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:
- Female protagonists: Strong Female Protagonist, Magellan, Spinnerette, Salamander, Grrl Power
- Male protagonists: Supervillainous, Switch, Inhibit, Sharp Zero, Striker, TREP, The Badguys, The Red Hook
- Delightfully nuts: Universe Gun, StarVeil, Inarime
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.
I’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