Purely an experimental form just a few years ago, online comic strips—and longer comics narratives published on the Web—are becoming so popular that some are being turned into books and providing small publishers and promising new talents an economical and effective way to expand their audiences.

Sites like ModernTales.com, along with its affiliated sites Serializer.net, Girlamatic.com and GraphicSmash.com, provide an online platform for a wide variety of comics works. There's also Komikwerks.com, acquired last year by iBooks' Byron Preiss, which offers original comics as well as serializations of iBooks graphic novels.

Access to these sites are generally by a small monthly subscription fee. Most of them offer the most recent episode of any strip for free, and readers need to subscribe to see the archives or to receive news about updates. Cartoonist Lea Hernandez is editor of the Girlamatic site, which offers a lineup of such women cartoonists as Raina Telgemeier, currently drawing The Babysitters Club for Graphix, Scholastic's new graphic novel imprint. "Girlamatic makes an end-run around the small, very specialized and girl-unfriendly direct market," Hernandez said, referring to the male— and superhero-comics—dominated comics shop market. "An anthology of girl-friendly comics would sink like a stone in the direct market."

Two online comics success stories are R. Stevens's Diesel Sweeties (dieselsweeties.com) and Jon Rosenberg's Goats (goats.com). Both artists support themselves via sales of books and merchandise based on their strips. Both sites attract about 200,000 readers every month, 20,000 of whom visit on any given day. There have been four self-published volumes of Goats (a fifth to follow shortly) as well as a couple of small Diesel Sweeties books. And while Rosenberg emphasized that the Web gives artists extraordinary freedom ("We don't want to give up control or our profits"), both cartoonists were quick to note that they're open to book offers.

Other online cartoonists have used their Web presence to offer print books from established publishers. Most notably PvP, Scott Kurtz's strip about online gamers (Image), Fred Gallagher's manga sensation Megatokyo (Dark Horse) and Derek Kirk Kim's graphic novel Same Difference and Other Stories (Top Shelf).

Comics author Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics) has championed Web comics since their beginning and links to many of the best from his own Web site, scottmccloud.com. He said that Scott Kurtz's online strip PvP showed how the best Web comics can easily be transformed into books. "The sheer number of readers allowed him to make the jump to print easily," McCloud said.

He also took note of the anthology Flight, hailed as the hit indie graphic novel of this summer's San Diego Comic-Con. All the contributors to the book—generally young and unpublished in print—had varying audiences online, McCloud explained, but "the quality [of the book] is so high that once it hit paper, it just became impossible to ignore."