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Gatekeeping print comics and the Webcomic community

Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, Sept. 3, 2021

Yesterday I logged onto Twitter and saw this tweet trending.

And ohohoho I knew there was spicy drama afoot.

This origin story of this tweet was an column by Rob Salkowitz titled Who's a creative professional in the comics world? The answer is getting more complicated. He makes a point that, technically, a professional is anyone who gets paid for the work they do, be that $50 to all the monies in the world. However, it is clear from his article that he believes there is a clear line in the sand between those that can be deemed “professional” vs an amatuer who gets paid by strangers on the internet. Ultimately it comes down to this. If you’re not being paid by a recognised printed comic studio you are not a legit comic artist.

What seems to have sparked this debate is the recent deal done between Webtoons and DC. Soon, the platform will be publishing webcomics created by DC. In the article, Rob remarks that,

”Yes, showcasing DC material on an app that gets the vast majority of its clicks from young women under age 25 could bring some new fans into the market by filling the gaps between DC’s kid-oriented animation, middle grade graphic novels, and the skews-older mainstream DC line, but some saw it as just trading down the DC brand by mingling the material with a lot of substandard fan-created content that’s prevalent on mobile subscription-based comics platforms.”

This demarcation with regards to a webcomic’s legitimacy has been long argued since its invention in spite of successful webcomics being made into books, anime, TV shows and movies. However, it also serves to highlight the belief that comics created by and for women or people from marginalised groups who self-publish their work online go on to be considered as creating “lower art”. Therefore, it is not the masses who deem the art worthy, rather it is those in a position of societal power, the brands, the corporations, the studios, who have the right to bestow the sought after “legitimate” label.

We see a similar trend in movies, TV series and even Broadway shows. To be able to see a Broadway show of Hamilton you either have to be able to afford the large ticket price or win it in a lottery. Therefore the access to this media is controlled by those wealthy enough to see, lending it credibility.

Webcomics are, for the most part, uncontrolled. A creator can create their own webcomic site if they don’t find a platform that suits their needs/values. This Us and Them mentality with regards to webcomics is indicative of the ideological battle between new and old media. And yet, when unshackled from the pressures of corporate structures and the pursuit of profit, we are gifted with creative stories from voices who would otherwise have been silenced. That is the beauty of our medium. And no amount of “legitimacy” can take that away from us.

What are your thoughts on webcomics vs print comics? Don’t forget! You can join us on Sunday evening for our Quackchat at 5:30PM(EST)!

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PaulEberhardt at 9:36AM, Sept. 7, 2021

Try to see it from the professionals' point of view: they had to work hard to get where they are (not that us amateurs didn't, but that doesn't matter right now) and suddenly there's a very real danger that people notice they put their trousers on one leg at the time like everyone else. No professional in any profession can afford to let that happen. It takes away the magic of professionalism - your customers' trust in your ability to work miracles on order - the very thing that pays your bills. For that reason, pros will go out of their way to make people forget that logically they too must have started out as an ordinary person at some point. Normally, that's easy enough, because people want to feel the comfort of having chosen the right person to put their trust in. Challenging the myth of professionalism in any way will therefore be perceived as an act of hostility. Trust me on this - I'm a pro*! (* ...even if only in my day job, which hasn't got much to do with art)!

Furwerk studio at 12:47PM, Sept. 4, 2021

@fallonpiancrusader Not only the pay but you will lose out on royalties on any characters you make, the artwork you create among other problems. The big two is just career suicide.

fallopiancrusader at 9:48AM, Sept. 4, 2021

I think that the metric being used is misleading. If the act of selling a piece of art for $50.00 (or what about 50 cents?) makes anyone a professional, then the word "professional" becomes meaningless. I would posit that being a "professional" at something should be defined as "making a living at doing that thing." I don't know what kind of income Marvel/DC artists take home, but I suspect that it is disgracefully small. If you look to webcomic artists like Dave Barrack (Grrlpower), who makes $8,000.- a month on Patreon, Or InCase (Alfie), who makes $10,000.- a month on Patreon, then maybe working for Marvel/DC might just be one of the worst career decisions an artist could make these days.

Kou the Mad at 10:20PM, Sept. 3, 2021

They really WANT people to read them instead, but they have been putting out such substandard for a while now, meanwhile Webcomics and Independents (And Manga) have been doing better for quite a while now, not just with comics but movies as well (Demon Slayer the movie outdoing actual Hollywood movies is pretty damning.). They know they aren't as good and have been trying to block where they can, but it's inevitable. It's affecting Video Games to a lesser extent, but the audience for Video Games is less tolerant of this than other mediums apparently.

paneltastic at 6:13PM, Sept. 3, 2021

Given the absolute dumpster fires of agenda driven shit that has been coming out of the big two, I'd say NOT working with them is preferable. This is the same thrashing and wailing we saw when newspaper comic artists began to realize they were in trouble. They attacked webcomics as amateur and not worthy of the label of professional. In the end, all that mud slinging didn't save them and it won't save the "pros" either.

hushicho at 5:01PM, Sept. 3, 2021

Sorry to comment again after so much already, but it occurred to me that this also isn't something new, at all. It's a very well-known tactic of legitimizing oneself by disparaging others, and it's cheap and manipulative. It's fake legitimacy to begin with, granted depending on how easily sold the audience happens to be. There's a huge difference between a real critical comparison by a knowledgeable expert and just throwing around incredibly meaningless words like "substandard" without any standard provided and, indeed, none existing.

hushicho at 3:51PM, Sept. 3, 2021

I know I've said a lot here, but I also know a great deal about Marvel and DC, having worked with both. It does not make you "legit" to be paid by a big company. DC (and Marvel) is desperate. They are looking to the digital world at long last, after decades of resisting the fact that webcomics are much more popular worldwide than Marvel or DC. These companies are facing failure of their comics. Readership has plummeted. This Rob character knows about as much about the situation as a teabag knows about Lipton and, as usual, is just speaking out of ignorance. As usual, big comic companies are trying desperately to stoke some controversy, because they always try to benefit by baiting people into fights. So classy.

hushicho at 3:38PM, Sept. 3, 2021

This is all just more of what I call attempts at "mainstreaming" things, and more fool Tapas and Webtoon for being complicit in it. They're censor-happy, their platforms are oppressive, and it fits very well with Marvel and DC to give fake credibility. They're fast food, but not even decent fast food. But they surely will think until the very end for all of them that they're super cool and super professional. Just like every other comic host and publisher that went under. Just because you're large and accomplished a lot over time doesn't mean that's lasting forever, especially with a medium transforming and developing far beyond what they even understand or could ever present in their limited comprehension of even simple storytelling.

hushicho at 3:33PM, Sept. 3, 2021

The thing is, by their very nature, independent comics -- a classification in which webcomics are included -- are more diverse and certainly pluralistic. Because webcomics are accessible to everyone with any internet connection, they are a medium which anyone can use to express themselves. People do have to browse, sometimes extensively, to find something that resonates with them, but they're more likely to find something that really MEANS something. Not so with Marvel or DC, or any other major such company. Their poor management and editorial direction aside, they don't care about expression, diversity, or representation, and they certainly don't give a flying fig about their creators, or their readers. Sequential art is a medium, and tarting it up and making it slick and colorful to catch the eye of the easily distracted doesn't make it better. It doesn't even make it good. These major companies are little more than hucksters, and they're essentially the walking dead at this point.

hushicho at 3:21PM, Sept. 3, 2021

Tapas is shit, just as DC and Marvel have become bottom of the barrel. It IS an elitist ad hominem attack to claim that webcomics and, by extension independent comics and comix, are somehow inferior to the slick stuff Marvel and DC put out...but they're not. They've been objectively superior for some time. It reflects not only a willful ignorance about the industry and medium, but it also reflects a toxic attitude. Most people don't understand the concept of professionalism, nor do they understand art and expression. Even if everything revolved around money, which it really does not, a paycheck does not mean you really know what you're doing any better than someone who doesn't profit from their work and doesn't care to.

Tantz_Aerine at 8:39AM, Sept. 3, 2021

Sounds like a huge elitist ad hominem to me.

marcorossi at 6:16AM, Sept. 3, 2021

[part 2] I don't think that new media are going to be all that more pluralistic than old media: the effect of advertisement and the circular effect of being famous that gives you more traffic that makes you even more famous can well lead to a more centralised situation, where there a re very few famous ones and an enormous number of unknown people (not that the old media was much better). The key problem is that, as media product are infinitely reproductable, but people don't want/have the time to consume an infinite amount of media products, most people will turn to what is already famous because they can expect it to be generally good, whereas searching for obscure stuff is work and you'll generally wade through a lot of stuff you're not much interested into.

marcorossi at 6:16AM, Sept. 3, 2021

[part 1] I think that the problem is a bit different: in some sense, if I doodle some stuff on the margin of a book, I'm an "illustrator"; on the other hand, there is a different sense of the word where an "illustrator" is someone who is highly skilled at illustration, generally a professional. In this second sense of the word, being a professional means that someone is willing to pay me for my skills, and therefore is a proof of sorts that I have good skills. In the old media model of publishing, it is the publisher who works as a gatekeeper for artistic products, so being accepted by a publisher is proof of skill; but in the new media, this role disappears and is mostly replaced by direct traffic, that might be influenced by, say, having a lot of contacts on Facebook.

Furwerk studio at 5:27AM, Sept. 3, 2021

Like Jason Moon said, this is just DC being very desperate because let's be honest here between the destruction of their unique separate imprints (Vertigo, Wildstorm, Milestone, Watchmen) at the alter of continuity, becoming a practical Bat-family factory, the constant event after event, screwing over Diamond Distribution and numerous Comic shops during this pandemic, chewing up creators left and right, ignoring what fans what I'm surprise DC comics are still even a thing. Last few times I went to the comic shop this year I notice people just skipping over them, going for Image, IDW or Marvel.

Jason Moon at 4:38AM, Sept. 3, 2021

It just makes DC look desperate. In this day and age your amateur artist can produce better comics than the pros. Don't even need to go to school to learn with the easy and advanced digital art programs. Anyone can create art so to try to categorize yourself as "a pro" always sounds ignorant to me because it sounds like they are saying they are a league above the amateur when the amateurs work can be pure gold. It's just silly to me. I can make money in a certain field and not consider myself a professional at it. Art is so universal, the line between pro and amateur will only blur in the future.

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