Sequential art has been a part of storytelling for as long as history. However, as the codex—or traditional book—layout became more prominent. Sequential art began to take on more of a blocked structure typically read in “Z” formation within a book, now known as the modern comic book. The movement shifted sequential art away from long canvases such as scrolls and tapestries like Bayeux Tapestry to fit inside a physical and easily accessible book. Nevertheless, the scroll has been reimagined and is now more prominent than ever in the digital era for e-books.
While the traditional format for a comic book is still prevalent in western comics and is accepted across multiple platforms without issue, the scroll or vertical strip has shot the comic market back into mainstream media. This makes it one of the most popular formats for webcomics, thanks to companies like Naver Corp, which founded Webtoon in 2004.
Now, even though novels can usually be straightforward to modify, comics are not. Determining the format of your book is often one of the first steps before creating your story since not every platform can support every format yet. Despite the current scroll format popularity, it is often recommended to begin publishing a story in the traditional “Z” block panel. This is because it is claimed to be easier to modify by artists into the scroll paneling format versus vice versa; however, opinions vary. An example can be shown by Carly Usdin’s choice to release a digital issue of her comic Heavy Vinyl in 2017 before the serialized comic in 2019.
The Serialized Webcomic vs The Comic Issue
Two out of the three most common digital publication options for online comics are known for serializing webcomics as episodes that are initially released weekly. The third option for publishing currently relates more to traditional publishing than digital. It markets digital comics primarily as issues, or volumes, with the idea of possibly having multiple issues. The current formatting options also imply a more traditional background—the lack of the scroll formatting option.
Beginning with Webtoon, as one of the pioneers of the scroll format, the platform is easily available as both a website and an app to the public for free. There are two major sections on the forum that can determine pay and usually quality—Webtoon Originals and Webtoon Canvas, previously known as the discover page. Webtoon allows everyone to freely post a comic, in any format, following the size constraints of the platform if it falls in line with the community guidelines on Canvas. Webtoon has only recently initiated a way for creators who have achieved a certain amount of foot traffic to receive funds through an ad revenue service. However, “there is no guarantee that members will receive net ad revenue as a result of their participation in the program.” Consequently, implying that the only guaranteed pay is for featured authors and artists on the Webtoon Originals section of the platform. A status that is only achievable when the company reaches out to the selected creator.
Tapas, previously known as Tapastic, is an “open publishing platform” much like Webtoon. However, making money on the platform is seemingly a much easier feat than its main competitor. The platform hosts both novels and webcomics in multiple panel formats in both free to read and premium. Both sections have opportunities to make money. The former through advertisements or donations from readers called ink. There is even a yearly event called Inksgiving around Thanksgiving to increase support from readers. Donations or tips like this are often motivated by authors on the “free to read” section because ad revenue does not pay much. Last year a user even noted that:
for Tapas, I have about 2.4k subs and 43.5 k views, and I have only earned 0.71$ in total in ad revenue alone in the past six months. — so, like most people say, don’t get excited too much or don’t expect too much on ad revenue.(“How Much Do You Earn from Your Webtoons/Novels?” 2021)
To have a story placed in the Premium section, one just has to submit a form that pitches the story to firstname.lastname@example.org, which is effectively easier than simply being noticed. Additionally, as of last year, Kakao Entertainment has purchased Tapas and Radish, a dedicated serialized story platform. It now also hosts the top 27 webcomics available on Tapas. Thus, signifying a potential merger between platforms or an increased opportunity for readership across multiple outlets, inherently demonstrating a future increase in foot traffic for revenue.
ComiXology & Kindle
Now, as of February 2022, ComiXology has merged with Amazon, making the webcomic format increasingly available on Kindle for purchase and sale. A few selected comics have even become available on Kindle Unlimited, one of the largest self-publishing platforms on the market. However, rather than the company allowing all comics to be placed on Kindle Unlimited, there is now ComiXology Unlimited. Comics can now be placed on Kindle Unlimited through KDP and on ComiXology Unlimited after acceptance of “nomination,” which can be submitted via email to email@example.com. However, neither sub-platform currently appears to accept the scroll paneling format and opts for the traditional “Z” block paneling for paging through an e-book. This can be noted by Usdin’s comic, Heavy Vinyl, layout on ComiXology Unlimited vs. her layout on Tapas. Now, despite having separate sections, all comics are viewable and readable on the Kindle app. However, sadly navigation or discovering a comic for readers can be difficult. Establishing a readership may be slow at first because of the new merger, despite an easier chance of revenue.
Even though each platform currently has its difficulties and obstacles to monetary gains, there are a variety of benefits as well as the potential for growth for both creators and publishers.