So friend and fellow cartoonist Gabe Ostley brought up some good points about money and webcomix on another part of our blog.
How does “free media” reward the people who publish it? Can someone really make a reasonable living making webcomix or will it always be more of a passion for us and less of a business?
Tough questions we’re all asking ourselves these days.
This is, invariably, the subject of any blog related to the field of comix and I’m relatively certain you’d be able to find it pretty high on the list of topics for most art/hobby messageboards. Everyone wants to figure out a way to “live the dream” and make a reasonable wage out doing the thing they love. Every one of us.
Now answering the question of “how to make a living from webcomix” can lead the discussion down a lot of paths about quality. copyright and, sadly, artistic integrity. There are some business models out there for such a thing, but they are difficult to assess for people starting up in the field now. Like blogging, webcomix is a young industry that grew quite quickly. The stories and methods of how someone may’ve succeeded five and ten years ago might not have any bearing on what it takes to run a webcomic business today.
Currently webcomix are largely free for the consumer. This is good for the spread of webcomix as a viable artform. Through the web people who work in comix can now get their work in front of the eyes of people who might be interested in it faster and easier than ever before. That’s very good. And, because of the interactive nature of the web, artists are able to hear praise and positive feedback and to know that their work is having an effect on someone. That’s very, very good indeed.
But free-for-the-consumer means no appreciable, measurable income from the product going back into the hands of the artist and that is not so good. Ownership and control of your own artistic product, something webcomix has always been about, is a great thing to have, but if there’s no income from the product it proves difficult to keep making it.
Gabe mentions Jeffrey Brown (curiously, he’s also a Michigander like myself. Trying to tell me something Gabe?) and how despite success in the world of print comix he still manages a bookstore to make ends meet. I think that’s a pretty good thing to remember about the business of comix, whether for the web or in print. An artist here is essentially a novelist. Making the work, getting it out there to the audience, getting recognition for having made it doesn’t make you the successful business enterprise, the machine, that Stephen King or J K Rowling are. It just makes you another artist trying to keep making work and still put food on the table.
So we’ll take some time this weekend to talk about that most difficult topic of monetizing web-based media. What some people have done already and what we might try to do differently. As you’ve probably come to suspect, I have a few ideas on the topic. But I’ve got to put some food on the table first.
I didn’t know Brown was from Michigan! Heheh. I think I’m just subconsciously making the point that all of the best artists come from the midwest! 🙂
We mentioned webcomics needing an overhaul. Let me just share something I’ve been thinking about for awhile now. It goes back to something MPD said awhile ago too. Are we just putting comic books on the screen and calling it a new medium? It seems like that’s what all of us are doing. When the invention of television hit, the people that tried to do everything they learned in radio were quickly eclipsed by different thinkers. We have to be different thinkers. If we want to survive and thrive in this medium, focus all of our love and attention on our projects and not have our time eaten up by jobs that ‘pay the bills’ then we have to think differently.
Brad Neeley is one of the guys who seems to be on the right path. Take a look at this (warning, there’s a LOT of swearing):
On the surface it’s kind of juvenile, but the thinking behind it is razor sharp.
Comics should be taking advantage of everything the computer can offer. Sound movement, music,– yet still retain this panel to panel flow- which will make it a sort of hybrid. Not comics, not animation, something new…
Neeley was part of a collective of artists called Super Deluxe which recently partnered with Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Now he’s getting fat paychecks to boot.
Hmmm, someone call Gary Epting, maybe we need to start up Amalgamated again. 🙂
That’s definitely the kind of material Gary has been going on about for some time now, Gabe.
(those of you that don’t know Gary Epting’s work can find it at http://tatu.com/ He’s got a deep, deep skill set and you can find him playing around with many different mash-ups of genres and materials)
An interesting part of all this is that a lot of the newest “bleeding edge” stuff is all being done by small collectives of artists rather than in big studios. You don’t need a Hollywood scale budget to make the kind of work Hollywood deals in. There’s potential for small companies to hit big with unique visions of stylistic approach.
But is that still comix?
I think the kind of overhaul I’m interested in seeing in the webcomix model is one that changes it as a business without destroying it as a language or form. This s a looonger argument Gary and i have been having for a couple of years now, but I’m inclined to agree with Scott McCloud that addition of “real-time” experience for the viewer is where it stops being comix and starts being video. Comix, to my sense, are a plastic art, something to read and not something to watch. Any cinematic or video experience involving watching things change or happen is a different aesthetic experience than reading the signs of how they happen.
Sorry. It’s a big ramble about the difference between schema and depiction that comes into my brain from time to time. Too much art school, I suppose. but the real question is whether this is do we need to alter the form of comix itself when we move to the web, or can the change in distributions platform give comix, as they are, a wider audience?
I’d love to hear more comments on this point…
I know what you mean. I really don’t want to change the language of comics either. I don’t think you need to when it’s on the page and in your hands. But on the screen? To me, it feels like a missed opportunity to overlook the advantages. What if Duchamp had strictly stuck to painting while the world exploded around him? I think 90% of his most interesting and exciting work would have never been made.
The thing that intrigues me the most is when I look around me. I work at a school, at different campuses, with ages 2-18, and I can see how technically smart and savvy these kids are. Every one of them will sit with rapt attention the second you put on anything that has sound and a little bit of movement. Not only that, but most of them can run around Photoshop and Illustrator and even make their own rough animations/slide shows. Ask them to read on the screen? Forget about it. Will these same kids be into reading anything on the screen in 5 years? In ten? Will webcomics have any kind of audience at that time? Will we be a bunch of old fogies complaining about the glory of radio when everyone is watching TV? I don’t know…
And what the hell is wrong with radio? Y’know I look forward to a good variety act too! That Brad Neely clip is kinda smart and kinda stupid at the same time. Yeah it bridges a gap of sorts and fits neatly into nothing at all. It seems on the surface to be well written so looks like a job in TV for him then 🙂
The major problem with comics though is comics … and the problems are right there in print. The web is an after thought not a total mistake of its own. The problem is the porting of one mistake (the print comics model) onto another. If we can’t sort out the bigger problem comics have had on paper for years how likely are we to do it online? Seems like we’re only compounding things.
True true. And you’re right about radio. Even though TV came out, radio never completely disappeared. I guess as long as people like to draw, and like to look at drawing, there will always be comics.
But what are the problems in print? Are we talking about distribution methods? Because I’m thinking that is where all the problems are….
There’s a part 2 to this discussion up on the blog, Gabe, and it lays out a kind of history of print and some of it’s problems. http://ulyssesseen.com/landing/2009/11/money-from-webcomix-no-sunday-in-comix-part-2/
You’ll know a lot of the history of course, but these things might new to some of our readers, so I went a bit more in depth.
But some of the problems laid out there are basic ones within the print industry that I see happening again in webcomix. Here’s a big one;
Why settle for staying at the top of fashion for a dwindling audience when you could use a new distribution method to increase your audience? Why keep doing “what the fans seem to want” instead of trying to create new fans?
I think the thing to remember about webcomix is how closely aligned they are to newspaper strips as opposed to graphic novels and comicbooks. The energy is similar. People like to drop by for their daily fix and seldom sit down for long readings (I realize this sounds silly coming from someone making as ridiculously a long read as ULYSSES). Do we, as entrepreneurs of web-based businesses, think it stops there? That this market is limited to people who like fresh gag strips in their inbox each morning? Or do we look past it to how we might find a respond to a new type of readership through the web?
I’ll have more in this in future posts (plenty more, probably!), but I’m tired of the limitations that comix has been putting on itself as both an art and a form of entertainment. Appealing directly to the dwindling market’s preconceptions and overlooking the potential for new readers through a new distribution method is a problem I never want to have as an artist or a businessman.