Comic Non-Sans: Ten Years Later

In the midst of all that April Fool’s revelry I know we all love so much, I came to something of a startling realization: I’ve been at this webcomic gig for ten years now.  That is, exactly ten as of 1 April 2011.

My first reason for noting that is apparently a lot of webcomics start on April Fool’s Day.  Not sure why.  For me, I just wanted to start on the first of a month, and I was coming up with my cunning plan in March 2001, so there you have it.  Though it does make one wonder (as it made my friend who brought this up wonder) just how many webcomics began as pranks.

My second reason is other people’s reactions to the amount of time I’ve been at this.  Better, far more successful artists came to me when I made the revelation and said “Wow, I’ve only been at this seven!  I bow to your experience!”  But it’s hard to look at the success of others who are newer to the game and feel any sort of seniority.  So Reason #2 here branches off into two separate points:

1. Is there any sort of “pace” an artist should be moving at?
2. Is “worth” as an artist a product of tenure or of measurable success?

To the first, I go back to something I heard a webcomic artist say recently — paraphrased, “If you’ve been at this a long time and you aren’t successful, you don’t want it badly enough.”  As much as I’d like to pick this apart letter by letter, that’s not my point here.  Maybe some other time.  Fact of the matter is, webcomics are an odd hybrid of self-employment, paid hobby, or unpaid career.  And it’s fairly up in the air which it will be at any given point for any given artist.

It’s a bit naive to say that a webcomicker’s success is dependent solely upon how bad they “want it.”  Yes, there are those out there who just go along as they please without much worry, and if you don’t make merchandise, much less sell it, you’re not going to be “successful.”  But there’s also audience to be considered.  Do you attract an audience that spends money?  How much do you offer on your site as opposed to what you only offer for sale?

To that end, re: pace, an artist can only “move” as quickly as a function of both their own interest in pushing themselves and the mood of their readership.  Hard work and guts won’t change the spending habits of people who don’t spend.  Yes, it can be daunting to watch newer players take off relatively quickly while old dogs struggle to make sales at cons, but is that a sign of worth?

Which leads to point #2.  There, though, how do you determine worth?  Is it money?  Is it whether you can quit your day job and draw at home?  Is it fan mail?  Is it hate mail?  Nowadays it seems more and more that the pressure is on to equate money with success in what, years ago, was for the most part a just-for-fun venture.  Yes, if you’re drawing every day you’d like some turnaround for your time.  But an artist who’s not earning, despite their time and experience, on a certain level lately seems to be stuck onto a lower level than those for whom shipping and running low on books is a daily struggle.

Ten years after the fact, I still have a desk job.  I don’t make a fortune.  I don’t start my mornings with a clogged inbox.  And my readership is always constantly far more or far less than I think at any given point.  Does this mean I’m not successful?

No.  It just means that in the current environment, I likely need to return my way of thinking to what I used to believe success was.  And maybe draw some more hentai fanart at cons.

That should do it.

Posted on April 5, 2011 at 01:00 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Webcomics · Tagged with: ,