Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why "Machine of Death" is important for webcomics

So I've been working two slightly more than part-time jobs for the last week and a half, and in that time THE INTERNET EXPLODED.

Maybe it didn't actually explode. Maybe it was just a little gas. But that gas reached Glenn Beck's nostrils and forced him to choke back a few coughs.

Machine of Death, for those not in the know, is an anthology inspired by this comic from Ryan North's Dinosaur Comics, co-edited by David Malki ! and including stories from the likes of Jeffrey C. Wells, Yahtzee Croshaw, Shaenon Garrity, and Randall Munroe, with illustrations by Karl Kerschl, Brandon Bolt, KC Green, Kate Beaton, Aaron Diaz, Danielle Corsetto, Dorothy Gambrell, Cameron Stewart, John Allison, Jess Fink, Kris Straub, Dylan Meconis, Rene Engstrom, and Ramon Perez. It's like an entire webcomics family came together for a really morbid picnic.

Machine of Death also turned out to be kind of a big deal. When North, Malki, and their supporters got the Internet publicity machine cranking, they bumped the anthology up to #1 in the Amazon rankings, and incurred the wrath of Glenn Beck when his book debuted at a measly #3.

Even if Machine of Death hadn't reached the top of the Amazon list, even if Beck hadn't lambasted the "culture of death" that made its success possible, the anthology would still represent something very important for webcomics. Last week, Shaenon Garrity wrote her "Ten Things to Know About the Future of Comics," which has attracted both head nodding and criticism, as such things are wont to do. I would be remiss if I didn't also link to El Santo's response "Ten Things to Know About the Future of Webcomics." One of the points on Garrity's list is that the comics audience is becoming increasingly fragmented, more so when you're talking about webcomics. El Santo addresses that point by looking to the next logical steps: that webcomic creators will gravitate toward corporate entities (With all the neophyte and not-so-neophyte creators scrambling for that Zuda contract, I'd be shocked if this didn't turn out to be true.), that there will be a webcomics canon (Possibly, but I think that burgeoning canon is in for a shift.), and that webcomics creators will band together to create an awesome Marvel/DC-style superhero universe (Um, I guess anything is possible? It would be cool, but I might shorten it to "awesome shared universe" myself.).

I think El Santo is right in his basic premise -- that webcomickers will find a way to address audience fragmentation -- and I believe projects like Machine of Death will be one way they do that. What better way to defragment your audience than to show them stuff they already love alongside stuff they might love? If I'm already reading Dinosaur Comics or Wondermark, I might pick up Machine of Death and suddenly it's "Ho! What's this Cat and Girl business?"

And there are more projects like this in the pipeline. It won't have the same broad appeal as Machine of Death, but TGT Media is publishing Webcomics: What's Cooking? which is exactly what it sounds like: a cookbook with recipes written and illustrated by webcomic creators. Spike Trotman's Smut Peddler, which is accepting entries through December 2011, is bound to find a cushy audience with porno comics from the likes of Erika Moen, Tom Siddell, and Spike herself.

Some of these creators still have a lot to learn about their own ecosystem. But what Machine of Death tells us is that they are organized; they are skilled marketers; and they are sprinting happily into the future of comics, whatever that may be.


Rachel Keslensky said...

Something about the idea that I have to be inherently social and willing to offer crazy recipes or draw porn (in the case of Smut Peddler) bothers me... especially since I feel like at least part of my problem is that I don't already know enough of these "bigger folks" to find out about things like Machine of Death in the first place. :/

King AdBeck said...

I thought Shaenon Garrity's article was pretty much on the money. The times they are a-changin', no doubt about it. But, judging by responses to the new ipad/iphone comixology DC comics app for example, a select demographic is fighting those changes tooth and nail. Not that I blame them. Personally, I believe print is dying - particularly disposables like floppy comics, magazines, and newspapers - but it is likely to be a very slow death, and there are still many joys to be found in the tactile experience of printed comics.

To change topic, ElleDee, you should check out The 30 Characters Challenge, which features a slew of webcomickers (including myself) from across the board trying their hand at designing 30 new characters in a month's time. It's all there - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Should be right up your alley.

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