Monday, February 02, 2009

Economy Sad Bear: The Webcomic Edition

Follow The Media Is Dying on Twitter for your daily (hourly?) dose of nail-biting, Rolaids-popping paranoia.

Are webcomics a viable alternative to your recession-plagued wallet? David Gallaher provides a list of his favorites at Blog@Newsarama.

Neil Swaab describes "the end of alternative comic strips," and gives his opinions on webcomics...

"I know there are plenty of web comic artists who are able to subsist on the income they make from their website, but they aren't making money from their comics; they're making money from merchandise. Not to belittle web-only comic artists, but when their income is derived from t-shirts, it makes them salesmen first, artists second. The comics act as a tool to drive traffic to their website and then the sales of their products allow them to continue to make the comics. I know this may seem like semantics and those artists would never see it that way, but I think it's a valid issue, particularly for the reasons that not every comic artist wants to be a t-shirt salesperson."

...and then clarifies those opinions:

"My intent in bringing up the question was that there are a lot of great artists out there whose work doesn’t translate to t-shirts or easily marketable products and who don’t have an interest in merchandising to support themselves. Their work shouldn’t fail because of that and that’s what the current webcomics model thrives on."

So if Swaab is basically saying that "the current webcomics model thrives on" CafePress tees and mousepads, what is the specific objection to that? Is the objection that such a model doesn't generate sufficient cash for webcomickers, or because the arrangement is "gauche?" Is it more gauche to sell T-shirts on your site or have your comic strip supported by an alternative weekly that runs ads (with some of ads, especially towards the back of the publication, being kinda sketchy)? Or are any determinations we make regarding this highly objective and situational?

Also -- I would totally buy a Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles mousepad.

Then there is Brandon Thomas on digital comics:
"If you are a comic book company and are not seriously considering some method of digital distribution, then in the next couple years, you’re likely going out of business. The smaller the publishing house, the more important this ultimately is."

I've been hearing rumblings about the future and viability of original graphic novels as well. Shocking, because two years ago OGNs were the bee's knees and everybody wanted a piece of them, especially the traditional book publishers. Now it's like: "I don't got a &@%$ two years for your book to come out! We might be a Chick-fil-A by the time that happens!"

...and cult-favorite webcomic Achewood goes on hiatus:

"After seven full and happy years, though, production of the strip has had to find space for itself among other projects. Book development, animation development, and most recently, the rapid relocation of my little family to another state. That's the big killer. We lived in Silicon Valley until today. Until three weeks ago, we thought we were going to live here forever. It's a complicated story involving eminent domain, the stewardship of the American financial continuum, and a poisonous dog named Nasturtium. I'll tell you about it sometime."

This prompts Strangeman to muse:

"I don't know what to think. I think an artist has the right to walk away from his art, but it's something to be avoided. That's like leaving your baby at Wal-Mart. If it's ending, I'm going to feel what I felt when Calvin & Hobbes went away. Comics are taken for granted sometimes, be they in the paper, comic book, or online. No one really want to see them go."

Do you have any tales or news for Economy Sad Bear? Or maybe something inspirational to lift our flagging spirits? Let us know!

Palette Cleansers:
Pictures of Cute Animals
Tony Robbins Quotations
Bubblewrap Popping


  1. Pretty good roundup with one comment that I'd like to see more on...I've been hearing rumblings about the future and viability of original graphic novels as well.

    ...what/who are you referencing on that? All I've heard is good things about graphic novels?

  2. This, on the day I start my webcomic? Great timing *sigh*

  3. "...what/who are you referencing on that? All I've heard is good things about graphic novels?"

    a couple of smaller publishers. The idea is that there is too much lead-time invested, too much material/money invested. I'm not agreeing with this completely -- I do think the original graphic novel is an important format. But if you are talking about something with more than 100+ pages of original material -- that is a big investment, especially in an economy where print is taking such a beating.

    Alternatives floated to OGNs included text with illustrations, and webcomic serialization with eventual print run if there is a demand for it.

    Also, factor in the "fad" element. The call for OGNs -- from mainstream, comic, and small press -- was huge only a few years ago. If you get a publishing deal at the beginning of such a fad in demand, you are in great shape. But now, I suspect it would be much harder to do.

    This is not to say the OGN is "dead" -- it is just that it seems the heavy demand for them from the publishers has slowed.

  4. Heh to echo Kane, this, on the week my group's set to host a webcomic panel at NYCC in order to spur current and future members to doing some.

  5. Don't get me wrong, I think webcomics probably have the best shot right now in this economy, and that's at least something to be positive about.

    But the key is: how are you going to monetize your webcomics? How does your venture fit within an overall business plan?

  6. Thanks for tackling Swaab's take on webcomics. After I came out, I felt a deep desire to create a webcomic about two hairy gay dudes. I knew that I had a chance of making money from tie-in merchandise (and with my mortgage and other debts, I can really use the dough). I'm marketing the strip to alternative/LGBT papers, but in the current economic climate, it's a tough sell. T-shirts and coffee mugs (and collected editions, once I have enough strips under my belt) seem like the way to go. So heck yeah I'm a salesman, but I'm selling stuff based on characters I love and on a strip I enjoy writing/drawing.

  7. 1. The Achewood hiatus is already over. It was longer than his anticipated two weeks, but it looks like new strips are back.

    2. Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content had a reasonable response to Swaab's arguments:

  8. Well, there's always Revolution of the Mask, at 72 cents (second issue coming soon! ...hopefully ^^; )!

    Webcomics are still a viable alternative, it's just getting money from it is the tough part. Advertising revenue and original content different from the comics on the site itself I think help drive Girl Genius' success.

  9. Anonymous7:24 PM

    On merchandising in general:

    In the discussion about creator's rights, everybody usually focuses on the creators being properly compensated for their ideas, including merchandising. Which is great.

    But isn't creative control also about putting the decisions in the hands of the creator?

    Bill Watterson's fight with his syndicate to NOT merchandise was a key factor in wrapping up Calvin and Hobbes and you can see the increased cynicism leaking into some of the strips in later years.

    Some people just aren't interested in merchandising their work for a number of valid reasons.

    I'd rather see an environment where creators have a greater range of choices and options. If they want to merchandise, fine. If not, that should be fine too.