Feb 25 2009 4:23pm

From the Web to Print

Two of my favorite webcomics—Templar, AZ and Jump Leads—are preparing to have volumes of the online comic printed out in book form. For Templar, AZ this is the third volume, and for Jump Leads it’s their first.

Templar, AZ is about a fictional Arizona town in an alternate version of our current world…heck, just go here and the writer/artist (Spike, aka Charlie Trotman) can tell you more thoroughly about it. I love that with every one-page comic I learn more about the world in which this is set while still getting the ongoing story. The artwork is top-notch, the characters believeable, and the storyline captivating. But don’t listen to me jabber about, go check it out!

Jump Leads follows Lead Service trainees Meaney and Llewellyn as they try to complete their training to become part of the so-called “reality police.” Unfortunately, their JumpShip, which allows them to jump through time and space, is broken and they can’t control where it goes. There are more details here.

Stylistically, Jump Leads is more angular and stark where Templar, AZ is full of curves and soft edges. Jump Leads is more episodic with the two trainees trading jibes as they jump from one place to the next, while Templar, AZ is a growing, expanding story. All the same, the two webcomics scratch very different parts of my reader brain; I only wish they would come out more often. And now, I can get a copy of my own to put on the shelf and enjoy whenever I want!

I do find it curious that many webcomics end up making and selling print editions. I realize that this can be a major source of income for the people involved. Perhaps not enough to earn a living, but more than enough to compensate for the costs of getting the work online. Plus it can give these artists a way to reach an audience that’s not reading stuff online.

There’s precedence for this, too. You can read Dilbert or Garfield or Bizarro online for free every day, but they still publish print collections of the daily comics. Heck, Garfield just put out collection number 47. And while you could clip the comics from the newspaper or print them out from online and put together your own binder of comics, it’s easier, and often better quality, to purchase the official publication.

If you look into the comic book world, this is done all the time. Runs of issues are collected together into graphic novels, often purchased by the same readers (who in essence are buying the content twice, then), but just as often bought by readers who want to be able to sit down and read a larger volume of content at one time.

Of course these days there are more and more stories that are written directly for the graphic novel format, but there are still a lot of graphic novels that are essentially reprints of the original comic. In cases where the original issues are long out of print or old, this can be a great boon for the reader who either never had the original comics, or doesn’t want to put wear and tear on potentially collectible/fragile material.

This is perfected in Japan where individual manga story lines are initially published in magazines like Shonen Jump, Shonen Ace, or Shojo Beat as something akin to a short story and then collected into manga books. There are a lot of readers who buy the individual magazine issues and the manga books. Of course, in this case you can have the magazine with a wide variety of content, and then buy the bound volumes for only the titles you really like.

The reason I find this curious in the case of webcomics is that these creators have chosen to eschew paper in order to get their story out, but then find a reason to come back to paper in order to keep the non-paper entity going. This is the model that Clarkesworld Magazine and Fantasy Magazine are currently running. I like the model, and it works well for webcomics since it plays into the graphic novel readership that’s already out there. I’ll be interested to see how it works for fiction.

[Image from Spike; used with permission.]

Kip Manley
1. kiplet
They eschew paper at first because it's expensive to print a decent-looking book and comics publishers qua publishers won't take a chance on something as quirky as Templar, especially in color.

When distribution via the web builds up enough of an audience, they can then take the paper plunge. A well-done paper comic is a beautiful thing in and of itself, beyond being a collection of your favorite comic you can take into the bath (oh, that shibbolethic ideal), and it's also another way to monetize your content or whatever the phrase is these days.

It's a terribly common model throughout webcomics, if more honored in the aspiration than the execution. Nothing curious or mysterious about it. It does result in webcomics sticking to the limiting frame of a paper page, rather than taking advantage of the infinite canvas—but then, we all have our crosses to bear.
Jeff Shreve
2. flotsamjeffsam
Kiplet is right on the money; I would add that having print books on hand at cons and other appearances can really drive sales from fans. Just watch the Penny Arcade booth in action: "If you buy our book, we'll sign it right now!" Often fans, even if they've read an entire series, just can't resist having a physical object or artifact of their fandom, and if it's signed by the authors, it's just all the more meaningful.
3. Gerren
I like "Jump Leeds", and I read it often, but I don't think that I enjoy it enough to purchase a printed version of it. Perhaps later on, when it gets a little more developed. On the same note however, I did buy the "Looking for Group" book and the "Penny Arcade" book this year at the NY Comic-Con.

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