|State of the Webcomics Union*†
||[Oct. 15th, 2009|07:23 pm]
I have been doing webcomics for a little over six years now, which is not as long as some but is long enough to have made some observations about how things have changed over the years. This was originally gonna be really long and prose-y but I think I have chopped it down sufficiently to get my observations across!|
• There are a lot more of us, and we're a lot bigger now.
• More people are making a living off of webcomics. It's still a small percentage of the whole, but it's a lot better than it was six years ago. Topatoco is a huge part of the reason for this.
• The level of art has gotten a lot better. Part of this is old hands getting better at drawing, part of it is people with actual training in the visual arts getting into the medium. I'm glad I started QC when I did, I'd be hell of intimidated trying to start off now with my '03 art skills. On the flipside of this, some of the very most popular comics have the most basic art (XKCD, Cyanide & Happiness, etc.) so maybe it doesn't matter so much?
• There seems to be less "drama" going around. I think this is mainly because the more popular creators have wised up to smaller folks tryin' to troll them, and a lot of the old-school internet jerks have pretty much wrecked their reputations by bein' internet jerks. I hope this trend continues, I do not miss "flame wars" and "rude folks" at all.
• We're breaking into mainstream media. Folks are gettin' big book deals, Achewood is on the NYT bestseller lists, it's probably only a matter of time before the first TV shows based on webcomics come out.
• The idea of critical analysis of webcomics has largely died out. Sure, people still blog about webcomics and "review" them and stuff, but it's become a tiny, tiny niche sector. I think this is mainly because there's not a whole lot of point to reviewing something anybody can go look at for free and make up their own mind about! Is this a good thing? I have no idea.
• It's gotten easier and cheaper to start your own comic. Hosting is ridiculously cheap at the entry level these days. Site tools like WordPress and ComicPress and Blogger make putting together a basic website relatively simple and painless.
• People are defying the "you must update on time every time" mantra. Octopus Pie, Achewood, and Dresden Codak all have update schedules that are basically "new comics when they're done" and they're currently doing just fine. A lot of folks, myself included, would never have predicted that six years ago.
• Folks seem to be getting bummed out on guest comics. Talking to other creators, it seems like there is a growing backlash among some segment of webcomics' readerships that don't like guest strips from other artists. I would be really sad to see the tradition of the "guest week" go, not only because it provides us with a rare opportunity for a vacation but because, even back when I was just a webcomics reader and not a creator, they were some of my favorite times. I really like seeing other people's takes on a webcomic's characters! I hope it doesn't die out.
• I am so tired of the term "webcomic" (even though I use it all over this post). I don't really use it in real life at all- when I meet strangers who ask what I do for a living, I either say "I'm a cartoonist" or "I do an online comic strip." It seems more professional, somehow, and less buzzwordy. Aaron Diaz's term "electric jollies" is also an acceptable substitute.
Some Things That Haven't Changed:
• Community is still important. Makin' friends with other creators, getting linked by other, more established comics, and not being a jerk on the internet are still the main ways new comics get that first leg up.
• There's still no 100% guaranteed path to success. People have been having the same cyclical conversation about "how do I make my comic more popular" on blogs and message boards for the past six years and nobody has yet found the BIG SECRET FORMULA FOR WEBCOMICS STARDOM. This is because there isn't one. It's a combination of talent, work ethic, dumb luck, and timing. And yet some people still spend more time talking about their webcomic (or being bitter about its lack of success) than they do trying to make it better.
• The sky is still the limit. We're nowhere near saturation as far as potential audience goes. Back in 2003 I thought there would NEVER EVER be another webcomic anywhere near as popular as Penny Arcade. Now we've got XKCD and Cyanide & Happiness who are either as big or bigger. Anybody who thinks we're all competing for some fixed amount of potential readers is completely mistaken. It's not a zero-sum game, which is great because it means there's plenty of room for everybody, new folks and old hands alike, to grow!
• It is still the best job, ever, in the history of jobs. Sorry, every other profession.
• My readers still totally rule. Thanks, everybody.
ANYWAY TL;DR- SOME THINGS HAVE CHANGED AND SOME THINGS HAVE NOT AND I AM AN OLD FOGEY
*Not an actual union
†As I see it, anyway
I love that people are able to make a living doing something so cool like this. And I love reading your comic! I've been reading for 5 years now. :)
I love guest strips. Transformative works ftw!
We love you man, keep up the good work.
It is cool to hear from a cartoonist that has been at it for a while.
I started my own webcomic, in part, because of how much fun it is to read other people's comics. :)
2009-10-16 12:20 am (UTC)
That's how I got started!
AND LOOK WHERE IT HAS GOT ME
Dude, you're crazy! The Movie-Comics/PA stuff was GOLD.
Well, as another webcomic creator, I thought it was hilarious, haha.
"Electric Jollies" has just entered my full-time vocabulary, thank you very much!
This post is wonderful. Thank you for consistently doing what you do, as well as you do. I've been reading QC since the beginning (of time, actually... weird, right?) and have loved watching the characters, your art and your fan base grow! It's nice that whenever I see someone wearing a QC shirt/hoodie or carrying one of your tote bags, I know I can always start up a conversation with them, and they will ALWAYS be friendly and more than willing to discuss how much we love Hanners and wish we could find our very own Marten...or Faye... or Dora...
You're awesome. Keep being radtastic!
John Keogh guest strips 4lyfe
till death do us part
WE LOVE YOU TOO!
You've made some great points and this wasn't pretentious at all :) Very good look at how things have changed. Well done!
And for what it's worth? I love it when people have guest artists, it exposes me to new comics and stuff that I probably wouldn't have heard of otherwise.
Edited at 2009-10-16 12:22 am (UTC)
Personally, I hate guest strips. They don't stick to plot, and it's like reading a book that has a chapter of fan fic stuck randomly in the middle, and then carries on with the original story. But, it's your comic, so you can do as you please, and like as not I'll still be back after taking that week off.
Screaming tits, however, are almost always appreciated.
Nah.. its like a Superman Imaginary Story.. Just slides right in there but totally out of Canon.
Very interesting stuff, I was never around for "critical webcomic reviews" but I have noticed that bigger and bigger news outlets are paying attention when webcomics go to press! And we have dedicated news outlets of our own, that is pretty newish (? I think!)
Aaaaaaaaaanyway. YAY WEBCOMICS.
Yeah it was basically the whole "websnark and 10,000 other blogs trying to be websnark" thing.
I'm assuming I'm not the only one who would totally watch a QC tv show.
It bothers me that people don't like guest strips. I read many different webcomics, and it's always exciting to me to see the crossover. I've also discovered many other great webcomics because I saw their work in a guest strip on a comic I already enjoyed.
A related trend is the almost complete disappearance of crossover stories between two or more webcomics. True, Something Positive just concluded a lengthy and well-received crossover with Girls with Slingshots, but for some time that's been the exception rather than the rule.
I, for one, actually adore guest comic weeks. It allows me to see how other people would interpret characters with whom I'm familiar. It's actually exposed me to a lot of other artists I wouldn't have checked out otherwise and, let's face it, everyone needs a vacation once in a while. Keep doing guest weeks; I think more of us like them than you think.
Re: comics such as Achewood "doing just fine." While I would agree with your assessment that, financially, Achewood (I can only comment on this comic, as it's the only one in the list I read with any semblance of regularity) is doing well, I think the readership is growing more and more cynical at the completely insane update schedule. I know internet forums are not the best source of information, but looking at some of the comments from AssetBar over the last few months up until today, there has been a significant increase in the frustration readers feel with the inconsistent schedule and (more importantly) tendency to not follow through with promises.
It is because of this that I believe a consistent updating schedule and a certain amount of loyalty to fans (I mean, don't completely follow their whim, but do realize that they're the reason you can subsist off of your art) is the biggest way to ensure success. Updating every day as you do isn't necessary; look at XKCD with its MWF schedule.
Of course, I have absolutely no expertise in this field, other than my observation of the comics mentioned. Just an audience member, y'know?
tl;dr I agree with some things Jeph says, and I disagree with others.
The Update Schedule Thing is really only going to make sense in hindsight- we're not gonna know how well it works out until a couple years down the line, but initial results seem to be positive for OP and DC. I don't know Onstad or his community so I can't speak for it beyond what I see on his site (lots of book sales, etc.)
Came over from twitter and using a character account. Oh god I'm lame.
Anyway: I love guest weeks, too.
As for best job ever: c'mon. You could be paid to laze around all day and do whatever you want. THAT would be the best job ever. ;)
Nope, that was basically my last "real" job and it was surprisingly soul-sucking and awful.
I too, like a good guest comic from time to time. I don't see what people are getting so uptight about.
Though if web comics is still not a zero-sum game, so much for my Fox Reality Show Webcomic Deathmatch idea.
I WOULD PAY TO WATCH THAT.
This is A+. You are A+. You should be proud! And for what it's worth, I like guest week too. :)
may or may not have applied to Smith because of QC.
A good post. I remember discovering Sluggy Freelance (six years ago? Holy shit) and being AMAZED at the kind of storytelling he was providing. QC was the next comic I started to follow regularly and had to stick with because it made me lol so often. I think it's really cool that after all these years you've maintained a strong passion and enthusiasm for your work.
Also, I love guest strips, if only because I love how other artists interpret Pintsize's crazy
I think it's really funny that we both mentioned Sluggy being a sort of gateway. How neat!
I was a big comic-reader growing up. Calvin and Hobbes, of course, but I also had the The Tick omnibuses. The weirder the better. I read the newspaper, but hardly anything kept my interest. & then I remember reading Sluggy Freelance in early highschool for the first time and thinking OH MY GOD THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER I HOPE I GET TO READ COMICS LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME. Online comics are amazing for targeting niches, and that's what I love the most about the community.
I started QC around comic 50 and in that time it's pointed me to many other amazing comics. So, I guess I just wanted to say thank you, to you, and to everyone else who puts themselves out there to try to communicate with other people who will somehow get what they're trying to say.
[And a quick note about art: I'm totally with you on the improvement. I remember seeing this comic: http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=1497
and just being blown away by the postures and gestures looked so natural, I forgot for a moment that it was a comic].
Good thoughts, all around. I hope you all keep doing what you're doing.
Sluggy is where I started, too, about 10 years ago. ;.;
good read! thanks for sharing! :D
It's interesting reading this and being a fan of yours. I've been writing for ages, doing prose, have a few books out. But only in the last years have I started doing webcomics and now I do two of them and it's just ... eye opening. There is so much to learn just in about how you CAN interact with fans and how to present your work and the community around you doing the same... Thanks for writing this one.
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I've been reading QC for about four years I think (it's hard to keep track) and I have to say I've enjoyed watching the comic evolve. and that goes for both the storyline and characters to your drawing and technique. I love that even after 6 years you're still working hard and excelling!
and yes, i bow down to you and wish this were my profession some days. :)
i just have to say that i agree with you about guest comics... i think they're great!
i had never heard of Cyanide & Happiness before :(
after visiting the site and hitting random several times, no great loss.
I tried to read Cyanide & Happiness, I really wanted to like it, but the quality was just too mixed for me to keep going.
I think this is my first comment to your LJ, mainly because I feel odd commenting on someone's journal whom I know simply because I read their product. That being said, thank you for posting this. It's an interesting read and it offers an insight into one artist's mind that I don't think I'd otherwise see. I, for one, enjoy guest strips. I love seeing how artists interpret someone else's work. Also, I think it's amazing that people can make a living doing something they love on line. If only there were a way to make money playing trombone...