Open for Debate: Should We Kill ‘Webcomics’?

I’m revisiting a post I did earlier in the year about the name ‘Webcomic’ and I stated that I would stop using the word and start using Comic Strip. I stopped short from calling for ‘Webcomic’s’ death. Until now. Kill it. Let it die.

In my original article I made some really good points, some excellent points and some not so bad points. The one thing I lacked was research…until now. If you could call what I’m about to present to you as research.

Building A Case: What’s Out There?

My first piece of evidence is to head off the magical wonderland that is known as ‘The Googles’. Search for webcomics and an impressive 10 million results come your way. Search for Comics and 529 million results come your way. That’s HALF A BILLION. So 10 million must be like .000001234567889 of 529 billion – unless my finger math is off. Now to be fair, here are the totals of variations.

Comic: 504,000,000 results Webcomic: 10,300,000 results
Comics: 529,000,000 results Webcomics: 5,360,000 results
Comic Strip: 16,400,000 results Web Comic: 25,800,000 results
Comic Strips: 9,990,000 results Web Comics: 35,700,000 results
Comics Online: 234,000,000 results
Online Comics: 234,000,000 results

I have two conflicting thoughts here. The first is that by focusing on webcomics your competition for sites with ‘webcomics’ is MUCH less than it is for ‘comics’ – WINNER! The second is that maybe there’s a reason webcomics is lighter in the search results. NOTE: I could argue that the term “comics” may be skewed somewhat by the slang term for “comedians”. While this is helpful, it’s far from conclusive. Let’s keep digging.

Analyzing Data: What Are People Looking For?

The next test we’ll conduct is a little more sophisticated employing the Google’s Insights for Search. This basically tells you what keywords people are using for searches and compares them. For what it’s worth, companies that spend lots of money on Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising use this tool.

The comics terms crush every other term. In my opinion, this is a HUGE indicator of what potential audiences are looking for. But what about Social Media?

Supporting The Case: Hashing It Out

Finally, I found a resource that tracks hashtags on Twitter. I have commonly posted my comic under the #webcomic and #webcomics hashtags which just goes to show you how dopey I am – even after I denounced the term #webcomic. But I had a hunch that those hashtags were being followed. Exhibit #3 shows how wrong I was.

First the results for #Comic and #Comics over the last 180 days (this is dymamic and will update depending on the date you view this article)

Next the results for #webcomic and #webcomics:

“There is too little data for a full chart so we are showing only recent activity.”

That’s right – too little data! The chart shows the last 4 hours and it’s usually not pretty. Here’s a link to the search – see for yourself.

Putting Out The Call

What is all this about? I probably could have saved you a bunch of reading (or skimming) by simply stating that if you’re looking to market your comic where “the people” are looking (and in this case exponentially more), then it makes sense to tailor your marketing plan to jump in that pool. My contention has always been that we should be looking to market to people in the mainstream and I’m afraid I don’t see the name webcomic having much value from a marketing standpoint.

If the irony hasn’t slipped by you and you’re wondering why this site is called the ‘Webcomic Alliance’, our site is specifically tailored to speak to the comics community and it’s a more relative and specific term. For full disclosure, we’ve had a brief discussion about changing it, but decided against it…for now.

I closed my last article with this thought that still rings true “if this can help us target and communicate our marketing more effectively, then it’s a discussion worth having”.

What do you think? Are you going to keep publishing a webcomic?

Ken Drab at the dentist's officeKen Drab (me) of has a small brain but a savant-like interest in branding, marketing and design. He better, that’s what he gets paid to do in real life. In make believe – he’s a self-proclaimed comic artist.

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    • Lexia – thanks for bringing that up and is mainly my point – digital comics is fine for biz talk, but if I’m trying to attract readers outside of that circle, I need to go where they are searching.

      • With DC being digital they are searching that as well, also new people will be searching digital comics or e-comics being that is what they most likely heard from commercials or other ways… Just a idea. Really to get outside the circle of comic lookers… you will have to have things outside those comic lookers you can always do a short animation, you have Super Stick and Rick they are easy to draw and able to animate fast.

        But over all to reach outside the comics circle you have to do things to reach them is all i saying

  1. I would like to see “comic” versus “cartoon” Every incoming link I get from search is looking for “(insert topic) cartoon” not “comic”

    Second does the fact that more people use one term over another mean anything? If more people find my site via using “comic” than “webcomic” that is great for stats. But if people who use “webcomic” are stickier than “comic”, then I am more likely to turn that person into an ongoing fan.

    • Good question Bearman! As I mentioned on G+, in your instance, I think the focus of your site including title tags, content, etc is what gets you up higher in search results and therefore clicks.

      I would argue stickiness would be a result of your content rather than the naming convention of your comic.

  2. This is an interesting topic to me… I did some of the same research awhile back and due to the general ignorance or distate I’ve found in the general public regarding “webcomics”, I decided against using the term. It still slips in occasionally but most of the time, I try to use “comic” or “online comic”.

    Plus, honestly I wanted to differentiate my book from “webcomics”. Within some of the industry, there is a dislike for webcomics (and understandably so because, let’s be honest, most of them are total crap and disappear after a few months).

  3. I don’t want to kill the term. I generally say it proudly, and I think a term that differentiates us from the very generic “comic” is valuable. From a marketing standpoint and keywords, eh, just put comic in there. Doesn’t make much of a difference. But when actually talking to people, I generally say webcomic, as “Online graphic novel” is bulky, awkward, and almost oxymoronic.

    • I disagree. In the overall scheme of things, your keywords and content matter a great deal in most search engine algorithms. But that’s a search or technical aspect.

      It is more common for me to be confronted with a puzzled look when I mention webcomic to most people I speak with. It’s not much different when I’m at cons and ask people if they read comics online. The ratio of people who say yes is less than 10%.

      I think narrowing your focus to webcomics is pretty much like targeting that 10% instead of talking to 100% of people that would be interested in comics. Comic may be generic, but most content is not.

  4. Dude, you convinced me. I just edited our “About” page to read:

    Co-created by Chris A. Bolton (writer) and Kyle Bolton (artist), Smash is an all-ages *comic* that aims to put the fun back in superheroes!

  5. Webcomics often have their own identity due to being based in the medium. I find the term quite useful and have no problem using it to describe my work.

  6. Coming from a small-press print background we’ve had even more challenges using the term. If we take what was originally print comics and publish them online, is that webcomics? What if we are serializing a story that we know is headed for print online. Is that webcomics? I think there are WAY to many terms for what is all comics. And it confuses the general public. And sadly, webcomic has come to have a somewhat negative association, much like the term ash can had 20 years ago. I’d be happy to it go.

  7. always a great topic for discussion. I have switched to saying “comic” a comic cons (tho sometimes if talking to younger people, I ask if they read webcomics.. just to get an idea of their tastes.), and use the hashtag #comic.

    Interestingly, the ppl who typically BUY my books at cons don’t even read webcomics. Z&F may just not fit into that genre very well. So, it’s an “indie” comic strip that just happens to be online to sample. fair enough.

    Crap, what do we do now with our website name? LOL

  8. I had this discussion with a fellow webcomic creator yesterday, and we agreed that “webcomic” is basically an industry term, much like “MET mast” or “WRA” are industry terms for my day job. However, I’m not going to tell my neighbor that I “work with MET masts to develop WRAs” — I’m going to tell them “I’m an Engineer. I work in Wind Energy.”

    I’m starting to think the same should go for the term “webcomic” – I DOES mean something to somebody in the comics world. Mostly, it defines the business model I work under (which is why I think “Webcomics Alliance” remains an excellent name). I am NOT an “Indie Comic Artist” and I am NOT a “Cartoonist” and I am NOT a “Marvel colorist” – I am a webcomic creator.

    But if my neighbor asks me what I do, “I’m a cartoonist. You can find my work at my website.”

    • I’d agree somewhat, because I get the industry terminology aspect and it’s what I point out towards the end of the article in regards to the Webcomic Alliance name.

      But then I’m confused. In one sentence you say your are NOT a “Cartoonist”, but would tell your neighbor you’re a cartoonist. Obviously, I didn’t completely understand.

      In the end, I’m talking about marketing your comic. In the grand scheme of things, Webcomics is an obscure and (to your point) industry term. My point is there is much less value in ‘webcomic’ than ‘comic’ and I don’t see a need to use it.

      Again, since ‘Webcomic Alliance’ is an industry focused site, I don’t think we need to change it – for now… 🙂

      • “Cartoonist” is the phrase that most people readily understand, and it’s easier to say than “graphic novel artist” or “comic creator” (terms that I think are actually accurate to me). Just like “Engineer” is a term people understand, but “Wind Resource Specialist” isn’t.

        So in terms of marketing to the GENERAL PUBLIC there is more value in being a Comic & cartoonist first and Webcomic and graphic novel artist second (or not at all). EXCEPT…

        IS “Comic” more accessible? In the US, “Comic” = Superheros or Sunday Strip. Many people do not like either of those things, and when they hear “Comic” that is an immediate turn-off. Yet they might love what I do because it is not EITHER of those things.

        Is GENRE actually the superior key word?

        “It’s an epic fantasy adventure story,” vs “It’s an online comic” ?

        • Good stuff Robin….but…

          I disagree with your definition of comic in the US. I think the search results speak for themselves. I would also like to point out one of the biggest collection of comics is

        • That’s primarily why I don’t like saying just “comic”. I hate sunday strips and superhero comics, I am part of those people for whom it is an immediate turnoff. Yet I am enthralled in the webcomics biz.

  9. My take on this has always been that there is nothing wrong with the word webcomic. All it does it describe the particular comic’s main form of distribution–comic strips are found in the newspaper, comic books are found in specialty stores, and webcomics are found online. Nothing in any of those terms defines content or quality. Comics pros like Karl Kesel and Doug tenNapel are willing to call their recent online experiments webcomics, and Warren Ellis even has a recurring feature on his site where people are encouraged to recommend their favorite webcomics.

    I say the word is useful and should continue to stick around.

    • I respect your opinion, but I think at this point in the evolution of the medium, it’s redundant. The Internet is just a tool of publication.

      If I said my comic book was offset printed as opposed to digitally printed – most people probably wouldn’t know or care about the difference and it wouldn’t help me to advertise or market that aspect.

  10. I’ve mentioned to my coworkers that I have a webcomic and they just kinda give me a blank stare. Then, I usually follow up by saying, “y’know, a comic strip on the internet.” Then it clicks. Simply a word that is not in the common man’s nomenclature. Doesn’t mean it won’t eventually creep in though. Maybe it merits a backing. But, comics is comics.

  11. Your mention of “GoComics” got me thinking about this topic some more.

    You say “I don’t see the name webcomic having much value from a marketing standpoint,” and you use SEO search numbers or whatnot to back that up.

    I’m not sure that applies directly to webcomics, however. Did the big webcomics–the xkcds, the Kate Beatons, the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereals, the Penny Arcades–get where they are, making a living at putting their comics online, because they were good at SEO?

    I doubt it.

    To me, when I hear a work described as a “webcomic,” that tells me that it will probably have an interesting web site, comic updates that come out on the web first and foremost–and usually on a regular schedule–and that the author will maintain some sort of personal presence there, whether it’s in blog entries, news posts, forum or comment boards, Twitter messages, etc; that I can go there and get a real sense of the author’s personality beyond just what comes across in their images with words and drawings in them, and that maybe I can even interact with them if I manage to come up with something of mutual interest.

    It implies that it will be an intensely personal work, not subject–or as subject–to marketing oversight committees, editors, censors, etc; that it will not be massed produced, or made by uninspired drones paid by some company that owns the IP. That it will be unique.

    This makes me want to go check it out.

    On the other hand, I have nearly no interest if I hear that something is “just” a “comic”; to my brain that implies it will be slapped up on some soulless site with a generic interface by some robot, that there will be no possibility or even illusion of interaction with the author, and that I will find very little there to care about. This is probably why I pretty much never visit GoComics.

    I don’t think I’m alone in seeing a value in the “web” part of the label.

    Furthermore, I wonder if having “webcomic” rather than “comic” on your book or marketing material would be more likely to drive people to your site–thus potentially converting them into regular online readers who will give you ad revenue and additional web sales over time.

    And how much should we care about “comic” searches hitting us? Some, maybe, but what if 99.5% of them are just out for Sunday Funnies or Superman? My (web)comic is nothing like any kind of currently popular print comic–I don’t have much confidence that I’m going to interest those people.

    On the other hand, if you are seeking to emulate traditional syndicated newspaper comics, or print “graphic novels” or whatnot, I can see there being more point in marketing yourself as “comic.”

  12. First, your math is off by orders of magnitude. You said that there were 529 million results for ‘comics’ and then used 529 billion when calculating the ratio (and even then, your result was low). From the numbers you gave, the actual ratio of ‘webcomics’ hits to ‘comics’ hits is 0.01890359168241965973534971644612.

    You’re also glossing over the fact that one would expect more results for ‘comics’ because it is a broader search than – and is contained within – ‘webcomics’. I would assume that most, if not all, of the results for ‘webcomics’ were also present in the results for ‘comics’. I would say that the ability to conduct a broad or narrow search like that is desirable. As has already been pointed out, the term ‘comic’ refers to the art form in general, whereas ‘webcomic’ specifies a comic that is published serially online. If I find a webcomic, I know that I can begin reading it immediately on the website, and hopefully subscribe to future updates via RSS when I’m through with the archives. The term ‘comic’ does not come with the same guarantee. As a reader, I think that that’s a useful semantic distinction to make. The other terms that have been mention, like ‘online graphic novel’, may be even more specific, and carry less stigma, but they also have the problem of not being in common use, which you’re trying to avoid. I read a few hundred webcomics, and add to my reading list through link exchanges, collectives, and PW, but if I were to search for more, ‘webcomic’ is the term I would use. I’d guess that most other webcomic readers would say the same.

    The Insight and Twitter results are more telling, but what they tell me is that webcomics have not attracted a large audience – not that there’s something wrong with the terminology. I don’t agree that abandoning the semantic distinction of online serial publication is the right way to go about gaining more readers.

    • I agree with that comment and the one above; “webcomic” carries a certain connotations that are important to me as a reader.
      I’ve been published before and I like the distinctions “this is my published comic, this is my webcomic”.

  13. I’ll admit it, I use the term “online comic” more than any of the others mentioned. When people are over at my house and see my work laying around, I simply say ” I draw an independent comic strip you can find online”. I rarely use the word “webcomic”. Although back in the late 90’s [before its current incarnation],one of the main web portal for comic creators was, I tend to wonder if that had any bearing on how that name got tied into the independent online comic movement. [spitballing]

  14. Nobody needs to die today! Reading over the comments, it seems clear to me that BOTH terms are important, but what matters most is an awareness of who the creator is talking to. A webcomics reader, or the average citizen?

    I cannot count the number of times I have heard a webcomics reader say “I stopped reading normal comics years ago. All the GOOD comics are online.” A “comic” to them is a BAD thing. Something generic, over-processed, soulless, and boring. They love webcomics, but can’t stand anything mainstream. So to this crowd, “webcomic” is a selling point that describes not only a type of content, but a type of experience that they enjoy. If you want to attract people of this niche market, “webcomic” is the term to use.

    A person that reads traditional comics, on the other hand, may view webcomics as the digital trash that is killing their favorite stores. A person that does not read comics at all may simply respond with the blank stare of confusion at the unfamiliar “webcomics” term. Here, “comic” – the broad, all-inclusive term to the media type, is more appropriate and accessible. It is neutral or positive in this situation. And since it IS broad, it IS going to show up in searches more often. If the general population is who you want to reach, “comic” is the tern to use.

    So why kill one term in favor of the other, when neither is a perfect fit 100% of the time? Why not become more adaptable and fluid when interacting with potential readers? Start a dialog, ask people if what comics they read, and choose the term that is most appropriate to the person. There’s no need for anybody to put a stake through the heart of the Webcomic term just yet.

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