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A Webcomics Primer: Debating the Switch

| July 4, 2011 | 0 Comments

Over the past 10 years or so, the comics industry has transformed in many ways. There has always been a division between comics books and (newspaper) comic strips. With the Internet bringing us webcomics, creators are putting themselves out there for immediate feedback, running their own online stores and finding their own path in the D.I.Y. age. The Print vs. Web debate rages on, both sides seeing theirs as more beneficial. While this really ends up being determined on an individual-by-individual basis, the decision to switch over to online distribution must be carefully planned, with all pros and cons considered…. with YOUR comic and your skills in mind. We “web” cartoonists at the Webcomic Alliance have brought you our Pro and Cons list for switching from traditional print to online distribution, hopefully making your decision easier… and to prepare you for what is in store.

PROS:

  • Immediate feedback from readers may help make your final product even better
  • Giving your readers the story, or even just a taste, will get them hooked faster on a new product.
  • You can treat your readers with sketches, character design pictures, extra content, etc.. while publishing your comic, adding value and attracting the avid readers
  • Branding goes a long way- if they have come across it online and it made a good impression, they may be more likely to BUY it at a convention (or via your online store)
  • The Internet reaches a wider audience than comic book shops or conventions.
  • Adding a store with goodies such as T-Shirts, books and original art is a great way to add revenue. Fans are already on your site reading your comic giving them quick access to your store.
  • Building a network of comic artists from all over the world, sharing ideas, best practices, such as us writing this article!
  • Continuous and direct interaction with your audience.
  • No revenue sharing!
  • Shorter deadlines. You can work right up until the time you post (this could also be a con!)
  • Freedom to control your own content. No one is hovering over your shoulder editing your work.
  • Multiple FREE resources available to get you started.
  • The Internet gives real weight to the “cream rising to the top”. If your comic is good – it will do well. It’s not based on backroom politics or fickle editors determining success.

CONS:

  • Giving your product away for free; convincing readers to buy essentially what they could get for free
  • The time spent & learning curve of creating a website and designing it, as well as knowing how to understand website statistics and their importance.
  • Social Networking to promote your comic also takes time.
  • Self-enforced deadlines and STICKING to them. Whereas you may have a deadline for 1 full printed comic book, the “successful” webcomics model is based on the fact that you WILL have a new comic posted on certain days no matter what.
  • The Internet market for comics is in constant evolution, making it hard sometimes to follow along.
  • The amount of online comics is increasing every day, making it harder and harder to gather new readers (although the amount of online comics calling it quits everyday is a “pro”)
  • No safety net (editor) to catch errors.
  • In most cases, you are a one-person show. You handle creating the comic and meeting deadlines, developing and maintaining the website, branding and marketing your comic, interacting with your audience and handling fulfillment obligations.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

Comic Creation

 

The actual process of creating your comic may not have to change all that much, which is good news if you’re pretty happy with your routine. What you may want to consider is the utilization of computers and technology, if you haven’t already. Handy gadgets like the Intuos tablet, Wacom tablets, and even full Tablet laptops (portability!) can help you make the tough deadlines. The self-inflicted deadlines (which are a necessity in webcomics!) are a curse and a blessing. You can decide on your update schedule and plan your week accordingly, be your own boss… but there are definitely times when you have other things that take priority. Portable tablet laptops can really help when you can’t work from home or are on the road (conventions!). Going 100% digital saves you time as you don’t have to erase pencil lines, scan, clean up in Photoshop, etc. Drawing digitally may not be for everyone, but it sure comes in handy when under yet another deadline.

As for that precious little comic file that lives on your computer, you have to consider the fact that it will not only be printed (eventually), but it’ll also be uploaded online for viewing. So, while you’re working on a high-resolution 300dpi CMYK file for the eventual book, for the web you’ll be saving a different version, one that is web-ready and loads fast. My suggestion, after you save your final “print” version, is to flatten and resize to an easily READABLE size that fits nicely on your website. Usually, a good starting point is 800-1000 pixels wide, by however long it falls. The key is to make sure readers do not have to scroll left/right, just up and down. The resolution should be 72dpi, for the quickest display. The internet is an immediate gratification playground, and you DO NOT want to keep readers waiting for your comic to display. Some good advice is to make it as small as possible that can be very comfortably read. You may lose out on some details, but there is in an opportunity here– as a reward or promotion, you can show the “high res” version so readers can further enjoy the details you so tirelessly brought to life. Finally, use the save-for-web option (it helps keep the file size down), save as a .jpeg or perhaps a .png, and now you’re ready to post for the world to see!

Social Networking? Social I !!!

As listed in the “pros” section of this article, on of the biggest advantage of publishing your comic on the Internet, is the fact that you can’t do it without the use of Social Networking. While social networking is no secret anymore for a lot of people, it is still an obscure area for a lot more. Social Network will give you exposure; it will introduce you to tons of other artists all over the world. A lot of them are even willing to talk to you, help you and share best practices on any aspect of the business. I (Antoine) wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Social Networking I wouldn’t be planning conventions today, and most specifically, I would have never thought of crossing the border to go in a US convention! I met my three partners in crime at the Webcomic Alliance on Twitter back in 2008-2009. Today, we are running this website, all dedicated to help the new and old artists in their art, writing, etc. Let’s cover some basics on the major ones:

Twitter.com: Twitter is most definitively the number 1 social network website to use. It’s perfect for marketing, it’s perfect to quickly promote a new page of your comic and it’s super quick and easy to share great online tool and articles to your fellow creator friends following you on Twitter.

Facebook.com: At the beginning, I was keeping Facebook strictly for friends & family, but quickly I discovered quickly how great Facebook can be to promote your comic. You can create, easily, a fan page and share “exclusive” content to your Facebook readers. Also, don’t forget friends and family can be a powerful tool to spread the news about your comic (thanks mom!)

Linkedin.com: This one has yet to fully convinced me of its value as I feel it’s focusing way to much on networking to help you find a better job somewhere. But there are very valuable discussion groups over there that are related to arts. Worth taking a look, once you are comfortable with the previous two.

Google Tools: Google, when used properly will be very powerful. They have a feature called Google Groups, allowing people online to share ideas and work together on a common project. Google has very recently launched a Beta version of its own Social Network which sounds very promising and would focus on cooperation in a group/team on working together and share ideas. The future of Social Networking? Only time will tell!

But be warned: you need to invest time in Social Networking to get its full value. Don’t create a profile expecting everything will fall into your hands. But one thing is certain: Comix Tribe and the Webcomic Alliance are filled with awesome peeps to talk with, we will get you started!

So shall I.. get it?

Branding/Marketing:

The obvious benefits of YOU control the message and YOU control the image. In essence, you will get out of your branding and marketing pretty much what you put into it. Coincidentally, that’s also the hard part. Maintaining a smart and strategic advertising plan can go a long way to maximizing the amount of money you need to invest to gain the best return. That’s not groundbreaking news, but it’s extremely important when your the one minding the store and your the only one covering those costly mistakes. Remember to always think of the user and set the right expectations. Don’t be misleading and make sure you’re engaging. Finally, always invite the user to take action. GET IN ON THE FUN!

Business 101

Okay, now you want to create comics for distribution on the Internet.  Simple, right?  Maybe, maybe not.  It’s a business like any other and should be approached as such.  How you tell your story will not change, but you will not be restricted to 18 to 24 pages.  I (Byron) had a story arc last an entire year spread out over nearly 150 newspaper style strips.  Most importantly, the readers liked it and bought into it.  I have since taken a portion of that story and put it into a 24 page print version that sells well.  1000’s of copies? No, but, then I’m not DC or Marvel.

Back to the business end.  You will need pages beyond the comic on your website.  Cast page, new readers page, about the artist (very important to connect with your readers) and a product’s page (an on-line store).  You can have companies do products for you, but you lose a lot of profit.  If you’re not handy at arranging products beyond print materials, there are agencies who will handle it for you, but again, at a significant loss in profit.  The key to developing products is to find what brings value to your readers.  Is it a t-shirt?  Is it a book version?  Is it posters?  Bookmarks?  Only your readers will know and thus why it is critical to interact with them.

If you’re a self-motivated person who likes to make decisions for themselves, this is a great avenue to supplement your income.  Over time, it could be a significant source of income, but as with any business, it takes many years to turn a true profit, so keep that in mind.  Instant success is not the norm in any business, and that includes webcomics.

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In the end, there are benefits and draw backs to just about every artistic field. Your comic may just not do well in a webcomics business model, or the switch may be the best thing you ever did for your career. Sometimes you just have to look outside the box, grab the reigns and do things your way. It may fall apart, or it may work out better than you had ever thought. And as any artist knows, endless development and trying new things is just part of what makes a GOOD artist tick.

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