Moderated by Scott Kurtz ("PVP"), the Webcomics panel at Baltimore Comic-Con featured Danielle Corsetto ("Girls With Slingshots") Scott Sava ("Dreamland Chronicles"), Brad Guigar ("Evil Inc."), Dave Kellett (Sheldoncomics.com) and Kris Straub (“Starslip Crisis”). The panel opened with Kurtz declaring, "I've never moderated a panel before. Today's topic: Poopie-pants. Who's had 'em?"
As he introduced the panel, Kurtz was quick to point out that Danielle Corsetto is most likely "The only girl in webcomics." Truly, she is not, but she was the only lady on the panel.
Kurtz asked the nebulous question, "What are webcomics?" and answered it himself, saying "Webcomics are found in caves, right next to gems and guarded by hobbits."
A group of fans joined the panel already in progress, and brought an interpreter for the hearing-impaired along with them. Kurtz, quick on the uptake, remarked, "So this lady up front is doing sign language, so anything I say she has to sign. Poopie pants."
Kurtz turned the panel into a discussion about the appeal of webcomics to the creators on the panel. Scott Sava said he was inspired by Danielle Corsetto and Scott Kurtz. Having started his story before migrating to the web, Sava was not finding much interest from comic shops for "Dreamland Chronicles." He put the project online and discovered that his story is largely enjoyed by teenage girls. 700 pages later, he's discovered he's able to make his house payments through the revenue generated by "Dreamland Chronicles."
Danielle Corsetto started with small publications and "never stopped doing comics after that." Her site is viewed by over 300 readers every day. The draw of webcomics to Corsetto is immediate feedback.
Guigar started out wanting to be a syndicated newspaper cartoonist. "After being rejected by a number of newspaper syndicates, in 1999, I decided to start posting this online."
Kellett, a former Mattel toy designer, was able to leave his day job after eight years of hard work on "Sheldon." "For me, comics were always about newspapers,” he said. “As an artist, I've tried many different art forms and nothing captures the immediacy of things quite like a comic does."
Compared to his wife's career of television and theater writing, Kellett has complete control. He had started by going the syndicate route for a bit, and has discovered that people who have started in syndicated strips still have to hold a second job.
Straub spoke for the entire panel declaring, "All of us were always drawing. The reason I came to the web was largely inspired by ‘PVP,’ and I said, 'I can do that. I can do better.' And eight years later, I did!" he joked.
Kurtz felt that his adherence to the "traditional" comics strip format is more given to "I want to be like that” -- with a longing eye cast towards the success of traditional newspaper comic strips like "Garfield" — rather than a true understanding of the history of the comic strip medium.
Guigar intimated that the best way to be financially successful with a webcomic is to sell the story in as many ways as possible. "That newspaper strip can be reformatted into so many ways that it's all so very efficient."
A fan asked what the best resources are for publishing webcomics, and Kurtz recommended a site operated by D.J. Coffman that includes a huge tutorial on webcomics, Djcoffman.com/tikibar. Kurtz also recommended creators use WordPress and ComicsPress, and hook up with Dreamhost, a provider many of the panelists utilize.
Another fan asked if there’s still a place for traditional artwork, as opposed to using digital tools to create their comics. The panelists revealed that most of them create their comics on paper, which allows for original art sales.
The panel diverged at this point to stress that the income streams for webcomics are very different. Kellett stressed a need to eliminate the publisher from the equation. "When you remove the walls from publisher to audience, the people love the direct contact with the artist."
An audience member asked the panelists if they found that the traffic is greater if they have a new strip every day as opposed to less regularly. The panel agreed there's no direct correlation. Kellett stated that his strip is less viewed than some other less regular strips. Kurtz has dropped his schedule from seven days a week to five, and has not seen any drop in weekend readership whatsoever. Straub chipped in, "The correlation is not direct, but it is important to build a ritual for the audience."
Another fan asked if the panelists use RSS to distribute their digital comics, and if it affected their revenue. Sava said, "Use the link to know there's a new comic, but I'd rather you come to the site." He explained the tradeoff is that through RSS you gain readers, but you may lose some advertising dollars. The key, according to Kellett, is to do as much as you can for free, as that encourages fans to support your strip and even “evangelize” for your strip.
Kurtz drew the panel towards a close with a personal story about his father's experience reading his strip. Kurtz got a phone call from his father that included an ambivalent message leaving no real notion of the driving nature of the call. When he returned his father's call, the elder Kurtz declared, "You're drawing Skull's ears differently."
"Uh, yeah?" Kurtz answered.
"Why'd you change them?" his father said.
Kurtz told the crowd, “Interest comes from various corners and you never really can tell who is affected by what.”
The panel decided to entertain one last question: is drawing as important to webcomics as writing?
Guigar said, "Of course **we** feel that way. We're all artists. It doesn't matter what the artist thinks, but what the reader thinks."
Corsetto said she feels that both are equally important.
The discussion spun specifically to "XKCD," a popular strip drawn with just stick figures. The panel agreed the Randall Munroe strip is extremely well written, but lacking in that it was chosen to be presented in a comic strip form, which is inherently visual. Kurtz said that in choosing a strip format, "It affects the validity of the content."
Sava said that a strip like "XKCD" with less-than-dynamic art needs to be 90% writing in order to rely on the 10% effort for the art. Kellett added, "If [Munroe] has an audience, he's doing something right."
The panel agreed that at the end of the day, as long as the readers like it, that's what's important.