Webcomics have changed and are continually changing the game. Everyone with an internet connection and basic computer skills can publish their comics in the web. Everyone. “Is it good work?” and “will it be successful?” are entirely different matters, but if you fulfill those two prerequisites (and if you’re reading this, you do), you can showcase your work to the world.
Readers who seek diversity are definitely not getting it from mainstream publishers, and are therefore looking for alternatives. And webcomics have everything, really: every imaginable genre and unimaginable made-up ones too. And for free!
But who are those people who so generously share their work with us? Where do they live, what do they eat?
To help us understand the webcomics scene, twenty-five web cartoonists were consulted. The aim was to have a diverse selection, from newbies, to professionals, to older hobbyists. In total, they have accumulated 140 years of webcomics making! That’s an average of 5.6 years to each artist, the newest one having only months of practice, the oldest one having 18 years.
Although it may be easy to publish art online, it is very hard to turn it into a profession. The common strategies revolve around ad revenue, paid content, donation, and merchandise. The latter seems to be an especially a good one, as J. Jacques argues. But as with all the other methods, it needs a strong fan-base. That’s not something you can build from day to night, even if your art and your social media skills are awesome.
Only one out of our twenty-five artists has webcomics as a main job. Most of them (14) do not earn money with webcomics. Of the ones that do, most (8) use it to complement a non art-related job, and two use it to complement an art-related job.
The sad news is that the money earned is not directly proportional to the time spent doing webcomics. The average web cartoonist spends 2 hours and 58 minutes working on their comics daily. Of that time, 2 hours and 16 minutes are spent actually in the creative process: writing, drawing, coloring, etc.. The rest is spent on social media, merchandising, marketing, and all the boring but necessary stuff.
The difficulty of making a living off your art is often cited as one of the worst aspects of webcomics. Website coding, maintenance and promoting aren’t exactly positives either.
From a storytelling perspective, the worst thing is the one page a week format. “It’s a brutally slow way of telling a story”, says Sfé Monster.
Kat Haynes explains that she finds that weekly updates, “while the most beneficial for gaining hits on a website, are also the most detrimental to webcomics with over-arching plot lines. It can be difficult for the reader to keep track of the extensive information needed when only receiving weekly updates, versus getting a continuous flow of information once a month, as is done with traditional comics.”
But even with all these lows, only one in each five web cartoonists wishes their work had been published via traditional means. Some of the reasoning for preferring digital is that it’s easier to distribute and reach a far larger, global, and diversified audience. Also, print is not even an option for everybody – as Kat Rush pointed out, her comic is animated! Bradly Potts says that it was his first choice, but without an interested publisher he started a webcomic and ended up discovering it was the best media for him. Bob Foraward sums it up: “It would be nice, but why wait?”
A number of web cartoonists have already tried print, though. Dechanique points out that she likes printing her work because “it looks real slick.” Dan Butcher has produced a trade paperback, but says in the end he prefers web based publishing.
More than a half of the creators are interested in printing their comics via crowdfunding. It is a good strategy because it doesn’t diminish the online comics, but instead supplements them. Fans will — and do — buy a beautiful hard cover even if they already read the inside material. Publishing a comic independently is too risky, and finding an interested publisher is too difficult. Crowdfunding is by no means safe nor easy, but it’s the best of what is available. And if big publishing houses aren’t interested in variety, there is certainly an audience hungry for it.
The lack of representation in Marvel, DC and even the more innovative ones like Image or Fantagraphics is slowly driving people away from traditional publishers. Sfé Monster says:
“I have no interest in reading straight/white/cis/male power fantasies, so I tend to stick to the webcomic/indie comic scene where I can see and read stories that are about people more like me.”
Furthermore, some people are not happy with the quality nor the price of the product currently offered. “Between their cost and the really inconsistent quality of the writing, I just couldn’t maintain my interest,” says Shawn Gustafson. The reason why is clear to Dave Barrack:
“The big publishers rotate out artist and writer teams on a regular basis, so there’s never any consistency in storytelling or growth of the characters.”
This leaves room for web cartoonists to grab unsatisfied readers and customers. But how?
Web cartoonists are artists, not big companies. They can’t expect to compete with big houses on their terms – they have to find other ways. Each artist makes their own path, but one thing is for sure: webcomics have variety. That’s their strong point — their advantage.
What’s the best aspect of webcomics? “It’s wonderful that we can share our creation with people all over the world, all the while communicating openly with those of whom are interested to gain support and feedback,” says Haynes. “Getting to share and create the stories I wanted to read when I was younger,” says Sfé. “Feeling proud for working on a passion project,” answers Leen Isabel.
In the end, pros and cons weighed, webcomics are worth it, for both artists and readers.