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Webcomics on the iPad? Creators Say “Meh”

The much ballyhooed announcement of the Apple tablet finally arrived this Wednesday, along with the slightly unfortunate name “iPad” and details on what will essentially be a giant iPhone, but with no phone. There’s been a lot of speculation about what this will mean for the digital distribution of comics, much of which was rounded up at CBR and later at Newsarama, while Rich Johnston trumpeted iPads as our “new overlords” and Comixology almost immediately envisioned their own iPad app.

But if the iPad is going to revolutionize the way we read comics — and that’s still an “if” — what will it mean for webcomics, which have been native in the digital world since day one? We asked some of the biggest creators in webcomics for their thoughts.

Randall Munroe, the creator of “xkcd,” replied that “while it’s a nice device — I’ve been frustrated by the lack of ultraportable computers which aren’t just underpowered netbooks — I don’t think it will have any more impact on webcomics than the iPhone did.”

“Virtually no successful webcomics are currently charging for actually delivering the comics, and although I can’t speak with authority for anyone but myself, I think we’re content with the business models we have,” said Munroe. “Since webcomics tend to do well only when it’s really easy for people to view and share comics, we usually try to make access as unlimited as possible and then charge for associated things — merchandise, advertising space, speaking engagements, print books, etc. It’s the creators who have been struggling to get people to pay for their published digital content — newspapers, movie studios — who are going to be seizing on this as a lifeline.”"People read our comics on computers anyway, and this is just another computer,” agreed Kate Beaton of “Hark! A Vagrant!” “Maybe in the future it will be sweet and revolutionary but right now it looks like a giant iPod.”

Others added that the biggest benefit of the iPad for webcomics wasn’t so much a benefit as a lack of obstacle — the fact that the screen size will mean that there’s no need to resize or reformat webcomics for the iPad platform in order to display existing strips.

“It looks to me like the device has a high enough resolution that it can display extant comic widths without requiring content modification, so artists won’t need to design specifically for the tablet platform, or modify their archives,” said Chris Onstad, the creator of Achewood. “For the same reason, I don’t see [web]comic consumption changing too much, especially considering that only, like, .0009% of people will end up with this expensive-ass object, and 85% of those people will spill nitrogen-pressurized beer onto them… making the issue moot.”

“I think it will change the way people read webcomics in that some people will buy an iPad (ugh, it hurts really to even type it is such a terrible word) and read the same webcomics as they read on the perfectly good $1500 laptop that they left at home, because they ran out and bought an iPad,” said Jeffrey Rowland of “Overcompensating” and Topatoco. “The iPod apps are pretty great things and I’d like do some of that in the future but I think the appeal of apps is that they’re made to be simple to use on extremely convenient portable devices that are difficult to type on. Running apps on a bigger screen when you could just use a web browser seems weird.”

Others were skeptical not only about how the iPad might change the way webcomic are consumed — or rather, wouldn’t — but also about what they perceive as its limited potential as a device to create comics.

“You can’t draw on it, or plug anything into it really, from what I understand, so it’s not gonna change the way people make comics,” said Rowland, a sentiment that was also echoed by Anthony Clark of “Nedroid.” “As far as creating comics goes, it’s my understanding that it’s pretty limited in that regard — no multitasking, cannot run Photoshop — so personally it seems pretty useless,” said Clark. “I can’t currently picture it being a huge deal. I’m not overwhelmed, and I’m not underwhelmed. I guess I’m just not whelmed at all.”

Still, while there was a strong current of skepticism among webcomic creators about the tangible implications of the iPad for their work, others expressed general enthusiasm or appreciation for the product. “All I can say now is that any device that makes webcomics easier to read in bed and on the toilet is one that gets a thumbs up from me,” added Ryan North of “Dinosaur Comics.”

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