One of the things Ellis points to in his piece is that many of these newer webcomics we something of a convergence on a similar format, roughly the equivalent of half of a printed comic page. That makes the graphic that shows up on the web more horizontal, therefore fitting most monitors better, but still allows for a fairly easy transition when the book is slated for print. However, what strikes me as more interesting about Ellis’ post is that he notes that, while working on Freakangels, he deliberately wrote the pages with the printed page foremost in his mind, with how it looked on the web as a secondary consideration. The story was written as a print comic, even though it premiered as a webcomic. Ellis notes that “it was mostly about ease of experience and ease of transition to print (where the money was).”
Several years ago, Marvel and DC altered how they approached their stories a bit. Instead of going with whatever length and pacing made organic sense for the story, they began focusing on four- and six-issue story arcs. That way, one arc could be easily collected in a trade paperback and resold in the bookstore market. It could be seen in the stories themselves, as what-should-have-been-a-five-issue-story got padded out to six issues, making for some awkward, drawn-out scenes. And plot points would only be mentioned once during an entire arc, making it difficult for readers to jump on to a new title unless they happened across the beginning of a story arc.
The problem was that the creators were developing their stories for the trade paperback market, but having the work being first distributed in serialized pamphlets. They were trying to serve two masters simultaneously, and the result was frequently less than ideal.
This is evident, too, in early 20th century pulp stories starring the likes of Doc Savage and John Carter. Reading those books today, readers find that each chapter ends on an almost overly dramatic cliff-hanger of an ending, only to be quickly resolved at the beginning of the next chapter. This is because the stories were never intended to be collected in book form; they were written as serials for monthly magazines. Here again, the format of the story itself is, in part, dictated by the venue in which its meant to be taken in. Presenting the same material in another format can produce clunk results that don’t always work as well.
But even the best cases, one venue is going to take precedence. Looking back at Girl Genius, you can see how the Foglios have changed their storytelling structure from the earliest installments (which were originally print only) so that there are now more natural breaks at the end of each page to accommodate their online delivery. But, the page itself is still structured and executed like it’s designed for printed publication. Which it was. Selling the printed copies here is still the primary design driver, as Ellis noted with Freakangels.
Other webcomics, such as Tozo, the Public Servant and Dresden Codak, are designed with a greater emphasis on their initial online delivery. However, they’ve been given differing considerations when it comes to printed comics. Aaron Diaz has recently mentioned issues concerned re-configuring some installments of Codak for a book format. David O’Connell, on the other hand, has relied on a fairly rigid grid structure that creates an easy three-tiered printed page, making pamphlet versions of Tozo much easier to format.