Webcomics in The Economist

A Dec 22 article in the Economist looks at the thriving world of webcomics and suggests that they have broken the awful cycle of mediocre newspaper comics -- a cycle that Bill Watterson decried when he gave up on Calvin and Hobbes. It's a great piece:

Many of these comics are expanding outwards into little media empires of their own. “XKCD”, probably the most innovative, now features a separate blog called “What If?”, on which Mr Munroe answers questions sent in by readers. One recent post asked “if every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon at the same time, would it change color?” (The answer is no, unless you can borrow 6 billion one-megawatt lasers from the Pentagon.) “SMBC” and “Ctrl Alt Del” have both experimented with sketch shows and animated comics. “Penny Arcade” has become a sprawling video-games industry phenomenon, hosting games conventions and fund-raising campaigns.

One thing they have in common is how they make their money. The typical audience for one of the leading web comics is between 1m and 10m unique browser visits per month, comparable to a medium-sized newspaper website (the website of the Daily Mail, the best-read newspaper on the web, gets 100m per month). But unlike on newspaper websites, where advertising is the main source of revenue, the audience on web comics are not just readers—they are also customers. Most artists sell T-shirts, books, mouse mats, posters and other paraphernalia. The most successful at monetising content is said to be Mr Inman: his site, “The Oatmeal” made $500,000 in 2011 from its audience of around 7m unique visitors per month.

Amplified by social media—Mr Inman has some 700,000 Facebook followers—this audience can be powerful. One extremely long and exceptionally geeky comic last summer on “The Oatmeal”, extolling the virtues of the inventor Nikola Tesla and attacking his better-known rival, Thomas Edison, somehow snowballed into a campaign to save one of Tesla’s labs on the outskirts of New York. By leveraging his immense traffic to attract donations and to sell T-shirts and other gear, Mr Inman raised $1m in nine days—enough, with matching funding from New York State, to buy the building.

Triumph of the nerds (Thanks, Martin!)


  1. “the website of the Daily Mail, the best-read newspaper on the web”

    Surely the most depressing fact we’ll read all day.

  2. I think it’s important to note that when it says Ctrl-Alt-Del has “experimented with sketch shows and animated comics” it means that Tim Buckley has streamed video of himself assembling comics from pre-drawn parts, and produced a dozen or so 5 minute long cartoons based on the comic,  the production values of which can be ascertained from this gif of the main character jumping out a window, and on which the producers said they “lost a HUGE amount of money”.

    Kurtz’s absence must be really galling him given CAD’s inclusion.

  3. They missed a couple things that I think should have been mentioned. Especially given that Garfield was their old media go-to example, Jim Davis is a HUGE fan of webcomics, giving his approval to Garfield Minus Garfield, as well as relaunching US Farms online.

    In their mention of mini-media empires, how about Blind Ferret? The Least I Could Do animated pilot episode should have been thrown in under the animation bit, way moreso than CAD.

  4. “…“Penny Arcade” built up around the nascent video-games industry, and feature the stock characters of game culture: ninjas, snipers and busty women.”
    And suddenly I am sad about liking games.

    1. Don’t be sad about liking games. Be sad about the state that the industry and mainstream culture around games has let itself get into. Demand better and we will get better.

  5. While it’s great to see Webcomics being discussed in The Economist, the article is poorly researched and extremely limited in scope.  More of a blurb than anything else.

  6. The Dec 22nd issue was the Economist’s annual ‘Christmas issue’. In addition to it’s regular superb news reporting, that issue has a bumper crop of fascinating and entertaining articles on a wide variety of topics. It’s worth picking up each year even if you don’t read any other issues.

    From a happy subscriber.

  7. another great comic genius who is well worth the time to find is Jim Martin (willy & ethel, cats with hands, porterfield & mr boffo) all updated DAILY. well worth a visit

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