Robot 6

What if Image did webcomics?

Since its founding in 1992, Image Comics has become a bastion for creator-owned comics — printed creator-owned comics, that is. Its 20th anniversary is a banner year for Image, with a multitude of prominent new series as well as stalwarts like Spawn and The Walking Dead reaching some milestones. However, the publisher has stayed completely out of the webcomics game. Yes, Image releases some of its books digitally the same day as print, and Top Cow is partnering with digital portal Thrillbent for the new Pilot Season titles — but in terms of Image Central titles debuting original material first and building a creator-owned frontier online, nada.

In the more than 25 years since the advent of online comics, the medium has steadily built up steam and has become a major part of the broader comics industry — but its largely been separate from “comic books” the way comic strips and political cartoons are. But that division is breaking down every day, with DC and Marvel experimenting with digital-first comic books, and print heavyweights like Mark Waid, Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen creating comics for the web with any print considerations held off until later. In print comic books the majority of the titles are company-owned, but in the free range of webcomics that is practically flipped in favor of creator-owned comics.

Although some creators associated with Image, and even some of its splinter studios like Shadowline, have experimented with releasing original material to the web first, Image as a whole has so far completely avoided the issue. The closest the company has come to it is printed editions of popular webcomics like The Li’l Depressed Boy, Valentine and PVP. In 2007 ,Image published a non-fiction How to Make Webcomics book, but as far as Image organizing and distributing webcomics on its own … nothing, yet.

I’m not saying Image doing webcomics is a no-brainer. Practically speaking, it would take some investment of time, people and most importantly, money, and Image has largely been a small, tight-knit outfit with most creators working on their own books for free in hopes of at least breaking even a few months down the road. But with Avatar successfully funding Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s FreakAngels, First Second releasing a majority of its titles online first, and former Image Publisher Jim Valentino experimenting with it through Shadowline, I think a well-planned, slow-growth webcomics line at Image could reap major rewards for the company and for its creators.

What do you think?

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9 Comments

Image DOES do webcomics – I think most people feel forget Shadowline titles run by Jim Valentino.

given how Image operates, there’s no real incentive for new original webcomics from creators. They’d be better off treating Image as a backend option… after exhausting all the other possible publishers. Already existing stuff, like Walking Dead or Invincible, sure that’d be sweet. Collect it later as an added material in the trades.

Keenspot serializes a lot of Image titles on their site…27, Avengelyne, Fall Out Toy Works, Green Wake, and Skullkickers. Probably not quite what you have in mind, but it’s interesting (to me at least).

So you want books that make little to no money to go down to absolutely free…

I was really hot on this idea some years ago and bugged Stephenson about it when I was still publishing with Image. I was very gung-ho about spearheading a webcomics division of Image.

I think Image probably gets a lot of submissions that they look at and say “Man this is great but it’ll never sell.” Those titles could find life on the web as webcomics. They could build their audiences there without having to worry about maintaining any level of sales like in the world of the direct market.

The worst that could happen is that the content builds a following, that the creator evangelizes that audience and suddenly it makes sense to convert that content to print and sell it as a collection. And when I say sell a collection I mean online sales that go directly from the Image warehouse to the customer, bypassing diamond and the direct market. (not that you couldn’t also put these collections through that machine).

Eventually someone is going to do this setup. It’s just a matter of who and when.

The sad thing is that as forward thinking Image or Oni or any of these publishers are, this concept. This thing we’re talking about right now, is already 15 years old. I’ve been doing this for 1.5 decades. And still these publishers, even the more fluid ones, are just starting to LOOK at the model.

Ive been enjoying the stuff they put out through comixology, if they wanted to put something on there without doing a print version and they can make the numbers work, then why not? Would be functionally the same for me.

As far as doing free webcomics, what would be the incentive for the creators?
I cant imagine Image paying money to keep some free online comics afloat when several people who put out Image books fail to break even.
And as far as promotion, outside of house ads, Image creators pretty much have to do their own promotion.

Perhaps Im missing something :\

Yeah, plenty of image creators have been putting their wares on keenspot for free, but though a webcomic model I don’t believe it fits the actual formula of a webcomic as we view it here.

However, I had written a GREEN WAKE one-shot and the book was cancelled before it could see print so Kurtis Wiebe and Riley Rossmo were nice enough to allow me to run it on keenspot – so there is an example of an Image book getting a free webcomic style delivery of a new story. You can scope the story at this link:

http://greenwake.keenspot.com/d/20120726.html

Then just keep hitting Next for the next pages. Enjoy. For free.

Laura: I mentioned Shadowline in the article. Did you miss that?

Kyle Latino: Not all webcomics fail to turn a profit. Avatar did FreakAngels, which paid creators upfront and gave them a percentage.

Scott Kurtz: Thanks for your input. You were on my mind when writing this.

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