Webcomics Wednesdays: The Dos and Don'ts of Webcomicking

This is going to have to be a quickie because I’m sick as a dog and can’t think straight.

In my previous post talking about manga marketing, a reader Sara K. suggested that manga publishers pay webcomic artists to draw fanart and place it on their websites in order to promote the manga. I immediately balked, but Sara showed me that Girl Genius had done just that for an online gaming site and it was well met by their fans who were just happy to see the creators making money. I’m still a little bit wary on the idea of manga companies doing that (and I imagine there would be some legal troubles for them if they did), but it isn’t the worst way to make a little dough.

It got me thinking about the dos and don’ts of making and promoting webcomics. Here’s a short list of what I like seeing creators do and what would make me immediately stop following their work:

-Do: Connect with your fans via Twitter by showing them in-progress work, side doodles or just sharing your thoughts. Might I add that Twitter is where the cool kids are at, including other influential webcomic creators you could make friends with.

-Don’t: Make your characters into sexist jerks just to make a joke. If your character is consistently sexist because it moves your story forward and that sexism isn’t frequent fodder for your punchlines, that’s fine. If the sexism is only there as a punchline, quit now and take a writing class before you start another webcomic.

-Do: Open up shop or put a donation button up. Webcomic-making is an act of love and it’s your choice to put your work up online for free. It’s not unreasonable to try and get paid a little for all your hard work. Most fans seem to understand that and will be willing to support you monetarily. (Or, if you’re not ready for that kind of thing, try putting advertising on your site.) Plus, if you make wearable items like shirts, totes or buttons, your readers can spread word of mouth about your comic.

-Don’t: Exploit your readers for next month’s rent. Unless you’re making the transition from making webcomics as partial source of income to a full source of income, don’t beg your readers for money constantly. This is a rough economy and if you think you can rely on your readers to suddenly replace your income because you’re too lazy to be realistic and get a job, you’ll starve.

-Do: Draw fanart and accept fanart. You will connect with fans on a different level that way and it will help you out to have a couple of pieces around for when you might need a break, but don’t want to miss an update.

What are the dos and don’ts when it comes to the webcomics you read? Is there anything you just can’t stand to see webcomic creators doing? Anything that makes you giddy with joy?

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20 Responses to Webcomics Wednesdays: The Dos and Don'ts of Webcomicking

  1. amuletts says:

    One of the best DOs and DON’Ts I’ve read for webcomics. I actually agree with what you’ve said. I think they apply to most webcomics rather than just a niche group that you happen to like (usually my pet peeve about these)!

    • Glad you like it! It’s really just a short list and if my head was clearer, maybe I would have been more specific… But then again I read a really wide variety of stuff so it’s tough to get into one kind of webcomic and ignore all others.

  2. Kris says:

    One of the most important things I always tell aspiring web comic people, is to always REGULARLY UPDATE. This is a HUGE deal. If you’re just starting out, you need to have a regular update schedule, and stick to it. Make sure to find one you can balance with your real life working schedule. 2-3 times a week is ideal, but even once a week shows commitment. Readers won’t stick around if you slack off. They’ll forget about you and move on to something else.

    The other big things, is not to expect to make money. Almost no one makes income from their webcomics. If anything, most creators make just enough to pay their hosting and server fees, if they make anything. I only know a handful of web comic creators who are doing web comics for a living: Scott Kurtz of PVP, The Penny Arcade guys (but I’m also pretty sure their wives work), Fred of MegaTokyo (also pretty certain his wife works), and Dave of Snafu Comics (who still runs his own web development business on the side). There are probably a couple others (I think the CTRL+ALT+DELETE guy does OK, though personally I feel he exploits his fans a bit), but think about the HUGE amount of web comics out there, and get some perspective.

    On Donations: Do commissioned artwork/fan art. Offer incentives. Offer peeks at special art, or give art away for donations (even if it’s just digital, like a desktop wallpaper you designed). Make goals with rewards: “If I hit XXX goal, I will do XXX.” That could be taking a fan request for a drawing of your characters on the site, inserting a randomly chosen donor into a strip, doing a full week of comics, anything that fans would enjoy.

    Go to cons and network network network. Dave runs his own t-shirt printing and selling company, printing t-shirts for comics even beyond those hosted on his own website (there’s about 19, by the way). You could find someone willing to share website space, and you can split the costs of running and marketing the site. Maybe you’ll find an independent publisher who wants to print your web comic. You can sell artwork, on the spot sketches, t-shirts, buttons, books, posters, and hand out business cards.

    • Yes, to the first one, although at the beginning, it’s pretty important to experiment with that kind of thing… You never know how it might interfere or when life will just throw you one, which is why I had that fanart suggestion there.

      As for people who are self-sufficient via webcomics, there’s actually a considerable amount more than the people you mentioned. But, in reality, you’re right. The vast majority of webcomic creators don’t make very much money or any money at all. Still, some people don’t realize that their readers might be sympathetic and willing to help them out financially. Also, it kind of helps connect the creators and readers. Creators feel like they have an obligation to work harder on the webcomic and readers feel like they’re doing what they can to keep something they love in production. Your recommendation for donation-driven goodies is a great one that I should have included.

      I would have suggested exhibiting at cons, but for some people it’s not just a possibility yet. It’s tough to do that and very hard to get space or make back your money if you do.

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  4. Making a living from webcomics is more prevalent, yes… I know a few folks who do!

    Update on a set schedule, nothing could be more important. A handful of Kate Beatons and Dresden Codaks are the exception, not the rule.

  5. Eric Kimbal says:

    Yeah, don’t make sexiest jokes the center of webcomic. Look at how that backfired for Ryan Sohmers. Now he has to manage a thriving company of over 20 employees and an ever expanding stable of successful webcomic properties that he is leveraging to make bigger and bigger media deals. Who wants all that work.

    Simple fact is you can “Do” anything as the core of your webcomic even socially irresponsible things as long as you do it well.

    • I’ve personally boycotted all of his webcomics, actually. Aside from the fact that none of them appeal to my personal taste, I dislike his humor.

      Clearly, though, the guy’s a business man. He knows how to wheel and deal. It seems like if he didn’t already have the contacts when he started webcomicking, he already knew how to make them.

      He is the shining example, however, of what people shouldn’t do when it comes to having a sexist character.

      • Eric Kimbal says:

        I agree the comic and its humor are reprehensible (and given the types of comics I make that’s saying something) but the formula works. There is an audience for the misogynistic awfulness of it.

        I agree that people shouldn’t make comics like that but at the same time it can’t be a don’t if it’s a winning formula. The premise of the your article are things that do and don’t work. Misogyny works in webcomics. Just like fear mongering works on network television. We wish that these things didn’t work but they do.

        • I’m sorry, but I do believe that my resistance to works that use bad things like misogyny or fear mongering is useful. At least I spoke out about it. Even if these societal problems never get fixed in my lifetime, at least I have done my best to let those around me know that it is unacceptable behavior and I will not tolerate it. Sure, that’s only one less reader for successful webcomics like Ryan Sohmer’s, but at least I’m a vocal dissenter and perhaps that will change someone else’s mind and it’ll be two less readers for his webcomics.

        • I just wanted to add, since this is clearly something you missed while reading… This is a list of things I personally do and do not like seeing webcomic creators doing.

          So, of course, it’s *MY* don’t, although you’ll notice that none of the other readers have openly disagreed with me so far.

          • Eric Kimball says:

            My bad. I totally missed the sentence where you said it was a personal list. I am very sorry I just read too fast. I apologize.

          • It’s not a big deal, I just wanted to remind you that my list is by far not the end all be all of webcomicking dos and don’ts. Regardless, I still wish more people found sexism as punchlines as annoying as I do.

  6. Apple says:

    DO: ask your readers for feedback, and pay attention to what they say. Be flexible about your comic, and be quick to learn and adapt.

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