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Webcomics 2.0 Part one - Professionalism

Started by Rob, May 31, 2010, 10:57:35 PM

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So far this site has been about the community coming together to share information and help lift each other up and so far it's worked pretty good. After five months there are almost two hundred of us coming here to look things over, offer our opinions and share our knowledge. But lately we've been running short on content. We've cut back on articles and the staff here, already very busy folks, have stepped up to try and help out. I've been incredibly busy (and sick) with the relaunch of my site (next Monday... thank goodness) and I've been slacking here, no doubt. I've asked you, the community to contribute but alas you must be pretty busy as well. It is con season.

So I have a choice to make here. I could simply keep the doors open and let content go up when we have it. Dragon is doing an excellent job with the reviews and Amanda is occasionally bringing us excellent interviews. Also is doing pretty well. Five months in and Brad has delivered everything he promised he would and then some. My hat's off to him. But for me, and I cannot state this emphatically enough, this was never a competition. And I still feel strongly that a place like Webcomics Community, a place where webcomics creators can gather and talk and improve and share for free, away from the eyes of their readers is both needed and important. So I've decided to take a bit more active role.

I've avoided doing this for a lot of reasons. I never wanted this site to be about me. I'm not a professional webcomics creator. I don't have years of experience in the field. I certainly haven't gained much success yet and almost everything I've learned about webcomics has come from other webcomics creators; webcomics creators like you. I've also been told I come off like a dick sometimes despite my best intentions. So there isn't much upside to me trying to lead the conversation here. But I'm going to try and do it anyway, because I think it's important that someone does.

What I would ask of you my fellow creators is to not simply accept my words as truth. I'll always do my best to be true to you, but I'm just one person, one relatively inexperienced person with one opinion. I'm offering up my thoughts to encourage discourse as an experiment here. I want you to challenge me, if you disagree I want you to tell me why and if you think what I'm saying is factually wrong I would love to see some proof. I think you will find that while I defend my opinions strongly I will happily admit I'm wrong when presented with proof.

This article is not a conscience colonic or some sort of mea culpa. It's a manifesto for how this site, or at least it's front page will proceed for the foreseeable future. From now on whenever I have an interesting topic I feel like talking about rather than simply posting a short teaser on the forums and linking I'm going to offer full blown opinions on the subject in the form of front page articles. Hopefully this will lead to more in depth explorations of the subject. I've been talking about Webcomics 2.0 as a sort of tag line for the way things are changing in webcomics today and I think it will serve as an excellent signpost for when I get up on my soap box.

The first cannonball I'm firing is on the subject of professionalism. I'm going to come right out and say it. A lot of folks have been chattering on in webcomics for a really long time about how important it is that we look professional (I'm guilty of it myself). "I want my booth to look professional," "I want my book to look professional," "I need a site redesign so it looks more professional." Yet I can't think of a single instance in which professionalism has provided a proven benefit to a webcomicker I know. I can't.

And I often find myself considering the stark difference between the perception of professionalism and the reality. Some harsh truths I believe in.

Many of the most popular webcomics in the world have butt ugly websites.

Many of the most popular webcomics in the world have lousy art.

Many of the most popular webcomics in the world have absentee creators.

Many of the most popular webcomics in the world don't appear to have very business savvy creators.

I'm not suggesting that there are popular webcomics creators who are showing up drunk to business meetings and hitting on the receptionist before telling a racist joke to the company rep they are negotiating a merch contract with or something. What I'm talking about here are the many things that we, as smaller, aspiring webcomickers seem to latch on to as examples of professionalism.

And I think we are ignoring what is really professional about almost all of the worlds most popular webcomics. The one thing they all seem to have in common.

Consistent updates of engaging content.

I've seen very popular webcomics at conventions with ugly, poorly organized booths; selling merchandise that amounts to the kind of garbage that fills town dumps from sea to shining sea. I've seen those creators stammer and blush as their fans come up to them and gush inane and often vacuous sentiment about how the comic effected them before buying those aforementioned trinkets by the armload. I've seen cosplay and cakes and gifts and hugs and oh my lord the picture taking.

And nobody cares that their website is done on a simple wordpress template. Nobody cares that there is a typo on page 82 of their first book. Nobody cares that they can't draw or maybe couldn't draw for years but are now pretty good. Nobody cares that they are in black and white. Nobody cares.

Recently I started playing roleplaying games with a group on Sundays and I mentioned a very popular webcomic whose creator I am friendly with. The dungeon master immediately piped up and said "yeah I used to read that but I don't anymore." I was shocked. This comic seemed right up his alley and while I was prepared for him to have not heard of it I was not prepared for him to be a former reader who had rejected the comic. When I asked him why, it wasn't because the website has an ugly horizontal scrollbar (it does at least at my resolution). It wasn't because there was a printing error on the first book (it did the creator told me all about it). It wasn't because of donation requests (this site makes many). It wasn't the dead links on the site or the fact that almost nothing is sold beyond the aforementioned books. He said, "the story isn't being told fast enough and there's only one update a week. I got frustrated waiting."

Consistent updates of engaging content.

Many of the biggest comics around had the benefit of starting years ago when there was venture capital and not much competition for idle eyeballs on the web. There were fewer and less complex firewalls and a lot less monitoring of on line activity in the workplace.

For most of us that moment is gone and we are now in the land of Webcomics 2.0 where everyone is shouting and only the loudest get heard. Where everyone is looking for an edge whether it's a fancy website or the latest share application. And edges are important. I believe that it is those edges, the little things we do to increase our site functionality or engage our fans that will define the Webcomics 2.0 era. Because the days of just getting a car on the track are over. Now, to further the racing analogy, you have a thousand different details to fine tune before you can hope to compete in the high speed classes.

But you aren't going anywhere without an engine. And the engine that defines professionalism in webcomics and drives everything that goes with running a webcomic as a business is consistent updates of engaging content.


Having a publicised update schedule and sticking to it is pretty much professional conduct for a cartoonist, fancy sites and whatnot are just good window-dressing (Mac dressing, linux dressing. Whatever, it's a pretty bad pun).

It's a slow-road approach to getting a lot of readers though. Neko the Kitty has been updating twice a week on tuesdays and thursdays for nearly two years, and has only recently broken 1,000 unique IP visits in a month. I think that's OK for word-of-mouth only, but if the site was advertised properly then there would probably be a lot more readers, and someone may well have bought a t-shirt already.

As I've said in other threads, I'm a hobbyist, but it would be nice to make some money doing something I don't perceive as 'work'. I'm not particularly inclined towards business-type activities, but I reckon any cartoonist who is supported financially by their work is either pretty business savvy, or at least knows someone who is.


Quote from: Gar on June 01, 2010, 04:22:00 AM
I'm not particularly inclined towards business-type activities, but I reckon any cartoonist who is supported financially by their work is either pretty business savvy, or at least knows someone who is.

That is often the perception and I'm here to tell you that it's just not true. I'm not going to go down a list and tell you what each one is doing wrong; I'm just going to say it. Many of the most popular webcomics have been lucky to be able to support themselves and most of them have had tremendous issues trying to figure out how to monetize the comic.

What I see more often than not is an artist hits one rich vein of monetization and sticks to it like a deer caught in the headlights. Whether it's advertising revenue, T-Shirt Sales or Donations if a creator makes enough money to support themselves off of any one of those options they usually fail to explore any others. Being grateful simply for what they have. If you take a look at the top 30 most popular webcomics you will find many long running comics that don't sell print versions, don't ask for donations, might not even sell anything.

There are in fact very few webcomics that have great traffic and are making money from ad revenue, merch sales and donations. The triple crown of webcomic income if you will. And of those that make money from merch sales very few have maximized this by offering a wide variety of products. Often they find one they are good at, or one that sells well and they stick to it failing to explore other options.

I do agree with you that constancy is only the beginning but as I said in the article this is the land of who shouts loudest now. With 25 thousand or more webcomics word of mouth is only going to get you so far. I'll be talking about other things to do to get those edges in the coming articles but if you've been updating regularly for years (and I know from reading that you deliver some good content) then you have a solid engine. If you're perfectly happy playing the hobbyist and are taking the long view then I'd say you are doing fine. If you want to bump it up then you probably know some of the things you could be doing and I'll talk about more in upcoming articles.


I wrote an article about exactly this point on the old Sinister Squid site, how not everyone who works hard makes it but everyone who makes it works hard. I keep meaning to send it you but then I keep forgetting. I agree, it's not the only thing that matters but without producing comics on a consistent basis, nothing else really matters. A slick website is great and fine business acumen will help and manipulating ad space like that deaf, dumb and blind kid is cool and all, but you don't need it. It's frustrating how many very talented people don't seem to realize it, too. It's like opening a restaurant; the first thing you need is the food, everything else is accent, and if you don't have the food no one will care about the ambiance.


As I was starting my first webcomic, I read the advice of someone who seemed to be running a successful webcomic (she was able to support herself financially).

The first bit of advice that she gave was to commit at least four years of not breaking even and simply doing it as a labor of love.  You maintain your day job, and all your spare time must be devoted to working on the comic.  Personal relationships and social events need to take a backseat.

She went on to say that the most important thing to do for your webcomic is to STICK TO YOUR SCHEDULE.  Even if it's a squiggle or some kind of cop out, post it.  Life happens; that's why God created fillers.

When I've been good, I've stuck to this principle.  Mostly, I've got caught up with "things" and would go on long hiatuses.  The readership has always suffered when I've been gone for a long stretch of time, so I believe her advice to be sound.

She offered other tidbits of information, too.  I'll share them at later points (when I can find where I saved them).


The best example I can offer of this is by comparing one comic to another, but since I don't want to call out anyone's comics I'll use Pictures of You and Our Time in Eden, both being webcomics written by me. Pictures of You has been growing steadily in popularity since it started, Our Time in Eden had strong audience when it started but has faltered long since. Now, Our Time in Eden is a much better comic than Pictures of You. The art is far stronger, illustrated by a stronger artist than I, and the story is better, moves faster and is more compelling as a whole. I'm not saying Pictures of You is terrible, just that one is a stronger piece.

While Pictures of You has maintained an almost unbroken schedule for over 3 years, Eden is sporadic in its updates, sometimes taking as long as two months between pages. At first, Eden was regular, updating twice a week for a few months, and even though Pictures of You had been around a year longer, it nearly had the same level of audience and much greater buzz surrounding it. Then the schedule broke down and readership not only peaked, it fell. A year and a half later, it barely gets noticed when it updates. I've even stopped promoting it because the retention of readers is so low. Conversely, the readership on Pictures of You has more than quadrupled in that same amount of time.

That's the importance of a schedule, of updating regularly and often. A bad comic that updates often has a better chance than a great comic that never does.


When it comes to Louder than Bombs, Jay and I take it much more serious than we should.  By that, I don't mean that we all anal about content or the business side of anything.  We take updating on a regular basis as serious as we can.  It's really the only thing that matters to a webcomic creator.  Credibility.  In a super flimsy business model such as making webcomics, credibility is the only thing that really keeps people coming back.  Think about it.  There are X number of readers out there, some are readers of mine and some are readers of yours,  some are not readers of either.  The edge lies in having a constant and consistent update schedule (as well as good art and writing :P) Jay and I have updated twice a week since last August, and we couldn't be happier about not missing an update.  We feel like we have a commitment to our readership and they look to us every Tuesday and Friday to give them some funny for free.  Another thing that ticks me off is if people don't keep up to schedule and they expect to make money out of it one day.  If you can't keep up now and keep interested while you're not making money, you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.  I'm just talking about the people with aspirations of being a webcartoonist.  You need to understand that readers don't care if you have a test, if you're sick or you have to take care of the kids... it's terrible but true.  They just don't give a shit.  All they want is to come and read your comic and leave.  That's all, no more, no less.  You need to work hard to get them to be dedicated readers as apposed to casual readers.  The difference being that dedicated readers will pay money on your merch, put ads on your site, and donated to keep you working full time on your passion.  Casual readers come in once a week look back in the archives to catch up and then leave.  Updating consistently and with good content is the only way to get the credibility to move on with your comic.  THAT and don't forget to have good content.  But those two together and a bit of luck will give you a huge edge in the mountain of webcomics all fighting for the same readers.

P.s. Sorry about the long post, lots to say :P     
Sometimes, you have to take a step back and access the fact that you're a moron.  What?  Well you ARE.


It's OK, long posts are nothing new around here (Mmmmm....discourse)

I think we can all agree that sticking to an update schedule is important, and a couple of us know it for a fact through personal experience. Shitty fillers are fine because something new is better than nothing (my own Square and Circle series of filler comics was surprisingly well received), although if your comic starts consisting entirely of shitty fillers then you're in trouble (it worked out for Bob and George, but that was a special case).


Personally?  I almost refuse to do fillers.  The only time we've done it was for a week and a half where I almost died in a car accident.  Then we got a few friends to do some guest strips.  But even then, as soon as the cast was off, I was back at it.  I'm a little strange that way.  For me, filler is like saying 'right, I forgot about you and I shit on this piece of paper for you to look at instead of what you actually wanted, a comic'  That may be a bit harsh, but that's my view on the filler thing.
Sometimes, you have to take a step back and access the fact that you're a moron.  What?  Well you ARE.


I don't much care about how professional a website looks, but what I do really care about is how professional a cartoonist acts. Nothing turns me off of a comic faster than watching it's author engage in mud-slinging, perpetuating drama or acting smug toward 'lesser' artists. Even if it isn't directed at me, it makes me think that associating with that sort of person is something that I don't want to have to dig myself out of at a later date. If your comic needs a constant stream of drama to flourish, that says to me that you don't think that it can flourish on its own merits.

Represent yourself in a professional, genuine, courteous way, and regardless of skill, I'll probably respect you for it and stick with you.


I definitely think we've got some good discourse happening here. Some points really stick out that we seem to agree on so far:

It needs to be a labour of love, and it's ok to take it seriously
You need to pick an update schedule that actually works for you and stick with it to engage your audience.

Sticking to an update schedule is definitely important, which is why I recently moved away from two comics a week to one. Working full time and producing two comics just wasn't fun, and I was worried about burnout. By moving back to a single issue a week I get to spend more time on it, think about my ideas for a bit longer and just take it slower.

It keeps being enjoyable without becoming a chore. Beyond that, I also get to keep on that ever-important schedule that keeps people coming back.


It makes all the difference in the world when you keep to a schedule.  People are creatures of habit and want to see their favourite comic up when they expect it there.  Sorry if I came off a bit harsh on some webcomikers Ran.  My view is on it, if you can't really draw then find an artist to work with.  When I say this I don't mean that everyone is shit.  I mean, stick figures work for xkcd and sprite art works for Dinosaur Comics.  It works for what they are trying to do with it.  When I see loads comics with Mega-man or Sonic sprites, yeah I get a little ticked.  If writing is your thing, stick to that.  Don't fuck about with terrible art.  That's just me though.  Alot of the most popular webcomics out there aren't drawn well at all.  It's safe to say that writing for most people is the thing that keeps them coming back.  For my background though, art is just as important as the words are. 
Sometimes, you have to take a step back and access the fact that you're a moron.  What?  Well you ARE.


Quote from: mcfadyn on June 02, 2010, 07:40:24 PM
Sorry if I came off a bit harsh on some webcomikers Ran.

Er, what? I wasn't really aiming anything at you. I was just pointing out that when people say professionalism, they're not always talking about someone's comic. Example:

That dude who won the platinum studios competitions, who did Hero By Night (I think that was what it was called). He's always seemed like a pretty nice guy, but very recently, he's decided that he can get more pageviews by using his comic to openly mock Scott Kurtz. I am by no means a crazy Scott Kurtz fan, but that lost me a lot of respect, right there. When questioned about it, he spouted off some 'bad publicity is the best publicity' excuse. I don't know...I think I'd rather talk with webcomic authors who would rather be well known because their work is awesome than webcomic authors who are well known for being a dick to other cartoonists. I certainly would rather be known for the merit of my own work over how much drama I could hypothetically cause.


I'm pretty sure what Ran meant was people who spout hate and bullshit specifically on their comic site. Trust me, Ran and I have both slung a lot of shit OFF our comics not to have a problem with that, but using your comic as a personal soap box to get muddy about other people is unsightly and will generally either turn off readers, other comickers or both.


The DJ Coffman (Hero By Night/Yirmumuh) Scott Kurtz flame war is like the Springfield Tire Fire. It sputters but it never seems to go out. I have some personal involvement in this to a certain degree and I don't honestly believe either one of them takes it all that seriously.

And I don't even know if you can call DJ a web comic guy anymore. Hero By Night has been dead for a long time due to contract disagreements and he ended Yirmumuh last month. He told me the other day he's working hard on an OGN (I had to ask him what an OGN was [original graphic novel] and then I tried to pretend I was cool and knew what he meant all along) which I believe is intended for print only.

But tastes differ. Some people appreciate the rapier wit involved in a good insultfest and there aren't many people as good at that sort of thing (at least not in webcomics) than Scott and DJ.

I can see you not liking that Ran. Personally I like them both even more when they do stuff like that. I find it fun. If I felt like the drama was real I might think differently about it. But I don't. I tend to see it as a sort of never ending, mutual roast.

Then there are the comics DJ did about Scott. I don't know what to say about that. I mean you live in the public eye people will mock you. Scott seemed to have no problem with Gabe and Tycho making him look like a pervert who wants to suck mother's milk out of Gabe's wife's breasts last week (and that is hardly the first time Scott has served as a foil for Gabe and Tycho). He even made an extremely homosexual joke about himself and Kris Straub in his own strip recently as well. I don't think the potshots DJ took at him were necessarily any worse. If you're the kind of person who only wants the people you approve of to mock you publicly you are probably going to be disappointed.

But if it turns you off it turns you off. I think there's a lot of forgiveness that comes with success. I love Hero By Night and I love Player vs Player so they would both have a lot more to go before I felt like they were alienating me as a reader.