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State of the Webcomics Union*† - I Am Afraid Of Everything [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
J. Jacques

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State of the Webcomics Union*† [Oct. 15th, 2009|07:23 pm]
J. Jacques
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
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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: kameil
2009-10-16 12:16 am (UTC)
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. :)
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[User Picture]From: tsarina
2009-10-16 12:17 am (UTC)
I love guest strips. Transformative works ftw!
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[User Picture]From: girlsgirlsgirls
2009-10-16 01:38 am (UTC)
iawtc
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[User Picture]From: rogh_sensei
2009-10-16 12:18 am (UTC)
We love you man, keep up the good work.
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[User Picture]From: devinhoo
2009-10-16 12:19 am (UTC)

kewl

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. :)
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[User Picture]From: qcjeph
2009-10-16 12:20 am (UTC)

Re: kewl

That's how I got started!

AND LOOK WHERE IT HAS GOT ME

(prison)
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[User Picture]From: think_tank_bob
2009-10-16 12:21 am (UTC)
Dude, you're crazy! The Movie-Comics/PA stuff was GOLD.

Well, as another webcomic creator, I thought it was hilarious, haha.
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From: siqmoshfucker
2009-10-16 12:21 am (UTC)
"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!
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[User Picture]From: qcjeph
2009-10-16 12:25 am (UTC)
John Keogh guest strips 4lyfe

till death do us part
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[User Picture]From: meewunk
2009-10-16 12:22 am (UTC)
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)
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[User Picture]From: hermioneann
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.
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[User Picture]From: tarpo
2009-10-16 12:35 am (UTC)
Nah.. its like a Superman Imaginary Story.. Just slides right in there but totally out of Canon.
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[User Picture]From: jammyness
2009-10-16 12:23 am (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: qcjeph
2009-10-16 12:26 am (UTC)
Yeah it was basically the whole "websnark and 10,000 other blogs trying to be websnark" thing.
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[User Picture]From: lordriffington
2009-10-16 12:24 am (UTC)
I'm assuming I'm not the only one who would totally watch a QC tv show.
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[User Picture]From: verovladamir
2009-10-16 12:26 am (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: qcjeph
2009-10-16 12:29 am (UTC)
OR...DID I????????
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[User Picture]From: 4am_confessions
2009-10-16 12:29 am (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: qcjeph
2009-10-16 12:32 am (UTC)
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.)
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[User Picture]From: sf_evi
2009-10-16 12:30 am (UTC)
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. ;)
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[User Picture]From: qcjeph
2009-10-16 12:33 am (UTC)
Nope, that was basically my last "real" job and it was surprisingly soul-sucking and awful.
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