The Webcomicker

Who watches the watchmen?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Parting Thoughts on the Webcomic Hurricane Relief Telethon

Well, it's finally over. I didn't post an announcement on my site about the Hurricane Relief Telethon before it began, and I suppose I was remiss in not doing so, but my reasoning was that if someone was able to find my website, they've probably delved deeply enough into the world of webcomics that they'd assuredly already know about the Telethon.

First of all I'd like to give a hearty "way to go" to everyone involved in the organization of the event. If you're curious to see who all that was, just check the second-to-last page of the telethon. You guys did an amazing job setting up something in a very short period of time, and keeping it up and running despite what I'm sure was a much larger audience than you could have anticipated. Once the money from the auctions (some of which are still going on) gets added to the pot, I'm sure the total will easily eclipse the 30,000 dollar mark, and that's astounding for an event that was just sort of thrown together over the course of a week or so.

But I think it's important to look at the effects of an event of this magnitude beyond merely its short term goal of raising money for charity, because it really stands out in my mind as a major event in the history of webcomics, one which we should remember for years to come.

First of all, this event showed the incredible advantage that webcomics have in terms of timeliness. If you wanted to organize an event like this in a newspaper, you'd have to get in contact with all the syndicates, have the syndicates contact the artists, then get all the legal red tape out of the way, and since pretty much all syndicated cartoonists work with a two week buffer, you'd probably have to wait at least two weeks to give all the newspapers time to clear through the strips they've already received and get all the telethon strips in order. It would be a HUGE ordeal. Now, from what I've heard organizing this telethon was no picnic either, but it pales in comparison to what would be involved in organizing a newspaper strips version of this. This has of course always been one of the advantages of webcomics, but I think it really showed itself in this event.

Secondly, and more importantly, this telethon was, in my opinion, the first truly shared experience that the webcomic community has had. Sure there have been smaller instances of shared experiences. The current fad of guilding on World of Warcraft started by Penny Arcade and PvP and picked up by a few other comics has created something of a shared online community among fans of various different comics which has brought some different fanbases together, but even that is only a shared community among at most about 10 strips and only those fans of the strips which play World of Warcraft. This event brought together fans from over 300 different strips, both online and not, with no particular care for any other interests they may have. It brought together fans of strips with different political views, very different genres, and different levels of popularity. I think it's all pretty well summed up in the Sheldon strip which was used to end the telethon. I can't think of a better ending to the event than that strip.

This is the sort of event that Scott McCloud has been pining for for years, and I don't think he even had a strip in it! The man whose name has become synonymous with the term webcomic wasn't even involved in the biggest event in webcomic history (I think. I may have missed it.). In fact, basically NONE of the heaviest hitters were there. Yeah, Scott Kurtz did an auction, but it was of an old strip he drew. None of his art appeared in the telethon itself. Penny Arcade wasn't there (although they did raise money on their own). Megatokyo wasn't there. I also didn't see User Friendly or Sluggy Freelance. Again I may have missed them, but I was pretty diligent about reading every strip, so I don't think so. And you know what? While their contributions may have driven a bit more traffic to the site and increased the amount of money the telethon was able to generate, I'm GLAD they weren't there. Many people for the first time got to see that there is a rich world of webcomics beyond merely the "100,000 hits a day" club. There are literally hundreds of quality authors and artists who pour their soul into little known strips, toiling in relative obscurity for years, and this was their chance to shine. It's fitting that it would be the middle tier and lower webcomics who were responsible for an event such as this because it shows that there's more to webcomics than just a few superstars. This was a true grassroots effort, and it turned into something phenomenal.

I'm definitely going to be buying the book of all the collected works for the telethon. Mark my words, people will look back on this event a decade from now and say, "That was a turning point for webcomics. That was the day they proved what they were capable of. That was the day they opened the eyes of many people to their richness and vastness. That was the day many people realized that they could find a comic which they truly ENJOYED, as opposed to simply a comic which could make them chuckle on occasion." And I want a permanent record of this event.

Now I just wish I'd submitted a comic for inclusion. Damn.


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