Why Do Online Comics by Iain Hamp

Not too far from where I grew up, just a bit south of Tombstone (“the town too tough to die” – a great tourism slogan) and east of Sierra Vista (“where vacations last a lifetime” – a more questionable tourism slogan, if you take it from the wrong perspective), there is a little town called Bisbee.

Bisbee, Arizona was created initially because of the massive copper mine there, but as that economy diminished, the town began to lure artists therein to create and sell their wares. More and more artists began to flock there, in search of a community that would support their work not only with a pat on the back but with a greenback or two. People that were struggling to make a penny off of their paintings, jewelry, and other creative endeavors were suddenly able to do what they loved and feed themselves and their loved ones at the end of the day.

Art colonies in America really began taking shape between the late 1880s and the 1920s, when groups of artists began congregating in areas where they were free to pursue their work. The decision of where to go was influenced primarily on who was already working there (some highly recognized talent), and by the visual stimuli available to them in their surroundings from which to draw inspiration for their work. By working together, they were able to support one another, and patrons could go find a multitude of offerings all in one place, some of which was likely to meet their desires (and lighten their wallets). The artists in these communities could learn from another as well, thus enhancing their abilities and bettering their wares. Ultimately, these colonies represent a great environment for artists to flourish, allowing them a much easier time of reaching their goals than they would have on their own.

Now we are at the turn of another century, and the concepts of community, economy, and art itself have changed drastically. In the case of our online comic endeavors, we have a wonderful and unique opportunity. We can become a part of an art colony, a supportive artistic community that works together towards similar goals but doesn’t have to go it alone. And we can do it without ever leaving our homes.

Pants Press and Dumbrella both seem to be collectives of online comic artists who all basically just get along, dig each other’s works, and decided to pool their efforts on certain things. Modern Tales and Keenspot have formed even larger communities (large enough that several other subgroups have formed within them), and in fact the collective aspect of those companies is absolutely key to their financial success. Even Comixpedia is driven by a community of creators with a common purpose and similar interests, and of course ultimately a passion for online comics. The forms they are taking differ from group to group, but a lot of the advantages that they gather by forming the groups are the same.

The key to any good group is how well it interacts. Every member is of course his or her own personality, and brings their own talents, desires, and egos to the table. So, the way a group’s members act together can be its greatest asset or its biggest liability, its success or its downfall. I quite honestly have only become aware of the groups that have succeeded in intermingling their egos well, and I have likely only heard of them because they have been able to stay the course and make something they are all happy to be a part of.

And when a group works, it’s a beautiful thing for the creators and the fans. As I write this column I keep thinking back to the Dumbrella booth at last year’s Comic Con in San Diego. I watched fan after fan walk up to the booth, initially interested in one or two of the artists, get to talking with the other members. They’d walk away with sketches and/or swag from people they hadn’t paid much if any attention before. All of the Dumbrella websites promote the other members as well, and that cross-pollination leads to a larger fan base for everyone involved than if they had just gone it alone. In fact, knowing the prices of booths at the Comic Con, without the number of people all chipping in together that they had, their ability to profit from the event likely went up considerably. The fans were able to check out the books and other products in person instead of deciding whether to buy them based on a little 72 dpi picture on a monitor.

Best of all, everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun. The creators got to hang out in person together instead of just talking to someone’s avatar in a forum or via e-mail, and the fans got to come up and talk to the artists they have come to appreciate through their modem connections. After my column last year regarding faith as a reason to keep doing online comics, one of the responses I got was from Tragic Lad.

“Why do I do webcomics? From a logical, rational point of view? Because I enjoy it.”

That is the one reason I had sort of neglected to mention, and it hit me like a ton of bricks when he said it because that is probably the most important reason to be doing any of this. If it isn’t fun, then what’s the point? The more the merrier is probably the glue that best holds any of the online creative collectives together. Being a part of a group where everyone gets along really well, has common interests and similar goals, and has a respect for each other’s work has a really nice feel to it, and when the readers pick up on that vibe they feel a warmth almost as though they are a part of it, too.

Iain Hamp is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.

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Illustration by Miguel Estrugo.


  1. Online communities sort of formed in different ways and I suspect that in the future formalized communities such as Keenspace, Keenspot and Modern Tales will be the exception to the rule and not the norm.

    Originally the communities got together to spread the expense of running an online organization. Back in 1999 people were paying $1 per gigabyte for hosting and it wasn’t unheard of to be paying $2 per gigabyte. Going back to 1995 you could be paying as much as $40 per gigabyte.

    Now it’s 2004 and bandwidth is as cheap as 15 cents a gigabyte.

    Once artists flocked to online communities such as Keenspace simply because that was the only way they could afford to put their comic online. Bandwidth was just too expensive. Now with bandwidth being very inexpensive and becoming even less so every few months the motivations for joining an online comic community are no longer financual. In fact, you see a lot of people leaving the comic communities to become independents. For one thing, the independents tend to be more respected than those who are part of a community but there are other reasons why people want to get away from the online comic communities. Keenspace is too unfocused. Modern Tales too narrow in scope. Keenspot is too exclusionist. Drunk Drunk is too… well… Drunk Duck.

    Come 2006 bandwidth will be too cheap to meter by the gigabyte, we’ll likely be buying it in terabytes wether we use it or not. Businesses with concerns far more lofty and ambitious than ours are pushing for this to be so. This could end up killing off the online comic communities as we know them. Laziness and thrift are still the number one and two reasons for anyone joining Keenspace. There are already freeware comic automation tools available to take care of the laziness aspect and thrift is rapidly not becoming an issue while bandwidth prices continue to drop.

    I think the comic communities of the future are not going to be like Keenspace, Keenspot, and Modern Tales. They’ll probably just be groups of independent artists who just “dig” what each other is doing and get along. Maybe they’ll share a common forum or chatroom or some such thing. Or perhaps online comic communities of the future will be communities such as Comixpedia, something connected to the comic scene but still outside it.

    The concept of the virtual arts commune is probably about to be made obsolete.

  2. True enough. But there’s also the loss of independence that comes with being part of a bigger community. The being “required” to link to others in the community and what-not could easily turn away as many members as it draws.

    Publishing as an independent isn’t really that difficult nor expensive a task and there are a large number of publishing options to choose from. Plus some independents, such as MegaTokyo, already are publishing professionally.

    I still think the communities of the future will likely be more like coalitions of independents than organized bodies like Keenspace/spot or Modern Tales.

    When I think of the webcomic community I belong to, I don’t neccessarily think of it as Keenspace. I tend think of it as several Keenspace artists, a couple of Spot artists, and a handful of independent artists whose work I respect and who I consider e-Friends. The trend seems to be for people to leave organized communities and become independents but that doesn’t mean they’re without community. It’s just that they’re part of a community that isn’t structured and is based more on common interests and friendships than hosting.

  3. Rackshack has hosting for less than 15 cents a gig if you buy in bulk and that includes the server rental too. There are a lot of other people with similar prices. You usually have to buy it in minimums of 100 gigs though (Rackshack I think is a minimum of 700gig). There’s some Australian company that sells it for 15 cents a gig including server rental in lots of 100 gigs, which is enough to do a comic like mine. With 700 gig I suppose I could start my own little online commune with seven other comics my sized or less. Although I’d be tempted to keep the 700 gig to myself and really cut loose with some online fun. Perhaps create a few other side comics on top of my current comic. Special mini-series and what not. With well over 500K+ adviews a month it won’t be hard to at least cover the hosting cost and perhaps even put a pretty penny or two in my pocket (not enough to live off of, but I’ve already got the world’s best “day job” anyways so I’ve never cared about making a living off my comic).

    Perhaps that’s the future of online comic communities. Instead of massive 10K+ member communities like Keenspace, we’ll have smaller, tighter communities of like-minded artists.

  4. You know, whenever the listing of comics communities are mentioned here, it’s always Keenspace and Modern tales. Drunk Duck has been around for nearly a year and a half, has instantaneous account generation (post as soon as you create your account – no waiting!) and has become the mirror site for quite a few great comics hosted on Keenspace, and yet never makes the lists in your articles.

    We’re starting to think you hate us. 🙁

  5. What does “too Drunk Duck” mean? I have no problem accepting critisism, but we can hardly improve if we don’t know what your reservations are.

  6. Not enough creative control over the site for the artists. About the only restriction on Keenspace is you have to include the ***advertisement*** tag on the top of each page. Other than that every aspect of the site’s design from the comics, to the archives, to the gallery to the fan-art gallery, etc. is what ever the artist wants it to be. You can choose to use the keentags if you wish, or you can choose to build each page on your site your own way.

    From what I understand site design is quite limited on Drunk Dunk.

  7. Much less so in recent months, actually. There are some things we require to keep the community aspect: An Ad banner, a comment/rating box, and the first/prev/next/last buttons, a link back to the main page. Not many others. Colors, graphic designs, placement are all in the hands of the artists.

    We don’t allow multiple image updates on a single page. The programming just doesn’t allow it and it isn’t something many people are clamoring for.

  8. I will try to expand on this response later, but briefly, it comes down to familiarity on my part more than anything else. Right now my comics reading time is at a premium and I am struggling just to keep up with the few I read all the time. But just from a brief glance Count the Sheep seems like something I would enjoy.

    I have no feelings either way about Drunk Duck, because I am not familiar with it yet. And I tend to use things as examples when I know them to be good ones. That simple.

  9. I was trying to be kinda funny with my last comment, I didn’t think it was a huge plug.

    I don’t try to hid the fact that I’m part of Drunk Duck and that I manage it, but it isn’t like I never comment on articles on Comixpedia that have nothing to do with Drunk Duck. In fact, most of my comments on articles and in forums don’t plug DD.

    In this case, I thought, “here’s another listing of webcomics, and DD gets ignored again”, so I thought “well, I’ll ask, and then include a link in case they had no idea what I was talking about.”

    Of course, I understand that the “problem” with the internet is that it’s vast, and no one can read every webcomics site out there. Hell, you can’t even get through all the comics on Keenspace or Keenspot in a day.

    But I find it fascinating that plugging a site I’m pretty proud to be a part of turns you off. Especially with the amount of self plugging you guys do.

    But I certainly am not trying to offend. I’ll won’t mention DD in any of my posts in the future.

  10. It always reminds me of the 70’s animated cartoon “The Dirty Duck”, which has a killer soundtrack, by the way.

    I wish it was available on DVD.

  11. For what it’s worth I’ve got nothing against Drunk Duck – think it’s great that its out there as an alternative to Keenspace and other hosted comics communities. Mostly I think Iain’s right – we’re trying to cover as much as we can and sometimes it depends on what the staff is knowledgable about.

    As for Iain’s column that’s especially true as it’s Iain’s column.

    Anyhow I’d encourage folks at Drunk Duck to submit items of news to Comixpedia – we’re happy to cover as much as we can, we simply don’t have the resources to find everything on our own. Feel free to email me too if you want.

  12. I really don’t know exactly what it is. It isn’t that you plug per se, we all are trying to get the word out about our own projects. It is that… I don’t know, maybe some of the way it was plugged seemed out of place in the context of other discussions I’ve seen it in, or maybe there is something too subtle happening psychologically for me to pin down. For what it is worth, this discussion has made me more open to exploring Drunk Duck than I ever have, and that can’t be a bad thing right?

    Oh, and FYI, my use of certain products or brands I am familiar with is not meant to always be my endorsement of them. I sort of went off on all things Keen a couple of years back, and I still overall am not crazy about their brand or most of their product. But I keep looking at them from time to time because they are relatively speaking an industry giant, and because with so many people as passionate about webcomics as they have there, I desperately want to like them more than I have in the past.

    Of course, I have just opened up a whole other can of worms, haven’t I? =)

  13. I personally have no issues with any of the comic sites out there. They all have good and bad points. I think the pay sites get a bad rap because of envious amatuers who wish people would pay for their stuff.

    On the other hand, a lot of the comics on the pay sites have issues with amateurs “diluting” quality … which is true in some ways, but that way of thinking doesn’t allow for the occasional gem to crop up.

    If only pay site comics were out there, we’d be limited to what the people who run the pay sites thought were worthwhile. I’ve read amateur comics like No 4th Wall to Break, Tall Cups, Sheep and Bones, Acid Keg, The Devil’s Panties, Wanderjive, Alpha Shade, GAAK, UNA Frontiers, Dog Complex, Repository of Dangerous things … (just off the top of my head, I can’t list them all!) … which are all great comics that are out there for people to see for free and are expressions directly from the artist to the reader with no editorship slowing them down.

    In fact, there are so many quality free webcomics out there, that I’ve never taken the time to look at most of the pay comics!

  14. What about cross-promotion? That’s currently the largest benefit of Keenspot, at least. The newsbox can easily send thousands of readers to a site in a single day. Link exchanges are nice, but there’s a comfort in knowing a certain amount of sites are REQUIRED to link to you. I’m sure the hunger for readers will continue to draw a lot of people to these communities.

    There’s also the fact that sites like Keenspot and Modern Tales are now getting into professional publishing, which would be considerably more difficult for an independent site to do.

  15. >>Now it’s 2004 and bandwidth is as cheap as 15 cents a gigabyte.

    Where can we find 15 cents a gig?

  16. Fair enough. I’m the same way. There are so many webcomics nowadays…

    I think the important thing was that I plugged Drunk Duck. 😉

    Count Your Sheep is an excellent strip, btw, but DD can’t take credit for it. I think they’re either mirroring from Keenspace or their own site. Adis is a comic genius. He has another strip called “No Room For Magic”, which is just as brilliant.

    But I do encourage folks to check out Drunk Duck, it really is another great opportunity for the budding comic creator.

  17. Why is it called Drunk Duck anyway? It’s a terribly unappealing name. It can’t be doing you any favors.

  18. Hmm…I always thought it sounded cartoony and fun…

  19. If I may be so bold as to be brutally honest for a minute…

    This is kind of why I hesitated on Drunk Duck all along. Every time I hear about it it is from this kind of post, that is on subject but also plugs Drunk Duck. I even recognized it when you posted your initial response about me always leaving Drunk Duck out, but I wanted to respond anyway. It all just feels a little strong-arm and sort of turns me off.

    That doesn’t mean I’m not going to read the comics there, it’s just a reason for my initial hesitence. I may be alone in my thinking, I am awfully sensitive at times (I have been known to get wrapped up in my wife’s yearly “Anne of Avonlea” watching on occasion).

  20. It sure does seem like a lot of people have issues with keenspot. Wonder why.

  21. Mirror sites can make your comic banned by Google…
    so it’s not a good idea to have one.

  22. That’s wrong – do mention it in future. I had NEVER heard of it before!

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