Page 71 is up!
And on a different subject...
On a couple of the webcomics forums I'm currently reading, the topic of how to make money as a "webcomicker" has come up several times. I know it's certainly on my mind. There's a growing crowd of people who manage the trick, st least according to Wikipedia's list of self-supporting webcomics. I'm very happy to hear that the system works-- people can not only make money at this game, but they can even make enough money for comics to be their main source of income! That's pretty incredible, considering the number of nay-sayers out there who've been yelling about how giving away your comics for free would ruin the market.
And so, on the forums and blog lists, there is much discussion among those of us who, ahem, are not exactly raking in the dough, about how an aspiring webcomicker can get in on some of this action. Potentially, there are t-shirts, buttons and other merchandise sales, original art sales, ad revenue, donations... and, oh yeah, books, if you happen to have any. It is generally agreed that some comics lend themselves more to t-shirt/mug/whatever slogans than others (I note that the majority of comics on that list I mentioned above are gag-a-day, for example). And the print-on-demand options make everything so easy.
But I find I'm starting to get that same kind of icky feeling about all this as I did when I first started going to comic conventions again in 2006, after six years of not being in comics at all. I remember looking around at the tables in the small press alley and seeing all the hats and prints and t-shirts and toys and thinking to myself, where are all the comics? Isn't this place-- this section of the show in particular-- supposed to be about comics?
This isn't a new trend, of course. I remember the process of watching Toronto's great Queen St. W. comic shop The Silver Snail slowly slide from a store that focused on comics to one in which the action figures and related toys starting taking over the entire first floor. Action figures have a much higher profit margin, and if that's what it takes to keep your store afloat, especially in a trendy area like Queen West... well, I can't really blame them. Comic books, the floppies, have been a dwindling market for a long time.
I understand, I really do, the desire to make a little bit of money at this webcomic thing. At least with print comics the path to making money was clear (although making enough to cover your costs was pretty near unattainable for young start-ups)-- you make the comics, you sell them to stores. Usually with a distributor in the middle. Voila, money. But it's a bit trickier when the audience gets to read the comics for free. If you can't charge the readers for actually reading the material (I think we've all come to the conclusion that the subscription or micro-payment models aren't working?), then you have to get them some other way. And it seems that way is merchandise.
There are plenty of webcomickers out there who are clearly doing their comics for the love of it, because they love to draw, or because they have a story they want to tell. But I can see the slippery slope ahead, where webcomickers will be tempted to retool their comics to ones that will look good on a white cotton tee. How many gag-a-day creators are discarding good visual jokes in favour of one-liners that make good t-shirt copy?
I guess this is the same sort of pattern that other bloggers have been complaining about in regards to using comics to pitch movies to Hollywood. Or the slew of self-publishers in the '80s and '90s who saw the wild success of certain other self-publishers and tried churning out comics in an effort to get rich quick. But I'm not trying to speak to them, the ones that are only in comics for the supposed money. No, my concern is for the webcomickers who started out with the best intentions, trying to make the best comic they could, and are now wondering why they aren't seeing their fair share of the money that other people seem to be making.
Please please please remember: it's about the comics, you guys. T-shirts and buttons are all well and good, but don't lose sight of the reason you started this in the first place. And anyway, I really wish more people would think about making money off of print collections of their comics, instead of Zazzle merchandise! Make something good enough for me to want to read it, and I'll happily buy a book and support you that way. OK? OK.