One of the ways that webcomic creators earn money from their work, as you probably well know, is to sell printed copies of it. They might publish it as a typical monthly floppy or some form of trade paperback or maybe even a nice hardcover. But whether they use some print-on-demand service or raise funds through a Kickstarter or whatever, the basic principle is the same: format the webcomic into something that would work on a printed page, drop that into a book layout, and try to sell them.
In some cases, taking art that was designed to be read on the web doesn’t translate particularly well, or easily, into something that works well in print. One of the biggest concerns is that the colors can come out radically different from the web (where the colors are generated by light) versus print (where the colors are merely reflecting light). That, at least, is a relatively commonly known concern and one that can addressed in a fairly straightforward manner.
More problematic, however, can be pages that take advantage of the web’s unique qualities that do not translate over to print very well, if at all. The ‘infinite canvas’ is one issue, as is the related concern of the web not requiring a regular or consistent format from page to page. Animation is, of course, another issue.
If a creator puts together a piece with full-on animation throughout, the work ceases to be a webcomic and shifts over to being a cartoon. (There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just a different art form.) But some creators try to enhance their webcomic with slight and/or occasional animations that just try to amplify the atmosphere of the otherwise flat drawing. Maybe the trees are swaying in the wind, or a bored character is idly twiddling their thumbs, or a character dreams of a series of sheep jumping over a fence. Sometimes, though, creators will use an animation to push actual story points along. A character swinging and hitting another, for example, or a delayed series of speech balloons to emphasize a specific verbal cadence.
In either case, the challenge in translating that to print is difficult. Most creators I’ve seen opt to ignore the animations entirely, and simply present the first frame of an animation in the print version. I just happened across an interesting option, though, by Dimitri Fisher. In the print edition of his Nameless Fools comic, he’s included all the frames of each animation, and laid them out like a flip-book. He’s reserved animations for only the last panel of a page and so, on pages that have animations, the subsequent pages run through the rest of the frames, one at a time. Quickly thumbing through those sequences recreates the illusion of animation.
The flip-book idea itself is not new; John Barnes Linnett patented his version of the flip-book in 1868. However, I’ve never seen it used before to mimic the animations used in a webcomic. The idea does have its drawbacks—notably a higher page count and only being able to use one side of each sheet of paper—but it’s still a clever solution to more closely approximate the online reading experience in print.
All of which is to say, too, that some advancements in webcomics don’t come from the web or online technology, but rather by going backwards and bringing older print ideas to use in different ways.