Webcomics Symposium starts today, explores business and creativity on the Internet

This weekend, Free Culture Swarthmore has planned Swarthmore’s first-ever Webcomics Symposium. Even if you’ve never read a webcomic before, you should still consider taking a look at the symposium, which will “explore the new business of creativity in the digital age,” according to Alex Benn ’08, president of Free Culture. It will explore the question, “when costs of distribution are insignificant, what kind of new creations and business models are made possible?”

Five webcomic personalities will be coming to campus, namely Shaenon Garrity of Narbonic, Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary; Rich Burlew of Order of the Stick; and both Eric Burns and Wednesday White of Websnark, a commentary blog that focuses on webcomics. The Symposium will start on Friday at 7:00 PM in Cunniff Hall with a panel discussion moderated by Professor Tim Burke of the History Department.

The Friday panel will focus on the new business models made possible by the Internet, said Benn, “but on Saturday, we will move to workshops, where students will get a chance to learn the nitty gritty details of building a webcomic.” Even so, Saturday’s workshops should be interesting to more students than just aspiring webcomic creators — the topics include “Business for Artsy Types,” “Engineering a Punchline,” and “The Role of the Editor (in an Editor-free Medium)”.

The Symposium is being jointly funded by Forum for Free Speech and the President’s Office, and Free Culture members hope that it will expose students to a real-life example of Free Culture principles in action. Eric Astor ’09, Free Culture member and primary organizer of the Symposium, explained how webcomics fit into the club’s mission. “Webcomic artists essentially give their comic away for free, to anyone who wants to read it, in a way that just wasn’t possible before the Internet made publishing so cheap. Those who make their living from their comic rely entirely on alternate business models, from merchandising to advertising, as well as subscription-based systems… the companies that own so much of American culture came into dominance when publishing was expensive. Now that publishing can be so cheap, thanks to the Internet and other technologies, anyone can create a comic, distribute it online, and let every individual decide for themselves if they want to make it possible for this person to make a living through this sort of creativity.”

According to Benn, the Symposium should have a broad appeal because “a webcomic is also a business, and people can learn about how to make money off of a creative work shared freely over the Internet. The same tools that webcomic authors use can be applied to an independent band, a visual artist, or even something as simple as a blog.” Benn and Astor also hope that the Symposium will win new fans to the world of webcomics; as Astor said, “webcomics are just comics published on the Internet, rather than in a newspaper. Many of the artists and authors are at least as good as the syndicated comics that you normally get to see – and there are no corporate-imposed limits on their art and creativity.”


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