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Artists say future of comics is online

Like many industries today, the future for comic book artists is on the Web, according to a Law & Comics panel hosted by the San Diego Law Library Monday.

Artists who create and copyright their own work can succeed by cultivating a loyal online fan base, but they shouldn’t necessarily quit their day jobs, the panelists agreed.

“The digital world is opening up a whole new vista for cartoonists, comic book artists and the medium, and it’s very exciting,” said Batton Lash, creator of the humor/horror series “Supernatural Law.”

Lash launched his comic in the 1970s as a strip in a legal publication and a few local newspapers. He began publishing it in comic book form in the 1990s. “Supernatural Law,” however, really gained an audience when he started running it as a Web comic in 2005.

“I have gotten more readers once it went digital then in all the previous incarnations of the strip, mainly because the worldwide web is exactly that, worldwide,” Lash said. “Once it went online, it was a whole new ballgame.”

Lash, who will have a booth at this week’s Comic Con International at the San Diego Convention Center, doesn’t think the print product is going away, though. He said artists will initially create content for the Web, but then publish it in book form as the demand remains in that space.

San Diego attorney Stu Rees, who represents cartoonists, said artists who only try to create a paper product will have troubling paying the bills.

“Prior to the year 2000, if you had a successful comic strip launch in a newspaper, you had a reasonable expectation that within a year or so you could quit your day job,” he said. “You would make most of your living, if not all of it, off of your comic strip. You’d get launched in 100 or more newspapers.

“Nowadays, pretty much every single syndicate says to people, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’ ”

Those who branch out into other areas, the outlook is much brighter, according to freelance artist Mark Irwin. The key is to secure your rights for every format in which your art could appear, including book, television and movies.

“The ability to make money now is a lot better for artists in some ways,” he said. “It’s a shrinking industry, but it’s shrinking to the good.

“There is a way for creators to make money and to do it throughout all the different fields. I try to look at it as a positive thing.”

Irwin, who has worked for Disney, Marvel and Capcom, is developing his own comic novel with a friend called, “Jack Secret.” The duo plan on publishing some “Jack Secret” content online to get the word out about their work.

The Internet is a tool artists can use to create a positive buzz about their comic, the panelists said.

Fans will follow their favorite artists around to the different trade shows, like Comic Con.

“There’s this personal, one-on-one connection that my Web comic clients have with their audience,” Rees said.

Comic strips now can be sold like music on iTunes with people paying a small fee to download a particular strip. Lash said he thinks this is how the industry will return to the 10-cent comic, with people purchasing strips through their PayPal account.

“You’ve got to go with the technology and apply everything you’ve learned to that new technology,” he said.

Rees, who pens his own cartoons, called “Stu’s Views” in addition to his solo practice, said it’s important for independent artists to obtain copyrights to most of all of their work. He’ll give first publication rights to a magazine for one particular issue, but then maintain the right to use that strip for any future use.

“As a cartoonist, you sell legal rights, you don’t sell cartoons,” Rees said. “(My clients) deliver a digital file for reproduction to whoever the buyer is, so they’re really selling the right to reproduce their work.”

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