In 1989, Bill “Calvin and Hobbes” Watterson gave a famous address at Ohio State U.’s Festival of Cartoon Art: “The Cheapening of the Comics” (transcript). Twenty-two years later, successful webcomic artist Dave Kellett (of “Sheldon” about a boy and his non-imaginary talking duck, and “Drive” a sci-fi comic with a convoluted premise and funny aliens) offered a new-generation response at the same venue: “The Freeing of the Comics” (YouTube part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). While Watterson told how and why newspaper comics were (and are) dying, Kellett explained how webcomics can (and do) replace them (although not necessarily for Watterson).
If 42 minutes of video are tl;dyt for you, here are some quotes:
“(Bill Watterson) is 10,000 times the cartoonist that I was. But how important is it that if you’ve decided to take a life that steps away from fame, which it is very hard in America to do, that this is the one photo you’re left with? I mean, God bless the guy but don’t you think he ever looks at this and goes ‘Really, that sweater? Really? The desk that looks too small for me? That’s the one I’m stuck with? Come on.'” part one, 5:30
“Newspapers will survive the move to all-digital distribution but the syndication model – for comic strips, anyway – will not…” part one, 7:45
“Readers for the last 100 years have not been primed to pay for a comic strip. They’ve been primed to pay for a newspaper.” part two 2:30
“Webcomics, the Business Model, is an ad-subsidized delivery of free content… which then monetizes audience passion by selling books, memorabilia, apparel and licensed goods to a small sliver of that total audience.” part three 2:40
“So many artists say ‘Oh, I’m right brain-left brain I don’t want to deal with business!’ The sad news is: Bullshit, you do have to deal with business. If you don’t deal with business, someone else will deal with it for you and they will do it wrong. They will screw you over… We ask out doctors to go eight years to learn medicine; we ask lawyers to go six… years to learn law. They then have to set up a practice and guess what – they then have to learn business.” part three 5:25
“If only (newspaper) syndication had existed, Robert Crumb would have been an unrecognized genius; he never would have found an audience. On the flip side, if Watterson had only the default of webcomics, his would’ve been a voice lost to a generation…” part four 4:55
“You won’t have the (cartoonist) millionaires you had in the past.. but you will have, I think, more cartoonists who will make a comfortable living… interacting with an audience of 40,000 to 200,000 people around the world.” part four 6:40
“My work is given away for free online, but the copyright remains mine. I got an email from a Russian lawyer who said there’s a company in Russia who’s using your work translated in Russian for selling some soap or something. I went ‘hot damn, those s.o.b.’s’ and he said ‘I’ve already filed an injunction for you in a Russian court’ and I was like ‘HOT DAMN, that’s amazing!’ and they’d stopped using it…” part five 1:15
Webcomics Kellett name-dropped in the address: the frequently MeFi’ed Penny Arcade, xkcd and Achewood, the once-or-twice MeFi’ed Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Questionable Content and The Abominable Charles Christopher, and his own Herriman homage in Sheldon.