Webcomics, as the name plainly states, are comics on the web. Although that’s a bit misleading since many printed comics also show up on the web in various forms. But I’ve started seeing a variety of printed works gain a second life as a webcomic, despite not being true webcomics in the strictest sense.
Although I suspect not the first to do so, the first instance where I noticed it was a few years ago when Phil Foglio began serializing his old Buck Godot stories in 2007. I was familiar enough with Foglio’s work to have heard about the series back in the mid-1980s, but distribution was spotty in my area and I wasn’t able to read them. Seeing the adventures online decades later prompted me to purchase print copies, but they still remain on Foglio’s website free of charge. He did the same thing with his old What’s New with Phil and Dixie strips from Dragon Magazine, and later ran his Myth Adventures! series online as well.
The idea in Foglio’s case was primarily to expose readers who were familiar with his popular Girl Genius strip to some of his older work. He and his wife Kaja had by then established a good relationship with some printers who were working on the collected editions of Girl Genius, and they were able to tap into the archives and reprint Buck Godot, What’s New and Myth Adventures! for their recent audience. The books had long been out of print, and would be difficult to acquire for all but the most ardent fans. But by getting them newly printed and promoting them through online serialization, the Foglios were able to tap into a new market with comparatively minimal effort. (Though it should be said, that’s far from no effort!)
This idea has been adopted more recently this year by former Mirage Studio artist Jim Lawson, who’s begun serializing his comic Paleo online. In the few months it’s been running so far, there hasn’t been much in the way of overt commercialization, but there is, nonetheless, a friendly “Buy” link on the page which points over to an online store containing old print editions of the comic, as well as other books Lawson worked on. From what I can tell, these are all from the original print runs and not new collections, unlike the Foglios, and it’s unclear if Lawson intends to reprint Paleo, continuing in the same vein as the Foglios.
David Reddick has a decidedly different approach, however. Towards the end of July, he noted that he was “overworked, stressed out about money, trying to keep up with things in real life such as a move and bills and other things that yank on one heavily, and I have much to keep up on that has demanded my time as of late...” Rather than put Legend of Bill on hiatus, though, he put out a call for guest strips. He did run some, but a month later he noted that he was still trying to work up a decent-sized buffer, and so began running some of his older strips that had previously only appeared in print.
(Interestingly, he’s chosen a variety of strips that ran in Knights of the Dinner Table, Kobold Magazine or Renaissance Magazine. Presumably, this was so that any of his current readers who may have read one of those magazines might still find a “new” strip from one of the others.)
Reddicks’ idea, rather than to sell old copies of where these strips appeared, is simply to retain interest and engagement with his readers. As a strip that normally updates twice a week, dropping to zero updates for over a month could easily and quickly erode his audience. Rather than take an extended leave with platitudes about coming back soon, Reddick opted for a way to continue to provide strips that were, for most viewers, new. While the storyline he had been running previously has been interrupted, the three panel gags he’s been selecting in the meantime don’t require any additional backstory or context, so they work well independently.
As I said, these aren’t webcomics in the strictest sense, since they did see print publication first. But they tend to slide in under a webcomics category by virtue of their prior availability. Or unavailability to be more precise. Whether through time, or limited distribution, or what was previously a decidedly niche market, or some combination of these, these content of these comics stands somewhat removed from their original delivery. Whereas Garfield and Beetle Bailey are inexorably linked to a print medium, and only happen to also appear online, these others, and comics like them, blur the lines a bit more than I might’ve otherwise guessed. Does the original venue really matter that much, or is it simply an issue of perception? I might just have to explore that in a future column!