Blog of Webcomics’ Identity Crisis: For the Love of Webcomics

(From Irregular Webcomic! Click for full-sized abrasion of large hadrons.)

It’s become apparent that my “Webcomics’ Identity Crisis” series is very much a representation of a moment in time, of the state of webcomics in February 2009. (Really January, considering the impeti for me to write it.) So here, I hope to keep a record of the more interesting thoughts on the matter floating on the Internet. There are plenty of other places to get a comprehensive record; this is a log of my ongoing thoughts as I hope to write a book on the changing face of the Internet in general. (It’s not getting its own label for the time being though, and I still have a full-fledged “State of IWC” post coming.)

Hey, David Morgan-Mar linked to me off his LiveJournal again! DMM is responsible for what has been one of only one or two major traffic bumps in Da Blog’s history when he linked to my full-fledged review of Darths and Droids. For someone who launched into webcomics in 2002, rather late compared to some of the giants of the field, he has always been something of an outsider (his first strip is basically him discovering the idea of webcomics) who’s been overwhelmed by the support he’s received from the webcomics community. As he stipulates in his post, he’s actually been surprised, almost oblivious, to Irregular Webcomic!‘s notoriety in the webcomic community.

This part gets to the heart of the post and is worth quoting in full:

And then I find myself thinking: Hang on. If there are a few dozen webcomic authors making enough money to live on, and I’m pushing for a spot in the top 50, why am I making no money whatsoever out of my comics? (In fact, why do I pay a webhost $40 a month for the privilege of putting my comics on the Net?)

To avoid any suspense, the simple answer is that I have never treated webcomics as a way of making money. I’ve never had any expectation that maybe one day I’ll be able to run ads and sell merchandise and make some money. That “business model” has never been something I’m aiming towards.

All I’ve ever wanted out of webcomics is to do something creative, share it with people, hopefully entertain a few people, and have it as a fun hobby. Over time I’ve added a couple of other desires: To educate people with the annotations I occasionally write to accompany comics, and to raise some money for charity.

But there’s this whole community of people out there, webcomic authors, critics, bloggers, and so on, who seem obsessed with the idea that webcomics can be (or already are) a way to make a living, and lamenting the difficulty of breaking into the field and building up the recognition to that magical point where you can quit your day job and live off merchandising. They analyse the developments in webcomics, pore over statistics, speculate about the future of the “industry” and what webcomics will be like in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, and wonder how many people will be making a living off them and how easy/hard it will be for new talent to get recognised.

Well… sometimes it just bemuses me. I sort of know this community is out there all the time, but I don’t dwell on it, and I don’t really participate much in it. I just make my comics and put them on the net, and hope someone has a nice word to say about them. Sure, it would be really nice if someone offered me a full-time salary to quit my job and make webcomics, and I’d probably think seriously about doing so. But it’s not an end I’m seeking. I’m not taking the steps to try to get there.

So although apparently I’m part of the webcomics scene, I still feel like the meek outsider who doesn’t belong. I don’t seem to share the same aspirations as many of the vocal webcomics personalities. And I have to say that for the most part, I’m glad I don’t. I don’t want to obsess over the “state of webcomics” or whether webcomics are considered an artform or not, or whether webcomic authors can make money or not. I just want to spend a few hours a week enjoying my hobby.

Fleen also links to Morgan-Mar’s post (so I may be getting another, bigger bump) and I’m mostly going to cover the same ground as Gary Tyrell, but I also have a far more profound thing to say about Morgan-Mar’s topic:

David? A lot of the people in this community would really love to know your secret. (Also, don’t get too excited about being #55 in Comixtalk’s comedy list. First of all, I still hope that list isn’t ordered; second of all, if it is the only reason you’re likely to make the final list, let alone anywhere near that high, is the paucity of drama nominees.)

Irregular Webcomic! is nowhere near as easy to create as Sandsday. It’s not as simple as taking a bunch of random circles and squares and copying-and-pasting them onto panel after panel, and making funny jokes using them. You have to have the impressive LEGO collection, you have to set them up in the way you want to, you have to have the mad Photoshop skillz… Eric Burns(-White) goes into more detail just how much effort must go into each IWC here. And that’s just IWC; Morgan-Mar may get help on the other projects, but between all the plot points that need to be shaken out on Darths and Droids and organizing all the screen caps, and all the coding work that’s gone into IWC and mezzacotta, and basically everything David Morgan-Mar has his hands in the cookie jar of, and he notes in his post that he’s paying $40 on hosting costs alone…

If David Morgan-Mar wanted to open up even one revenue stream – a single Project Wonderful or even Google ad, selling just one or two tchotchkes, even allowing donations to himself rather than directing them all to the Jane Goodall Institute – he could probably make more money than most webcomic artists could ever dream of. But Morgan-Mar doesn’t make a single penny off his comics. (Okay, so there’s a tiny little ad at the top of mezzacotta, but still.)

It’d be nice if every webcomicker could simply make comics as a hobby effort and not only not worry about making any money, but consciously avoid even rather simple steps they could take to make money. (I don’t understand why people like Morgan-Mar and Rich Burlew are so insistent about not putting up ads; there are plenty of ways to make them non-intrusive, guys!) But webcomics (and blogs) take time to make, and they don’t pay the bills. You still have to go to a job, and that means time taken out of your schedule to make comics – and do other things. And Irregular Webcomic! isn’t done cheap.

So how is it that David Morgan-Mar can put together one comic by his lonesome, and contribute to several others, and pay for the hosting of all of them? And keep track of e-mails, forum posts, etc.? And not make a single dime off any of it, which means he’s doing it all while maintaining a day job?

Whatever it is, hats off to David Morgan-Mar: a webcomics success story in his very lack of success.

6 Comments

  1. David McLeish, Comic Irregular
    Posted February 23, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    You’re not the only one who would like to know the secret of DMM’s abilitiy to keep up with all this stuff. I see him most days and I still haven’t worked it out. Our best theory is that he’s a mutant of some kind.

  2. Film Forensics
    Posted February 23, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Seconded. Also, you may wish to examine those mezzacotta ads a little closer…

    (Andrew Shellshear, another Comic Irregular)

  3. Morgan Wick
    Posted February 23, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny you mention that (referring to David, not Andrew), because I was actually considering writing that he might be some sort of alien, or immortal or something.

  4. David McLeish
    Posted February 23, 2009 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, we considered that too. I have seen younger photos which would seem to rule out immortality, but they could have been faked.

  5. Morgan Wick
    Posted February 24, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    See, how do we know even his current “me” pictures aren’t fakes to maintain the masquerade? How do we know he’s not a shapeshifter?

  6. David McLeish
    Posted February 24, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Being a shapeshifter would arguably make it even harder for him, because he’d have to maintain multiple other identities in addition to the prolific DMM one.

    Unless… he’s a group of shapeshifters working together.

    Actually, a collection of clones would be simpler. They’d just have to make sure that no more than one of them goes out in public at a time.

    I think we’ve made something of a breakthrough here…

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