Most of the time, when we’re talking about webcomics, we’re talking about the here and now. By their very nature, webcomics are an inherently contemporary art form, even when they deliberately harken back to older times. Think about where webcomics were even as recently as five years ago. While technically Kickstarter and Indiegogo were around, they had both only just started and neither were a proven entity; so there was effectively no such thing as crowd-funding. Yet today, how central are crowd-funding sites like Patreon to a webcomic?
Go back ten, fifteen, twenty years and the contrast grows even more stark. Webcomics are a medium of change. In part due to the changes in technology, but also in the changes in culture that accompany that. That’s one of the reasons why webcomic creators tend to be on the younger side; they’re not as set in their ways and more open to trying out new things. (Though age itself is hardly qualifing factor!)
I read a piece recently on the slow death of newspapers and how it’s largely their own fault. The author’s line that stood out to me was, “Any leader with an eye to the future must first build a culture that welcomes it.” He used that to lay the death of newspapers squarely on the shoulders of the newspaper leaders, and how they develop and encourage an internal culture that resists change as much as possible. Sure, the internet was a major disruptive force for newspapers that came from somewhere beyond their control, but their reactions have been centered on maintaining the status quo.
I can’t begin to predict what changes will come for webcomics in five or ten years’ time. A significant upgrade to Photoshop could be a game-changer. But so could a break-through in cell phone technology. And a political decision could have huge, unintended ramifcations, especially if that decision led to new laws. There’s simply too much going on to factor everything in for extended plans like that. Things happen so quickly that most people are only able to see the future in the past tense. That’s why Michael Lewis titled his 2001 book about the impacts technology has on society Next: The Future Just Happened.
But that’s why futurists suggest focusing not on learning specific technologies or businesses when planning a career, but rather focusing on the ability to adapt to change quickly. Looking at what’s happening now is no longer a good indicator for what’s going to happen in the future; in planning, therefore, you need to be flexible and nible to incorporate new ideas, technologies, and business models as they develop. Not every one will work in every instance, but having that flexibility allows someone to switch from one to another quickly if things aren’t working out. They’re not tied to a single practice which might be difficult to wriggle out of.
None of which, of course, is to say that every webcomicker will adapt to every change nor that every traditional newspaper cartoonist won’t. But I know I’d certainly put better odds on webcomics’ long-term success!