcomics which involve Flash, and hence border on animation (at least to the uninitiated in the ways of McLuhanism), are losing themselves. How exactly does this make webcomics inferior to their print brethren? I would have thought that it made them, well, superior.

And isn't the concept of FREE comics online rather startling? I mean, unless you head down to the public library and get lucky with their selections, comics usually cost something I like to call money. Or come in a newspaper (which may or may not cost YOU money, but are not free), and generally suck.

It's great that mainstream media is acknowledging the existence of webcomics, even if they are a decade or so late and 4 years out of date. But why do lazy, rather anti-computer-savvy people have to be the reviewers?

Comment from: Greg Dean posted at August 17, 2005 1:13 PM

Because - who else has a dream of working for the New York Times? :)

Comment from: Stan posted at August 17, 2005 1:24 PM

32_footsteps:"in their quest to learn how to write journalism, do journalists forget to learn about anything else? Maybe we find so many faults because, despite the aim to find the truth, journalists don't really know anything."

I think that's the case with most coverage of science in the popular press. In many articles, the author obviously doesn't understand what they're writing about. There are many exceptions though; when I could afford the Economist, they always had good science and tech coverage.

Comment from: Steven Withrow posted at August 17, 2005 1:42 PM

I was -- and am -- happy to see webcomics given mention in the Times.

However, I asked several of my co-workers -- none of whom are comics or webcomics readers -- to read the NYT story (opinion piece is more like it, since it's not truly a news or trend piece) and comment on it. And each one responded with a variation on the same theme: Why should I care what a "webcomic" isn't -- when I don't even know what a "webcomic" is?

The writer's setup of "Did McCloud's vision come to pass?" is a good one. But her follow-through is largely unintelligible unless you have a basis from which to draw comparisons or make judgments. The writer says webcomics are unsuccessful in various aspects without ever establishing a standard of success -- a basic measure of comparison. It's criticism without sufficient introduction of the source material.

One of my co-workers commented: "It would have helped me to understand the subject if she had defined the concept of webcomics -- or tied it to a greater range of new media types -- before offering her opinions. But the pictures made me want to check out the examples."

I would have no qualms with this piece if it stayed on the surface and just offered a bland survey -- but going so far as to critique the form and economic models signifies a greater depth of understanding on the writer's part than (A) the reader can easily follow and (B) the writer can support with her flimsy evidence.

Still, flawed discussion is better than no discussion at all.

Comment from: Tangent posted at August 17, 2005 2:02 PM

The answer is obvious, Eric. You need to write an article designed for publication in newspapers about what Web Comics are, and include a small selection of strips that are pretty decent and enjoyable. Include URLs, and explain just what web comics are, and why they are good. (Mention the archives, definitely. *grin*)

It would be interesting if this was done while mentioning some lesser-known strips. Instead of talking just about Sluggy Freelance or PvP or Penny Arcade for the entire comic, mention smaller strips that are still damn good, such as Count Your Sheep (which *was* mentioned in the NYT article), Misfile, Wapsi Square, Dominic Deegan, CRfH, and Girl Genius, along with one or two larger strips such as Narbonic and PvP.

Talk about the smaller comics that are up and coming. Talk about Comic Genesis and Webcomic Nation, or about Purrsia, or the other webcomic servers that exist out there.

More, mention just *why* web comics are so great, with the ability to tell stories and not worry about editorial censorship (ie, this strip can't play because it has a gay person in it and will offend our readership, or it's too complex and people won't understand it).

Then offer it to a couple of papers, like the Globe or USA Today. Heck, even talk about how comics are making money and people are making a living doing it (maybe not getting rich doing it, but still making a living).

I'd do it but I've no journalistic reputation. Seeing that you're published, you have a better shot of it.

Take care, Eric.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviewer

http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: William_G posted at August 17, 2005 2:28 PM

All of your bitching on the amount of research she may or may not have done (Do any of you actually know? No you don't) is entirely unimportant. She did nothing wrong except show us exactly how the general public deals with what we have to offer.

Let's see what she did: She looked up some "authorities" to see what they had to say about webcomics. She worked with her personal likes and dislikes, and she put in just as much effort as she felt webcomics was worth due to what she was finding.

Wow, just like any potential customer would!

So may I suggest that instead of tearing into her for not discovering webcomics they way we'd have liked, that we should instead be kicking ourselves in the ass for not presenting ourselves properly?

We want to be an industry, and we came across to an outsider like a Sunday flea-market.

Yay, us!

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at August 17, 2005 2:30 PM

Howard, you shouldn't just give up like that. Maybe you might not succeed, but you won't know unless you try. If such an article is in you, write it yourself. You can always self-publish it if nobody catches onto it.

And if people have less hope in media than I do, then we've discovered a new low water mark for lack of faith. I once had a writer from The New Republic try to start a flame war with me when I wrote a column criticizing what he wrote. It's difficult to keep a high opinion of media (which I am a member of, at this point) when you have them accusing you of libel for just disagreeing with them.

Also, in regards to research, it's mostly in knowing how to focus your research quickly. Seems like most reporters don't know how to do it. I could probably write a better piece than Ms. Boxer with about an hour's worth of research. But that's partly because I already know some about the subject matter. If I didn't, I think I could probably do it with three hours of research.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 17, 2005 2:48 PM

It would be interesting if this was done while mentioning some lesser-known strips. Instead of talking just about Sluggy Freelance or PvP or Penny Arcade for the entire comic, mention smaller strips that are still damn good, such as Count Your Sheep (which *was* mentioned in the NYT article), Misfile, Wapsi Square, Dominic Deegan, CRfH, and Girl Genius, along with one or two larger strips such as Narbonic and PvP.

Truth be told, if I were to pitch a mainstream press article, it would have the most archetypal examples I could lay my hands on, Robert. When I'm extolling the virtues of strips to people who read webcomics already, I go for the depth. When talking to people saying "Webwhuh? What are you talking about?" my response will be to hit the most visible and successful high points.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 17, 2005 2:51 PM

William -- a shoddily researched article is a shoddily researched article. To be perfectly blunt, I'd expect even cursory attempts to research webcomics to turn up more than an exchange of articles between Gary Groth and Scott McCloud from 2001, Scott McCloud's books, the WCCAs and the existence of Modern Tales.

There is no way on Earth for us to 'present ourselves' better than that. Like I said in my essay -- if this were English Comp, I'd dock points heavily. The reason for that? Because any Freshman in College is supposed to be able to research a topic better than she did.

Comment from: Shaenon posted at August 17, 2005 2:52 PM

I actually agree with the central thesis of the article: that the vast majority of webcomics fail to exploit the unique properties and opportunities of the Web, and that this is a Bad Thing. Where Boxer goes wrong, at least in my admittedly biased opinion, is in a) judging the webcomics she reads strictly on their relation to the Web format, so that the beauty and wit of "Copper" get flippantly dismissed because (horrors!) you have to scroll to read it. and b) presenting the progress of webcomics as an ideological battle between Gary Groth and Scott McCloud, which Groth has "won" because webcomics have failed to live up to their potential. Even if that's true, is it something that Groth, as a lover of good comics, ought to feel victorious about? (But of course he, or at least his staff, does; the Fantagraphics blog links to the article with the label, "NY Times declares: Groth 1, Cuckooland 0." Woo! Webcomics suck! We win!)

Joey, Eric: TCJ does have a current webcomics column, "Ctrl-Alt-Delete" by Tim O'Neil. It's pretty good stuff.

Comment from: Tyler Martin posted at August 17, 2005 2:58 PM

What happened is some big wig at the NY Times got wind of the whole "webcomics" thing and that there was even rumor of them banding together to purchase a full page ad in the NY Times and steal comic readership.

This seems like competition for the paper's funnies page, the "real" comics. So they grab an intern and feed her anything negative they could find about webcomics and pop in a couple "big" names from the "webcomics scene", guys that would be considered completely insane to the general public or even qualified psychiatrists.

"Webcomics are inconvenient, not as nice to read as paper, clunkily trying to use new media and many are needing subscriptions." Done. Taken care of.

I agree in that personally I like to read comics from a bound paper book. But this isn't going to deliver them to me daily. And if I was going to compare two forms of media, why not compare it with the same comic, in its printed form and web form as many share both.

So I no longer am doing a webcomic, I do not want to be pidgeonholed into this strange new media/religion. I now am doing a full color online brochure, promoting an "alluring" paper comic book I plan to publish at some time in the future.

-Tyler

Comment from: Tangent posted at August 17, 2005 3:02 PM

Eric: But the problem with that is that you end up extolling the virtues of strips that are already big and popular. When I started reading web comics (way back in 2000) I didn't start reading a lot of comics. I stayed with CRfH and CotC alone for months and then slowly expanded my reading. (In fact, it wasn't until I started the Tangents review site that I started expanding my reading significantly.)

New people aren't going to want to read a lot of comics. Hell, I've had people tell me they have to quit reading my reviews because I keep addicting them to new comics and they already read too many. And because if people are reading Sluggy and PvP and Narbonic and some of the best, they'll be less likely to read stuff that is average or decent (or even good, but not the excellence of Narbonic or Girl Genius).

To be honest, I'd probably not even mention CotC or CRfH in a review. I'd mention comics that only have a year or so of archives. Let them dabble their feet in rather than jump fully into a strip that has half a decade or more of history behind it.

-------

32_footsteps, thanks for the kind words. However, I honestly don't think I'm the writer for this type of thing. I'm far too wordy. I learned this when I took journalism a decade ago (ironically, I was writing book reviews for the college newspaper back then *grin*).

I say in 100 words what others can say in 20, or sometimes 10. I say it elegantly... but it's still overkill. Eric knows how to condense... and can do so quite successfully. Besides, as I said before he's in print already.

If I write up something, it'll be a rant that goes on forever and a day, and the only place it'll end up is at Tangents where I review web comics anyway so the only people reading it would be those who read web comics in any event. :D

No, in this case I know the pass the torch on to another.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviewer

http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 17, 2005 3:08 PM

Tangent -- the problem is, we're not trying to boost smaller strips here. If this is news, then you go with the newsmakers. If it's not news, don't pitch it to newspapers.

Oh, and:

I say in 100 words what others can say in 20, or sometimes 10. I say it elegantly... but it's still overkill. Eric knows how to condense... and can do so quite successfully.

You realize I can't seem to describe getting my car washed in less than two thousand words plus multiple asides, right? ;)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 17, 2005 3:17 PM

Tyler -- the NYT has no comics page. ;)

Comment from: Steven Withrow posted at August 17, 2005 3:26 PM

I'll admit, in my own rush to read through this piece, I missed an important (at least to me) bit of information.

The piece runs under the heading "Critic's Notebook" -- a signal that Boxer's opinions will take precedence over other journalistic standards of accuracy and objectivity: eyewitness accounts; first-hand quotes from experts or participants; and verifiable facts and statistics.

Nevertheless, even though I don't agree with some of Boxer's conclusions, I do respect her effort to bring to light a form deserving of attention.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at August 17, 2005 3:33 PM

You realize I can't seem to describe getting my car washed in less than two thousand words plus multiple asides, right? ;)

Well, you're not just describing the car wash are you? You're also describing what you'd really rather be doing at that moment, and everything that happened all day to keep you from it, and the history of the emotional attachment you possess for the genre of what you'd rather be doing, and why there oughta be more people doing it (described in such a fashion that, while we read, the rest of us not only want to do it too but believe we could), and how you could be doing it while the suds splashed by you on the windows if you only had wifi in your car, and birds singing.

Comment from: Tyler Martin posted at August 17, 2005 3:38 PM

Eric, LOL, way to discredit my theory.

Well, there's the problem, see, they don't even like comics.

...but they do like comical articles. =)

-Tyler

Comment from: kajafoglio posted at August 17, 2005 3:40 PM

...Have I mentioned lately how GLAD I AM that we moved to Web comics? For many of the reasons you mention in this piece? No?

I am very glad we moved to Web comics. This post just makes me more so. Thank you!

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at August 17, 2005 3:56 PM

Okay, I'm a loser, I admit. My response was basically "HOLY SHIT, THE NEW YORK TIMES MENTIONED DIGGER!"

There will undoubtedly come a day when I am jaded to such minor fames, but it hasn't happened yet. So far as I'm concerned, sure, it wasn't the best article, but they said something nice, and that's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick any day.

God, I'm shallow. And obviously easily impressed. But dude! I mean, what a world! How can this be? I do a freakin' doodle about a wombat twice a week, and somebody talks about in the New York times! How does this stuff HAPPEN?!

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 17, 2005 4:03 PM

Ursula -- do the happy dance! Being called "powerful" should mean more to you than any trashing of the rest of the article I do above. I mean, you got complimented by the NEW YORK TIMES.

You, Cooper, CYS -- you guys deserve every moment of OMIGODOMIGODOMIGOD you're feeling right now. So don't let my essay dim that.

Comment from: Tangent posted at August 17, 2005 4:05 PM

*laughter* Sometimes I forget, Eric, why I started up Tangents Webcomic Reviews in the first place: you and I disagree on what is important for web comics. For instance, you primarily focus on comics that are funny (if you don't enjoy the comic you don't bother reading it). I, on the other hand, feel that story is more important than the joke, and will enjoy an involved detailed storyline even if it's not intrinsically humorous.

Likewise here. To you, news is talking about the success stories of web comics: Sluggy Freelance, Narbonic, Questionable Content, Misfile. To me, what's newsworthy is talking ABOUT the web comics. Thus talking about CRfH, Girl Genius, Fantasy Realms, and Anywhere But Here because of what they're doing and where they're going, and the fact they're just a sampling of some truly spectacular comics out there is what's important for the news.

Or in other words, you'd be talking about the "financial successes" of web comics, while I'd be talking about the "literary successes" of web comics (literary successes being in this case the successful telling of story using the web comic format).

And more than likely yours would be published, and mine not. After all, newspapers like to talk about financial successes, hoping that that success will rub off onto them so they'll make money. ;)

Robert A. Howard

http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at August 17, 2005 4:05 PM

Robert, trust me, I understand logorrhea as well as anyone can. My editor once thought I was crazy when I told her I was giving her a review as trimmed as I could make it - and it clocked in at over 5400 words. In fact, if I turn in a review of less than two thousand words, without at least one obscure non-gaming reference, my editor assumes I'm ill.

It's actually a fun challenge to force yourself into an artificial word count barrier. It's as much of an artform as a sonnet in iambic pentameter. Well, perhaps more quotidian than a poetic form, but no less wonderful for it.

It also helps to actively hunt out new vocabulary, because sometimes you don't know that one word can do the job of many.

Of course, while I do enjoy working with a limit, don't think I'm abandoning my locquacious ways. After all, Scott McCloud points out quite clearly that webcomics aren't the only thing on the internet with an infinite canvas.

Comment from: Scruffy posted at August 17, 2005 4:10 PM

Newspapers have trafficked in half-baked, poorly-researched, intentionally disruptive blends of truth, falsehood and innuendo since they were invented. There are, to be sure, exceptions, as there will be in every widely-scaled system, but it seems to be bred into the very fabric (pulp?) of their existence, so that the very operational definition of "what passes for" journalism so consistently exhibits this particular recipe.

Newspapers are in the business of selling newspapers. Period. They know controversy and anxiety sell more than truth and good news. They don't see this any other way, this IS their viewpoint. So they cannot help themselves, even on a subject as relatively trivial as webcomics. Conflict. Controversy. That's their stock in trade. "If it bleeds, it leads."

I'm only surprised that anyone is still surprised by this, to be honest.

And, God help us, the bloody Internet only amplifies the reach of these people and encourages un-affiliated individuals with similar purposes to do the same, free from editorial responsibility or accountability, by and large. But, hell, if that hasn't stopped paid journalists for the last couple of hundred years from being wrong, why be shocked or upset by it now?

The best anyone can do about these kinds of things is just to get on with the business at hand and not get this kind of journalism confused with any geniune attempt to inform or help readers with truth or objectivity. Occassionally these things happen by accident as a by-product of newspaper coverage (links to the actual sites, for example).

-Scruffy

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 17, 2005 4:37 PM

Not the financial successes, per se. The exemplers. Certainly, that would need to include PvP and Penny Arcade. They are news. But it would also have to include Narbonic, and many other things.

(And I read a lot of Story comics. It's just harder to show a good one-strip execution of a story point than a strip that's bringing the Funny. So they don't get as much airtime.)

Comment from: joeymanley posted at August 17, 2005 4:41 PM

One of the sites linked in the article is "comicwindows.com"

I'd never heard of that one, so I clicked the link. Nothing.

I googled it. Nothing.

I looked it up on Network Solutions' domain name search page, and found that not only is there no site there, but the domain is unregistered.

So, you know, if somebody were to go and register that domain, then redirect it to his/her own website, he or she would retroactively nab a link in the New York Times.

I suggest that Eric should do it, and that the redirect should go to this essay.

But, you know, whoever's firstest and fastest (grin) ...

Counting down now ... 10, 9, 8, 7 ...

Joey

www.moderntales.com

Comment from: Tyler Martin posted at August 17, 2005 4:46 PM

Comicwindows...

I think she was just making fun of us at that point. =)

Comment from: Tyler Martin posted at August 17, 2005 4:49 PM

Actually, it was probably suppose to be:

http://comicwidows.com and was just a typo that may or may not be fixed.

Comment from: Ben G. posted at August 17, 2005 4:51 PM

On a hunch, I did a little research on this Sarah Boxer person and it turns out that she's a print cartoonist. She has a collection of comics for sale, and if you go to that page you can read her biography (which confirms that she's a critic/reporter for the NYT and goes on to say that she published her first cartoon at eleven).

As for the book itself, The Comics Journal gave it a favorable review.

Comment from: joeymanley posted at August 17, 2005 4:52 PM

If it went into print that way, it can't be fixed there ...

Joey

www.moderntales.com

Comment from: Tyler Martin posted at August 17, 2005 4:53 PM

Heh, maybe secretly she just wants someone to help her get her comics on the web. =(

Comment from: Aneurhythmia posted at August 17, 2005 5:03 PM

She did nothing wrong except show us exactly how the general public deals with what we have to offer.

Let's see what she did: She looked up some "authorities" to see what they had to say about webcomics. She worked with her personal likes and dislikes, and she put in just as much effort as she felt webcomics was worth due to what she was finding.

Wow, just like any potential customer would!


If she wants to allow readers to examine the experience of trying to learn about web comics, that's fine. She should probably label it as such. As it is, if she is reviewing the medium and technology or specific instances thereof, she needs to make an educated review. It's irresponsible journalism to report without proper research. Nobody reporting on Middle East military action is going to admonish generals for making air strikes on locations that are hard for the general public to locate on maps.

Yes, access is an issue that comics need to be concerned with, but this wasn't an even review or presentation of the situation at all.

Comment from: Shaenon posted at August 17, 2005 8:35 PM

Yes, Boxer is quite a good cartoonist. Her comic "In the Floyd Archives" is the one that got a positive review in the Comics Journal, and it's good.

Comment from: Phalanx posted at August 17, 2005 9:06 PM

Honestly, did people bitch like this about sequential art being presented on paper instead of paintings on stone walls?

"But when it comes to the content of sequential art on paper, Mr. Caveman Ugg was right. The paintings that use the bark of the tree to break out of the constraints of the immovable cave walls are really more like writings. And those that don't are just like the old cave-paintings, without the majesty of the towering stone and with a few added headaches for reader and creator alike (Due to difficulty in getting bark of tree and the durability of the work after being painted on the bark of the tree.)"

Comment from: Jin Wicked posted at August 17, 2005 9:46 PM

Good thing she doesn't like reading comics for free on the computer screen. She can just order my book for $15 instead. Problem solved.

Comment from: joeymanley posted at August 17, 2005 10:11 PM

Ha! Blank Label Comics nabbed it!

http://www.comicwindows.com/

Joey

www.moderntales.com

Comment from: Tyler Martin posted at August 17, 2005 10:24 PM

Ha ha, those whores.

Comment from: T Campbell posted at August 17, 2005 10:58 PM

*sigh*

I'd point readers to Eric Millikin's comments at Comixpedia as well as my own. Between us, we say pretty much everything I wanted to say. Except this:

Even those of us who like things about the piece agree that it has big informational gaps. And that other mainstream coverage also has gaps. After three or four pieces, the pattern seems clear.

So-- what are you going to DO about it?

Whether THEY should be doing more research or not is irrelevant. If we want better coverage, there are more productive things to do than complain to each other about how lazy journalists are.

Help spread the word.

Comment from: William_G posted at August 17, 2005 10:58 PM

"William -- a shoddily researched article is a shoddily researched article."

Eric, first off, you simply don't know this to be true. And secondly, of course you can find out more information, more easily on the web because you live this stuff. Looking at webcomics, and the internet as a whole from the outside is a valuable skill that simply almost none of us have.

And we CAN present ourselves better. For example: I remember you praising me for redesigning "It's About Girls" to fit within the browser window. This sort of layout should be standard. Gag strips do it.

And I do admit that this is my own bias coming through, but I'm willing to bet that the two or three comics she mentioned were the only comics she felt worth noting. All of the comics that you snark on a regular basis do have their good points, but they're geared towards a web audience. An audience that has signifigantly lower standards than an outsider would. Outsiders are people who look at this stuff, and make snap judgements, much in the same way she did.

Eric, the simple fact remains is that she showed us how we look from the outside, and we look uninviting, and uninteresting... And quite possibly overwhelming.

And one last note, I put "webcomics" into Google, much in the same way someone outside of our little world would. No sign of Penny Arcade, PvP, or Goats anywhere.

Checkerboard Nightmare is the first comic that shows up, on page two.

Comment from: Justin Hemmings posted at August 17, 2005 11:13 PM

Well, as a student, it's been my understanding that any good research article can't be based solely around information from 3 to 4 years ago. If there's newer discussions to be had (which I'm reasonably sure she could have found, though perhaps not with LexisNexis) it was more or less her responsibility to find them and use them.

But, I write English papers, not newspaper columns. Perhaps standards are different. Either way though, for most people, I'd argue an article like this is what's going to present Webcomics to outsiders. She gave a poor representation of the subject in her article, and unfortunately there are people prone to take Times's articles as gospel on most things. Those people will likely never know there's more to it than what she wrote about.

So, I guess my complaint would be that the article is irresponsible journalism. If you're going to agree to write a column on something, you better get a good grasp of it. It's not like they'd tolerate this kind of research if she were submitting an article on international politics. If you're going to have an ethical standard, you really should apply it regardless of the subject matter.

Comment from: Aerin posted at August 18, 2005 2:01 AM

William_G: I also tried putting "webcomics" into Google. And yes, the sites of individual comics don't come up. But you know what does come up above the fold on my 17" monitor? Two different sites called Webcomics List, The Webcomics Examiner, Keenspot, WCN, and the Wikipedia entry for webcomics, along with a couple of other hits. If you Google "webcomic," which smarter people would do, you'll see Irregular Webcomic, PvP, S*P, Partially Clips, and Dominic Deegan in that same above the fold space. Following any one of these links will provide quite a useful gateway for anyone not familiar with webcomics.

On a totally tangential note, anyone notice how much is going on with irregularly updated comics lately? Instant Classic comes back from the dead, RPG World announces a formal hiatus, and Randy Milholland's two neglected comics start up again. Craziness...

Comment from: Merus posted at August 18, 2005 2:37 AM

The answer is obvious, Eric. You need to write an article designed for publication in newspapers about what Web Comics are, and include a small selection of strips that are pretty decent and enjoyable. Include URLs, and explain just what web comics are, and why they are good.

This wouldn't be enough. Far more interesting is: why the reading audience should care. Why should readers of the NYT, say, possibly care about the existence of webcomics?

...Have I mentioned lately how GLAD I AM that we moved to Web comics? For many of the reasons you mention in this piece? No?

I wonder when Girl Genius will get a biscuit.

Comment from: William_G posted at August 18, 2005 12:12 PM

It's irresponsible journalism to report without proper research. Nobody reporting on Middle East military action is going to admonish generals for making air strikes on locations that are hard for the general public to locate on maps.

I can see how webcomics match war on the scale of worth, sure.

One more time: None of you have a damned clue how much research she did or didnt do for her one page puff piece.

And it's a no-argument to make anyway, since she did use as her entry point, both Gary Groth and Scott McCloud, as the closest things to authorities on webcomics she knew of. Now we may all find this amusing because we have our own wizened elders to give us our opinions these days, but she is not one of us.

It bears repeating... with bold text: She is not one of us

Really people, Internet Explorer doesnt come bundled with "All the knowledge you need about webcomics v.2.1" and unless you have other geeks to ask, you're not going to know where to start. She used the tools available to her to findout about webcomics.

So she used the entry points that she knew of into our world and through it found our awards. Regardless of what you may think of the WCCAs, there are a fuckload of webcomics represented there (24 winners plus nominees) and theoreticaly, they're the best works we have to offer. That looks like a shitload of research for something that simply is not important to wider society.

Okay, this also needs to be repeated and bolded as well:

Webcomics are not important to the rest of the world.

Simple fact of the matter is that every one here lives and breathes comics, and everyone here, including my self, belongs to the species Dorkus Extremus. And we're all having a fine ol' time in the Dork Kingdom. But she found us lacking, and she flat out told us what it is we're doing wrong. and there's probably thousands like her who think the same way.

People, uncircle the wagons, and start thinking about what this shit means.

These failures are ours. And they came about because we're only looking at ourselves, and serving ourselves. The reason she gave us a poor representation is because we have little good to represent, and what we did have, wasn't immediately accessible. Lord knows what would have happened if she stumbled across some of the more highly geek oriented material first. So you all should pull your fingers out of your ears, stop singing, "La la lala lala! I can't hear youuuu~!" and decide if you want webcomics to stay the geek paradise it is, or if we should change our shit so outsiders will want to come play with us.

Stop being such a bunch of damned geeks about it. She did webcomics a goddamned favor.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 18, 2005 1:06 PM

Sigh.

It bears repeating... with bold text: She is not one of us.

Bluntly... if she in fact is a published print artist with ties to Groth and the Comics Journal, then yes, she is. At the very least, she is a cartoonist, and should know her subject before she writes about it.

My point is not that she should be an expert. My point is, she drew her information and conclusions off of a war of words between Gary Groth and Scott McCloud that is over three years old. And in doing this article, she clearly didn't even check in with McCloud for updates to his position.

Your point seems to be that somehow we should be a unified front that can manage information and feed it to journalists. We're not going to be. We're never going to be. For one thing, if we attempted that, different factions within the community will be devouring each others' young within the first day.

I'm sorry, but I'm going back once again to Freshman Comp 101. It's a subject I happen to know well. And the core of that subject is this: you have to research your thesis, support your thesis, and cite your research to support that thesis.

The sources she cited were miniscule at best, and out of date at worst.

You'll notice, by the way, I didn't have any of these complaints with the Washington Post piece, or other similar pieces. Yes, in those cases I knew the subject better than they did. And yes, I think there's more information they could have had. However, you could tell by the nature of the piece, the sources cited, and the at least somewhat contemporary tone of the issues that the reporters actually researched their subject. It's what they're supposed to do. It's what they're trained to do. It is, in fact, part of journalism.

Trying to make several thousand unaffiliated webcartoonists and collectives responsible for Sarah Boxer's poorly researched article isn't going to change the fact that Sarah Boxer put out a poorly researched article. Trying to say "this is how we look to outsiders" doesn't wash with me, because Boxer is more than an outsider. Boxer is the New York Times, in this case. And the New York Times has a responsibility to get their facts straight before they go to press.

That's not a responsibility they can devolve to me, by the way. They can't say "Webcartoonists need to get their facts up in a single resource that is easy to find so we can report them." The responsibility rests with journalists to actually know what they're reporting before they report it.

Now. Can we take something away from this? Sure. Can we learn ways and means of doing things? Yes. Certainly, if I were Joey Manley, I'd be thinking about ways of getting my message to papers -- through press releases and other forms that papers accept, receive and put up. (And putting the same releases out to the business wires, I would add, so that they show up on a cursory Lexus-Nexus search.) The same with the Crosbys, Nate and Gav over at Keenspot. And probably even the smaller collectives who're trying to get their message out there. There is a value to making your information available where people can find it.

But none of that changes the fact that when something gets printed in the New York Times, the writer better actually know something about it.

If I find out she called or e-mailed Scott McCloud -- one of her clear primary sources -- as part of this process, I'll moderate my tone and the tone of my essay. Would it be enough? Of course not. But not doing that on a piece of this nature, directly drawing off of his fifteen year old works and three year old debates, underscores a clear shoddiness in journalistic process. She didn't get the story. Period.

However, if she did contact McCloud, nothing he might have told her made it into the piece. Certainly, nothing Joey Manley might have told her made it in. We know she had good things to say about Copper and Digger, but we also know she didn't contact Ursula Vernon to ask her questions or get more information.

In short, we know she didn't follow up any of the information she did have.

I say again -- shoddy research. I stand by my essay as written.

Comment from: Colin L. Burke posted at August 18, 2005 1:09 PM

Not like it really matters anyway. Anyone who has a subscription to the NYT isn't looking for comics in the first place. Boring, old fuddy-duddies. ;)

Comment from: joeymanley posted at August 18, 2005 1:28 PM

>>Certainly, nothing Joey Manley might have told her

>>made it in.

Actually, when I sent her her passwords to the Modern Tales sites, I also mentioned Webcomics Nation to her. And she copy/pasted what I had written about WCN into her article as though she'd written it.

I'm not complaining! Honest! Sarah Boxer, if you're reading this, I encourage you to copy/paste more of my emails to you into NYT articles! You can take all the credit! I really don't mind at all!

Joey

www.moderntales.com

Comment from: Tangent posted at August 18, 2005 2:07 PM

That's not shoddy writing. That's *shitty* writing. Pardon my language. I'm sorry, but quoting someone without giving credit to the quote (or even listing it as a quote without saying who said it) is PLAGERISM.

More than one journalist has lost their job due to that little word, because of unsubstantiated information or unattributed information. Journalism is under as severe of attributing information as any research paper, and partly because it's for public consumption.

Joey's not complaining. But I still am saying "Shame on you, Sarah Boxer."

BTW, I was talking to my best friend about this and she told me that I should write up articles. But for smaller papers. For the Union Leader or the Concord Monitor, or for any other of a number of smaller papers. They're looking for stuff like this that they can post.

So... why don't we do that? We can write up some articles on web comics and what they're doing... maybe come up with some basic facts each article we should touch upon, and send it out to our local newspapers? If it gets us a couple thousand new readers to start reading webcomics... then it was still worthwhile.

Hell, I think Joey Manley would love to have another thousand subscribers to MT. I *know* that Keenspot wouldn't sneeze at that many extra readers. Hell, I'd dance for joy at that type of number. :D

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews

http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: joeymanley posted at August 18, 2005 2:36 PM

Plagiarism's a bit strong. It was just a sentence:

"Webcomicsnation.com is meant to do for online comics what services like Blogger have done for blogs, and Flickr for photo sharing."

No attribution needed -- that stuff is on the homepage, too.

It's the job of a business owner dealing with the press to tell them exactly what you want them to say about you.

It's surprising and pleasing (as a business owner) and disturbing (as a consumer of journalism) when they're so obliging.

Joey

www.moderntales.com

Comment from: Phalanx posted at August 18, 2005 2:51 PM

One more thing I feel obliged to point out, since I don't think anyone has yet:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webcomic

Comment from: quiller posted at August 18, 2005 3:02 PM

Having looked at the way the mainstream media has covered Video Games and the SCA (hobbies I am quite conversant in) it comes as very little surprise that an article on webcomics would be shallow and light on facts. I sometimes wonder if peace negotiators feel the same way about the news articles about their negotiations as well.

That being said, the problem of poor research seems to bed systemic in journalism these days, and it is probably unsurprising that it shows up in an arts journalist when it is hard to get a news journalist to check two sources these days. Still, the NYT is the newspaper from which most other news sources take their cues so it is always sad to see poor journalism there.

Comment from: quiller posted at August 18, 2005 3:23 PM

Hmm, teach me to comment before reading the article. (Bad Quiller, bad!) Actually, aside from being a little unfocused in points it isn't bad. The business with McCloud and Groth is background with an eye towards in what way webcomics can be judged. Certainly there are worse things to focus on as a branching out point than the webcomics awards. Why wouldn't you look at the "best" of the webcomics for an overview?

Yes, the business with making money on webcomics is barely researched at all, but it is not the focus of the article, and frankly most webcomic artists do have trouble paying for their work, so it is certainly correct to state that for a problem.

While she had the opportunity to read through the archives of the Modern Tales comics for free, most of her audience will not have that luxury, and it is worth warning them about that. It also is a factor that keeps down the popularity of Narbonic (though it surely keeps up the profitability of Modern Tales).

Now I think the overall thesis is a bit screwy. I think the true judgement on webcomics is as Eric said based on the alternate distribution means of niche content more than the promise of infinite canvases and flash constructions. Argon Zark is not a relevant webcomic anymore, where PVP which can and does appear in print, is a thriving webcomic. But, if you are working from Reinventing Comics as your introduction to the webcomics world, it is perhaps not surprising that you would view the comics as to whether they meet with the grand vision presented there.

And yeah, I suppose she might have thought about explaining what webcomics are, as well.

Comment from: Tina S. posted at August 18, 2005 4:39 PM

Eric is right; the article is shoddily researched.

It's completely divorced from the fact that she's not "one of us" -- which, btw,

I'm not either, being neither a writer nor artist on any webcomic; I'm only

peripherally at BEST connected to a webcomic in any way shape or form in that I

have on occasion helped someone brainstorm about a comic that isn't even being

published yet purely as a friend and fellow writer. And I'm not even so much as a

regular webcomics reader. I read S*P because a friend pointed me at it and I like

me the sarcasm. I once read Megatokyo because a coworker said she thought I'd like

it (I did, for a while; I don't now). I read Gossamer Commons because I'm

friends with Wednesday and she got involved in Eric's projects and then I went and

looked and decided I liked it. And I read Crap I Drew on my Lunch Break because Eric

made it look interesting (and it was). Add Websnark to the list -- and I skim

many of the posts made about webcomics -- and you have now my sum total

involvement with webcomics.

So I'm approaching this as a writer and someone who regularly uses the internet.

On point a), wherein I'm a writer who has spent much time researching various and

sundry things, I say: that article was shoddily researched, or at least shows no

sign of being well-researched.

Why? Because any modern journalist should know enough about online search engines to

know that you use variants of your term. 'webcomics' might be one place to start,

but I'd darn well be using 'web comic' as well, as it's both more natural

and a reasonable variant... as is 'web comics'. Both of those turn up

links to Penny Arcade on page one (and who the hell who knows anything about Google

stops at page one anyhow??), and PVPOnline on page two; S*P shows up on page two

with the latter.

Not to mention the sheer number of sites that come up that list that are themselves

a wealth of links to various comics...

If I'm specifically doing an article that involves the economics of web comics, I

would search for 'webcomic subscriptions'. I just did. Although the first few

results may not be much help, 5 entries down we have a link to a comicon.com forum

discussion on the topic of micropayments, and one entry further than that leads to

Comixpedia, which ought to give just about anyone a really good entry point into

any webcomic topic one would like. It certainly gives a number of different

viewpoints on those topics, and unlike a book written n years ago, it's more or

less up to date. 'web comic subscriptions' is less useful, but it does pull up a

relatively neutral article on the vagaries of making money on webcomics

(which is IMO a much better article on the topic).

If I'm looking for an overview of actual webcomics, I would try 'webcomic reviews'

(having established that 'webcomic' seems to be the most useful of the variant

terms, though I would probably go ahead and try the others anyhow if I were,

y'know, getting paid for this). This leads me to a likely-looking site of

webcomicsreview.com, which in turn mentions Comixpedia in the specific article that

comes up with a Google search.

This isn't rocket science. This is basic internet research, something (I reiterate)

that any modern journalist ought to have a grasp on.

On point b), wherein I'm a regular internet user with only a casual acquaintance

with the wacky world of webcomics, I say: Word of mouth is what tends to attract

people to webcomics in any event, not frickin' search engines. Okay, once someone

really gets into it, yes, they're going to be more likely to start looking on their

own, but on the other hand, your target market is the internet-savvy in any event,

and even if you don't expect a journalist to be able to effectively use Google,

you sure as hell ought to expect someone who is inclined to get some large portion

of their information and entertainment online to be able to use Google.

But let's go back to the first part of that, which is to say: word of mouth. The

way you're going to get more readers is almost certainly going to principally be:

word of mouth. You keep them with good stories, good art, good web design

and good presentation. But you get them with: word of mouth. Possibly we

should invent a new term for the way this works online: word of finger? But it's

the same principle. People, for instance, may read a webcomic, and it will link to

other webcomics, or possibly somewhere like 'snark, where webcomics are sometimes

discussed and there's a whole list of webcomics to explore in the links

sections, and so on and so forth.

See, the thing is, when you have an alternative publication model, you also have to

embrace the idea that you will very likely be using alternative methods of

attracting readers. You can't just say "We have to make this more like what people

are used to so they'll come read us". Well, you can, but I don't think it's

the right move. What the right move would be, IMO, is to ask: What seems to attract

people to webcomics? (Hint: It's 'word of mouth'.) and then push that direction.

The 'alternative' thing also applies to making money. Obviously the normal subscription

models don't apply with 100% accuracy here, which is why there's so much

debate about how, why, and if webcomics will, can, or should make money, one

presumes. Certainly centralized distribution points mimic the newspaper model in

some respects, but the successful ones will understand that they are not

newspapers and tweak things as appropriate. Micropayments may not work for

everyone, but they sure as hell bought Randy Milholland a year of time to try to

concentrate on his comics, and there are other people who have at least covered the

cost of hosting via them, surely.

On which topic, one of the things that bothered me the most about the

article was the snide reference to begging for donations via PayPal. I don't

consider a PayPal button saying "If you feel it's worth it, toss me money" to be

'begging' any more than I consider a street busker to be 'begging'. It's just an

alternate model of commerce: "Pay as much as you feel this was worth to you." And

it works for some people. It may come to work more in the future... it may

not. But writing is not a high-income job, people. If you work in a traditional

publishing model you're just as likely to get micropayments -- albeit called

'royalties' or 'buying short story rights' -- as you are big advances or large

payments for non-fiction articles. So judging the quality of the subscription model

effort based on how much money it turns up is sort of... short-sighted, I suppose

is the word I want. Anyone in the creative field who thinks they're going to make

buku buckage is more than likely going to be highly-disappointed anyhow.

In the long term, it may very much turn out that few if any webcomic creators make

any kind of living wage... which separates them from paper cartoonists and fiction

writers not in the slightest. The biggest difference is that webcomics will get

readers whether they make money or not, which may be all some people want in any

event. But that doesn't make it an already-failed experiment any more than it makes

the entire field of webcomics worth dissery. (I don't care of that's not a word.)

And that, that is why the article struck me as poorly-researched. Not simply

because it was -- it was, okay? -- but because I'm firmly convinced Ms.

Boxer basically had a particular point she wanted to make and only went looking for

the evidence to 'support' it.

That's shoddy research.

I also want y'all to know that I downloaded and installed Firefox just so I could

post this response, since IE and Websnark still don't play nice with one another.

I think that is called 'stubbornness'.

Comment from: Tangent posted at August 18, 2005 5:52 PM

No, that is called 'dedication' *grin*

Rob

Comment from: Maritza Campos posted at August 18, 2005 5:53 PM

They are right about the tactile experience. Print is infinitely superior in that. I mean, everytime I go to the bookstore I sniff all of them until I find the one that smells just right. Just the other day I was reading Melville... it was so soft. Almost like silk.

*sigh*

Comment from: Aerin posted at August 18, 2005 6:05 PM

You're certainly right about the research thing, Tina S. It's not like this stuff is hiding, and once you've found one single webcomics resource, it's obscenely easy to link-hop and find literally thousands more. She looked at Count Your Sheep, Digger, Copper, and Narbonic at the very least, and each of these comics has links to others. There is NO EXCUSE for the obvious lack of research that went into this article, especially because it's research that could have been pulled off easily by a high school freshman.

Comment from: Tyler Martin posted at August 18, 2005 7:51 PM

"Print is infinitely superior in that. I mean, everytime I go to the bookstore I sniff all of them until I find the one that smells just right."

My computer came with a print button. I can print all the webcomics onto alluring paper. I don't print them out to read them though, I do it so that I can bring them to bed and have relations with them.

Comment from: Darren Bleuel posted at August 18, 2005 8:24 PM

Eh. I was going to read this article, but found it was hidden behind a registration wall by something called "The NY Times."

Comment from: Tyler Martin posted at August 18, 2005 8:29 PM

http://bugmenot.com/

Comment from: Tangent posted at August 19, 2005 1:44 AM

You know, Darren, for some reason this "journalist" doesn't bother to mention Keenspot. This is weird, as a Google Search shows Keenspot on the first page, and one of her "favorite strips" (Count Your Sheep) happens to be a Keenspot comic.

But I guess a successful web comic company isn't the image of failure that she wanted to give web comics in general. *shrug*

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews

http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: Doc posted at August 19, 2005 5:41 AM

Thankyou Robert! I've been reading this whole thread and wondering why no one mentioned she complained about subscriptions being a problem when she was obviously aware of a free comic collective/business.

Up to that point I can believe she is just ignorant but without having any background in journalism or writing or webcomics or any damn thing of any relevance that one fact seems fairly indicative of someone writing with an agenda.

Of course that's so rare it's no wonder we are all shocked by it.

Part of the problem probably comes from the fact that the people most published in the field of webcomics (I'm thinking Scott McCloud here) seem, at least to me, more interested in promoting Webcomics as an artform than as a business (like say, Mr. Manley or Mr. Kurtz or the Crosby's etc, who as far as I know don't have any mainstream publishing on the area of webcomics themselves) so anyone who approaches webcomic using people like McCloud as a starting point are probably going to end up reading a lot of comics less interested in business models and more interested in pushing the artform.

But as I say I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Comment from: One Timer posted at August 19, 2005 10:27 AM

You've hit slashdot.

Best comment summarizing everything in a simple point (in my opinion):

Next week:

Transmetropolitan's Spider Jerusalem takes a look at the evolution of newspapers from paper to the Internet and asks: 'It's investigated and it's written, but is it still newspapers?'

-CleverNickedName (644160)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 19, 2005 10:41 AM

Well, the article hit Slashdot. I'm linked in the comments, but I doubt we'll get a significant Slashdot effect from it.

But, it's worth noting that the trend of the comments seems to support a lot of the same things we're saying here, though those aren't webcomics community folks saying it. On the other hand, it's certainly true that Slashdot readers are inside the Cognoscenti of the Internet, which Boxer clearly isn't.

Comment from: almathea posted at August 19, 2005 3:53 PM

Well, this is coming out so late that I doubt anyone will get to it -- but there are a few things that have been bothering me about this whole discussion.

1. Everyone has been refering to this peice as an article, which it isn't. Right above the electronic copy is "Critic's Notebook." It's meant to be an editorial espousing the views of one person, and not the New York Times.

2. Write to the editors. As a journalist myself nothing sparks more interest than feedback. A few months back I wrote an article that generated a lot of feedback from Mac users. Pretty soon three editors up were calling me and wondering what this "whole Mac thing was about." It was probably one of the first times they had even heard about it. What's more though, is that I was assigned to write more in-depth articles because of reader response.

Please, if you disliked the article, write to the editors.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at August 19, 2005 4:40 PM

Well, this is coming out so late that I doubt anyone will get to it --

I just added a comment to the For Better or For Worse discussion from a week ago. And my downloaded-Firefox-especially comment came nineteen days after the post it was commenting on, and a week after the next most recent comment. I still doubt anyone but Eric saw it, maybe not even him; but I couldn't not say it. On the other hand, in the case of your comment the post is still the most recent (unless Eric or Wednesday have posted while I was typing) and that oughta make a difference.

Comment from: Tangent posted at August 20, 2005 12:27 AM

I've seen it as well.

I've been watching this thread like a hawk, waiting for each additional response. It deserves interest. Hell, it's had 82 (now) responses, which while maybe not a record-setter for Websnark, definitely is quite a few replies even for Eric.

So yes, your comments have been read. Never fear that. :) (Helps that Eric's not been snarking a lot of things of late...)

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews

http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: david malki ! posted at August 20, 2005 6:34 AM

Almathea is exactly right. As lame as this article was, it was an editorial. And as ill-formed as Ms. Boxer's opinion might have been, it was an opinion. Exercise this opportunity to set the record straight -- write to the editors. I did.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at August 20, 2005 11:11 AM

It occurs to me, the problem with people lining up in opposition to each other over this by taking sides with either the It's poorly researched argument or the It's an everyman reaction argument is that neither argument addresses the point of the other so neither is a rebuttal of the other.

"Less filling!"

"Tastes great!"

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 20, 2005 11:17 AM

Paul -- it's worth noting that Eric M of Fetus X did actually post a rebuttal based on my thesis, not an alternate take on the overall effect. It's here. I don't actually agree that it shows depth of research (it amounts to going to several webcomics and looking at them, which isn't the same thing as researching the core themes of the original Groth/McCloud debate and seeing their practical results in the contemporary webcomics scene), but it certainly is directly addressing my thesis, and of course I might be wrong.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at August 20, 2005 11:46 AM

Yes, he does address your thesis. Score for M. His argument seems to me to fail to address the salience of many of your individual points, but that'd be because he finds them less salient than I. Unfortunately, though, his argument seems to me to be at least equal shares addressing your thesis and ad homina attack; I can't speak for anyone else, but the reason I agree that the piece isn't well researched is not that I'm disappointed it doesn't mention my webcomic.

(-a is the dative plural, innit? Prepositions take dative, don't they? It's been thirty years.)

Comment from: Pyrthas posted at August 20, 2005 1:25 PM

Hominibis would be the dative plural for third declension; ad takes the accusative, which would be homines in this case.

Comment from: Pyrthas posted at August 20, 2005 1:26 PM

And I hit post instead of preview; that should be hominibus.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at August 21, 2005 9:53 AM

I knew someone would answer. Great crew you have here, Eric.

Comment from: Hamm-er-man posted at August 21, 2005 2:55 PM

Looking through all the comments I couldn't help wonder if we couldn't help Sarah Boxer with some research: a list of our favourite online cartoon sites.

So here's my favourite: http://www.gox.cc

- its online only, its popular but young, and its the closest thing I've seen to 'The far side' in years. The free trial is clever and I for one converted.. I'd be interested to see which online cartoon sites others rate...?

Comment from: The Matt Who Is posted at August 21, 2005 4:47 PM

Just on the subject of whether it's possible to read print comics for free...

I work in a library, and I'm happy to say we do have a pretty decent comic collection here. I just checked out Persepolis II, and even without actively looking, I can usually find something comic-y every week while I'm discharging books. It's a nice perk.

All of that having been said, the library bought those books I'm reading. For the most part, library collections are built on purchases, not donations. The public get to read it, and the authors get paid. Speaking as a reader and a writer, I'm happy with the arrangement.

Matt

www.likelystories.com

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