Issue #1 – Why Do Online Comics?
This is the introduction paragraph. My name, so you don’t confuse me with anyone else, is Iain D. Hamp. You are quite welcome to call me Iain, “E,” the Hampster, or Ishmael if you like. I may not answer to some of those, but you are welcome to call me them.
At any rate, Joey Manley has asked me to do a column for his site talkaboutcomics.com*. He said it should be about the digital comics industry, which is reasonable, as his site is not called talkaboutmonkeys.com. Actually, truth be told, I wouldn’t mind writing an article for that site either if it existed. However, that is not the task at hand, so I will just get on with what is.
What I’d like to explore first is a question at the very heart of why this column exists in the first place; why do online comics? What makes the Internet a better place for comics than print or other media? I have found many answers to this question over the last two years, but in my experience there are three that stand out as the most important. The strongest arguments I can make for doing comics online have to deal with cost, creativity, and connectivity. When writing a thesis paper, they say to put forth your second strongest statement first, then your weakest, and finish up with the strongest. That is the approach I took when listing these three reasons, and although I am 100% certain there are many online comics creators that would take issue with that order, it is simply and undeniably how I feel after having done digital comics for this long.
I say cost is more important than the creative process because without it being so inexpensive for me to do my comics online, I would very likely not be doing comics at all. Certainly, I would never have the opportunity to reach so vast an audience with my work. Hundreds if not thousands of individuals have seen my work online, at a total cost of less than $200 so far. I would be hard pressed to get 100 copies of a comic made for that price down at Kinko’s. I can get my merchandise created for free through a service like cafepress.com. Domains are getting cheaper and cheaper, and server space is getting better and less expensive all the time (and sometimes free, like Keenspace’s services). I do almost all of my work on the computer, with software and my graphics tablet, so art supplies costs are minimal. Having my own website allows me other freedoms, but I will go into those a bit more a bit farther down in the column. What it all boils down to is I get a lot of bang for my buck by doing my comics online. I estimate the average worth of entertainment per hour to me to be $2.50, based on how much it costs me to go see a movie for two hours. So, at $200, I would have to get eighty hours of entertainment out of doing online comics in order to make it worth my while. Well, I’ve spend eighty hours on one comic before (don’t ask), so not only am I getting a great amount of entertainment for my money, but others can be entertained by it as well. That’s just… great.
I say that the options I have for creating my work online are the least important of these three concepts, but I judge it based primarily on the amount of enjoyment I get out of it comparatively. Certainly, the creative process is incredibly entertaining at times. When I have the time to sit down and just work, get immersed in the creative process, explore new ways of doing things in comics with the web as my canvas, I am just on another plane of existence. It is therapy at its finest. It is also, however, the most frustrating aspect of doing comics. I have too many ideas and too little time to explore them. I have to work at another job to make a living because the artwork doesn’t pay the bills (which is a topic for an entire column sometime), I’m going to school, I have a wife now, and so forth and so on. These problems are not unique to me. Almost every online comics creator I have talked to knows the same feeling. I am desperate to get the ideas I have in my mind out there in a form others can enjoy, but in a good week I have maybe four hours of free time to work on them. Still, the possibilities, while not endless, are far greater than in print. People like Scott McCloud and Demian5 are exploring ways to stroll right through previous boundaries and see what the possibilities are for comics on the web. Side scrolling comics, down-scrolling comics, comics that incorporate aspects of animation without becoming cartoons… one of the most exciting things about being involved in the online comics community is I am one of the first to see “what’s next.” It’s a really fascinating process, pitting human psychology and what people “expect” with what can be. Nothing I have personally done has been so 10×15-shattering yet, but wait. Oh yes, wait. Some of the experiments going on will fail miserably, and some will gleam with possibilities. We humans are a funny bunch, often reluctant to accept change, but I think there is work to come that will force us to love it despite its lack of tradition. The trick is to make it intuitive and never seen before all at once.
My favorite thing about having my own online comics website is the way so much can happen relatively instantly through it. If you like my work, or dislike my work, or want to suggest some way to improve my site, or just want to say you like zebras way too much for your own good, you can tell me via e-mail, and I can provide an immediate response. If you want to show a friend what happened in a comic of mine on the 12th of last month, you don’t have to go to the local offices of your newspaper or dig out whichever issue it was in. It is all there, always, in my archives, along with every other episode of that comic I’ve done. Want to know more about the characters in my story? Tell me, and I’ll post a character guide within a few days of the request. Think there’s another comic out there that should be recognized? If you drop the link into my inbox, and I go read it and enjoy it, I might love it and mention it in my next site news column or links page. Want a tee shirt with your favorite comic or image on it? Poof! I can have it done in a few minutes with absolutely no cost to me but time. Are you catching my drift? In this world where everyone wants instant gratification, online comics can give it to them in spades. Better yet, with e-mail and public forums, the people that read online comics can easily connect with their favorite creators, and if a creator wants to bounce an idea off of his or her fans, it’s just as quick and painless as possible. There’s no driving to a store, buying the comic, driving home, and reading it. It is instant, and in the occasional case that it isn’t free, it is still certainly less expensive both monetarily and temporally than the alternatives. As a creator and a social butterfly, the feedback I have received and the relationships I have established because I started doing online comics make any other part of the process simply icing.