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.