I think most people have a general perception of how becoming a doctor happens. After you graduate high school, you go to college. Then you go to college some more. And then you go to college some more. Eventually, after a crudload of years of formal education, they hand you a piece of paper with “PhD” and your name on it. And only then can you become a practicing doctor. That piece of paper is important because it proves that you studied a whole lot. If anyone could just claim to be a doctor, without any formal credentials, then you run the risk of having someone making literally life and death decisions about you with no real understanding of how the body actually works. That piece of paper acts as a certification that they know what they’re doing; it’s a means of protecting the public from anyone who says, “Sure, drink this and you’ll be fine!”
That’s not true of all professions that require some form of licensure, though. In many cases, the paperwork is put in place more to deliberately limit the number of people entering the profession. By placing requirements on entering the profession, this creates a barrier to entry for many people. Which means that competition is artificially stifled. (This is usually deliberate, and done at the request of practicing professionals who don’t want to have to compete on a level playing field. That’s why many taxi companies have been so upset with set-ups like Uber and Lyft.)
I mention this today because of two items that flew across my radar yesterday. First, cartoonist Lauren Davis recently received her MFA with a concentration in comics. (As a quick aside, my teenage self is amazed and thrilled that you can get a degree in comics now!) Second, Rob Salkowitz predicted a trend he expects to see more of in 2018: publishers increasingly looking towards MFA programs for new talent instead of webcomics. In effect, they’re reducing their role as gatekeepers and relying more on colleges to do that work for them.
This suggests, then, that webcomics will become increasingly marginalized by publishers, as they focus on “credentialed” work. There’s nothing to prevent a creator from launching a webcomic still, but the instances of well-made webcomics getting picked up for publication—itself an idea that publishers didn’t seem to have fully embraced yet anyway—will be discarded without much of a real trial.
Again, this strikes me as a deliberate form of gatekeeping. By narrowing their prospective talent pool from all webcomickers to recent graduates with Masters’ degrees, that would cut down talent scouts’ work immensely. They’re assuming a minimum level of quality from the graduates, so their publishing decisions would be more about tone or style, as opposed to first discerning raw talent if you were to look at a webcomic creators.
Of course, as I’ve said before, one of the great things about webcomics is the lack of gatekeepers. Virtually no one is prevented from telling their story. But given that publishers are inherently gatekeepers themselves, it’s no surprise that they might want to veer away from that. But in doing so, they’re back to many of the problems that publishers have historically faced when it comes to keeping out women and minorities. If this does end up being the case, it would be, I think, a very disappointing and unfortunate development. And sadly, an unsurprising one too.