Some comics are made for newspapers and are published on the internet for convenience. You might think of well-established comic strips like Rhymes with Orange, La Cucaracha, and Doonesbury. However, some comics are made for the internet and make their way into print form…eventually. One example of a webcomic that is subsequently published in print form is Malaak: Angel of Peace. It’s a superhero comic by Joumana Medlej, set in Lebanon. Take a look at the comic at www.malaakonline.com. According to the website, the print versions of Malaak (Parts I, II, and III) are available in English and French, with Part IV available in English. An Arabic language version is being developed as an ebook.

One webcomic that I read is called Artifice. It’s a science fiction comic written by Alex Woolfson and drawn by Winona Nelson. Woolfson wants to create a print version of Artifice, and he has created a Kickstarter campaign to do it. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have contributed some money to Woolfson’s Kickstarter campaign. But this blog post isn’t intended to be an advertisement for Artifice.)

Initially, I was a little bit wary of Kickstarter. After all, it seemed to me a little bit like a gamble: interested parties donate money to a cause, and the money is then used to bring the product to fruition. If enough people donate and the monetary goal is achieved, then the project moves forward. However, the more I read about Kickstarter, the more I realized that it is used for a very broad range of projects, like independent movies and independent music CDs. And, most germane for readers of this blog, comics. Click on this link to look at some of the comics projects on Kickstarter.

Typically, my own interests in comics don’t really touch on issues of publication. I appreciate the work that other scholars do in keeping track of publishing houses and mergers, of the tension (if that’s the right word) between larger comics houses like DC and Marvel and smaller houses like First Second and Drawn, Out Press. But on-line resources like Kickstarter seem to be complicating comics publishing in ways that are surprising to me. In a nutshell, the issue is this: comics that are freely available on-line are being funded in advance to be printed and sold! Popular wisdom has it that internet users don’t want to pay for their content. The discussions revolving around file sharing and the music industry exemplify this trend. On the other hand, some users are willing to pay for content that is otherwise free.

In the case of comics, it seems that readers (still?) like to have their own print copies of things. Having a graphic novel (like Artifice) or a serial webcomic (like Malaak) on-line is one thing, but having bound, printed, gorgeous copies for the home library still has appeal. There was a recent, related discussion on the Comics Scholars listserv, and several people contributed different opinions about the difference between print and electronic versions. Some readers prefer print, while others feel comfortable with on-line versions or ebooks. My best guess is that this discussion will continue and probably intensify as the web matures as successful medium for comics artists.

About Frank Bramlett

Until June 2014, I am a visiting lecturer in the English Department at Stockholm University, where I offer seminars in Sociolinguistics; Language and Gender; and Language and Comics; among others. For Fall 2014, I will return to the English Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

6 responses »

  1. roytcook says:

    Frank,

    Sorry for not replying until now. Crazy-busy two weeks (only barely got my own post up!)

    Anyway, there are a lot of interesting issues floating around here. Some of them are primarily commercial – the actual pragmatic means by which comics come to be transferred from electronic to print media. I don’t have the expertise to say anything interesting there. But there are some other, more theoretical issues that I will comment on (whether I have the expertise or not – ha ha!)

    You bring up discussions about whether or not people prefer their comics in electronic or print form. I suspect that, were we to do a survey, unsurprisingly this preference would co-very at least somewhat with age – old farts like me still prefer our reading to be on paper! But there is a deeper issue here regarding the nature of the reading experience – is someone who reads Peanuts online having the same, or a relevantly similar, experience to someone who reads it in the paper or in the Fantagraphics reprint volumes? And further, are webcomics even the same artform as print comics?

    Here is one thought that might be worth pursuing. Given a comic in format X (where X is either print or online), the difference between reading that comic in its original format X and reading it in the other format Y might be something like (but not exactly the same as, obviously*) hearing a live performance of a musical work in person and hearing a recording of that performance. There is, of course, much controversy regarding the differences between experiencing live performance and experiencing a recording of such, but let’s just grant that they are different in some manner – that the recording is somehow secondary to the live performance. Then with webcomics, the print version would be secondary in a presumably similar sense, while with print comics the web version would be secondary.

    As I explained it above, this is merely a pretty esoteric metaphysical distinction, probably best explained in terms of the initial intended process of production and reception (digital file, light patterns on a screen with webcomics, CMKY print with print comics), as opposed to the secondary, unintended process when the comic is transferred from one format to another. The real question is whether these differences make any difference to how we experience the comics in question. Does the initial intended means of production and reception have any essential role to play in how we experience, or ought to experience, a comic?

    Of course, the increasing use of computer technology in print comics, and the increasing practice of simultaneous print and electronic versions of some comics, threatens to blur into invisibility any genuine distinction here.

    Anyway, lots of interesting questions hereabout. I have agreed to give a talk (and eventually write a paper) on the connections between printmaking, comics, and webcomics at a conference in February, so I might have more interesting things to say then!

    Notes:

    *I am using the comparison between comics in their original format and performances of musical works merely as a useful comparison. I do not mean this to indicate that I have any sympathy with the seemingly incoherent (to me, at least), but surprisingly widely accepted, view that comics are some form of performance!

  2. Roy…your comments are great. And I hope that you’ll share your conference presentation that you’ll give in February with us. Maybe a longish blog post would work!

    I’ll just take one quote out of your note above: “The real question is whether these differences make any difference to how we experience the comics in question.” I think the print/digital mode difference is very large, actually. I myself privilege print comics. Others privilege digital forms. We can debate the relative merits and drawbacks of each form, but I think that the major factor here is *privilege.* I simply prefer print comics, and that means I experience them differently from digital versions.

    A clear exception is webcomics. I have only ever read *Amazing Super Powers* and *Questionable Content* and *Oglaf* online. I’ve never even seen or held print versions in my hands much less read them. I wonder what would happen if I bought a print version of one of these webcomics. Would I prefer the weight of the paper, the tactile experience of turning the pages one at a time? Or would I realize that the online versions are better? (This is related to my earlier post on managing alt-text in webcomics.)

  3. Andy Koehler says:

    Sorry, I feel like I’m interrupting a conversation here, but I’ve experienced that very situation, Frank.

    I followed an older webcomic by Jennie Breeden called *Geebas on Parade.* At a convention in Omaha, I had the opportunity to meet the creator and purchase print volumes collecting the somewhat serial series (each strip can stand alone, but there is a minor narrative nature to it). Of course, I got the print materials signed, so I was exited to add it to my collection. As I typed this, I just realized something about the electronic format, no autographs in ink nor the experience of meeting and getting something signed without print.

    I originally read the comic online years ago, but as I perused the pages, I found comics that I hadn’t thought of in a long time and ones I don’t ever remember reading in the first place. It was very much like interacting with the webcomic for the first time, but in print. I typically prefer print materials for a variety of reasons, but what I noticed was that there really wasn’t that much difference between the two forms. I guess my point is that I got the same enjoyment either way. The electronic version is a more complete collection and more convenient, particularly if I wish to share the experience across significant distances. The print version looks much better on my shelf, and I get to experience the comic with tactile sensations and offline.

    Thanks for letting me contribute with this distraction. Um…as you were.

    • roytcook says:

      Andy,

      Thanks for the insightful comments. But I wonder about your thought that “there really wasn’t that much difference between the two forms.” As you note, there are of course differences in how the two forms interact with larger fandom practices – we can have one signed, but not the other. But you also pointed out that, in reading the print versions, you were reminded of strips you hadn’t looked at in a long time, or saw ones you didn’t remember reading at all. I wonder if this particular part of the experience had anything to do with the freedom to ‘flip around’ in a print comic – reading the strips in whatever order, skimming, flipping through until you see one that looks particularly interesting, etc. This sort of semi-directed reading is much harder to achieve with online works, and might constitute a critical difference between our experience of print and digital comics.

      Of course, I think Frank’s point is a good one. These sorts of differences don’t necessarily make one form better than the other, just different. I might privilege one over the other, but that is as likely a matter of taste (and, sadly, age!) than it is a reflection of inherent superiority.

      • Roy,
        I wanted to follow up on your question about the freedom to flip around in a print comic. There is a particular constraint in webcomics that usually requires that reader to engage the comic in sequence. This is the use of arrows to navigate “forward” and “backward” through the pages. Additionally, though, we can click on the “random” icon for some webcomics, which is similar to thumbing through pages. I think this (conditionally) randomized access to the pages is slightly more controlled. It’s almost like playing roulette, where the website chooses the comic for you.

      • Andy Koehler says:

        I appreciate your comments, Roy.

        “…there really wasn’t that much difference between the two forms” was meant in a more casual than intellectual sense. I meant to speak to the general overall experience that you two have referred to as privilege or taste. There are differences as I mentioned, and you recognized, but that difference for me was really only in the interaction, and I truly felt that the joy I found from reading the comics in each form was the same. Ultimately, in the big picture of the situation, that is why we read. I guess that’s what I was getting at.

        I had a similar experience reading *The Hunger Games* in print and *Catching Fire* in eBook format. I only invoke those titles for accuracy of the story rather than comparing them to the comic genre. I hadn’t read a conventional eBook until *Catching Fire*, so I thought that it would be a good book to test the waters. Honestly, I didn’t expect to enjoy the interaction of a Kindle Fire. I expected the tactile sensation of pages in my hand to be an essential part of the reading experience. While it was different, the overall experience was the same. I think that the joy we receive from the text really has to do with the text rather than the format. The format can make elements of the literature more accessible to a particular reader’s tastes, but for me, the end result was the same. I’m going to read *Mockingjay* on my new Droid Razr (I hate that they misspell it, former English teacher in me) to see if I get the same effect. I wonder if the smaller sized screen will be an obstacle to the enjoyment.

        That’s just my reflections of purely anecdotal evidence. Reading is such a personal thing. Frank’s wondering of how different the experience would be triggered a recent experience for me, so I thought I’d share. I like this site though. There are some interesting thoughts on here.

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