Crisis of The New Web Comics Culture
By Hervé St-Louis
November 6, 2008 - 22:29
There are a few comic book cultural groups right now that are existing in parallel universes and barely exchanging with one another. On Earth One, you have the Direct Market way of selling comic books, where large publishers such as DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics and to a certain extent, the so called alternative market like Fantagraphics Books and Topshelf Productions.
There is Earth Two, which interconnects often times with Earth One, that lies in bookstores and sometimes in comic book stores. Again, one finds Fantagraphics Books reprints, but mostly, the contents is manga books, sold by publishers such as Viz Media, Tokyopop, Del Rey and other publishers adapting Japanese material for North American audiences.
Another frequent parallel universe, Earth Three, is mainly occupied by Archie Comics, in the newsstand market. There are a whole lot of parallel universes, based in places like Europe, Japan, Argentina, Iran, Mexico, and Korea.
Finally, there is a new Earth, what I’d call Earth Prime, where the real action happens online. There are no rules and several of the creators involved in Web comics have no formal or informal contacts to the Earth One of comic books. It’s a world that keeps expanding with new cartoonists creating new features every day. One of the challenges of Web Comics’ Earth Prime is the revenue model offering cartoonists a way to support themselves with their online work.
The essential condition about this parallel Earth Prime is that it bleeds on the other parallel universes through elements such as pirated comic books and an increasing demand for the supporters of all these parallel universes to obtain more contents from online resources. The one Earth that is most at risk from eventually merging with the real Earth Prime is the world of direct market that refuses to port its contents effectively to digital comic books.
Structural corrections in the Earth One comic book market should encourage more merging with the world of Web comics, but support from this is held back mostly by physical comic book retail store and Diamond Comics. But eventually, as much as publishers like DC Comics and Marvel Comics, want to cater to parts of the direct market that feel they want to remain important stakeholders in the future of comic books, they will have to yield to the primal reality of Web comics and the appeal of the potential number of readers they are avoiding currently. Perhaps the lethargy of Earth One will diminish when other Earths, book publishing and the newsstand market eventually open their arms to Earth Prime.
A crisis in multiple Earth is unfolding and the new Earth to emerge from it will give us a comic book industry where online diffusion of contents is at the pinnacle of the way readers and the industry disseminate products.
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