10 February 2010

[comics] Phil Foglio: "Girl Genius" Free Via The Web?

2318.Well, it is something that many might do, and some might succeed at, but of all the comic artists I've liked over the years, only Phil Foglio can do it as though he always knew the way it was supposed to be done, as he highlights here, in conversation with Brigid Alverson at the Robot 6 division of the Comic Book Resources website:

Girl Genius was an established book. We put out 14 issues as a comic book periodical. It came out on a regular basis, and as an independent comic book goes, it was doing pretty darn well: We were selling, like 9,000 copies. About a third of them we were selling retail, off of our website or at conventions, the other two-thirds we were selling through distributors like Diamond. In 2005 we just stopped printing the comics, and we took this already established property that we had been selling for money and put it online for free and said no firewall, no subscriptions, no nothing—we are giving it away.

First of all, printing comic books is expensive. I figured that by not having to do the comic book we were saving close to $20,000 a year. When you lay out a comic book and then lay out a graphic novel, it’s two entirely different jobs. You have to do it all over again. All we do now is sell the collections. Also, printing the comic was really expensive, and we were in a cash crunch at a particular time and we were like, “Is this really worth it?”

And thirdly, for years people had been coming up to me and saying “I would like to get into comics” and I had been saying “Screw comics. Do a webcomic. It’s the wave of the future and your production costs are super low,” and eventually I realized that instead of just giving this advice I should take it.

A lot of the success of Girl Genius I think could only have been done by a person like myself who had a long career building up an established name and being in independent publishing, because that meant I was publishing my own books. So when Girl Genius went online, we were able to sell people Girl Genius books from day one, whereas almost everybody, who starts a webcomic has to collect material before they get a book. It takes them sometimes up to two years before they can begin to monetize our core product. We went in with a functioning store, and all we had to do was say “Like it? Buy it now.”

I've seen a lot of opinion (and mockery) of those who choose the web comic route. There is one thing, however; as divine as I think printed 'zines are, the economics of web comics are such that all you need is an online connection and they're up. There are some costs, but when you look at it as a value-based proposition rather than from a price POV (not that that isn't important but someties it's a flawed perspective) it can stand to be a huge winner.

Phil's got something on all of us aspiring web-comickers though, and it's not just an undoubted talent – it's the strength of a brand. Phil's famous for wry, clever humor, a delicious visual style, and an sense of adventure that's taken him credibly from role-playing gaming (What's New with Phil and Dixie, sometimes the only reason to pick up the late TSR's periodical Dragon Magazine), through fantasy (Asprin's Myth Adventures), satirical Pythonesque SF (Buck Godot) and to a comic that, for me, redefines steampunk (Girl Genius). When you get something with Phil Foglio on the cover, you simply know you're going to be entertained. When you combine that with the Studio Foglio's aggregate talent, Phil and Kaja's publishing knowledge and his history, you've got an unbeatable brand. It almost can't lose.

If you want to become famous and make a few bucks from your comics, then, start making your reputation now, if you haven't already, and if all you can do is put 'em on the web, put 'em on the web. We have to make some step.

Read: Girl Genius by surfing to http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/
Visit: Studio Foglio by surfing to http://www.studiofoglio.com/

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