Readership Response and its Effect on Creators
Reading webcomics is a neat experience, both like and unlike reading comics on paper.
Instead of waiting for Wednesday for one week’s worth of monthly comics, many webcomics update weekly, multiple times a week, or even daily, giving a reader a much shortened wait time.
Instead of waiting for a graphic novel, a reader can start at the first comic and archive binge straight through until the last update.
Best of all, instead of writing or emailing and hoping your thoughts are picked to make it to the lettercolumn, most webcomics have a forum or comment system that allows a reader to say what’s on their mind immediately. Instant gratification!
It’s that last one that tends to be a problem for a lot of webcomic readers. The artificial closeness of being able to comment immediately seems to breed a sense of familiarity with the author—and that old adage “familiarity breeds contempt” seems to apply.
Many webcomic creators, at the primordial dawn of webcomics, were doing it unpaid, as a hobby. The monetization of webcomics is, comparatively speaking, a fairly recent development.
But the readers treating creators abusively has been an issue almost since day one.
There was a site, now defunct, called Your Webcomic Is Bad And You Should Feel Bad that was dedicated to the nastiest, most flame-ridden, cruel reviews of comics its author could think of to spew. It has since given way to the Bad Webcomics Wiki, which contains more of the same mean-spirited vitriol. I’m not linking it here; negativity that is disguised as valid criticism but is really just cruel barbs has enough support, and its impact on creators is already too strong in my opinion.
Randall K. Milholland, author of the well-known webcomic Something Positive, famously told his readership that he could not update all the time because he had a day job… and if they were going to email him to demand more updates, they would need to put their money where their mouths are. He challenged his readership to pay him the same amount he made in a year at his day job, and if they reached that number he’d quit and do the comic full time. The audience stepped up and donated enough money to match one year of his income.
Despite the generosity of thousands of readers, Mr. Milholland has many stories about people trying to dictate to him what his content should be, demanding that the comic change to suit what they want to see, or condemning him for various points of view espoused by his characters. His favorite way of getting them to back off is to ask them how much they donated in that first fundraiser, and tell them that since they’re so displeased with his content, he’ll gladly refund them. Almost uniformly, those people who are making such demands have never given him a penny—not at the fundraiser, nor from having purchased a single T-shirt or merchandise item. A quick look at his Twitter timeline will show him cheerfully calling out readers anytime he encounters them.
Ian Jones-Quartey no longer does his webcomic. It was called RPG World, and was a hilarious send-up of the SquareEnix family of Final Fantasy roleplaying games and its knockoffs. It had art that went from cartoonishly manga-inspired silly to “cut scenes” in which the art was fully airbrushed and beautifully rendered, showcasing the artist’s evolving talents. The archive of what was originally posted before the comic’s abrupt and unceremonious end was once on Keenspot, but now goes to the parked URL. The comic received two Webcartoonist’s Choice awards in a row during its first three years.
Demanding fans, and haters who were very vocal about update delays brought on by art school and work, drove Mr. Jones-Quartey to abandon the comic altogether some years ago—right before what gave every appearance of being the climactic final battle. He was, at that time, finding new projects—paying projects—that were taking up his time and energy. The rudeness of readers who insisted he finish the project is what left him with disdain for his own work. He has made offhand comments about hiring someone to pick up the webcomic where it left off some time ago, but so far that hasn’t come to pass.
Mr. Jones-Quartey has since gone on to much bigger and better things: he created the YouTube series nockFORCE and, after working on Cartoon Network offerings Venture Brothers and Adventure Time, is now the Creative Director for Steven Universe. So, it is almost certain that he will never return to the abandoned project—all due to disrespectful internet denizens driving him away in the first place (and the URL being allowed to expire).
The fans who are devoted remain so. There is even a Tumblr dedicated to RPG World for those whose love persists after the comic’s unfortunate end. DeviantArt also has a sizeable RPG World fanbase, but none of that can change the fact that fans (remember, it’s short for “fanatic”) took something the creator once loved and turned it into a despised chore until he finally gave up on it altogether.
These two stories have one thing in common: readers who become a little too invested in the comic, and don’t stop to consider that the comic they enjoy and look forward to is often unpaid labor on the part of the creator, done alongside a regular day job.
Joel of Hijinks Ensue is also perfectly happy to tweet about people who feel free to make demands or unreasonable criticisms of his comic. Creators may have felt obligated to be more low-key and gentle in their responses to abusive readers a decade ago, but that’s not the case now. Rude readers are called out, and webcomic creators are cheered on by fans who don’t subscribe to the rudeness paradigm.
The old adage is “when it stops being fun, stop doing it.” For a hobbyist, if there are entitled or abusive readers and/or fans making demands, that is one of the fastest routes to it “not [being] fun anymore.”
If you are a reader of a webcomic and you enjoy it, the best way to engage with the creator is politely and respectfully. Keeping in mind that not every person who creates a webcomic is doing it professionally is also important—as is remaining aware that just reading and enjoying a comic does not confer any special entitlement to tell the creator how to run their own creation.
The examples here are just two big ones featuring a creator who prefers to handle his haters, and one who just moved on. But there are thousands of webcomics on the net, and dictatorial and demanding readers contribute to their abandonment.
The take away is that if you want the comic to continue, say thanks and mind your manners! That’s pretty simple, all things considered. Even if you can’t afford to buy the merch, you can at least contribute to a supportive fan community so the creator doesn’t cringe at the idea of updating or checking email.