New artists making it work amid ComiCon fanfare
Web-based comic-book artists and writers, who are among the many vendors at the annual, two-day Emerald City ComiCon convention in Seattle, are part of a growing niche in the Northwest.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Emerald City ComiConThe two-day convention devoted to the comic-book industry continues 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle. More information: www.emeraldcitycomicon.com.
Amid the celebrity autograph signings — Lou Ferrigno, Leonard Nimoy, Stan Lee — and geeky costumes — a Ghostbuster, zombie waitresses and a Dalek from Doctor Who — some people were actually trying to work at Emerald City ComiCon.
A cluster of Web-based comic-book artists and writers was busy selling everything from shot glasses to puffy robot pillows to Diablo the Satanic Chicken action figurines.
For these people, who are not household names outside a small but devoted fan base, conventions such as the two-day Seattle ComiCon are a chance to market their work, sign autographs and — hopefully — pay the bills.
For generations, comic-book artists used to rely almost exclusively on newspaper syndicates. But over the past 10 or 15 years, a small but growing number have distributed their work — for free — on the Internet. They make their living on books, merchandise and Internet advertising.
It's tough to say for sure, but there may be only 50 full-time "webcomic" artists, many of them along the I-5 corridor.
"I know there are a lot of webcomics in the Pacific Northwest, and a lot are moving here," said Kris Straub, author of the Starslip and Chainsawsuit comics, who recently moved to Seattle from Dallas.
He joins a solid group already in Seattle, including the megahit Penny Arcade, satirizing the video-game industry, and Unshelved, about librarians.
Meredith Gran, a 25-year-old Portland webcomic creator, quit her TV animation job two years ago and works full-time on her Octopus Pie comics. She inks her strips, spending about a month for each 16-page block — and then uploads it all to her Web site.
"It's a lot of work for free," she said. But putting her work behind an online pay wall would not work, she said, and the exposure on the Web allowed her to get a book contract.
Rich Stevens, author of the Diesel Sweeties strip, offers the cautionary tale for his fellow webcomic creators. In 2006, he got the holy grail of webcomics — a newspaper syndication deal through Universal Features.
But he found many newspapers were leery of dropping old standard strips for his pixelated strip about human-robot relationships. After two years, he opted out of the contract and says he now makes much more with a webcomic.
"I was the test case for our circle, and I don't think anyone would take a contract now, based on my experience," said Stevens, of East Hampton, Mass.
The shift from newspaper to Web distribution has led to more niche comics. They're often dirtier than you'd see in a newspaper. And they often have devoted fans, as could be seen at Emerald City ComiCon on Saturday.
"Rather than have 6 million lukewarm readers [in newspaper syndication], you'll have 20,000 really, truly devoted fans," said Straub, 31. Then he broke away from the interview, as fans lined up to talk, get an autograph and buy kitsch.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or email@example.com
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.