Webcomics come in any number of formats. Some follow a horizontal layout similar to what’s seen in newspaper strips. Others have a more vertical orientation that is designed to fit a typical comic book page. Some have an aspect ratio that closely resembles many computer monitors. Others take advantage of the “infinite canvas.”
The rationales behind these different formats is often nearly self-evident. Designing a webcomic to match the dimensions of a printed comic page is a sure indicator that the creator has a print version in mind, for example. But that thinking, interestingly, stems more from a business model than a creative one. The generally accepted method by which webcomikers make money is to give their comic away for free online, and then sell printed versions of it. The free online version acts essentially as a marketing campaign, allowing readers a chance to sample the story and art (in full!) before committing to spending their money on it. That way, it removes any hesitation a potential reader might feel because the creators and/or characters are unknown quantities.
But what if there were other ways creators could earn money from their online comics? Many creators have turned to Kickstarter, but ultimately that’s the same process; it just shifts the monetary exchange to a different place in the timeline—before a book is printed instead of after. But one of the newer crowd-funding ideas to come to the fore lately is Patreon, where creators can ask readers to provide a small amount of money on a regular basis. Creators certainly can provide printed material for patrons, but many instead opt to provide additional services. Sneak peaks into future installments of the comic, online chats where viewers can watch the creation process stream live, entirely new comics that are unavailable to others… Creators have been flocking to Patreon as another way to earn money, but what seems to me hasn’t been discussed much is how fundamentally different it is.
Webcomics came about with the rise of the internet. That seems like an obvious statement, but think of the implications of that. It was a force entirely outside of comics that influenced what could happen with comics. The internet wasn’t devloped for webcomics, but webcomics were able to take advantage of it. And as the internet grew more robust, with more tools available, and reached out to a broader audience, webcomics advanced right along with it.
What do you suppose happened to the popularity of strip-style webcomics after smart phones started becoming popular? I can’t speak for everybody, certainly, but I know there are some webcomics I read almost exclusively on my phone precisely because they fit so well on that device.
My point here is that our culture changes with changes in technology. As new hardware and software are developed, society as a whole reacts to that, and adjusts their way of living. You can read any number of comics (often from older creators) that somehow make fun of how society is changing to adapt to the technologies available to it. Scenes of adults engrossed in their smart phones is a frequent one.
So what happens to webcomics when another technology becomes available that allows an entirely new business model to be used? One that doesn’t require printing pamphlet style comics or graphic novels. One that doesn’t require selling t-shirts and mouse pads. How do creators (and readers!) adapt to that? When they’ve creating their strip based on a business model that’s no longer needed, how does that allow them to change how they create their strip? Patreon’s new enough that we don’t know for certain how successful it will be in the long term, much less how that might impact the very creation of webcomics. But for as many webcomikers who’ve been heading towards it, it seems that it might not be long before we see the very creation process for webcomics start to be impacted.