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“DC is excited to introduce our iconic characters to a new generation of fans worldwide… [we have been] working closely with the Webtoon writers and artists to adapt our characters and stories to Webtoon’s mobile format. Our shared goal is to create fun and compelling DC stories that all readers will enjoy.”
If you’re unfamiliar with webcomics, you might think DC partnering with Webtoon is a bigger deal for the online platform you’ve possibly never heard of than for the home of well-known characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. While understandable, you’d be very wrong as Webtoon boasts a global audience of millions devouring digital-first, independent comics, most of whom have never given traditional superhero comics a passing thought.
Webtoon is owned by South Korean internet giant NAVER, which recently acquired Wattpad for $600 million, and then merged its fledgling production studio with Webtoon’s to launch a new $100 million production initiative. While that’s not Netflix money, it’s nothing to sneeze at, either.
This partnership makes Substack’s VC-funded coke-binge (see below) look quaint by comparison as Webtoon’s reach is massive and underrated by most publishing trade media. Props to DC for thinking bigger and, even better, for wisely tapping Webtoon’s creator base rather than their ever-rotating direct market stable to create these new stories.
“Substack is being extremely generous with rich people’s money to build a murderer’s row of comics creators to do the amazing projects they’ve always dreamed about, with full ownership, creative control and even an advance.”
I’ve been pretty openly vocal about not being impressed by Substack’s over-hyped foray into comics, and Salkowitz nails one of my biggest problems with it. It’s the worst kind of corporate dilettantism Medium has made a specialty of over the years with its multiple pivots.
My biggest issue with them, though—and by extension, the creators who’ve decided to take their money—is Substack has proven themselves to be the shittiest kind of wannabe disruptor: one that not only gives terrible people an unmoderated platform to spread and monetize their bullshit, but also actively subsidizes some of them, too.
Every platform has its downsides these days (hello, Twitter!), and the only way to remain “pure” would be to avoid all of them—an unrealistic option for anyone even peripherally involved in media for a living—but some choices should be easier to make, no matter how much money they throw at you.
“The market for who is buying comics is changing, and it is changing for the wider and the better. The eight year old who is inhaling Dav Pilkey in 2020 is going to be the comics-literate adult of 2033 (or whatever), which is going to change what comics readers in the ‘30s will want or expect from comics… Ignore this at your deadliest of perils: the future is always shaped by the present.”
I’ve enjoyed Hibbs’ industry analysis a lot over the years, from his Savage Critic days to his current run at The Beat, and if you like data as much as I do, you’re going to love his long, deep dive into NPD sales data for comics in 2020. From spotlighting key differences between regular bookstores and the direct market, to digging into what’s driving manga trends and how DC isn’t even close to being one of the Big Two by any reasonable definition, it’s a must-read.
Unfortunately, despite being full of insights, it’s still only a part of a much bigger picture that needs to be painted to truly understand the size of the overall comics market. Imagine being able to analyze a dataset that includes NPD + direct market print sales, online retailer + publisher direct digital sales, and library sales + circulation in print and digital formats?
Savvy publishers can (and some do) piece a lot of it together themselves, but no one has the full picture. That was my dream scenario when I was running the Panorama Project, but it’s unlikely to ever happen because the industry willpower simply isn’t there to push for it and make it happen.
But rest assured, comics is a huge, influential part of the publishing industry (and media overall), far bigger than most people realize. Total comics and graphic novel sales to consumers in the U.S. and Canada were approximately $1.28 billion in 2020, a 6% increase over sales in 2019, and that doesn’t include sales to libraries, nor does it encompass the wild, evolving world of webcomics.
Speaking of Webtoon and webcomics, while I’d been aware of both for a while, outside of a handful of fun comics I follow on Instagram, I bizarrely never considered myself a webcomics fan, and definitely didn’t think I was Webtoon’s target audience. This week’s news finally made me download their app to check it out, and to say I was impressed would be a massive understatement.
The app itself is slick, with a great onboarding experience that includes a question about art style preferences to help generate recommendations for new users, and a unique reading experience that is ridiculously intuitive on mobile. Years ago, I was impressed by comiXology and deemed it a killer app for the iPad, but Webtoon is so much better!
I picked an interesting series from their recommendations, Mike Birchall’s Everything is Fine, which was categorized as horror but features cartoony cat heads (or masks?), and was immediately sucked in by the reading experience, the smart use of upwards-scrolling panels, and an increasing sense of unease as some weird shit was clearly going down by the end of the first episode. It vaguely reminds me of David Lynch’s bizarre short, Rabbits, which my film-nerd son introduced me to a few years ago, but it’s got its own style and discomfiting energy.
I’m halfway through the available episodes so far, and not only am I hooked on the story, it’s single-handedly sold me on the platform’s potential, too.
“The sheer breadth of content represents a value proposition that cannot be ignored. With wide-open access for readers and custom title control for institutions, this versatile comics collection will serve graphic novel lovers well.”
In a fun bit of worlds colliding, my old favorite gig reviewed my new favorite gig and declared that we’re pretty awesome! I agree, of course, but it’s great to see what we’re trying to do for libraries, schools, and savvy comics publishers recognized like this, externally and independently.
And we’re just getting started!