The most pivotal week in the history of webcomics

I’m slowly working my way back to doing regular webcomic reviews – look for some down the pike, starting with a review of Comixtalk, once I finish my studies for the quarter – and not a moment too soon. We’re in a heady period for webcomics, a turning point in their development. This has been an eventful week.

First was “Dating-Guy-gate”, when Least I Could Do‘s Ryan Sohmer accused Canadian network Teletoon of ripping off his concept for another series. The facts of the matter are very complicated¬†and the whole thing has a good chance of going to court, but the upshot of the whole affair was a Kickstarter effort to film a LICD pilot (I’m incredulous that Randy Milholland had to set it up for him because Kickstarter is limited to Americans for some reason), which proved wildly successful. This could be a momentous moment for webcomics, and Sohmer is in a uniquely qualified position to lead the charge. While I have a feeling that, once I finally get around to reviewing it, I will absolutely loathe LICD for its alleged sexism and allegedly Mary-Sue-ish main character, there are few webcomics I can think of that are better suited for translation to television, or any other medium.

Most other gag-a-day webcomics are either too decentralized to support even the sort of plot for a 30-minute show (Penny Arcade, xkcd), or would have trouble appealing to even a broad enough audience for a fairly focused cable network, especially a problem with video game comics (as with previous efforts of Sohmer’s Blind Ferret Entertainment, PVP and Ctrl+Alt+Del). Least I Could Do is one of the few popular gag-a-day webcomics with broad enough subject matter to actually attract the interest of TV networks. In fact, I don’t know how much Sohmer would be considering American outfits, but I could easily see LICD fitting right in alongside the animated comedies on Fox’s Sunday night lineup – on an American broadcast network, alongside such titans as The Simpsons and Family Guy. If LICD could pull that off, it would become, by far, the most famous webcomic in the world overnight.

(Translating a story webcomic to the big screen poses similar challenges. Most story webcomics, especially former gag comics that underwent Cerebus syndrome, have an odd mix of humor and seriousness that would be difficult to market or portray on the big screen. Even a comic as story-focused as Order of the Stick would be difficult to translate, but even Girl Genius has an odd enough balance to give Hollywood execs pause. The equivalent to LICD in the story webcomic community, from the perspective of how easy it would be to translate, would probably be Gunnerkrigg Court – a story that has drawn more than a few comparisons to Harry Potter. But as we’ll see, there is another way to turn a webcomic into a movie…)

Next came DC’s announcement of digital day-and-date distribution for its revamped universe, which has led more than a few retailers to cry doom. As well they should; DC makes up about a third of the comic book market and is probably responsible for much more than that coming through their doors. That many are calling this move inevitable does not make it any less of a stake in the heart of the direct market, or any less one of the bigger ones. We’re likely to see many more would-be comic book creators make the move to graphic novels and webcomics.

Finally came what could be the biggest news of all: One of Penny Arcade‘s old spinoff concepts has been optioned by Paramount to be made into a feature film. Forget a show that could have languished in obscurity on a Canadian cable channel: this could see millions of Americans flock to movie theatres and make Gabe and Tycho millions of dollars, not to mention (as with the LICD animated series) pave the path for more webcomics to see the silver screen.

And that’s before we get to the detente between print cartoonists and webcartoonists at this year’s National Cartoonist Society Reuben awards.

These are baby steps: even if LICD gets made into a series it could be on some obscure or Canadian-only channel, this isn’t Penny Arcade itself but an idea they threw out there once, and both are far, far away from actually being made. But I get the sense that this is a turning point, a milestone week, in the history of webcomics. If even one of these projects get made it gives webcomics by far their broadest exposure they have ever had, and between that and DC’s colonization of the digital market could lead to a huge influx of new people into webcomics. We may look back on this past week as the one that webcomics started to bloom, started to move out of their extended adolescence and into the full-blown adulthood (or, if you’re more like Bengo, out of childhood and into adolescence) that would confer upon it the respect and corpus of literature due any other medium.

3 thoughts on “The most pivotal week in the history of webcomics

  1. So you’re saying that once a webcomic gets turned into a mass-audience likable film then webcomics will become more respectable by the general public? Interesting observation.

    Also, your observation that comic creators will be flooding the webcomic lands if DC/Marvel turn to digital distribution may be frightening to some webcomic creators. How can a newbie compete with Jim Lee?

    Great article.

  2. I think that a movie will really open doors, especially if it’s successful. Like, when Pirates of the Caribbean hit it big, suddenly Disney was scouring all its rides to see which ones it could adapt into movies. Not every idea is going to be gold, but at least producers will realize that there’s an untapped option out there that they haven’t explored yet.

    Heaven knows that they’ve pretty much exhausted superhero comic books, toys, children’s adventure books, Hanna Barbera cartoons, and 80’s remakes already. (I’ve read there’s a push to adapt board games, like Battleship. Webcomics have got to be a a wealthier storytelling mine than that, at least.)

  3. delos: It’ll be a long time before insiders at Marvel and DC like Jim Lee give webcomics a call. When that happens, the individual people flooding the marketplace will be the least of independent webcomickers’ worries.

    And you can’t attain respectability until the great masses of the people know you exist.

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