Holy publishing model shift, Batman!

So I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at different models for scholarly publishing preparing for this presentation, and what always happens happened – the themes start showing up everywhere. I went to visit the Top Shelf comic site the other day and found this — anticipation-building countdown. Intriguing!

Countdown on the Top Shelf site

Investigation led to this story at Publisher’s Weekly. Top Shelf 2.0 is a new site devoted to webcomics – editor Leigh Walton and Top Shelf founder Brett Warnock hope to capture and keep readers’ attention by publishing new webcomics regularly and often — every weekday something new will be posted. It may be an installment in a larger serialized work, or a quick one-shot.

The countdown counted down and now there’s webcomics to look at. I haven’t been through them all (they launched the site with a small collection of comics – varying in style, theme, and intended audience) but there’s some cool-looking stuff there.

Here’s a tiny glimpse – that does no justice to the real thing – of the splash page wrapping up the first installment of Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu:

Sneak peek at the splash page of Infinite Kung Fu, installment #1

To Publisher’s Weekly, Walton talked about the benefits of the web platform as a publisher. Some of the themes echo what we’ve heard in the scholarly world – the digital world means we don’t have to worry about space limitations, we can take more risks about what we publish and how much we publish — we don’t need the same return on our publishing investment because we haven’t invested as much, or at least we haven’t invested the same. But he also talks about some things more specific to the comics world:

“The most obvious difference [with webcomics] is color—something that we’re still using very sparingly in our print publications, but on the web is completely unlimited,” added Walton. “What excites me the most about working with young artists—those, like me, born after 1980—is that we’ve grown up with computers, and that affects the comics that we make. Whereas it would have been unthinkable for an “alternative comic artist” of Chester Brown’s generation to work in color (for economic reasons), for a lot of these new folks, it’s unthinkable to do it any other way.”

I love the color palette in Jed McGowan’s evocative Western-themed comic, Cookie Duster. Go – read!

Jed McGowan\'s Cookie Duster, page 5

So this is still a site focused on the consumption of information with no room for reader-generated content, remixing or conversation. But I think calling this Top Shelf 2.0 is fair enough — the creators retain control over their work, and the site feels like a step away from web publishing where we just apply the metaphors and practices of the print world and put them on the web. It’ll be interesting to see if more steps in that direction are forthcoming.

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