One of the first benefits of webcomics that people cite is the lack of gatekeepers. Whether a creator tries going to a publishing house like Image or Dark, or a newspaper syndicate, they face a series of people who have to approve of their work. Editors, of course, but there are often others involved in the decisioning, whether they’re accountants who try figure out if the project will be profitable or simply a company owner who has to personally approve everything. These are all people who decide whether or not a creator is allowed through their gateway to publication and a broad readership.
Naturally, webcomics avoid this issue by moving the publishing decision back to the creator. They can choose to present their work to the public or not, and there’s no one to say whether it should be given a chance to find an audience.
“But,” you might protest, “didn’t that exist in more traditional independent publishing already?” Couldn’t someone take their work, have it printed up themselves, and sell that without a large publisher? Whether that’s a fancy hardcover with a nice dust jacket with a spot varnish, or a simple minicomic they hand-stapled themselves, a creator can bypass the publishing gatekeepers and go directly to the audience.
Well, yes and no.
The primary way that independent creators historically tried to get these works out was by getting a booth or table at a convention and selling their books that way. The problem with that is that the convention itself is another gatekeeper. Many shows are curated in some way, meaning that not every creator who wants to get in is able. Whether that’s a jury selection process, or a lottery, or simply a matter of first-come-first-served, there’s a limit to who can get in to any given show. That’s a gate a creator needs to pass through.
Print advertisements, too, have the same issue. While the bar is generally much lower than trying to get the work itself published, many publications that accept advertisements do have certain criteria that must be met in order for the piece to be run. All of which points to webcomics as a great beacon of hope as they have no gatekeepers.
Although, strictly speaking, they do. Web hosts aren’t too picky, generally, about what you put on their servers as long as you pay them, but then you still need readers to find your work. Often that means a web search and, while Google’s algorithms are impressive, they still act as a gatekeeper between readers and your work. Not to mention any number of other online companies. One of my first columns here talked about one in particular, called TRAQ.
All that said, though, webcomics still have a much, much, much lower gate to go through than other publishing methods. But it’s still a gate nonetheless; it’s just that the gatekeepers aren’t as obvious about their gatekeeping.