I’ve found myself amazed over these past few years by the concept of The Webcomic. With the advent of the internet, the publishers of old are no longer the only way to get your art to your audience, and a new generation of writers and readers has gratefully picked up on this. Instead, if you want to your comic to its (prospective) fans, the process is in essence not much more difficult than drawing it, putting it online, making sure there’s ways for people to actually find said comic, and… waiting. If you’ve got at least some talent and happen to get lucky, your readers will come to you eventually.
As a reader, especially being a classic case of a college student with too little money and too much time (the joke’s on you though, since I’ve got neither), the concept sounds fantastic. I get to read quality comics, usually updated a few times per week and sometimes even daily – and the best part of it? It’s all free. Like on YouTube, the artist is (usually) earning revenue through advertisement on their website, and so content is not hidden behind a paywall.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Once you start thinking about it, however, you realize that there is a problem: internet advertisements are cheaper than dirt (by a fair margin, I daresay). But how do these webcomics get funded, then?
The sad truth is: many of them don’t. Even as recently as four years ago, there was really no better revenue model for these things than simply asking kind passing souls for a couple of dollars in the form of donations. Hardly something that helped the artist in question get by, I’d imagine – probably more of a mental than a physical pick-me-up. Most of these artists work full-time day jobs (fairly often as paid animators, illustrators, or writers), and the webcomic is little more than a fun hobby for them. And hey, all the power to them! They don’t feel the need for it to bring in money, because the fact that people are actually seeing and enjoying their work is all they wanted from it in the first place.
Luckily, there is a great alternative these days in the form of Patreon. The idea behind Patreon is surprisingly simple: it starts with an artist, who would like their fans to have a way to show their appreciation for them in a small, simple, but monetary way. If they set up a Patreon page, fans can go through Patreon to support their then opt in to donate either per month or per released bit of content, depending on how the artist prefers to set it up. Patreon earns money from this by taking a modest 5% commission on all money donated to artists this way – which, compared to any other comparable service, is really only very little. This holds especially true when taking into account that single ‘patrons’ typically only give small amounts of money – by and large, you’ll find that creators earn the overwhelming majority of their income from a large number of fans who give between 1-5 dollars per month/content release.
An example: Bob has a webcomic with 5000 readers, which he updates twice a week. Bob doesn’t need the webcomic to be his main source of income, but it’d be nice to see some money coming from it – poor Bob does need to pay for hosting and all that jazz. So he sets up a Patreon account, and 1% of his audience ends up all donating 1$ per month. As a reader, this seems a fine deal – I get what I perceive as a great comic either for free or for the grand cost of 1$ a month, which goes to directly supporting an artist whose work I really enjoy. You can set how much you want to spend, and money flows out only in small increments, so it’s no big strain on your bank account. However, Bob has suddenly gone from making 0$ per month from his comic (and in fact, as mentioned, ending up being down on money after deducting hosting and drawing materials, etc.) to making 47,50$ per month (after subtracting the Patreon commission fee). Not a bad situation to be in for anyone involved! And mind you – that’s when using a pretty conservative estimate for how much these patrons would give.
Now, of course, the webcomic business is still a rather strange one, even now that Patreon exists to help out the little guy. Great webcomics, whose artists have great talent and put in a lot of effort, may well end up never making it into the mainstream. On the other side of that coin, there are some webcomics out there that, really, aren’t all that great may, but that end up having such a massive readership that their authors were living on webcomic money even before Patreon showed up on the scene. I’m not calling any names here; what comics are great and which are terrible is, as with most subjective matters, a rather hot metaphorical potato, and I have no wish to burn my hands on it.
Another major problem webcomics suffer from is that, because they’re still mostly passion projects by people who enjoy putting their work out there, they have a tendency to end up on ‘indefinite hiatus’. That is, they die a slow, painful death, lingering forever on the internet for unfortunate souls to find, only for them realize thirty hours in that the comic hasn’t updated since 2009 and the author got bored with the project, and now you’ll never know what happened to Jack and the magic lantern. I’ve got more than my fair share of those, and trust me – those will make you sad.
And finally, a problem many of them run into is… well… being terrible. There are some webcomics out there with either a plot or an artstyle (or, god forbid, both) that makes you just want to gauge your eyeballs out. Again, I’m not calling any names, but as with all things popular, sometimes pretty talentless mooks seem to get elevated by their fans to god-author levels, while the gems of the internet sit back content with their thousand monthly views.
At the end of the day, though, it’s still a fine source of free entertainment if you want it – with a chance to support artists you love directly if you can spare as little as a buck a month. And, if you’re bothered to have an honest look around, I’m sure there will be plenty of great and talented webcomic writers out there that you will enjoy reading.
In closing, in case this piece has got you interested in the wonderful world of webcomics, below you’ll find some webcomics I myself greatly enjoy(ed), with a very short review.
A young journalist named Oscar Wilde (not that one, but yes) decides he needs a break from city life. However, it turns out the quiet country life isn’t really all that quiet after all, and he ends up in the biggest mess of his life – which starts right at the point when he finds out he’s sharing his house with a very friendly ghost lady and the next door neighbors’ kid is a werewolf. A fantasy tale with some detective-like aspects to it at times, though mostly (as always) a story about people. The writing had me hooked in moments, and the art style is gorgeous.
A little less serious, a little more ridiculous, a little more scifi. Schlock Mercenary is a webcomic that has been over fifteen years running (so you’ve got plenty of reading to do if you want to start at the beginning), and it has gotten a lot better over time. Follows the adventures of mercenary space captain Tagon and his crew through the wonderfully insane universe, fighting bad guys, preventing apocalpyses, and trying to earn a good day’s wage out of the deal. Art style is far more cartoony, and especially in the beginning the artist wasn’t very good, but he has made great improvements over the years – and honestly, it’s often silly enough, in the early years especially, that the art style isn’t much of a detractor.
Dominic Deegan, Oracle for Hire
Not unanimously popular (and certainly with its fair share of haters), Dominic Deegan has managed to find a very warm place in my heart. Follows the adventures of gifted seer Dominic through initially almost monster-and/or-client-of-the-week style adventures, which eventually devolved into a massive, intricate storyline that took over five years to resolve. Classic swords and sorcery fantasy, with lots of great humor, cutesy romance, and absolutely fantastic/horrific puns all over the place. The writing is great (though opinions differ on that as well), but the author is much more of a writer than an artist – while the quality has gone up over the years, he has never really moved much beyond fairly basic angular anime-esque characters. If you can get past that, though, there’s eleven years of gripping story waiting for you.
Comic is finished, with 11 years of updates worth for you to read through!