Crawling & trawling

With Adept Comics under way, it’s time to show what a year hath wrought upon me as a webcomics reader. Namely, 365 days ago, I wasn’t reading any. Not long before that, though, I’d been reading some on-and-off for a few years, and seen some I really liked stop or vanish. That list includes Cheap Thrills to which I was pitifully addicted and greatly miss, Lackadaisy, The Non-Adventures of Wonderella (still going), and Oglaf (still going). Now? I follow several dozen titles, and since I’m also the new-to-it owner of a Smartphone and hence am more easily pitifully addicted can read the things constantly, likely soon to be more. I subscribe to most and comment semi-regularly on most.

I want to talk about money, but it seems fair you should know what I’m looking at, in thinking about it. A lot of them are superhero titles because that’s what I’ve been blogging about and writing. Unsurprisingly, you’ll also see a certain emphasis on villains although not a singular obsession. I’ll break them up a little arbitrarily:

About half, or maybe just under half, feature queer content too, partly because that’s what’s out there to see, and partly because of the chocolate-and-peanut butter I wrote about in That’s “Mr. Faggot” to you.

salamanderI’ll talk about one title, as a case study for someone who really busts it out on sheer guts and if you will, idealism which I happen to value: Salamander, which yes, is clearly a determined newcomer effort – but with an “it” to it, a “there” there, that can’t be faked. It’s set in the here-and-now with no attempt at a fictional “world with powers!” justification, in fact rather the opposite with a genuinely trippy origin-sequence. It has literally no author talking-at-you, which is harder to pull off than it looks. (Disclosure: I won the drawing and now own a very cool shirt. But I’m not kidding about how much I enjoy the series.) Without padding or rushing or over-explaining, it’s a fully satisfying look at the heroine’s life. That’s important: rendering is one thing, but pacing is one of the things. I also really like watching the art find itself from “screw it I’ll do it” at the start, then rapidly growing into mood shots like the subway panel, which often capture more than the explicit dialogue scenes.

Lots more too! Fantasy horror (or dark humor? which is which?), of course, including Xylobone Tomes, Soul to Call, I, Necromancer, Behind You, and Dusk Dwellers. Those of you who know my game Sorcerer will certainly see the relevant aesthetics and content throughout these. It’s how my mind works. I’ll put in a special plug for I, Necromancer at the moment because its author is turning into an Adept Comics fan – plus the work itself is plain savage.

I guess you could call these pretty much a constellation of SF and fantasy, but you might see a certain social or grim or dramatic strain running through them: Brujagh, Heroes for Ghosts, TIE, Until the Last Dog Dies, Bad Bad Things, and Stormfall; with a special note for the zesty, action-y Decimators. and Retroblade. Then of course there’s the weird as shit category, without even the excuse of “hey, it’s already superheroes, so how weird can it be”: Samsara, City of Blank, and Supermassive Black Hole A*. And finally what I can only call style spiked with melodrama: Dark Times, Miss Abbott and the Doctor, Faith Fallon.

All right, before anyone starts jeering, this is not a review post! You can look or not look, like or not like, and although I hope some titles benefit from looking and liking, -please don’t bother assessing or criticizing here. I provided the links for context to talk about commerce. What does making money with webcomics look like? Specifically, how might it look for me?

First observation: nearly all of these titles are tied to Patreon, which makes perfect sense for a serial web production. They mainly don’t make much: a very few are runaway income deliverers, and unsurprisingly those are all good, but some of the really good ones aren’t. So let’s say, as with me, one signs up with Patreon and links the bejeezus out of one’s comics to it, in a variety of platforms (I’m at Tapastic and Webtoons; might add a couple more.) … there doesn’t seem to be much hope in just “putting it out there.” Time for strategy.

Cross-promotion is my obvious first choice. One might think, too, that people who make webcomics would be willing to buy into one another much the way independent RPG publishers are … but here’s a tough thing: cross-creator support via Patreon doesn’t work too well. Say, like me, you run a Patreon and you support some others via the same. The way that works, it takes your pledges (to others’ Patreons) out of your take (from your patrons) first, and you get the remainder. You see the trouble, right? It means that if a bunch of us all pledge to each other, we’re basically all moving our money around to no real gain and, in bank-and-tax terms, reducing our incomes. It’s not clear how to work out an actually mutualistic model among publishers via this method, meaning valued added rather than just breaking even.

Ideally, the pack of us would need a sea of non-Patreon users providing the money. And that’s tricky too, because a given patron isn’t going to support every comic he or she likes, even subscribes to. Therefore if I recruit for people to support a bunch of others’ webcomics, I know I’ll be pushing hard up against each one’s limit of how much they want to contribute to Patreon, total, each month. Especially since they may well be up against that limit already.

So that pushes out to the more intangible side of things: hoping that a big/popular web creator will be willing to hype your stuff via blog or other public statement. I dunno about you, but I find propositioning people in that position a bit distasteful, not least because it’s more like a guilt-trip (“see! you have money! why don’t I? help me out, why don’tcha? who do you think you are!”). Maybe I should get over that? Who knows?

Ouside of Patreon, people also have donate (tip jar style) buttons sometimes – I think that probably only works for those titles who’ve boosted well into self-funding territory already, in some cases because they were early adopters. I can’t see that working for a current newcomer at all, at least, not in terms of assuming one is going to be a knockout viral crowd-pleaser from the outset.

(Another tough thing: the fact is, I write ten-page stories, planned as such, and can’t shake the habit of designing them as such. I can’t get into tripping the “this is you! it’s for you! it’s about you! by a person like you!” trigger per page, not that doing so is dishonest or bad, I just can’t.)

Then there are the big crowdfunding project things, which work great unless you have – like me – substantial labor costs. A Kickstarter would have to pay the artists in the first place, to fund the production of books to ship, and to make a pittance for me – which is perilously close to digging a hole to fill it in. I might be able to construct a good one if I’m careful; I managed it by sheer determination with Sorcerer and by good design with Circle of Hands, both of which contained all three prongs. But neither of those included back-pay for artists or other services, which would be a real killer.

Let’s open it up! Thoughts?

Next comics: August 2, Sword of God p. 2; August 4, One Plus One p. 5

Next column: August 7, Carol Danvers spits on your grave

About Ron Edwards

Game author, publisher, consultant, teacher

Posted on July 31, 2016, in Commerce and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Ron, I’m probably absolutely useless on this subject, but something compels me to type anyway. Maybe just ignore this reply, if there’s any danger it could significantly dampen your plans. Or maybe it’ll spark some useful thought, for you or from another reader.

    If it were up to me, you and your artist’s would make your money selling books/pdfs, and Webstuff/Patreon/whatever would be all about marketing, exposure, and etc. – maybe some supplemental income – rather than endeavor-critical finance. Despite decades of making a living in technology – sometimes a good living, more often not-so-much – there’s something about how people personally, pretty directly leverage content on the Web into income that I either a) just don’t get, or b) am offended by in some way that keeps me from using/understanding it.

    That said … my current thinking is that in the big picture, things like a Patreon stream, or even BIG successes via Kickstarter and the like, are minor bits of where money gets generated. The reality is, advertising money dwarfs everything else, for now and into the foreseeable future.

    Can that be made to work for a webcomic? I assume regular comics got/get significant income from ads… Could you sell advertising on your page, or in your pdfs, at a high enough rate/volume to support both the creative effort AND the inevitable overhead of managing those ads? Is there a business model for a service that manages advertising placement for multiple webcomics, such that that service can survive and pay the webcomics significant money?

    I am aware that Google AdWords (and the like?) “disrupts the paradigm” by turning this advertising model upside-down, but could a return to a more conventional “just like comics used to do it, adapted to current tech” method work? My guess is no, but I’m not sure why, so there may be more hope than I guess. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure you’d HATE managing advertising yourself, so until/unless there’s that webcomic ad placement service, it’s probably not much help to you even if the idea is viable.


    • Actually I’ve been looking for that very thing. The good news and the bad … Fortunately Tapastic has a pretty good advertising system which translates to, “the more people who see it, the more you make.” It may be the only “eyeballs” ad platform that feels non-aggravating to me. I have been gathering some viewers at that site, probably because I’ve tried to be a good citizen-reader at the titles I subscribe to, and although the money is truly trivial at the moment, it might not be, in due time. The model seems good. Feel free to subscribe to the comics there; it’s free.

      Unfortunately, WordPress is horrid for ad revenue, which surprised me immensely. I thought it would pretty much be a given that one of the world’s primary blogging platforms would have some kind of ad-program in place. After all, you guys see ads here. (I don’t see those, by the way.)

      Well, it turns out not. Those ads don’t do a thing for me, not even if I upgraded to the premium version – that’s why I haven’t done that, actually. (So you go right ahead and turn the ads off if you hadn’t.) You can’t connect a WordPress site to any of the usual ad platforms, not that I really wanted to do AdWords or whatever, but you can’t if you wanted. Not even a Paypal tip jar. And there’s supposed to be some in-house, best-ever, here-it-comes ad program …I got irritated with all the “any day now” notifications and after elbowing my way through help-person after help-person, finally got the almost straight answer that the date had been pushed back indefinitely.

      It occurs to me that I’m replying about it this explicitly on the off-chance that a knowledgeable reader will either correct me about something I’m misunderstanding, or suggest something I didn’t know how to do.


      • Santiago Verón

        I just want to say that if you’re interested in Internet ads, especially related to webcomics, you should check out Ryan North’s “Project Wonderful” platform.

        (Also, while you’re at it, maybe take a look at OhNoRobot to make your comics searchable.)

        (Ryan North is the author of the super successful Dinosaur Comics)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It looks like WordAds, the in-house WordPress program, is now working, so my grumpy complaints are stilled … well, they might be. First, I have to decide whether to upgrade my WordPress status to Premium. And I’m pretty sure that Project Wonderful isn’t possible.

    Or I could migrate it to a different host – there are a couple set up specifically to do this – and then I can do Project Wonderful or whatever else, however I want. Of course, that means getting security and backup service and all that other hosting stuff too.


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