J. Jacques (qcjeph) wrote,
J. Jacques

State of the Webcomics Union*†

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.


*Not an actual union
†As I see it, anyway

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