February 2, 2006 1:03 PM PST
Digital rebirth for comic strips
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Also, much of the buzz for Web comics comes through grassroots fandom in the blogosphere. Asmussen's political strip, for example, gets a lot of play from blogs such as Wonkette.
"I'm still waiting for the ultimate combination of visual blog: blog, drawing, animation, music. Technology brings out new talents," said Asmussen.
But making a transition to animation isn't easy. Animated cartoons require cartoonists or their design partners to have knowledge of animation programs like Flash. They need music, voice overs and, even with computer technology, can be tedious and time-consuming to produce.
Lisa Klem Wilson, senior vice president general manager of United Media--which syndicates a selection of 50 comic strips to most U.S. newspapers--said she would like to see her company embrace animations, but they're very expensive. An animation running 30 to 60 seconds for the Web can cost between $2,000 to $8,000 to produce.
"Comic strips are a unique art form unto themselves," Wilson said. That said, she noted that the syndicate is "trying to launch stuff on our site that's edgier to attract a younger person. There's a struggle between being edgy and operating in the traditional newspaper space."
For animations, she said, the company is looking for partners to offset costs, and at some point, she believes, the format will be supported online by advertising and subscriptions. "There's a good future for the syndication business online because animation, e-mail, phone, PC, all of it makes it a bigger not smaller market."
Still, comic artists will likely have a more difficult time making money, Asmussen believes. Readers rarely pay for comics online, and creators will be hard pressed to attract enough readers for a hefty paycheck from advertisements or by selling related merchandise.
That's where OffPanel.com wants to help. The company was started by two Yahoo employees who write a comic strip in their spare time called "OK-Cancel." Kevin Cheng, who works in interaction design for Yahoo, first got noticed in the software blog community when he wrote a strip and essay for his masters' thesis on the OK-Cancel site.
Since then, he and partner Tom Chi have licensed their comic to textbooks and magazines and made their bread and butter through advertising. Now Offpanel is signing other niche artists--including a dinosaur specialist and a freelance writer--to deals that give writers 80 percent of the advertising profit.
"This could be the answer for a lot of talent out there that's never going to get a syndication deal, with newspapers in decline," said Bjordahl.
Like many comic writers, Bjordahl keeps a day job to pay the bills, but his first love is the comics. "It's amazing how much funny stuff happens when you're trying to put together software and technology." Bjordahl said. In fact, some people believe his college comic strip, "Where the Buffalo Roam," was among the first comics to be on the Internet.
"I felt like Forrest Gump."
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