Mark Waid Heads Discussion On The Future Of The Comics Medium

Dustin Hall writes;

Amidst the fluffy fan-service and spoiler-teasing reveals at the Emerald City Comic Con, one panel sought to put some heavy philosophical points into the brains of attendees this weekend, asking questions that would continue to resonate with them for the rest of the show. Mark Waid, superstar writer and comics innovator, headlined the panel, and was joined by his fellow pioneers, all of whom shape the face of modern comics. With him was Comixology’s David Steinberger, Alison Baker of MonkeyBrain Comics, Jordan Weisman, creator of Shadowrun, and moderator Rob Salkowitz, author of “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture” Together they addressed the fate of the comic in an increasingly digital marketplace, and such questions as “How much can you change a comic, and have it still remain a comic?”

“Those are just labels.”, defended Steinberger, who’s Comixology app has been popularizing the digital comic greatly in the last few years. “Good story-telling is just good storytelling, in any form.” He elaborated that it wasn’t the paper that made the comic, but the mixture of visual art with the penned story. Panelists agreed that the advancement of digital technology wasn’t going to replace comics, but rather could be used to make them more accessible to new readers, and available on an unprescedented scale.

Additionaly, the panel sited some works by other artists that pushed the envelope of creativity in ways that only the digital format could allow. Ryan Woodward’s ‘Bottom of the Ninth’ was mentioned for its incorporation of incredibly smooth animation into the panels, and Mark Waid demonstrated the simple, brilliant elegance used by Jason Horn’s “Ninjasaur” in giving more features to the reader. The reader could flip pages, like normal, by sliding left to right across the tablet, but with a swipe up or down they could also add or remove layers, stripping the comic down to inks, pencils, or script. “You could put anything on these layers,” added Waid, “Music, animations. Anything.” The options for embedded extra content in these new digital formats seemed virtually limitless in creative hands, and could bring the audience closer than ever to the creative process.

Of course, the group wasn’t concerned wholly with reveling in the new digital playground, but also came down to brass-tacks, and the question of sustainability and monetization. Programs like Kickstarter, which just garnered Weisman’s ‘Shadowrun Return’ almost $2 million off of a $400k asked donation, were cited as great ways to get backing for experimentation and, again, involves the audience from the very beginning of a project. Beyond that, though, was the need for digital to supplement print media, as printing becomes more expensive and harder to distribute. As this panel, and others over the weekend, pointed out, the last few years have seen print costs rise to a dream-crushing level for an independent creator. However, while fewer and fewer people have access to a comic shop, access to computers, phones, and other digital devices is almost blanketed across the country. Creators can reach their audience with almost no start up capitol if they focus their efforts digitally.

The goal of the panel was, ultimately, to focus on the long-term. They want comics to continue to grow and thrive and find new audiences far into the future, and that means supporting not only the existing print fans, but also new and untapped fans across other mediums in the future. The digital medium allows creators who could not normally share their voice find an audience, and potentially share it worldwide. The true deciding factor to the longevity of the comic as a medium, though, will be creators making things that people want to pick up and read. Alison Baker summed it up best, “It all comes down to the quality of the product, then. So long as the quality is there in the work, then people will continue to pick it up, and it will continue to be made.”

If you would like to hear more about developments in the comic medium and from this far-sighted panel, you can look it up on flipon.tv, who are digitally archiving many of this weekend’s panels for the world audience.