Once upon a time Peter Zale put his new comic strip Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet on his own web site to back up the hardcopy package he had submitted to feature syndicates. When Helen was rejected, as all his strips had been before, Peter was ready to discontinue her and go on to another idea when he discovered his site was getting a great deal of traffic. Surprised, he read his e-mails and found that not only did web surfers love what he did, but they were demanding more!
Buoyed, Peter continued the strip at a pace of 14 dailies a month. Traffic increased. Peter tried his best to do more while maintaining his day job. Traffic increased. People asked to put links to Helen on their sites. People as far away as Australia and Singapore asked who Helen really was and where they might find her. Techies the world over praised and wrote about her as a champion. Helen, completely to Peter’s surprise, became a hit!
It didn’t take long for the “old” media to get it. The New York Times ran a piece talking of Helen. Other publications followed suit, including The Chicago Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and How Magazine. Even upscale geek mags like New Architect found their writers mentioning Helen as a model for the techie in today’s world.
On a spring week, Peter heard independently from the Tribune Company and McGraw-Hill about syndication for the newspapers and publication in the bookstores. He had solicited neither one. They had found out about the strip through their own sources. Helen had sold completely on her own merits.
20,000 books sold and 60 papers worldwide later Helen has been established as the first comic ever to go from a bootstrap web existence to mainstream acceptance, and it did it on the backs of the fans who shouted about it, both to each other and to the world at large.
Helen is an American story and soon to be an American myth.