Scott McCloud has been advocating for digital comics for so long that others in the comics industry make fun of him for it. Most of this ribbing is good-natured, and even when it isn't, some of it is deserved - McCloud's graphic novel The New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln
, his first work drawn entirely on the computer with Wacom tablet
s and the like, was generally awful and even McCloud himself admits this. But a lot of it is based on a misunderstanding of McCloud's position and of the way he sees himself: as an advocate for the way things should be,
rather than a fuzzy-headed optimist about the way things are.
McCloud started by arguing for the things the Internet could do for independent comics creators - things like routing around a distribution and retail system that selects against them. There are obvious problems with that concept, and McCloud has thought through the possible solutions, but they do make him sound a bit like a hysterical libertarian new-economist, which I don't think he really is.
It's also worth noting that, while Reinventing Comics is in large part about the benefits computers and the Internet can bring to comics - that's certainly the part that's gotten the most attention - the entire first half of the book is actually about the history of comics as an art form, as a subject of censorship, and as a market. As such, it's an excellent companion to Understanding Comics, which, while it contains some history and some overview of the non-superhero length and breadth of the medium, is mostly about formal abstractions. (And is therefore popular with a surprising number of user interface professionals.)
McCloud also walks his talk, by creating comics especially for the online media. They tend to use the graphic notion of "trails" rather than a traditional page structure - some find this annoying, but it makes some sense when you consider the "physical" strengths and limitations of web browsers. A lengthy new Zot! story was serialized at comicbookresources.com last year, and he sporadically publishes a column-in-comics-form called I Can't Stop Thinking! at thecomicreader.com. The latter is so named for its being the ground where McCloud explores everything he couldn't fit into Reinventing. This has included two columns on the potential promise of online micropayments, which brought a flurry of criticism from web comics authors, notably Tycho of Penny Arcade and Jon Rosenberg of Goats. The fundamental point of view this criticism was coming from wasn't too different from that of the criticism within the industry, described above, with the added bonus that they felt ignored and left out of McCloud's descriptions of the online comics world (which, to be fair, they mostly were).
Micropayments are still pie-in-the-sky, although PayPal is helping a bit. But I think it would be a shame if McCloud kept his online reputation of "clueless dreamer." After all, if we don't decide what kind of future we want, we're guaranteed not to get it.
McCloud has been an advocate of creator's rights in the comics industry for years before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Image Comics brought them into the mainstream (or what passes for mainstream in comics, anyway). His occasionally hapless ventures into the theory of producing independent content online are going to be part of the foundation of whatever it is we end up with, whenever we get the net back. Which we will.