Arts & Entertainment

From books to browser: The growing industry of webcomics

Webcomics are a growing form of comic publication that utilizes technology to share their stories.

Over the past few decades, there have been great strides in the visual and technological advances of comics. Since the mid-1990s, with the rising popularity of the world wide web, creators have begun to realize the potential the web holds for publishing their own works; lifted from some of the chains that traditional printed comic books held them down with.

Webcomics are a form of comics published through a website or an app. This may be through the author’s own domain name or one of the wide selection of publishing portal services we have today. Usually, webcomic creators publish new content on a weekly or monthly schedule, labeled as an episode or update.

Among these services, Tapas and Webtoon are the most popular sources for reading a variety of webcomics. These services allow their audiences to read a majority of their series vertically rather than horizontally. This allows the comics to be read seamlessly through scrolling, rather than being constrained to four or five panels and transitional shifts turning page to page. Other comics hosted individually, such as “CucumberQuest,” can feature formats that mirror traditional comic books. The medium, format and genre of webcomics varies from series to series.

Both of these services originate from South Korea but have expanded to reach an international audience. Webcomics are a prominent form of entertainment in South Korean culture. Many of those from Webtoon have been adapted into anime or K-Dramas (Korean live-action drama television series). 

English speaking webcomic authors and artists, however, also have the chance to see their series grow from webcomic to the big screen. In Oct. 2019, the Jim Henson Company announced they will be partnering with Webtoon to create an animated adaptation of the series from New Zealand creator Rachel Symthe’s “Lore Olympus.” In June 2020, it was announced that the animated series will premiere on Netflix. 

Both Tapas and Webtoon are built upon a freemium model, where the service is primarily free but users can pay through micro-transactions for additional features. They offer both a platform for growing authors to host original content along with a featured selection of promoted content. 

However, Tapas and Webtoons freemium models are structured a little differently. Tapas’ featured content has a first few episodes free, but at a certain point asks you to pay “ink” for each following episode. Whereas Webtoon holds the option for the whole series to be free but offers a “fast pass” for episodes not yet released to the public. This fast pass allows users to buy individual episodes up to four weekly updates ahead of what is available to everyone. Each fast pass costs about five coins, equivalent to 50 cents.

Being the more popular of the two giants, Webtoons reports to currently have over 67 million active users. With its success, the parent company Naver was able to trademark the word “Webtoon.” Earlier this year, Naver launched Webtoon Studios, a production studio which will increase the company’s presence in film and television; along with this, they also announced partnerships and Bound Entertainment, Rooster Teeth Studios and Vertigo. Naver also acquired WattPad for around $600 million in efforts to expand their name as a multimedia storytelling company.

With the growing success and expansion of the webcomics into the realm of filmed entertainment, the question about the possibility for Webtoons to become a  household name like DC and Marvel is being raised.