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Comics Quest IV: the quest for rent money
March 15, 2013 3:12 AM   Subscribe

Attention budding cartoonists, want to become rich and famous? You have two choices. You can either become a newspaper cartoonist and let a syndicate help you get in the papers, as explained in this 1950ties public information film styled video. Or you can choose to cut out the middlemen and put your cartoons on the web, which if the video is to be believed, is not unlike an eight bit video adventure game. Either way, uncounted riches await you.
posted by MartinWisse (31 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
On a somewhat related note, Penny Arcade are "broadcasting" Strip Search, a reality TV show where web comic artists compete for the chance to win $15000, and be supported for a year within the Penny Arcade machinery while they focus on their web comic full-time.
posted by psolo at 3:28 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Comment deleted. We're trying to avoid linking to Kickstarters; people can find that info for themselves if they are intrigued. Some discussion currently happening over a couple of threads in Metatalk if anyone wants to talk about that.]
posted by taz at 4:11 AM on March 15, 2013


I am forwarding that video to a webcomic author I know to tell him about the untold riches he is making.
posted by gauche at 5:41 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


FYI: Jeff Keane is, in fact, Jeffy from the strip.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:54 AM on March 15, 2013


"Thanks" to the Internet, there are lots of things that used to be full-time careers that are now at best part-time endeavors.
posted by tommasz at 5:58 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even in the (supposedly) bad old days of syndicates, most cartoonists (and their strips) failed in relative obscurity. It has always been the rare handful that ever gained purchase in the public's eye and survived to where their creator could make anything beyond burger money with them.

Then, as now, cartooning is more an act of love (need? desperation?) by the artist.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:06 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would guess that the number of webcomic artists making a full time living is rapidly approaching (or has already passed) the number of artists who ever made a living via print syndicates.
posted by PenDevil at 6:07 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would guess that the number of webcomic artists making a full time living is rapidly approaching (or has already passed) the number of artists who ever made a living via print syndicates.

I kind of doubt that. I suspect most webcomics, at best, pull-in enough income to cover server costs, plus some dinner money. Few earn enough to make it their day job. The webcomic is still largely a hobby.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:17 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dave Kellett (one of the directors of Stripped where these two clips are from) has publicly stated(comment #64) in 2008 he was making $90 000+/year from his strip and related activities (books, original art, t-shirts) and it was increasing every year. I don't think he is even in the top 25 of most popular web comics out there.

Sure it's mainly a hobby for 98% of the webcomics out there but that 2% is getting larger in absolute numbers every year.
posted by PenDevil at 6:34 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, not all, but the majority of webcomics I read are making a living from their webcomics. That includes everything that goes into monetizing a free comic, though: merchandising, public appearances, and commissioned artwork are all very common, although advertising is, of course, the bread and butter.

As a side note, it was always considered very eccentric and weird that Chris Onstad refused to advertise on Achewood. The episode of Webcomics Weekly which addressed his hiatus announcement was revealing. He was among the most popular strips for quite a while, and yet had to plead heavily for donations when his less popular peers were living comfortably. Artistic integrity doesn't pay your mortgage, unfortunately.
posted by gilrain at 6:45 AM on March 15, 2013


It seems so attractive in terms of the creativity, the direct contact with a vast audience, the pantslessness and so on. But when I think more carefully about what it would actually be like to have to come up with something new and genuinely amusing virtually every day, poking the old spreadsheets for a living doesn't look quite so bad.
posted by Segundus at 6:46 AM on March 15, 2013


And yes, although the short-episode format is a little annoying, Strip Search is pretty interesting so far. Naturally, if you dislike the Penny Arcade guys, you'll want to give it a miss... but they're only in every third episode or so, for the elimination. It's hosted mostly by the excellent Graham, from Loading Ready Run, who produced the show.

I found it revealing that the very first challenge was to design a t-shirt for Strip Search (the winner had their design sold in the PA store and got all the profit from its sales). That's a realistic priority for a modern webcomic. Your comic's great? Nice, now you have an audience. You'd better be good at designing t-shirts!
posted by gilrain at 6:51 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks to the Internet, there are also lots of things that used to be part-time endeavors that are now full-time careers. Like making games for computers.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:25 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Which is of course a bit difficult if, to pull an random example out of the air, you are writing a clip art comic featuring Star Trek characters.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:28 AM on March 15, 2013


John Allison memorably summed up the webcomics business model:
Making a living from webcomics is like being a plumber who fixes a customer's pipes for free then sells them a sandwich to make ends meet.
posted by pont at 7:42 AM on March 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Dorothy Gambrell has a chart about her income from Cat and Girl. Spoiler: More than I expected, even considering how popular it is, but not really enough to live on.
posted by ardgedee at 7:50 AM on March 15, 2013


That's a realistic priority for a modern webcomic. Your comic's great? Nice, now you have an audience. You'd better be good at designing t-shirts!

Sadly, that seems to be the emerging business model for many creative fields. Try to make money on anything other than the thing you do best.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:13 AM on March 15, 2013


Uncountably small riches await you unless you happen to be incredibly talented, hard-working, and lucky.
posted by Drexen at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2013


Just to note, Cat and Girl doesn't appear to have any advertising, which means it can't be representative of most comics' income. For most comics, advertising is a large portion of the income. I'd bet you could double or so the Cat and Girl figures for a similarly popular comic that sells ad space.
posted by gilrain at 9:09 AM on March 15, 2013


Zach Weiner is apparently among the self-sufficient webcomic creators, but I'm curious about his actual income and whether SMBC theater is accounted for in that, because that would seem to put his operating costs at well above normal.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:27 AM on March 15, 2013


I didn't know that The Oatmeal guy is an average, skinny dude. I'd been forced to admit that I enjoy some of his comics, but it feels skeezy that he portrays himself as the stereotypical "average internet fat slob."
posted by cmoj at 10:29 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would guess that the number of webcomic artists making a full time living is rapidly approaching (or has already passed) the number of artists who ever made a living via print syndicates.

I kind of doubt that. I suspect most webcomics, at best, pull-in enough income to cover server costs, plus some dinner money. Few earn enough to make it their day job. The webcomic is still largely a hobby.

I hope that most people reading these two comments realizes that they are not in any way contradictory.
posted by baf at 10:38 AM on March 15, 2013


I posted here about Dave Kellett's Ohio State speech responding to Bill Watterson's 1989 speech which covered a lot of the same grounds he's doing with the film segments (and the larger film, "Stripped", they will be part of)

Unfortunately, "Strip Search" (NOT to be confused) is more 'Reality Game' than 'Webcomics Show', which makes it extremely annoying to anyone who really wants to see artists at work (I'm recapping and reviewing it here and here with more updates coming). But then, the Business Manager of Penny Arcade has stated directly that the whole enterprise is more a part of the "gaming" community than the "webcomics" community. And it's quite obvious the PAX conventions make a lot more money than the comic.

But for a comparison between newspaper and webcomics, the authority has to be (MeFi's Own) R.Stevens of Diesel Sweeties who worked with a newspaper syndicate in 2006-2008 and realized the webcomics business model was more profitable, as he explained in an interview with (MeFi's Own) Lore Sjoberg. And he's quite open about the dependency on 'related merchandise', as his site title says "Robot Webcomic & Geeky Music T-Shirts".

So it made sense that "Strip Search's" first competition was to design a t-shirt.

Of course, whatever business model is involved, the original intent of Newspaper Syndicates was to handle all the 'practical stuff' (for a large cut) so the artist could be a full-time artist, so anyone doing a webcomic today has to be considered Part-Artist, Part-Salesperson and Part-Businessperson. And there are some people still trying to keep one foot in both worlds: Greg Cravens took over another artist's newspaper comic "The Buckets" a decade ago - now he's doing a web-only strip about his own interest in outdoor sports "Hubris!" that I, for one, like much more.

Also, "Stripped" is going to be a totally awesome but inevitably too-short filmed history of the Funny Papers (and the Funny Paperless). Yes, I supported the first Kickstarter (long ago closed) to get it made, and honestly was dubious when the filmmakers went back to the Kickstarter well to pay for various content rights (which has turned out to be THE business model for Legacy Comics, it appears). But it has succeeded, and they will get to use Vince Guaraldi's music in a segment about Peanuts, but Kickstart-wise, it's a mere drop in the bucket by "Veronica Mars" standards.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:49 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Even in the (supposedly) bad old days of syndicates, most cartoonists (and their strips) failed in relative obscurity.

True dat.

More people see my work today on an hourly basis than ever saw the things I submitted to King Features or Tribune Media back in the '80's.

My work back then sucked, frankly. But at least it's traffic and purchases that make the call now, instead of interns

posted by mmrtnt at 11:57 AM on March 15, 2013


I was on my way to get groceries the other day and a flyer caught my eye that said I WANT TO HIRE AN ARTIST FOR A WEBCOMIC in huge type. That's weird, right? What's the over-under that it was a joke?
posted by clavicle at 1:14 PM on March 15, 2013


All I gotta say is that if you're doing a graphic novel and posting it on the web a page at a time, these models don't work too well.

I have ads on my comic. When I'm on top of things and posting two new pages every week, it basically pays for an ongoing ad campaign on other comics. And I haven't been able to manage that for several months due to a variety of reasons. (Although now that I'm thinking about it I think I'm gonna throw some bucks into my Project Wonderful account and reactivate some ad campaigns for a while.)

The natural unit of my comic is a chapter, not a single page. It's set a couple hundred years in the future. The likelihood of me making a joke about 'Star Wars' or some other bit of pop culture and getting shared on Reddit is pretty much zero; the story really just doesn't lend itself to that. Basically doing a graphic novel is kind of like choosing hard mode; almost nobody's gonna promote your comic for free.

(On the other hand, it does get a little less hard once you've got a substantial amount of the story there - when someone discovers a story they're interested in, they're pretty much guaranteed to spend a while reading big chunks and giving you a big pile of ad impressions. If you can get a constant flow of new readers via ads it can actually start making a few bucks; I've been hovering close to that point for a while.)

I think the income level for my comic is about one negative dollar sign right now. It's a good thing I have other sources of money.

I should shut up and get back to drawing the next page.
posted by egypturnash at 2:25 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Making a living from webcomics is like being a plumber who fixes a customer's pipes for free then sells them a sandwich to make ends meet.

This analogy is kind of bizarre and I don't get how it's supposed to make any sort of sense. It's not like plumbers post pictures of bathroom fixtures online and then charge you for it. They physically show up to your house. Then while they're there they don't just do whatever plumbing they feel like that day, but what you explicitly need done.

I'll agree that earning a living from webcomics is not ideal, but that comparison just makes no sense. He could have at least chosen something else in the arts. Like, "Making a living from webcomics is like being an indie musician who plays for free then sells t-shirts and CDs to make ends meet." But I don't think that example says what he wants it to.
posted by ODiV at 9:31 PM on March 15, 2013


This analogy is kind of bizarre and I don't get how it's supposed to make any sort of sense. It's not like plumbers post pictures of bathroom fixtures online and then charge you for it. They physically show up to your house. Then while they're there they don't just do whatever plumbing they feel like that day, but what you explicitly need done.

The analogy is not that what plumbers do is not valuable, or that it is not different in some ways from self-publishing a web comic, but rather that the core activity of webcomics authors, unlike that of plumbers, is not the activity by which they can make ends meet; they have to make their money by doing some other thing than making web comics, even though web comics are the thing that creates their audience.

Put another way, it might make some sense to think of a webcomics author as the proprietor of an online t-shirt shop who spends an awful lot of time doing an idiosyncratic form of marketing, rather than as a cartoonist.
posted by gauche at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The analogy isn't just laying out the facts; it goes further than that. It's essentially saying that webcomic authors should be paid, like plumbers, for their "core activity" and the fact that they are not should be seen as just as strange as a plumber having to sell sandwiches after fixing your pipes for free.

That's how I read it anyway.

And I'm saying that the "core activities" are so far apart in nature, that the analogy doesn't make sense.
posted by ODiV at 6:34 PM on March 16, 2013


The problem with the plumbing analogy is that a plumber does something that you ABSOLUTELY NEED to have done. You can probably get through your day without reading a webcomic. (I understand that literally hundreds of people do so every day.)

Comics are battling for your attention against Metafilter, movies, television, video games, porn, and the millions of other entertainments we have devised for ourselves as a society. Whereas no one's competing to fix the toilet that just backed up into your shower.

Sad to say it, comics just aren't as important as a functioning toilet. And I say that as someone who has both a functioning toilet AND a webcomic.
posted by ErikaB at 11:47 AM on March 17, 2013


The problem with analogies is that they start debates about the validity of the analogy.
posted by cmoj at 11:02 PM on March 17, 2013


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