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Webcomic creators to discuss online publishing in Toronto

From Publshers Weekly is a notice that webcomic creators Kate Beaton, Willow Dawson, Emily Horne, Brian Mclachlan, and Ryan North will be speaking tonight at the North York Central Library in Toronto about online publishing of comics. Certainly to be discussed will be how webcomics can become viable moneymaking businesses like Penny Arcade, PVP, Deisel Sweeties, Questionable Content, Wigu/Overcompensating, Achewood, and Dinosaur Comics.

Community Comments

#1 Ben Rankel
April/7/2009
@ 11:46 am

This should be a good talk! I wonder if it will be recorded by anyone and possibly thrown online. You’d think Ryan Sohmer would be participating – he doesn’t live too far away and seems to be doing well for himself.

#2 Noah Rodenbeek
April/7/2009
@ 11:56 am

Exactly, I mean this article would be awesome if I lived anywhere near Toronto. Hopefully someone posts the minutes up here.

#3 guy endore-kaiser
April/7/2009
@ 11:58 am

This will be the shortest panel of all time.

They’ll all just admit it’s impossible to make money online, and then they will go home… if they even have homes, which they don’t, because they’re broke.

Print and 8-tracks 4-eva!

#4 Ben Rankel
April/7/2009
@ 12:13 pm

@guy endore-kaiser “Theyâ??ll all just admit itâ??s impossible to make money online, and then they will go homeâ?¦ if they even have homes, which they donâ??t, because theyâ??re broke.”

We’re going to bark up this tree again? I guess some people just like to stir the pot! Sigh.

#5 Carl Ackerson
April/7/2009
@ 12:17 pm

They have homes, but they’re probably built out of t-shirts.

#6 Noah Rodenbeek
April/7/2009
@ 12:33 pm

I think the event is an instructional for aspiring artists who don’t know how to post their work online. I don’t see anywhere the mention of making money.

But yeah, it is kind of a boring day, we might as well try to rehash that other conversation on every comment column, right?

#7 Ben Rankel
April/7/2009
@ 12:36 pm

It’s a flood of ill-intent as soon as webcomics is mentioned. Comradeship and civility be damned, eh boys?

#8 Jesse Cline
April/7/2009
@ 1:26 pm

Guy was clearly being sarcastic…come on, 8 tracks?

#9 Alan Gardner
April/7/2009
@ 1:43 pm

Yeah, guys, don’t fall for it. Guy was just trying to stir up the hive. It’s a joke.

#10 Alan Jones
April/7/2009
@ 2:40 pm

I think it’s great that those folk are presenting that sort of info.

There needs to be lots o’ that talk, with lots of tips on how to get online strips/panels/gnovels/whatever as ‘professional’ as possible, should a creator care to do so (Re: Sturgeon’s Law, maxim #2). I use the term ‘professional’ as meaning at least the attempt to earn income that equates to a reasonable living.

#11 Cedric Atizado
April/7/2009
@ 3:39 pm

I’m always interested in getting more information about this topic.

Unfortunately when I emailed the organizer about the possiblity of seeing a video of the presentation afterwards, he said that they won’t have one available.

Maybe one of the audience or panelists might have a vid or podcast available afterwards, but I doubt it. Anyone planning on attending?

Shame really. That panel has a wide spectrum of webcomickers, from really succesful to ones just starting out.

#12 Mike Cope
April/7/2009
@ 4:00 pm

Had I found out about this session earlier, I’d have been more than happy to go and film it. My HD camcorder shall rest peacefully tonight.

#13 Ted Rall
April/7/2009
@ 4:04 pm

“I donâ??t see anywhere the mention of making money,” wrote Ben. And yet, there it is: “Certainly to be discussed will be how webcomics can become viable moneymaking businesses like Penny Arcade…” had written Alan.

I think webcomics are cool. The idea of webcomics is cool. Many actual webcomics are cool. I literally wrote the book on them. I look at webcomics every day. However…

It is not cool for certain webcartoonists to promote themselves by claiming HEY KIDS! You can WIN FABULOUS PRIZES (including a FULL-TIME LIVING) by making webcomics!

Making money as a comic strip or editorial cartoonist is a pipe dream; making money as a webcartoonist is even harder.

Why not just promote webcomics for why they’re really coolâ??a way to get your stuff out there in front of readers, without an editor or anyone else to get in your way?

This “You too can get rich” stuff (like the Vegas confab) reeks of money-grubbing at the expense of gullible inexperienced cartoonists and ought to stop.

(To put this another way, anyone who hosted a conference in 1970 claiming that they could tell you how to become a millionaire cartoonist would be a charlatan. Sure, it was possible. But not likely.)

#14 Ted Rall
April/7/2009
@ 4:10 pm

Sorry, amend thatâ??it was Noah who said that above, not Ben.

#15 Alan Gardner
April/7/2009
@ 4:22 pm

Making money as a comic strip or editorial cartoonist is a pipe dream; making money as a webcartoonist is even harder.

That’s like saying, “nobody can do an editorial cartoon and a comic strip at the same time” and ignore the score of cartoonists who do or people like Jeff MacNelly who had 3+ features and do them very well.

Just because you (generic “you” not specific “Ted” you) cannot do something, doesn’t mean it’s a limitation on everyone else.

#16 Layne Myhre
April/7/2009
@ 4:34 pm

What a crock.

Assuming you have a good, compelling strip/comic that is well written and well-drawn (and not even necessarily both of those), and let’s say 5 years to devote to your business, it is MUCH easier to make a living in webcomics than in editorial cartoons (or newspaper comics in general). A good idea on the web, plus 3-5 years of patience and even a smidgen of business sense = a living wage with enormous potential for continual growth beyond that point. On the other hand, only the tiniest handful of new artists have even a SHRED of hope of breaking into newspapers to the point of making a living wage, even if their comic is the best of the best and even if they dedicate years to the task. The market is mostly full, has been for years, and is shrinking rapidly.

The web, on the other hand, is a growing market. Only a tiny fraction of people on the web are reading comics there so far (and that tiny fraction is still enough to earn people a living), and every month that passes means more people getting on the web, more people already on the web discovering webcomics, and more of those spending money on their favourites. How can anyone NOT see the potential in that?

#17 Cedric Atizado
April/7/2009
@ 4:39 pm

?

I don’t think I can recall anyone saying that webcomics = easy money.

Every webcomic artists out there, especially the succesful ones (yes, even those guys), will say that it is hard work and the chances are slim in trying to make a living with it.

However all of them are saying that the chances of success is higher right now with webcomics than traditional forms of cartooning.

The talk is about making money off webcomics. It’s not “webcomics will make all your dreams come true! lolol!”

Given that about half the panel are artists with webcomic as their side hobby, they’re not likely to tell people that webcomics are making them an easy living.

Ryan North is probably the only one on that panel that can make the claim that webcomics has made him rich, but even he would probably be unwilling to say that it’s easy money.

#18 Alan Jones
April/7/2009
@ 4:42 pm

#13:
“Why not just promote webcomics for why theyâ??re really coolâ??a way to get your stuff out there in front of readers, without an editor or anyone else to get in your way?”

Yes this is one reason why they are cool, maybe, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to show people some great techniques on writing quality comics, professionally producing them for the delivery mechanism (web), and ways to monetize what you’ve created.

I understand for print cartooning you wouldn’t do much of that, as I think I remember reading in one of these forums where Wiley thought it was pretty much nuts to “give away your comics business secrets” (paraphrasing a bit here) because then you create more competition/potentially diminish your own success by opening doors for evr more potential competitors.

It seems for online it’s the opposite – the more people you have jump on the bandwagon, the more momentum to drive up the quality of a given creation because everyone is hot-on-the-trail, so to speak. Kind of like how market economics are supposed to work.

#19 Stacy Curtis
April/7/2009
@ 4:44 pm

Ted: “It is not cool for certain webcartoonists to promote themselves by claiming HEY KIDS! You can WIN FABULOUS PRIZES (including a FULL-TIME LIVING) by making webcomics!

Making money as a comic strip or editorial cartoonist is a pipe dream; making money as a webcartoonist is even harder.”

Aren’t you indirectly doing the same thing by fulfilling your role at United Media?

Why would anyone want to be syndicated under, say, a 10 year contract, forced to draw a cartoon every single day of the week if making money at it is a pipe dream?

When you, as an United Media employee, contact a cartoonist about syndicating their work, you should actually be trying to talk them out of it.

I don’t think making money by drawing a comic strip is a pipe dream.
The difference between those who make it and those who don’t is talent, ability, being at the right place at the right time and a dash of luck.

Now, if there are any newspapers left when you get syndicated is a total different story.

#20 Noah Rodenbeek
April/7/2009
@ 5:22 pm

@13

Sorry about that, Ted is right. Admittedly I was going off of what I read here: http://www.keeptorontoreading.ca/events/graphically-speaking
rather than what is in the article above. I still maintain that the emphasis here doesn’t have to be about people’s monetary motivation for making webcomics.

#21 Alan Gardner
April/7/2009
@ 5:33 pm

Sorry, bad reporting on my part, I mentioned Publisher’s Weekly but did not link to it. They were the one’s that said that they were attending to talk about the monetary side .

#22 Alan Gardner
April/7/2009
@ 5:41 pm

My take is: you’ve got an equal shot at making money either from syndication or webcomics. The percentage of those who get a syndicate contract is about that of creating a comic of some notoriety on the web. Both will require a lot of work for the first 3-5 years before you see a decent return on the investment. The return is slightly higher on syndicate level if you make it past first 5 years (and perhaps those first 5 years are better paying), but you’re sharing 50%+ of your income. The webcomic side has more editorial freedom and ability to find a profitable niche market.

Then again, in 5 years, most metro papers will be small weeklies and the web will be everywhere with mobile devices, cars, TVs, whatever.

Pick your direction and go for it!

#23 Alan Gardner
April/7/2009
@ 5:42 pm

@Stacy Curtis (#19): I wish I could give out a prize for the best rebuttal. You took it today.

#24 Noah Rodenbeek
April/7/2009
@ 5:48 pm

@Alan

Someone mentioned before about syndicates having editors to please. There’s a degree of quality control in print you just don’t get with web.

You’re absolutely right about equal shots though. There’s just as much room for success online as there is in print, and you see that happening. The difference is the only thing dictating what makes it and what doesn’t isn’t an editor, it’s market force.

#25 Alan Gardner
April/7/2009
@ 5:55 pm

@Noah – having an editor is HUGE in getting something refined to a marketable state. That’s one thing I think the webcomic world is missing is that editorial filter to make sure the work is coming in at a consistent level.

#26 Howard Tayler
April/7/2009
@ 6:17 pm

Strictly speaking, the webcomic world is not “missing that editorial filter.” Lots of us employ friends, family, peers, and even employees for sanity checks, proofing, and QC. But your average, center-of-the-bell-curve guy writing a webcomic about his college buddies? Yeah, no editor. And it shows.

I believe that the difference lies in the maturity and self-awareness of the cartoonist. I know my strips aren’t as good when I crank out two or three weeks of stuff without running it past anybody. I’ve got enough hubris to do that occasionally (it takes a certain measure of hubris to attempt cartooning as a career, after all) but I’ve been called on it by my “editors” and (to my shame) my readers from time to time.

What the webcomic world lacks is any sort of an overall gatekeeper. The bar for entry is as low as it can be made, and this is reflected in the general quality of the stuff under that center of the bell curve. I can only assume that this is what the slush pile looks like at United Media.

#27 Noah Rodenbeek
April/7/2009
@ 6:46 pm

@26

“Strictly speaking, the webcomic world is not â??missing that editorial filter.â? Lots of us employ friends, family, peers, and even employees for sanity checks, proofing, and QC.”

Your friends and acquaintances can’t stop you from publishing what you create online. That’s the very definition of missing an editorial filter. Hubris or no, you’re free to publish whatever you want regardless of what someone else thinks about it… no matter how pretentious their opinion is.

“What the webcomic world lacks is any sort of an overall gatekeeper.”

Kind of like syndicates have editors? What a refreshing perspective.

#28 Howard Tayler
April/7/2009
@ 7:24 pm

I think we’re disagreeing on semantic terms, Noah.

Editorial functions:
1) Gatekeeper — no, webcomics as a whole don’t have this.
2) QC — most professional webtoonists have somebody looking over their shoulder from time to time. I know I do.
3) Proofing — See #2.

Those webtoonists who don’t get somebody to review their stuff usually suffer for it. A very few of them have already worked with editors in other fields or on other projects, and self-edit effectively enough to get away with no external controls.

So… it’s inaccurate to say there is no editing, and no editorial presence. It’s completely accurate to say that there is no formal, established process of editorial control that works across all webcomics — or even across all professional-level webcomics.

Those of us making a living at this have found the measure of editing we require in order to succeed (usually the minimum possible, yes) and thrive in that environment.

#29 Garey Mckee
April/7/2009
@ 7:28 pm

I admit it. I make no money on my webcomic. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Nuttin Honey. I’ve been drawing Police Limit and publishing it online for nearly 12 years now. I’ve never had an expectation to make anything from it other than a good comic strip.

#30 Jason Boneasaurus
April/8/2009
@ 5:43 am

@ #23, “I’ve never had an expectation to make anything from it other than a good comic strip.”

I think that’s the mentality you have to take! Although, I do wonder what kinds of conclusions this panel came to…

#31 frank white
April/8/2009
@ 10:35 am

Ted, would you still be holding the same opinion if you didn’t work for United Media?

#32 frank white
April/8/2009
@ 10:51 am

Ted, I’ll go into a little more detail……When you chose to syndicate Little Dee as an online comic on the UFS site it actually harmed Christopher Baldwin’s audience from his own site. His own site’s figures just went downhill and Little Dee was hardly given any promotion on United’s site at all.It looked like to a lot of us that he was purposefully being held back.The guy deserved a lot better than that. Thankfully his own website’s stats are way up once again and his comic is going from strength to strength.
I can see the same thing repeating itself with BOASAS , little promotion for a very funny comic.These creators are putting their trust in you for something better than they can do on their own and yet it seems when released from the shackles of ‘online syndication’ they literally outperform their time on your site.

#33 Kelly McNutt
April/8/2009
@ 11:03 am

RE: Frank White #32 – I’m a big fan of Little Dee. Also, when you say “you” as in “When you chose to syndicate Little Dee…” do you mean “you” as in Ted Rall, or “you” as in the syndicate? I didn’t think Ted was one of the ones that said “yes” or “no” for UFS.

#34 frank white
April/8/2009
@ 11:12 am

to Kelly… I mean Ted. He was the scout that brought Little Dee into the UFS fold and his editor there so for all purposes was the main desicion maker for it.

#35 Kelly McNutt
April/8/2009
@ 11:17 am

Wow – ok… that’s interesting (especially as a fan of Little Dee). Makes me want to find archives and go into the Wayback machine. Thanks, Frank.

#36 Ted Rall
April/8/2009
@ 1:03 pm

What is it about the Internet that makes people post things without checking to see if they’re true?

When you chose to syndicate Little Dee as an online comic on the UFS site

I didn’t choose to syndicate “Little Dee.” It was on Comics.com before I began. Of course, you would know that if you bothered to ask Chris.

I mean Ted. He was the scout that brought Little Dee into the UFS fold

Not true. Again, it was here before I arrived.

and his editor there

I was one of Chris’ editors, yes. Shortly after arriving, I took an interest in “Little Dee” and offered editorial suggestions. I can’t comment on Chris’ impressions of his experiences here because, unlike Frank, I try not to talk about things I don’t know.

And finally:

Ted, would you still be holding the same opinion if you didnâ??t work for United Media?

Given your willingness to post inaccurate statements about other people to a public forum, I hardly think you have the right to call my integrity into question.

#37 frank white
April/8/2009
@ 1:30 pm

Well Ted it doesn’t matter how UFS aqquired Little Dee , now you are just dodthe facts I posted about the stats and figures being down at Chris’s site while Little Dee was on United’s are true. It’s all on the archive on Chris’s blog, in his own words. Go look it up.
The fact also remains that any cartoonist will not get better viewing figures posting their work on your ( or any other ) syndicate’s website and will stand a much better chance on their own site. I’m not saying the syndicates are in any way doing something wrong from a business perspective but they should be honest to any cartoonists they syndicate online that it is even less a successful route to go than their own webcomic.
For a guy who used to put his cartoons on lamposts years ago you should be on the little guy’s side in all this.

#38 Ted Rall
April/8/2009
@ 1:50 pm

The fact also remains that any cartoonist will not get better viewing figures posting their work on your ( or any other ) syndicateâ??s website and will stand a much better chance on their own site.

I would be interested in reading the article that contains the results of the study that contains this “fact.” Until now, I wasn’t aware that anyone was able to determine this one way or another. Please post your link!

Well Ted it doesnâ??t matter how UFS aqquired Little Dee…

If it “doesn’t matter,” why did you lie about it twice?

#39 Wiley Miller
April/8/2009
@ 2:08 pm

Oh, don’t you just love internet, where people make assumptions or simply make things up in their head because they want to be true, then post it in a matter-of-fact manner as though it’s imperial truth? Then when you call them on it, somehow you’re the a-hole.

#40 Mark Tatulli
April/8/2009
@ 2:23 pm

Dick Cheney did the same thing. He would always begin a sentence, “In fact…” as if that made it so.

#41 Patric Lewandowski
April/8/2009
@ 2:29 pm

kids… kids… why all this fussin’ and a feudin’? traditional comics (on web or print) are over! as we motion comics are the future! anyone can see that! I mean it combines listening to someone reads with limited animation. really, i think cartoon network needs to be scared.

(please oh lord almighty may people see this post in the sarcastic / humorous light it’s meant to be seen in.)

#42 Patric Lewandowski
April/8/2009
@ 2:35 pm

in all seriousness, i don’t understand why a method of distribution somehow implies whether a comic is profitable or not. or superior. or funny. or good.

yes, there is money to be made in webcomics. there, i said it. and yes, people can (still) make money in a syndicate. the hows and whys are different. it’s not newspapers / syndicate versus web, it’s work-for-hire versus independent publishing (distribution).

and that debate will never end. just ask any freelancer / creator who has worked for a large comicbook company or self-published.

#43 Tony Piro
April/8/2009
@ 2:41 pm

When BOASAS left comics.com, his traffic jumped 30-50% on his own site. I’d be interested in hearing from Steven Cloud whether he feels he can monetize and communicate with his audience better now that he’s not shackled by comics.com

#44 Patric Lewandowski
April/8/2009
@ 2:44 pm

i wish comics.com had a better interface. why do i need to go to two separate sites to read Pearls Before Swine and Pastis’s blog? it makes no sense. if comics.com gave creators better tools to customize their web presence, i’d like it a lot better.

#45 Darrin Bell
April/8/2009
@ 3:13 pm

@#44, If comics.com did that, they’d have to hire editors to make sure each the hundreds of cartoonists isn’t customizing his page inappropriately. Some would end every sentence in a blog post with “f***.” Some would libel Oprah, leading to comics.com being named as a defendant in a multibillion dollar lawsuit. Others would post ads for pyramid schemes.

Better for cartoonists to have their own sites if they want to keep a blog. And there’s nothing stopping your favorite cartoonist from running strips on his own blog. Even if it’s contractually forbidden, the cartoonist can always subscribe to his own feature as a client (paying a few bucks per week) and then run it. You’d have better luck convincing a cartoonist to do that than persuading a syndicate to change a website it spent years developing.

#46 Mike Cope
April/8/2009
@ 3:43 pm

Patric does make a great point about comics.com’s interface … It’s not the most shining example of a professional syndicate.

#47 patric lewandowski
April/8/2009
@ 8:55 pm

@45: i think that’s a ridiculous thought you’ve come up with. that’d be like keepnspot or wcn or whoever becoming editorially responsible for any blogs or comments on them. or, to take it outside comics, for any opinions expressed in a commentary track of dvd to be assumed to the opinion of the studio / parent company.

not only that, but i can’t envision anyone with content on comics.com doing that. it simply doesn’t go with their brand or towards their audience.

and why should a creator have to pay money to someone else to run their own content on a competing website of better design? it universe does that idea make sense?

#48 Howard Tayler
April/8/2009
@ 9:34 pm

The model where webcartoonists run their own sites, their blogs, and their forums, owning the traffic, owning the responsibility for what they post, and owning the revenue generated — that model has worked really well for those of us who’ve been able to develop a passionate audience.

I would argue that it has ENABLED us to develop a passionate audience. In a recent interview with Tall Tales Radio, Tom Racine told me that Berke Breathed would flee any sort of reader interaction. Webcartoonists rush headlong into reader interaction. It’s how we turn interested readers into passionate zealots.

Comics.com’s website doesn’t do that.

It’s probably possible to develop a syndicated comics portal that DOES do that, something that has all the social networking widgets, and all that other Web 2.0 stuff but I don’t know what it would really look like, nor do I know whether it would be in the syndicate’s best interests.

#49 Mark Tatulli
April/8/2009
@ 9:48 pm

Yeah, I have to agree with Breathed here. I think too much reader input affects the end product. You end up writing for them instead of yourself, which I think is a mistake. I think readers will be passionate about your work if they like what you do, whether or not you share with them what you had for breakfast. Look at Nicholas Gurewitch’s PERRY BIBLE FELLOWSHIP. His strips continue to spread viraly and his book sales at Dark Horse are through the roof, and he does nothing to cultivate reader interaction.

#50 Howard Tayler
April/8/2009
@ 10:21 pm

I think too much reader input affects the end product. You end up writing for them instead of yourself, which I think is a mistake.

I agree, and if it actually happened that way it WOULD be a mistake. But that’s not the way it happens. I chat online with my fans, I talk about my process, I tweet random stuff at them… and believe it or not, they LIKE it.

Why? I’m not sure I know. It’s not how I participate in the comics I read. I don’t follow other toonist’s tweets (though I do follow a number of SF authors’ blogs and facebook updates.)

I guess what I’m saying is if you think that interacting with readers means letting them tell you what they like and don’t like about your jokes, and then adjusting your next joke to fit, you’re misunderstanding it. Or maybe talking to somebody who is doing it all wrong.

#51 Mark Tatulli
April/8/2009
@ 10:41 pm

I admire what you do Howard, but I don’t and can’t work that way. I think fan reaction subconsciously affects your work. If they like a certain character, you may be more inclined to put that character in, neglecting another characters you might explore and enrich. For this reason, I don’t include an email address on either of my strips. I used to have an email on HEART OF THE CITY, but I removed it within the last year because I enjoy the silence I get from no email on LIO. And it’s not so much listening to what readers don’t like, which I used to get, but it’s more about what they do like. And while I appreciate passionate readers, I really don’t want to know what they think. I prefer to work in a bubble, my own bubble, my world, and outside voices do have a way of altering that world, however subtly. I’m not arguing what works for you, but I’ve done it both ways, and I find the quiet more conducive to finding the heart of my own strips.

#52 guy endore-kaiser
April/9/2009
@ 1:06 am

I also think the comics.com interface is sad. I gave them some thoughts on how to improve it, but their web experts were armed with thousands of reasons why they couldn’t.

#53 guy endore-kaiser
April/9/2009
@ 1:07 am

If they like a certain character, you may be more inclined to put that character in, neglecting another characters you might explore and enrich.

Worked pretty well for Pastis.

#54 Mike Peterson
April/9/2009
@ 4:28 am

How you interact with readers — and critics in general — is very individual. The real trick is to be able to filter their comments within the framework of your own vision, and some artists are better at that than others.

I agree with Mark that you can be tempted to overemphasize an interesting character. When novelists say, “and the characters just took over,” what they really mean is “at some point, I lost control of my work.” If you have that tendency, you need to avoid input — positive and negative — because it will play into your vulnerabilities as an artist.

Of course, there’s also the issue of ultimate goals. I’m one of those people who think Peanuts degenerated when Snoopy began walking on two legs, and Schulz made that choice before instant feedback was available. I think it was a mistake in artistic vision, but I can’t say it wasn’t a wonderful choice in terms of subsidiary marketing. When people started referring to the strip as “Snoopy,” it became a commercial monster.

Interpret “monster” as you will.

#55 Wiley Miller
April/9/2009
@ 6:47 am

The fans are supposed to follow you, as the author of the material, not the other way around. Fans, by in large, are not creative. In fact, they’re quite predictable, which is the antithesis to creativity.

As a cartoonist, you need to work from the gut, expressing your unique point of view. That, after all, is what attracts the fans. Once you start producing “what you think the readers want” material, you’ve wandering into that vast pool of mediocrity that infests the comics pages.

#56 Howard Tayler
April/9/2009
@ 7:24 am

Okay, tenor of current discussion:

1) Letting your fans tell you what to write = BAD

2) Seeing fan comments = letting fans tell you what to write

Have I summed it up? Because I agree completely with point #1, but think that point #2 is one of those “all poodles are dogs, therefore all dogs are poodles” sorts of logical fallacies.

The most important thing I’ve found for monetizing my comic strip is creating zealous fans. The best tool I’ve found for this is letting potential zealots talk with each other in an officially branded environment. They’re not controlling the content. They’re letting the content capture their imagination, and their spending time exploring it with others. This is POWERFUL.

For that environment to thrive I need to be there, at least sometimes. And I need to be careful about #2 above lest it lead to #1. So far I’ve been fine.

The second-best tool I’ve found for creating those zealots is giving them insight into me and my life beyond what tiny glimpse they might get through the strip itself. It’s weird, and maybe there’s a hint of paparazzi couture to it, but this seems to be why Facebook and Twitter followings are so large for many successful webtoonists (my own followings are quite humble by comparison.)

Again, this isn’t situation #2, where they’re dictating the strip to me.

And the point of ALL this is that these are the tools that I, working full-time as a webtoonist, supporting a family of six, a mortgage, two cars, etc, depend on to grow my strip into a business. Comics.com provides none of them.

#57 Howard Tayler
April/9/2009
@ 7:25 am

Oh, the misspellings in that post. It’s too early, and I don’t even have my glasses on yet.

#58 Wiley Miller
April/9/2009
@ 7:39 am

“2) Seeing fan comments = letting fans tell you what to write”

I think it’s more of having an influence on what you write, but a professional should be able to avoid such an influence.

#59 Anne Hambrock
April/9/2009
@ 7:55 am

There’s a lot of room in between the Bill Watterson complete recluse model and the ” I just had eggs for breakfast – yum!” level of access.

In the old days, of perhaps a year ago :-), a high level of interaction could produce a loyal fan base that would go to bat for a feature when it faced newspaper termination. That still happens occasionally (i.e. the Judge Parker broohaha over at the WAPO) but it’s most effective when papers are changing strips not reducing the number of strips they carry. Until the syndicated business model changes drastically,or papers find a way to make the current model work online, (and stop axing strips right and left to save $$$) there is only so much a high level of interaction is going to accomplish.

#60 Howard Tayler
April/9/2009
@ 7:58 am

Uh-oh, Wiley. I think you and I may have established a point upon which we agree…

*eyes the sky nervously for other signs of the End of The World*

#61 Howard Tayler
April/9/2009
@ 8:06 am

Anne: yes, there’s definitely a lot of room between recluse and eggs-for-breakfast. My point is that comics.com only allows for recluse, while at least LEANING towards eggs-for-breakfast seems to be a more viable strategy online.

#62 Anne Hambrock
April/9/2009
@ 8:12 am

Speaking of access, I am going to take this opportunity to shamelessly plug the new “Behind The Scenes” blog over on the Edison Lee website.

#63 Mark Tatulli
April/9/2009
@ 8:24 am

“Okay, tenor of current discussion:

1) Letting your fans tell you what to write = BAD

2) Seeing fan comments = letting fans tell you what to write”

No, this isn’t what I’m saying at all. You tend to want to distill the creative process into something that is neat and clean and fits into little numbered sentences and that’s just not how it works, at least for me. Fans will not tell you what to write. They may say, “hey, I have this great idea for a strip…” but I think most cartoonists ignore that sort of infuence. Fans just tell you what they like and don’t like, and sometimes in very passionate ways, and that, in my opinion, can change the natural course of a strip. And the more time you spend cultivating zealot readers (and it is time consuming), the less time you spend writing, and so the tendency may be to lean on what is easy and satisfying to your readers rather than trying to surprise them.
Again I point to Nicholas Gurewitch and PERRY BIBLE FELLOWSHIP. When he was still creating the strip at it’s peak, web traffic to his site outpaced both gocomics and comics.com and left PVP in the dust (not sure about PENNY ARCADE). His ONE strip. Without any fan interaction at all! Just a strip at the top of the page and a list of other strips he had done. And he only updated, maybe, once a month, if that. So how do you explain that? Well, it’s simple…you can’t. People just know when they like something and will return if it continues to be good. My theory is that fan interaction and cultivation is really not necessary if the product is outstanding, and I think Gurewitch’s strip is a good example of that.

#64 Alan Gardner
April/9/2009
@ 8:47 am

But Mark, I don’t think this is a one size fits all kind of thing.
Scott Adams could have said, “my strip is all about MY vision, MY art, MY writing”, but instead he put his email address in his strip and let it influence the direction of this strip. He went from obscure comic to one that nearly rivaled Calvin and Hobbes in client papers. We can argue which one was a better comic from an artistic perspective, but the success from number of readers were in the same ball park despite approaching it from different attitudes toward interacting with readers.

It’s not a this way=good, this way=bad, as much as it is a comfort level thing for an artist and what model works best to grow a paying audience on the web.

#65 Jesse Cline
April/9/2009
@ 8:49 am

Good point Mark, but I think PBF updated once a week, or at least it appeared in the Baltimore City Paper that frequently.

I think PBF is a good example of a comic artist “diversifying” as he appeared in both print and online. He just focused on making a funny and high quality strip. Its the whole “if you build it, they will come” thing.

#66 Mark Tatulli
April/9/2009
@ 8:53 am

You’re right, Alan, and I’m not arguing or trying to change minds. I’m just talking about what works best for me. As I said before, I admire what Howard does and I think there is enormous time investment in that and I appreciate his dedicatio to his model, but if that is what it takes to be successful these days in comics, me, personally, I’m not interested. I don’t want to king of a community, I just want to make comics.

#67 Jason Nocera
April/9/2009
@ 8:59 am

An issue I noticed with webcomics and their creators is lack of commitment which you don’t see with syndicated print comic strips. There is a webcomic I started to enjoy – but consistent updates soon became supplemented with “guest strips” which soon became supplemented with “doodles from my sketchbook.” Now I never even check the site. This can’t happen with print syndicated comic strips – imagine just seeing doodles on the comics page. Or guest strips from some 14 year old learning the trade.

I overcome this by having paying clients on the web. While just a few, knowing that they paid for a new Buddy and Hopkins comic strip each week forces me to fulfill that contract obligation and I haven’t let them down for over five years now.

#68 Mark Tatulli
April/9/2009
@ 8:59 am

Yes, Jesse, PBF did update weekly in print, but he held off posting on his site so he could stretch it out.

#69 Wiley Miller
April/9/2009
@ 9:07 am

It’s not an absolute either-or matter here. There’s a lot of gray area that can only be negotiated in the mind of the individual cartoonist.

#70 Jesse Cline
April/9/2009
@ 9:09 am

#67 – Jason.

Yeah a lot of webcomics do that, myself included, and I’m sure its disappointing or frustrating for fans. But the idea that print comics are more dedicated is almost laughable. At least 50% of the syndicated cartoonists have been mailing it in the last decade or two with xeroxed, 3 panel snooze fests that took minimal effort – and their assistants probably did all the work anyway. The reason they are committed is because they are under contract.

There are definitely a number of good syndicated cartoonists, especially that have sprung up in the past 5 years or so, that you can really tell put a lot of time and effort into their work. I would say Mark is one of them, but I don’t want to give him any fan feedback ;)

#71 Darrin Bell
April/9/2009
@ 9:15 am

@#47 (PATRIC LEWANDOWSKI) said:

“@45: i think thatâ??s a ridiculous thought youâ??ve come up with. thatâ??d be like keepnspot or wcn or whoever becoming editorially responsible for any blogs or comments on them. or, to take it outside comics, for any opinions expressed in a commentary track of dvd to be assumed to the opinion of the studio / parent company.

not only that, but i canâ??t envision anyone with content on comics.com doing that. it simply doesnâ??t go with their brand or towards their audience.

and why should a creator have to pay money to someone else to run their own content on a competing website of better design? it universe does that idea make sense?”

————–

Nice. Patric, it’s not a thought I’ve “come up with.” What I posted is what they TOLD me years ago (albeit with exaggerated examples). It doesn’t matter what you or I think or what Keenspot does, Patric. A large company like United will do what it (and its lawyers) feel comfortable doing, whether or not it makes sense to you or me.

Maybe they’ve loosened up a little in recent years. They added the comment and rating systems. But they’re a large corporation and change comes at a slow pace. So if you want more than that from your favorite cartoonist, you’ll have better luck talking your favorite cartoonist into setting something up on his own.

#72 Howard Tayler
April/9/2009
@ 9:31 am

Perhaps then it is safer to say that interacting with fans, while not required, is certainly one proven method for enhancing the commercial viability of a given strip.

Can it also hurt the writing? Yes. So can living in a cave and eating nothing but fruit and tree bark. But I digress…

I think that a good syndicated comics portal should take that fan interaction factor into account, making the right set of tools available so that creators who can take that route (perilous though it may be) should they so desire.

Done right, it will grow revenue for the cartoonist and the syndicate. We can argue artistic and literary merit all day, but where there is syndication and corporate involvement there must also be a bottom line.

#73 Corey Pandolph
April/9/2009
@ 9:32 am

Before they can post on any of my blogs, fans are asked to submit there home and work addresses. I then personally visit both venues, armed with these questions:

1. “Why did you paint your living this color? It’s very offensive to me, personally.”

2. “Can I can an update on dinner? I mean, I understand it’s late again, but a simple update would be nice.”

3. “Your T-shirt reminds me of a story my Uncle once told me when I was six and living in Nebraska…”

4. “I know so many other people who can do this job better. Why do I continue to make the drive to your office, if this is all I’m going to get in return.”

#74 Corey Pandolph
April/9/2009
@ 9:38 am

“I think that a good syndicated comics portal should take that fan interaction factor into account, making the right set of tools available so that creators who can take that route (perilous though it may be) should they so desire.

Done right, it will grow revenue for the cartoonist and the syndicate. We can argue artistic and literary merit all day, but where there is syndication and corporate involvement there must also be a bottom line.”

This would be ideal, if the majority of fans weren’t nuts. They’re called “fans” for a reason. Fan=Fanatic.

Which is why I wear the sunglasses and Bono suit.

#75 Mike Cope
April/9/2009
@ 9:53 am

Don’t forget about the cartooning paparazzi.

#76 Wiley Miller
April/9/2009
@ 9:54 am

Think of fan interaction as red wine. In small amounts on a daily basis, it has beneficial affects. In large amounts on a daily basis, you’re passed out on your lawn in a pool of vomit.

#77 Mark Tatulli
April/9/2009
@ 9:54 am

Well, I don’t live in a cave and eat tree bark and berries, and I don’t actively seek out acceptance by engaging in online small talk with fans either. I’m somewhere in-between. I do have a facebook page and I recently added that into my comic between panels. I think it’s a good way to let fans know about upcoming books and when a newspaper drops you and how they can help. Gocomics also has a pretty easy-to-use comments section underneath the strips on their website and I do post on there from time to time. I’ll see how that limited contact works out for now. It’s enough for me. Despite the decline in newspapers and all the bad news surrounding it, I still make a pretty damn good living with my two strips, a tasty 6-figure income, for now. We’ll see what the future holds. I’m willing to adapt, but not to the point where I personally am sacrificing my own vision for the “bottom line”. That’s not why I got into this and it’s not enough to keep me here. Again, I speak only for myself, and if I cn’t do comics the way I want to do it, then it’s time to move on the something else. I always did want my own vineyard anyway.

#78 Corey Pandolph
April/9/2009
@ 10:01 am

“In large amounts on a daily basis, youâ??re passed out on your lawn in a pool of vomit.”

“Well, I donâ??t live in a cave and eat tree bark and berries…”

I consider both of these statements a personal attack.

#79 Howard Tayler
April/9/2009
@ 10:06 am

Mark,

The GoComics interface allows comments! And you’re posting there asking for feedback on your change of pens, spawning a very interesting discussion!

Why are we arguing? Or are we?

Me=Confused,

–Howard

#80 guy endore-kaiser
April/9/2009
@ 10:42 am

#55 Wiley said –

“Fans, by in large, are not creative.”

Really?

I haven’t found this to be true at all.

It would make me really sad if only uncreative people liked my strip…

#81 Mark Tatulli
April/9/2009
@ 10:46 am

I don’t know if I made this clear enough, but I’m not arguing. Do you even read what I post? Again, I willing to adapt, but not full-blown comic strip community. I said I am trying this limited contact to see where it leads. I haven’t made up my mind yet if I will continue it, but the life or death of my comic strips isn’t relying on this small-time comments section or Facebook contact. I built my audience the old-fashioned way, but I’m augmenting it to see how it goes. I can tell you that I didn’t like the email-thing and I HATED my myspace experience (too many ads and I hated the interface)

#82 Rick Stromoski
April/9/2009
@ 10:54 am

>>>Think of fan interaction as red wine. In small amounts on a daily basis, it has beneficial affects. In large amounts on a daily basis, youâ??re passed out on your lawn in a pool of vomit.

That reminds me, who’s going to the Reubens?

#83 Mark Tatulli
April/9/2009
@ 11:02 am

Oh, and I will do a podcast from time to time. Tom Racine has graciously invited me to interview tonight for his TALL TALES RADIO podcast, so watch for it…

http://talltalefeatures.com/

#84 Lucas Turnbloom
April/9/2009
@ 11:35 am

Glad to hear it Mark!
Tom’s the man — you’ll have fun on TTRadio!

#85 Howard Tayler
April/9/2009
@ 11:37 am

FWIW, I too hated MySpace.

Twitter and Facebook have been okay, but I’ve heavily filtered my feeds so I’m not seeing what my followers are posting.

Congrats on the interview! Tom is good to talk to. He and I ‘casted last Thursday, and I really enjoyed it.

#86 Scott Metzger
April/9/2009
@ 11:42 am

Tom Racine is the Terry Gross of podcasting. Except he’s a dude and taller and wittier. But you know what I mean.

I will be tuning in. Or downloading.

#87 Patric Lewandowski
April/9/2009
@ 11:45 am

i think wiley said it best when he said that it small well modulated amounts fan interaction is best. i think we can all agree on that.

after all, how many of us after writing what we think is like the funniest thing in the universe is kinda disappointed to never hear anyone comment on it?

likewise, how many of us hate it when we screwed up and everyone pointed it out?

now, @#71, Darrin Bell, I didn’t mean to come off hostile to anyone. sorry if i did. i guess more of my point is i think it’s silly for a creator to have to pay someone else to display their own work on their own site.

universal, as a large company is doing what large companies do. that is true. and, that’s what i don’t like. i wish they would move faster. i think they’re behind the curve. and if there are comments, why aren’t there design and blogging options? i think that’s a good concern that universal needs to address. and i think they probably will at some point, but i’m impatient! ;-)

but the big point here, again, i think, is really this is work-for-hire (or whatever you want to call it) vs self-publishing. and i think people on both sides can agree that each side has both its pros and cons, but neither is inherently better. if you work for a syndicate, yeah, a lot of the responsibility of running your own merch and getting paid is off your shoulders. if you self-publish (or webcomic), then yes you do have 100% control of every aspect of your comic and merchandise and etc, but you are also 100% responsible for securing every bit of money you can.

different strokes for different folks.

#88 Dave Stephens
April/9/2009
@ 12:43 pm

I you REALLY believe in “different strokes for different folks”, then you should understand it is NOT silly to pay someone to display your own work. “Different skill-sets for different talents.”
The skill sets involved in developing a web site are vast and deep, just like the skill sets for marketing and sales folks are a whole ‘nother universe light years away from cartooning, drawing, inking, lettering, etc.

Really, you may as well ask a talented sales guy to just pick up a pen and start cartooning… How would that play out, hmmm?

#89 Patric Lewandowski
April/9/2009
@ 2:36 pm

@88 Dave Stephens

I think we actually agree without realizing it. See, i’m saying that if you have the skill set to make your own site and do a better job than the syndicate and you want to, you shouldn’t have to pay someone else to display your own content there that you created. but, if you don’t want to or know how to do that, there should also be tools for that (as in a company that does it for you.) but, the two should not be inherently mutually exclusive or inclusive.

#90 Mike Peterson
April/9/2009
@ 4:33 pm

#67 “An issue I noticed with webcomics and their creators is lack of commitment which you donâ??t see with syndicated print comic strips.”

I think web artists need to realize that they are in a constant state of audition.

I hated freelancing because I was tired of constantly applying for the job. A straight 9-to-5 job is a nice thing. That’s part of the joy of having a boss rather than hanging out there on your own.

But, like Jason, I’m not willing to revisit a site if the artist isn’t updating regularly. Hell, if he doesn’t have a commitment to it, why should I?

And, attracting me as one of thousands of viewers aside, I’ve hired an artist for a project from time to time. You’re damn right I start by figuring out if he takes his work seriously. If he can’t be bothered — if he doesn’t have the discipline — to keep up on his own stuff, I won’t risk my reputation by signing him up.

Here’s the biggest difference between syndication and the web world: It’s the difference between freelancing and punching a time card. (I punch a time card. I know my limitations.)

When you put up a web comic, you are auditioning to the world. A syndicate contract will force you to hit deadlines, but any damn fool can respond to that kind of obvious, direct pressure.

Bottom Line: If you want to be your own boss, you’d better not work for someone you like very much.

#91 Keith Martin
April/13/2009
@ 2:11 pm

@90 “…Iâ??m not willing to revisit a site if the artist isnâ??t updating regularly. Hell, if he doesnâ??t have a commitment to it, why should I?”

Even some cartoons in syndication don’t get updated on a regular basis for whatever reasons. I don’t know the situation(s) when it happens (for all I know it could be due to a death in the family), so I try not to judge and hold that against them.

Me, I don’t provide a daily webtoon. Even a weekly webtoon can be a stretch at times. With a day job that requires well over forty hours a week (particularly now with the current economy), a wife that I enjoy spending time with, a family I’d rather not miss out on, a house that demands constant maintenance, plus other interests outside of cartooning (reading, painting, etc), I just don’t seem to be able to find the time to sustain a cartoon on a regular basis. To me, it’s a hobby that I enjoy whenever I do find the time.

But the way you put it, you’ll never want to visit sites like mine (sites where the artist might not be updating regularly) because in your eyes we “lack the commitment”. Really, you’ll hold the fact that I value other aspects of my life against me like that?

You might just be missing some good cartoons out there on the web.

Some artists use feeds (RSS, Twitter) to alert their readers whenever new content is available on their site. I keep up with several artists that way. It’s just more convenient. Instead of having to go to their site every day to see if it’s updated, I just read it in the feeds. if they miss a day, no harm, no foul.

Sure, one artist may not update their cartoon for whatever reasons, but if they generally produce a product I find entertaining, why would I instantly shun them just because their site didn’t get updated when I felt it should’ve?

#92 Mike Peterson
April/13/2009
@ 6:29 pm

“But the way you put it, youâ??ll never want to visit sites like mine (sites where the artist might not be updating regularly) because in your eyes we â??lack the commitmentâ?. Really, youâ??ll hold the fact that I value other aspects of my life against me like that?”

Yeah, I’ll hold it against you. You said it yourself — It’s just a hobby with you and you don’t have a real commitment to it.

I’ve got nothing against hobbies, but hobbies are something you share with friends and family. My dad drew the family card each Christmas and did a cartoon for the local Lions Club newsletter. I love his cards and the Lions were thrilled to have his cartoons each month. I’m proud of his talent, proud to be his son. But I don’t mistake the fun things he did for the hard work turned in by my friends who are professional cartoonists.

“You might just be missing some good cartoons out there on the web.”

I’m sure I am. There are a lot of good cartoons out there, and it’s impossible to keep up with them all. As it is, I start each morning opening 48 tabs in Firefox, about 2/3 of them cartoon sites. Not all of those comic sites update daily; some update two or three times a week. On Sunday, I have a dozen more tabs set up for sites that only update once a week.

I haven’t yet set up a series of tabs for cartoonists whose inexhaustible supply of grandmothers die on a regular basis, preventing their web sites from updating on same.

#93 Keith Martin
April/13/2009
@ 7:46 pm

@92 “I havenâ??t yet set up a series of tabs for cartoonists whose inexhaustible supply of grandmothers die on a regular basis, preventing their web sites from updating on same.”

Real smooth, since my grandmother fell down the stairs over the weekend, and I spent the weekend (and the Easter holiday) in the hospital with her and some members of my family.

Now really, do you think I was worried about updating my cartoon?

In life, you pick your priorities. For me, cartooning obviously isn’t currently top priority. If you feel like turning up your nose because of that, so be it.

“Iâ??ve got nothing against hobbies, but hobbies are something you share with friends and family.”

This is true. Sadly, if an artist doesn’t think their readers are an extension of their friends/family, they might as well quit. Hobby or otherwise.

I consider readers friends (if not family), and I probably wouldn’t know how many potential friends are out there if I limited cartoon access to a select few.

#94 Keith Martin
April/14/2009
@ 1:27 pm

[Added] After re-reading my post I have to apologize if it sounds abrasive. Having my grandmother in the hospital has made me edgy the last few days.

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