Like A Disease
Three AM on a Saturday and I am barely conscious. Sleepily, my fingers tap across the keyboard, editing the html code on the screen before me. I upload the page onto the server and hope that the third time will be the charm. Alas, no; the link between the main page and the latest archive page is still broken. I am dead tired and just want to go to bed. Still, I am compelled to stay awake by one thing alone; the comic. I can’t let myself go to bed before I finish updating my webcomic.
Itâ€™s like a disease sometimes.
I actually find myself putting my comics before homework some days. The update schedule starts to take precedent in my life as I find myself working late into the night in order to get the next Ram, comic done, or write the next script for Fur Will Fly.
The rewards are minimal, Tiffany Ross of Alien Dice once told me; "It takes a long time to build a fanbase, but you only get one when you build it over time and even then… you’ll have many readers and only .005 will say anything…". So for the average web cartoonist one fan mail a week can be average. That’s one person each week writing in to tell you how much they appreciate what you do. It’s always nice to hear from people, but it’s not enough to be the sole motivation.
Not that I’m complaining, because I love writing and drawing comics. It’s my life’s passion. What I’m writing about here is the reality of the average webcartoonist. I’m not going to call it a plight like some people may, because that’s a gross exaggeration. Being a Cuban refugee? That’s a plight. Vying for reader attention on the World Wide Web? That’s more a time-consuming ‘challenge’, a proving ground.
Now, I’ve posited that most cartoonists don’t get a lot of reward for what they put into their work, so what you might be asking yourself next is why we do this in the first place. It certainly isn’t for monetary gain â€“ if your comic title doesn’t start with "Sluggy" and end with "Freelance" you’re probably not making any money off merchandizing.
So what’s the motivation? Well, I can’t speak for everyone. For myself, comics are one of the only things I can genuinely say I’m very good at. I take joy out of my drawing, but that joy becomes very self-serving if I don’t show my art to other people. The Internet is a venue for that, it gives me a chance to put what I make on the table, for others to see, and hopefully enjoy. No, not everyone likes what I do, and you always take the chance of facing harsh criticism, but just the idea of my art and writing being out there for others is what motivates me to keep my web comics going.
For others, the motivation can be far different. Some make their comics to hone their art skills until they are deemed "up-to-par" by newspaper syndication. Steve Troop went this route for a few years with Mayberry Melonpool. There’re still no Melonpool Chronicles in the funny pages, though, since according to syndicates there is no demand for Sci Fi strips anymore. As Steve himself wrote on his site, the paper syndicates are a lot like the mafia; "To get in, someone has to die." To this end, cartoonists constantly rejected by the syndicates have found a refuge of sorts on the net. It isn’t a steady pay check, but at least it’s an audience.
Twenty years ago, if a cartoonist couldn’t find a publisher or a syndicate, that was it. Self-publishing got a person’s work out, but this was very expensive and few were lucky enough to break even, let alone make a profit from their work. Image Comics found strength in numbers, but those fellows had been "big names" working for the big companies beforehand. some solo creators like Jeff Smith or Dave Sim made it big, but again, note that these were a rare few.
Today the story has changed radically, while in another sense staying very much the same. The opportunity for profit is still minimal, but the opportunity to spread your work to a vast readership is… nearly infinite. With the ‘Net there is no distributor, publisher, retailer, or any other middlemen to deal with. So whatever one’s motivation to draw and write may be, the opportunity to give that motivation a playground has never been better.
Unfortunately, there exists a minority of artists on the net that have spawned a blanket reputation for webcartoonists, a reputation we don’t really care for. Call them glory hogs, attention addicts, or whatnot â€“ some cartoonists simply draw because they crave attention and love from potential readers like Jason Mewes craves Mary Jane. These people aren’t hurting anyone, and in most cases just don’t realize how annoying spamming truly is. In the long run, many readers can get the impression that webcartoonists in general are just desperate attention-seekers, and while we do like the attention our comics can inspire (or potentially inspire), the majority of us aren’t nearly that desperate, or that extreme.
After having said all that, though, I still have a request I’d like to make of everyone reading this. If there’s a web comic you read regularly and genuinely enjoy, write to the cartoonist, post on their board, or private message them to tell them what you think. I ask this because, to a webcartoonist just starting out or a seasoned veteran, that occasional note of appreciation will mean a great deal. I ask because, no matter what a cartoonist’s motivation to create their comics might be, knowing you create for someone other than yourself, and someone who appreciates and enjoys your work, brings about a true feeling of accomplishment.
Brian Daniel is a guest contributor. His views are his own, and as with any guest column, the Comixpedia does not necessarily agree or disagree with the views presented here.