Comic Non-Sans: The “Competition”

I wrote a bit back (a long bit or a short bit, I’m not sure — you can lose track of the weeks as a blogger) about Old Guard vs. newcomers, and whether or not there’s a “tenure” of sorts in the webcomic community. And the fact of the matter is, in something like this where you don’t have much objective measurement and even visitor numbers can be inflated or misinterpreted, it’s hard to say. And it all depends, as I said before, on your definition of “success,” be it based upon money or exposure or feedback.

Recently, Penny Arcade TV launched “CheckPoint,” a series by the people behind Loading Ready Run.  Meant to be a “return to form” of the Escapist News Network before it branched out into a wider demographic, “CheckPoint” has already been receiving feedback (and some criticism) on fan forums.  In particular, I was pointed to a post by forum member Lyinginbedmon (a.k.a. Tim Maughan, the creator of the “Order of the Stick”-esque-looking webcomic Remember):

As a webcomic artist and author of nearly 4 years myself, Penny Arcade is a member of the elder peers that are doing some serious harm to the industry, for which I don’t really blame them but they (and others like them) don’t really redeem themselves by continuing to increase their readership figures like this. The elder webcomics make it very hard to start up, let alone succeed, in the webcomics industry because, simply put, the capacity does not exist to compete with them.

I’m divided here.  This is a valid enough viewpoint for a frustrated webcomicker of many years, to see a new project by an old hand take off immediately simply because of their existing readership and the inherent pull that creates.  And I suppose there can be a rather tenuous argument for “capacity” simply based on the fact that you can count “room” for webcomics by just how many bookmarks a reader is willing to sort through in the course of a day or week.

On the other hand, this is exactly what I described it as at the beginning of the previous paragraph: the viewpoint of a frustrated webcomicker, and a rather defeatist one at that.

This is not to say the frustration is unwarranted.  Oftentimes — and I’ve felt this way myself — it seems as though underdogs remain underdogs because of, wey-hey, money.  Success by at least one definition brings money.  Money brings ad sales, ad sales bring exposure, exposure brings hits, hits bring success, etc.  Once you’re in that cycle of respectable amounts of income, theoretically you can keep yourself going as long as you can hold a fanbase and afford banner ads.  And, you know, turn out even passable content.

However, and I say this with great sympathy for Maughan’s position, blaming the successful for lack of one’s own success, and then turning that into something they’re doing wrong, doesn’t solve anything.  This is an argument that stems almost entirely from frustration.  I mean, I don’t know where my internet money is, either, but it’s not the fault of my fellow creators that I don’t have it.  Using that as an argument essentially just comes across as resentful.

Succeeding where others do not, in webcomics or elsewhere, is neither a sin nor a crime, provided the successful come by it honestly.  In the end, yes, people who donate to webcomics donate selectively unless they’re making six figures and feel super-generous.  Yes, theoretically that money spent on a “Penny Arcade” shirt could be going in your tip jar. Theoretically. But the “room at the top” view of a webcomic hierarchy is flawed.  Webcomics don’t provide a single service like a news website or an online store might.  A gaming comic can be the first of its kind — it can arguably be the best of its kind — but you can’t “corner the market” in a creative field no matter how good you are.  Webcomics don’t meet a need; they supply an option.

So rather than complain that the big dogs don’t give you a chance to excel, boil it down to the real thing: your comic isn’t as popular as Tycho and Gabe’s and you just want to know why.  There’s nothing wrong with feeling like that.  It’s true of any creative mind looking at the creative minds around them.  But internet fame is not a box of doughnuts that you’re being elbowed away from.  There’ll always be more, and while not being popular isn’t necessarily your fault, it certainly isn’t the fault of those who are, either.

Posted on May 17, 2011 at 15:57 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, The Written Word, Webcomics, Webcomics · Tagged with: , ,