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How to Make Webcomics by Brad Guigar, et al.

One aspect of our upcoming second textbook that was completely absent from the first? Webcomics. In fact, the only activity that will ask you to even touch a computer in DWWP is a simple scanning procedure that we teach in Chapter 14 (not so simple that most of my students don’t mess it up, though). So in the new book, we use the computer often, just as do most contemporary cartoonists. We even have a several-chapter-long “webcomics” project, but its pretty idiosyncratic: it’s designed to be a platform that you can use to test out and learn various inking, lettering, and coloring techniques on short-form comics. We don’t teach you to build a website (we just tell you you should), and we don’t teach you how to run a webcomics business.

I only realized how very much we don’t teach these last things when I read How to Make Webcomics, by Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett, Kris Straub, and Scott Kurtz, all professional webcartoonists, and all part of the halfpixel.com collective.

How to Make Webcomics doesn’t actually teach you how to make webcomics. While there are several very good chapters full of tips and advice on things like character design, formatting, lettering, dialogue, and writer’s block, you’ll be much better off reading (and doing) DWWP and our new book if you want to learn to make comics (that you can also put on the web).

What this book does do, and strikingly well, is it teaches you how to be a webcartoonist. From website design issues specific to comics, to personal branding, to dealing with fans (and making more of them) to preparing for conventions (checklists!) right down to setting up a shipping station for your merch, this is by far the most comprehensive, reasonable, serious guide to being a self-publisher that I’ve seen. And I chose that term advisedly: If your goal is to publish print, you’ll still have a web presence, and if you’re a web cartoonist, you’ll probably publish print, so pretty much all this book applies to all those independent artists who decide to make publishing their own work part of their job.

I love how blunt the authors are about this: they repeat over and over that the only model that has thus far worked for webcomics is “free-to-the-consumer, ad-supported content, that then trades on audience loyalty by selling books, T-shirts, merchandise, and original art.” And then they proceed to tell you what price points you want to hit, how to decide which merch to produce, and even how many T-shirts will fit in a 30″ x 30″ box. I mean, seriously. This is precisely the kind of info you need if you’re considering going into business as a self-publisher of any kind of comics. They even confront the elephant in the room: art versus commerce. How do you decide where to draw the line in terms of playing to (and placating) advertisers and fans? They fall on the side of art, of course, but acknowledge that the pressure is there to cater to the lowest common denominator, and that the negotiation of that line is constant and ongoing.

The one thing they don’t mention specifically is the Wife Factor: most successful (and male) self-publishers aren’t actually in it by themselves. They usually have a “wife” (usually an actual wife, occasionally another type of life partner) who runs a lot of the biz. Not across the board, mind you, but in many many cases. I’ve yet to hear of a female self-publisher with a Husband Factor, either. Nothing wrong with free help, but for those that don’t have it, it’s something to consider if you’re thinking about walking this road.

OK, but that’s not really the point. The point is this: I was reading How to Make [It In] Webcomics for research for my textbook, for which it wasn’t all that useful. But I found myself taking notes for my own life.

Comments

7 Comments to How to Make Webcomics by Brad Guigar, et al.

  • by Jessica

    On February 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Bit of an interesting conversation between me and @pvponline over on Twitter. I tossed out this (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) assertion that cartoonists with helpful wives are at a great advantage–and that many of the more successful self-publishers have helpful wives. Am I wrong? Not to say you can’t go it alone and do very well, but a partner who is working for your art business is an enormous advantage. I’d love to hear if anyone knows of women cartoonists whose husbands have taken on this role. Off-hand, I don’t know of any, but there must be a few.

    Mostly, I find women cartoonists are partnered with men (or women) who have their own art or other career, and neither wants to give up his or her work for the other, and both really need yet another someone to help them. Which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with this: it’s how Matt and I are. Neither is there anything wrong with a partner who chooses to give up some of her (or his) time to help build the other’s art. But I do observe a gender difference that I think ties into historical roles, and that then plays into the stronger chance to succeed of those cartoonists who do have the help of a partner.

    Again, not to denigrate anyone’s choices–any way you do this is OK by me. But I do think it’s an important factor to consider before taking the plunge into self-publishing: how much time will it take from art? And I am interested in the effect of this phenomenon on the gender makeup of the population of cartoonists and self-publishers.

  • by Eric Nath

    On February 28, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I totally agree. How to Make Webcomics is one of my favorite How-To titles for a simple reason: the information offered is very practical. I have a slew of How-To books and most of them focus on the theory, or of the Hot-To draw aspect, but what this book offers is a lot of practical How-To advice from the business side of things and it seems so few artists are willing to get down and dirty about how to make a living drawing comics.

  • by Dave Kellett

    On February 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks for the kind write-up! Glad you enjoyed the book.

    To answer your one question in the follow-up: Lynn Johnston’s husband was her business manager for years. Of course, we all know the sad ending of that story, after the divorce. The take-away isn’t gender-specific…it’s just an age-old business truism: Never let anyone else sign your checks for you. Never pass off your bookkeeping to someone else and shove your fingers in your ears to the business end of things. Manage your own business, your own books, your own cash flow.

    The sad truth is, most artists have been conditioned to think its some unique and terrible thing to have to “learn how to be an artist” and then “learn how to handle business”. It’s a huge, false “left-brain/right-brain” copout. Doctors and lawyers have to learn how to run a business, after 5-10 years intensely studying their core craft. Artists need to do the same. How do I set up myself as a corporation? How do I set up payroll? How can I best avoid middle-men and handle these business aspects myself? Conversely, what business tasks are worth handing off to third parties? Etc, etc.

    I guess what I’m saying is: The jobs that are worth doing in life, the ones that are really rewarding, come with extra burdens…or everyone would be doing them. And as traditional outlets and distribution systems fail, more and more cartoonists are going to realize they’re best to handle it themselves. Which is all the better, frankly.

    As for myself: My wife and I are both independent artists doing our own thing in very separate fields, and so joke all the time that we collectively “need a husband” or “need a wife”. But we found it easier in the end to just learn the business end of things ourselves, and then hire help for the more menial tasks…letting us focus on art creation.

  • by Jessica

    On February 28, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Dave: thanks for the very thoughtful comment. I absolutely think you’re right: we all should be in charge of (and fully familiar with) our own business as artists. I actually find this part of being an artist kind of fun—other cartoonists have been known to call me out of the blue for advice on agents and contracts. I know, that’s weird, but I just have that kind of brain. We cover this necessity pretty extensively in the new book, in fact.

    And whether you like it or not, you’re right, there are many difficulties that come with choosing to be an artist, and balancing business and making art is one of those.

    Still: the time I need to spend on building my business these days (read: this website, among other things) has almost completely eaten up the time I need for making art. (I also have two small children, so that’s a factor, but not an uncommon one.) Being a good businessperson takes time, a lot of it, and so does being an artist. If you have someone who will take on some or all of that burden for you, for free, you will be able to make more and better (art) work.

    I do hire people to do work for me, for example, my kids go to daycare. But, like most cartoonists, I don’t have a lot of spare cash lying around to hire someone to do the art-business work a “wife” might do. I have interns, who are fantastic, but they can’t take on the day-to-day building of a business. I fully intend to hire an assistant one day, but a glance at my budget tells me that day is still pretty far off, unfortunately.

    Comics is not a competitive sport: the fact that some people have an advantage in the form of a support team, and others are on their own, is not the point. One doing well does not make another do badly. Having help and support of any kind (and emotional and creative support, as I have, and sounds like you have, is certainly incredibly important as well) is all to the good for whoever has it. I simply posit, on purely anecdotal evidence, that I know of more men who have the operational business support of wives who’ve decided to devote significant time resources to their husbands’ art business, than women who have the same kind of support from husbands. Great for them. I don’t begrudge it to anyone.

    In order to operate a large, bustling, successful business in comics, making and shipping books and other merchandise, operating a complex website, making and placing ads, doing PR, and so on, one needs help. If you don’t have free help, you’ll end up having to pay for it, or you’ll just not do as much as you’d like. And–I could be wrong–but it seems that would have to be a factor in who makes it to the top (financial) ranks of self-publishers (I include webcartoonists here), who are mostly male.

    And now let me repeat: this is all a complete aside, and actually irrelevant to my review above. If you want to be a professional cartoonist, go get How To Make Webcomics! It’s great. That should be the takeaway here.

  • by tyler

    On March 1, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    jessica-
    great point about the ‘wife factor.’ in summing up the experiences I’ve had with self publishing, it occurred to me that the two most recent examples in ‘traditional’ publishing, Terry Moore and Jeff Smith, both had wives that helped and supported their art endeavours greatly. I’m stuck (though not in the bad way) in the same boat you’re in – my wife is a fulltime artist and we don’t have consistent childcare yet so it’s my personal work that gets put on the back burner in favor of her career and my freelance, when I’ve got it. maybe we should call it the ‘partner factor,’ but it’s an important lesson I’ve learned over the last 10 years. that said, neither my wife nor I would be where we are in our art careers without the other – we’ve both made gains because of each other’s work and ambitions.
    Definitely checking out the HTMW book…

  • by J T Guerrero

    On March 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks for the review! This will make an excellent supplement to your book. Although, I will definitely will purchase your next book!

    It’s tough to start a business, any business without some sort of support system (including financial and emotional). Jessica, I can totally identify with you about the kids! At the time I did freelance photography, I had a new born and a 3 1/2 y/o. Basically, I needed to get a ‘day job’ or it would have been an even more desperate situation (financial/emotional).

    Now that the oldest is a teenager, I am enlisting his talents (illustrations/drawing) to supplement my creativity (photography, graphic design). My goal is to teach my son the business process and etiquette so that he will be able to create his art and understand/appreciate the business side of it. My past is clouded by the memory of my father (entrepreneur) and trying to understand and duplicate his financial success. There were so many lessons he could have taught me but it never happened.

    Maybe when your little ones are older, they can be your personal assistants. I found out that I was a great tax deduction for my father – besides cheap labor! (he did pay me well)

  • by Jessica

    On March 4, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Thanks JT–yes, I look forward to putting those small hands to WORK!

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