Shadowline: Webcomics in a vacuum

Shadowline recently launched a webcomics page, and I visited it with great curiousity. At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson commented that there wasn’t a lot of novelty to it:

On the one hand, using creators with some experience means the publisher and readers can have faith that they know how to meet promised deadlines and their work will have a certain level of quality. On the other, this looks kind of like leftovers. But then again, why shouldn’t they reuse the material if it means reaching a new audience? Maybe because it diverts traffic and Google juice between two sites?

Well, as someone who regards leftovers as a tasty, no-prep lunch, I’m pretty much on board with this. Seriously, I sampled the comics on this page and liked most of them. I had seen Finder before—it’s hard to avoid, even for someone like me whose interests are pretty specialized—and I had heard of a few of the others, but having them gathered on a single, easily bookmarked page is mighty convenient.

At Publishers Weekly Comics Week, Todd Allen agrees that the lineup is solid but asks: Where’s the money?

There are no ads in the Flash-based Web comics player. There is no merchandise to buy. There are no links to other sites. This is odd, especially when you consider the non-Zuda alumni all have online revenue streams. Using the web to drive sales for Finder graphic novels is how McNeil makes a living, to point out one example, and without so much as a link back to her site and list of available titles, it isn’t clear the extent of benefit that’s being received for making the material available on a secondary site.

Again, a lack of ads doesn’t bother me (hey, I listen to NPR!), but I do agree that the comics on the site seem to be just sort of … out there. Maybe Shadowline is just setting itself up to be the PBS of webcomics: Classy content, no ads. But does that mean there will be a pledge drive soon?

The page also seems to be missing some of the customary webcomics tools, such as About pages or a list of recently updated comics. This makes me wonder whether the comics posted are simply previews or full-blown webcomics that will continue for hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Right now, the comics include

Action Ohio, an attempt at superhero noir that made its debut on Zuda a few months ago. I remember liking this comic when it first went up, and I hope the creators put up more than the first ten pages.
Brat-Halla, which seems to be a single-page gag comic with a Viking theme. It’s capably drawn, but not my cup of tea.
Chicago: 1968: This is my cup of tea, a drama about the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968.
Finder: This is just one episode of the classic, long-running graphic novel by Carla Speed McNeil, but it’s a generous, 44-page slice.
Hannibal Goes to Rome: History comics! Maybe this is the PBS of webcomics. Don’t let the wordy first page scare you off; this is history at its best, with lively art and plenty of action.
L’il Depressed Boy: I think this is supposed to be a parody—the blue coloring is a tipoff. Also the fact that it’s about a rag doll who falls in love with salesgirls at the record store and the fast food joint, and the convenience store. You get the picture.
Platinum Grit: This starts with six pages of pure text, which I didn’t read (this place is rubbing off on me), and then becomes what looks like a goofy relationship comic. According to its Wikipedia page, it has quite a following in Australia.
Yenny: The adventures of a lively, scantily clad young lady. I actually liked this more than that description might lead you to believe; the art is cute and the humor is down-to-earth.

I do think the lack of any information hurts the site; with Yenny in particular I felt somewhat disoriented. However, the comics are good, and if the creators keep posting updates and the proprietors beef up the interface, this could evolve into a solid webcomics destination.

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3 thoughts on “Shadowline: Webcomics in a vacuum

  1. Struble, here — creator of the Li’l Depressed Boy. Thanks for taking the time to look at the strip. I appreciate it.

    I never meant for it to be parody, to be honest. I started the strip in 2006 as a slice-of-life strip. Reflective of my own life at the time, it was directionless and about falling with every girl I saw. After spending a good deal of time actually thinking of a plot, I came back to the strip this year. Starting with page 12 on the Shadowline site, there is a lot less stories of LDB falling for random girls and more long-form plotlines are currently being built.

    As for the blue — what can I say? I like blue.

  2. Ooops! Sorry, Struble, and thank you for being so gracious. I will confess that I probably read about the first 12 pages and figured I had gotten the gist of it. I did note that the art changed quite a bit. I’ll have to revisit it.

    The blue is a bit much for my taste, only because it’s so heavily laid on. If there were more white I don’t think it would be as noticeable, but as it is, it’s like I’m looking at the comic through blue-tinted glasses.

  3. No problem. I actually hadn’t noticed how often I used the I-love-the-salesgirl motif until I read your review. I can completely understand your interpretation of the strip after you pointed that out.

    The blue is because of the constantly rotating art staff, actually. Since I don’t want to impose on any of my friends with “will you draw my strip for the next several years,” so I use the blue as a linking element between strips. So while, everything may look completely different art wise, hopefully the tone and feel doesn’t change from artist to artist.

    And this might be part of it, I actually do wear blue tinted lenses in my glasses.

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