From a publishing perspective, the internet is a largely untapped resource. Several publishers have attempted to capitalize on the internet’s creativity by acquiring the rights to publish various online phenomena. Next time you’re in a bookstore, take a look near the front register and count how many books you see that are collections of recent and not-so-recent internet memes.
Traditionally, in the world of webcomics and online illustrated storytelling, any print publication is the result of the creator self-publishing their work or signing on with a small, independent press. In recent years, however, acquiring the rights to publish the material of internet celebrities has been a growing trend among larger publishers (including the Big Five). From a marketing and financial perspective, these are sound decisions. Many web celebrities have amassed A) significant cultural capital, B) sizeable bodies of content from which to build a print book and C) devoted fan bases whom publishers can already depend upon to make these favorite bloggers and comic artists a commercial success. A number of these authors have become #1 New York Times bestselling authors upon the print publication of their work, as well as having their work nominated for other online and offline awards. As more and more bloggers and cartoonists become household names, it remains to be seen how much larger publishers will be willing to invest in publishing their work.
The following four bloggers and artists are examples of the significant presence online storytelling has achieved and how “mainstream” each has become in their own way.
- Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. Her comics have consistently been some of the funniest and most gut-wrenchingly honest since early 2010 saw Brosh’s blog catapulted into the spotlight. In May 2011, Brosh announced a print version of her comic containing a combination of old and new material would be published by Touchstone, a fiction and nonfiction imprint of Simon & Schuster. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. was released two years later in October 2013 to great acclaim. (Incidentally, Touchstone is also the publisher of a comic collection of the adorable, bouncy cat-gif Pusheen titled I Am Pusheen the Cat.)
- The Oatmeal by Matthew Inman. Since 2009 Inman has been displaying his sarcastic and withering sense of humor on his comics and infographics website, The Oatmeal. His first print book, a collection of the first year of content titled 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides) was published in March 2011 by Andrews McMeel Publishing. Inman has published three other comics collections with them, the latest of which came out in late September, titled The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.
- What If? by Randall Munroe. While there does exist a print version of the ever-popular math and science comic xkcd, Randall Munroe’s more recent project is his first foray into publishing with a big press. Created as a spin-off to xkcd, What If? is Munroe’s online space for him to answer fantastically hypothetical questions put to him by readers, and his answers are as scientifically accurate or probable as he can make them. A collection of these posts, What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, was acquired by educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and was released early in September 2014.
- Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. The critically acclaimed webcomic had been updating for five months when comic artist Noelle Stevenson (also known by her usernamegingerhaze) made the announcement in November 2012 that HarperCollins had acquired the rights to publish Nimona as a YA graphic novel upon the webcomic’s completion online. Having only just wrapped up at the end of September, Nimona is slated for release in May 2015 by HarperTeen, a YA imprint of HarperCollins. The comic tells the story of the shapeshifting teenager Nimona, supervillain/mad scientist Lord Ballister, and their budding relationship as they take on the mysterious Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics—and Ballister’s best-friend-turned-enemy. Stevenson is highly regarded both on and offline as a fanartist and comic book writer and illustrator. It is all but assured that the print version of Nimona will be as wildly successful as its online version.