Friday, July 11, 2008

Answers on a postcard

A little while ago, I received an email from a reader. Yes, I know, a shockingly rare occurrence. Still, it did happen. Here’s what they had to say:

I was thinking about making a webcomic on and because I know you have a webcomic, I was wondering:

"Is it worth all the time and money to make a webcomic? Does it get old after a while? Do you know of the safest webcomic site?"

I was tempted to fire off a quick and flippant email reply, mainly because I’m a jerk like that sometimes. But I’m quickly approaching my two-year anniversary of being a “webcomic author” and I thought these questions might deserve a bit more serious consideration. So instead of snark to one reader, you all must suffer through a rambling blog post. Neener.

Q: “Is it worth all the time and money to make a webcomic?”

A: No.

Sorry, still in that “flippant reply” mode. Let me try again.

Q: “Is it worth all the time and money to make a webcomic?”

A: Hell no.

Okay, okay, one more try.

Q: “Is it worth all the time and money to make a webcomic?”

A: It depends on what you’re hoping to get out of it. Are you looking for fame? Or fortune? Or just to share the world as you see it?

If you’re looking for fame, you need to realize that for every smash hit like XKCD or Irregular Web Comic there are tens of thousands of strips who never see any traffic at all. Sure, there’s always the chance you’ll become the next darling of the meme-scene. And you might also win the lottery. You do the math.

If, on the other hand, your definition of “fame” is scaled back a bit – if you can be happy with a couple of hundred readers…or even a couple dozen…then a comic might be “worth it” after all.

If you’re looking for fortune, I can only think of a half dozen web strips that have let their creators leave their other day jobs. Again, compare that to the tens of thousands of comics out there. If you have mad business skills (or a manager who does) then you might be able to make a go of it. I wish you luck. I've yet to see a dime.

If you’re just looking to tell your stories…to have a good time with creating something new…well, that’s the best reason I can think of to pick up a pen or camera and give things a try. This is why I make Brick House – I have stories that I want to tell, and this is a good way to get them out of my imagination and into “the real world.”

For me, it's worth it. But I'm a freakish mutant. You mileage may vary.

Q: Does it get old after a while?

A: Short answer: Of course it does.

When you look out at those tens of thousands of comics I mentioned earlier – you’ll notice that maybe one or two percent of them are actually updated on anything near a weekly basis. Most lasted a few months, tops, and then were abandoned. The creators lost interest, got busy, or found that they weren’t getting the return they wanted or needed from their effort.

But, unless you’re an overnight success, one of the few ways to develop a strong reader-base is to sign up for the long haul. You have to give readers time to find you, and then you have to still be around months later when they finally check their bookmarks and wander back again.

I remember reading an article that said you had wait until your comic has a year+ in archives before you could even begin to guess if it was a "success" or not.

If that sort of timeline scares you - you might want to reconsider starting a strip.

Q: Do you know of the safest webcomic site?

A: Well, that depends on what you mean by “safest”. The “safest” way to control your content is probably to host things yourself – you can get cheap webhosting for under $5 a month if you look around. However, that means you’re going to need to know website development in addition to making your comic. Not everyone’s cup of tea.

If you want another site to handle the web-side of things for you, I’ve heard decent things about . I’m sure there are other hosting options out there, but I haven’t felt the need to do any research.

Anyway. There you go. A long winded reply to some causal questions. Aren’t you glad it’s Friday?


Saber Lion said...

No was the answer he was looking for. If you want to start a webcomic, you need to have fame and fortune to do so; you can rarely get it from comic making. Also, you'll need to advertise, and leave comments on other comic-makers blogs, and become friends with each-other, so their traffic goes to both destination comics. ^_^

(the last bit was based on S-Team and RC strip)

Ian said...

And the one thing you also have to do is put out a quality product. XKCD works with stick-figure art because it is written so brilliantly. Same with Cyanide and Happiness.

If you make a good webcomic that updates regularly and consistently, people will come back (and tell their friends). But you can't ever stop promoting it. Heck, I just created an S-Team group on FaceBook and have plans to open my store very soon.