Erik Larsen of Savage Dragon fame, took some digs at webcomics on twitter yesterday and then caught crap for it. Or possibly he was trying to expand his knowledge on the subject and totally flopped on his presentation.

Why was this news? One of the industries leading publishers decided to inaccurately paint an entire sector of the industry with a broad-brush. Sorry, Erik. You have a couple of good points in there, but you buried them in some problematic language.

The answer to what in webcomics has reached the depth, complexity, and rules-breaking of Watchmen is Homestuck over at . I’ll admit it lacks superheroes, but the direct market didn’t collapse the way the newspaper market did, so everyone who wanted to tell superhero stories during the early days of webcomics was still chasing publishers then.

As a delivery system, websites favor the recurring content that comes to a satisfying conclusion every time. Comedy works well in that format and tends to draw a stronger response from those not turned off by the joke, so most of the earlier commercial leaders were/are comedy strips. Considering they are working in the tradition of Peanuts, Doonesbury, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County, it’s no wonder that some of their fans got annoyed on the content being produce being dismissed as merely “good for a laugh.”

Now, like the newspaper comic page, there are some dramatic strips that turned out to be commercially viable also. The earliest of the would be , the only webcomic whose trades are published by the Big 2. Despite giving away the content for free (with ads) on the web, the title was still too profitable for DC to cut loose when they shut down the rest of the CMX line. It was supposed to go to Wildstorm, but then that got shut down too. The last trade came out under the DC imprint itself. Of note, despite being a DC trade, my local comic store doesn’t carry the title, probably because they carry almost no Manga.

As a commercial venture, webcomics has settled on the television/radio model of making money off of stories. Ads, repackagings (trade collections), merchandising, and licensing pay the bills of fifty or so full time creators . That’s not a big number, but let’s not pretend that the American direct market supports even a thousand full-time creators. This has nothing to do with Erik, since he wasn’t banging on them for selling t-shirts. But it’s a common enough complaint that I felt the need to address it. Looking down on people for making money off their audience is snobbery. Being a snob about HOW artists make money off their content is just weird. Oh, and Erik, most of the people on that list will tell you online trade sales a significant part of their income. So “willing to read but they would never pay for” is one of things you’re getting dinged for.

Finally, buried his under inaccurate broad-brushing of the webcomics, Erik does manage to make the point that there is a higher percentage of crap in webcomics than in published comics. He’s right. There is. He doesn’t clearly articulate a reason for it though, so I will here: money. It isn’t publishers or editors. It’s simply the fact that the production and distribution costs favor large production runs to minimize costs, and it takes a profit to make doing it more than once reasonable for anyone but a masochist. Profits go to the good enough and have a pretty sharp cut-off in the ink and paper world. On a web that has blog sites that host content for free, that number drops to zero. So yeah, more crap.

Luckily, there are people like Scott McCloud and myself who enjoy digging through the crap to find the good stuff. Name a genre, I’ll see what I can recommend. Don’t like sitting in front a computer for reading comics? Name the format you like, and I’ll try to point you to those that have already repackaged their stuff. Well, for trades or digital downloads anyway. Floppy repackagings are pretty thin on the ground. Not profitable enough.

Thank you everyone who made it this far, and Erik, please know that I continue to enough the Savage Dragon trades.