Shop talk: Raising the Bar of Webcomics….

I read an article  that effected me a little today. It was that Webcomics were dying and that nothing new and exciting was around these days. The author of the site has a pay-per-view webcomic site, something that I have been against from the very beginning, because I think you should not charge for something viewed online. If all you have is a failing subscription site than yes webcomics might be dying as for anything new out there … I think one needs to start looking because I have found several, that believe like me, that it is time to raise the bar on webcomics.

Yes, I realize that anyone can just quickly scribble something on a sheet or hit  few buttons and make a webcomic and it seems to be a common practice on how vulgar or how can one push the line. Yet… I also realize that there is some incredible talent out there that have taken this craft to a whole new level. In sorts we have to kind of feed off one another in trying to prove that it is possible to create an incredible tale online and still make some sort of income off of it.

So how do we raise the bar? What will it take for artist and writers to find ways to make webcomics something more when mentioned than just a snicker from people who do not understand what they are about.

First off Webcomics are in the phase that newspaper comics were in 100 + years ago. When the art was not always the best, but they taught the world that art in newspapers could be much more than depictions of current events. From there many artist have found there own. In the 20 to 50’s the art of newspaper comics was incredible and deep, truly a craft that showed that the creators cared about what they were creating. Bill Watterson and a few others tried to bring it back in the late 80’s and 90’s.

So where are the Bill Wattersons of today? I don’t know, but they are out there and they are starting to make a say in how web comics can be correctly done.

What makes web comics successful is the willingness of what the creator is willing to put into it. Like the cartoons of print, most comics creators (who update daily) are not willing to put the time in to make it work. The I want it now success stories are nothing more than delusions. Watterson, Breathed, Walker and many more newspaper comics spent many years just finding ways to build their audience and even then it still took many years before their strips became famous.

Web Comics, even though they are digital media, have the same problem. An audience needs to be built and patience on the part of the creator to let the strip grow. Honestly to expect success overnight is foolish, yet success can happen if and only if you are willing to stick out and be consistent in your updates. (If you don’t update you kill your story, so if you want to make this work you gotta put the time in to do it.)

Art- This is huge for me. If the art is substandard or shotty, I do not stay. If the art is well developed I hang out a bit and look at the next thing which is writing (more on that in a minute). Take time to learn your craft. Put the effort in to improve your art. The best webcomics out there have strong art and strong writing. Learn how to draw backgrounds, environments to add to your basic character head shots. Change camera angles and work on texture. Color is good, but there are some strong b/w out there as well.

Writing, is just as important. The deeper the story, the better thought out gags, the more likely one sticks around. If the story is too diluted with bad character interaction and trying to hard to shock readers, I for one loose interest really quick.

Know your audience or figure out who they are. You want your story to be big, make it accessible to everyone, meaning parents who read your tale will more than likely let their kids see it, if you keep it pg- that way you get a whole other generation and kids have a lot of power over what adults choose to look at.

Take time in developing your site as well. Make the presentation good. There are a wide variety of comic hosting programs. Take time to make the graphics strong and clean, make your navigation easy. It’s not the fans that will kill your comic, you will, especially if the presentation is pretty bad.

So improve your art and writing, be consistent in your updates, learn who your audience is, be willing to be patient and now it is time to work with others who are like minded. There are several other creators that understand this principle, many of them are linked in my links section. You will be amazed on how good their work is and that they tend to follow the similar belief that the bar of webcomics NEEDS TO BE RAISED to be taken seriously or else they will always be the same mentality about them and that is that the artist or writer just couldn’t make it in the professional world and so they came to the web to peddle. Honestly don’t be afraid to give love to those stories besides that deserve it, others will give love back to you. People that read webcomics read more than just one, so I make sure they can find the stories I like, and they will also know the stories I like are set to a pretty high standard.

I am a pro. I am here to help raise the bar, set the standard a little higher and yes still make it possible to support my hobbies through webcomics. You see by willing to show the world my story for FREE, I broaden my audience, who in turn support me by buying the trades or comics when they come out. Print and web go hand in hand. Don’t be afraid to publish your stories even if they are online. They are online to help your world grow so reward those that read with printed material and now with paypervisit websites. If you use the web for your stories correctly and smartly you will find your stories will hit large groups of people who will enjoy your work as many of us enjoyed the work of the great newspaper strips along.

Also do not be afraid to chat with those that support you. Talk to them! The web offers a new dimension that newspaper strips could not do and that is interaction with creators. So if creators need to spend a little more time talking to those that support them, those that support them are more inclined to tell someone else, which only makes your readership grow.

Yet if the bar is to be raised, we need a few more strong comics in the mix. A few more willing to step up their craft and find away to blend strong writing, strong art and consistent storytelling. Yet as it gets harder to get distributed through diamond and others I see more and more good story tellers coming to the web and turning webcomics into the newspaper comics of the 21st century.

If you noticed I chose not to name any webcomics here, but newspaper artist instead. I did this for a reason, the correlation between newspaper stip and webcomic are very similar, your dealing with a daily audience that expects you to put something out on a regular basis, and like I said only you will kill your comic.

So if webcomics are going story the bar must be raised by the creators themselves and we just have to want it bad enough to make it happen. I have no intentions of stopping the bean….I hope those creators of other great comics feel the same. Yet the fans need to let them know they are doing job, buy their books and help support and only then will webcomics get the respect they deserve.

trav

26 Comments

Motmaitre » 23 Oct 2011 » Reply

Your art is fantastic.

Agree with your basic premise that quality is crucial. However, i think your perspective of what is a good comic is a little narrow. For example, who says excellent comics must be family-friendly, as you suggest? One of the great things about webcomics is they circumvent the restrictions of traditional webcomics. There are excellent webcomics with adult themes and content- for example, Oglaf.

Also, webcomics allow experimentation with different artistic styles that would not be accepted as mainstream. The creativity is what makes them special. For example, you mention drawing backgrounds as essential. However in my webcomic, I deliberately draw no backgrounds, to achieve a minimalist style that emphasises only the characters.

William George » 7 Aug 2010 » Reply

Good thoughts, webcomics should get better than they are.

But that "pay per view" website you mentioned hasn't been one for a few years now. For the sake of honesty, you may want to edit that section of your essay.

    Trav the bean » 11 Aug 2010 » Reply

    🙂

    As for the pay per site i was referring too is still around and is still subscription based. I made sure i did not mention the name because there is some good stuff. If there is another one out there that was same i am interested in seeing who left the subscription based model.

    thanks again for hanging out in my world william, and thanks for the comments

Mercy » 4 Aug 2010 » Reply

Travis, I like the fact that you take your art seriously. I have read an awful lot of webcomics, and while there are a few good ones, most just make the hapless reader feel that pert of the brain is rotting away.
Yours is a jewel among webcomics! After I read the story line, I always go back and look at the latest panel for details I missed the first time. I like your art for its strong and beautiful lines.

Tell us more about how the moon got broken. And who are the Seven Hunters?

    Trav the bean » 11 Aug 2010 » Reply

    I am glad you feel that way- I hope you take a moment and look at what else is out there through my reading list. There are some awesome gems.

    as for the broken moon and the seven hunters, those tales will be told all in due time.:)

Riki » 2 Aug 2010 » Reply

Weird. I find that webcomics today are better than they've ever been. We're finally seeing people with real talent actually diving into the web realm and giving webcomics a go. I think it's a really exciting time for webcomics. Even the big companies are diving into the webcomic business now. I don't think you have anything to worry about. You've got great artistic style, an interesting story, and your passion shows through in your work.

    Trav the bean » 11 Aug 2010 » Reply

    That is true there is some good stuff out there.

    Rahnum » 19 Aug 2010 » Reply

    Personally I'm a little worried that webcomics might become something we have to pay to read…Never know what those "big companies" might try to get away with. <.< So far they seem pretty good about it though so (b^_^)b

      Trav the bean » 19 Aug 2010 » Reply

      you will never pay here- the hope though is support by picking up the books sometime

Clint » 1 Aug 2010 » Reply

You didn't link that article you mentioned as the impetus for your post, Travis… was that out of not wanting to put anyone in particular on the spot? Or is the article itself also behind the paywall you mention? I was curious about reading it.

I think more than anything that a paywall is a death knell for a webcomic, at least at this stage in the medium's evolution. To use another newspaper comics analogy, you could think of it like this: in the "analog" days you'd pay for a subscription to a newspaper, and as part of that fee you got a page (and on Sundays, an entire section) of comics to enjoy. With a webcomic, you're paying for your Internet service, and as part of that fee you also get a lot of comics to enjoy.

It's not a perfect analogy since the revenue your ISP collects doesn't trickle down to the makers of the webcomics, but I really haven't heard of any webcomic that's succeeded in charging people for its content. I doubt even something as big as Penny Arcade could get away with that. Ad revenues, prints, and other merchandise are the business models, not locking the content away.

My wife and I have been plugging away at our own webcomic since last October, and yes, it's a slow process, especially since neither of us are really naturals at promotion. Also, since it's our first comic we still feel very humble about our efforts… but in order to raise a bar you have to set it up first, and then go from there. I read a lot of reviews about webcomics that have been around for awhile (and in fact, can myself go see in their archives) on how much the art and storytelling has improved over the years, and readers have taken a certain joy in watching that happen.

Putting your creative work out to the public is a daring commitment in of itself. Along with the patience creators should have for a comic to become a success, I think it can be beneficial for the audience to have a certain patience as well, assuming they see potential in the creation. Even those classic strips we know and love looked far different (and in most cases, much sketchier) at their inception than several years down the road.

    beanleafpress » 2 Aug 2010 » Reply

    I didn't want to put anyone on the spot- I figure people will find it. It just helped spark my rant for the day. I know a few that charged after the fact they were free and talking to a buddy of one of those comics, he has since gone to free again. He said all it covered, and barely, was art supplies.

    Ads, merchandise, new merchandise are the way to make it work. I agree with your entire post. Hopefully I am raising the bar. It was the comic ReMind, that encouraged me to raise the bar. Hopefully it will encourage others to do the same.

    I remember reading my old bloom county and how raw they were artwise, and how much the matured as the years went on. Peanuts and Calvin the hobbs are just the same. We forget at times like you said that everything starts somewhere and evolves into something much deeper.

    Thanks for the nice comment.
    trav

Brandon » 30 Jul 2010 » Reply

Evan Dahm, Karl Kerschl, and of course yourself – a trio of very accomplished artists and storytellers, and I very much enjoy reading their comics for free online, and I've purchased books from all as well. In the case of Rice Boy (and then Dahm's further works) and the Abominable Charles Christopher, I heard about them when other writers/artists in the industry mentioned them on their blogs. Webcomics with good art ("good" being very subjective, I suspect it's somewhat personal, but I could probably make reasonable arguments for what makes comic art "good" or not, and not meaning any particular style) and good storytelling can definitely be successful when they update regularly and if they are well promoted in order to find new readers. I don't follow a lot of comic industry or webcomic sites, so the trick is for webcomic creators to get their work found by the potential-webcomic-reading population. I definitely feel like webcomics have replaced newspaper comic strips for me. There are a few newspaper comics I enjoy from time to time, but nothing with the consistent excellence of say – and I'm picking "recent" strips other than Calvin & Hobbes – early Mutts (I don't enjoy it anymore, it's changed a lot) or FoxTrot.

Hoomi » 30 Jul 2010 » Reply

One of the biggest peeves I have with many webcomic artists is the tendency to update at whim, and to end up going for long periods with no updates, and not even a mention in the blog about what's going on. The impression becomes one of, "I just lost interest."____Whether the fiction is serialized art, or the written narrative, one key element HAS to be that the creator cares about their characters. If the creator doesn't care, why should the audience? If the creator can just walk away, so will the audience. As a writer, I must WANT to know what happens next in my story.____The artist/writer cannot guarantee the "wow" reaction in any given member of the audience, but if their reaction as creator is "meh," they shouldn't expect anyone else to react any better.____Webcomics as a whole are not dying. However, there are many individual comics that are suffering a rapid decline due to creator complacency. ____You're definitely raising the bar, Trav. I look forward to the updates, because I can tell you care about what you're doing here. "The Bean" doesn't disappoint.____Thank you.

    Trav the bean » 30 Jul 2010 » Reply

    great thought man and I agree with it.

      Hoomi » 30 Jul 2010 » Reply

      Hmm… not sure why I got underscore spacings, rather than line breaks separating paragraphs. Odd.

Rahnum » 30 Jul 2010 » Reply

I agree with most of what you said, but raising the bar worries me. Some of the best comics I've read were through a bad/different art medium than usual and I found it fit the story. I don't know how I feel about pushing a standardized bar out there that might make others feel like theirs isn't good enough. Half the greatness of webcomics is that just anyone can do them! We might not have Order of the Stick if not for that. And sometimes the webcomic having a bad story is none of our business, they might just be telling a story. I've been archiving webcomics and mangas for over 5 years and accumulated an index of over 200 mangas and 100 webcomics. Some…weren't great but I archived them because the effort had been made. Some original twist of the story was there (even if the rest of the story was crap). In each archived…webcomic/manga they offered something new. I'm even archiving your webcomic…(for the most part its an index of everything I've read online, and partially there because I know of a few sites brought down by viruses or hiatus (Hellbound T_T)…..(did I get off topic? @_@) Sorry. Anyway that's why I'm not sure how I feel about "raising the bar", I don't want someone not posting something because of that bar…

On a different note…Marc mentioned how webcomics generally are spread by word of mouth. Something that truly frustrates me is how I'll give people the names of truly great reads that I enjoyed immensely (Indefensible Positions, Erfworld, etc) and no one ever even takes a look! I swear they don't know what they're missing, but its so frustrating. Anyone else have this problem?

    Trav the bean » 30 Jul 2010 » Reply

    i appreciate your point and thought. I agree with it, but I also think that there are some webcomics out there that should up their game a bit, they could be just as successful in print as on web and bring even more legitimacy to this great genre.

    I am in no way discouraging people not to produce,in fact I want them to, I just want them to put a little more umph into some very promising pieces. I truly believe the bar to be an internal thing. I have standard I hold myself to, and I know others that hold themselves to standards just as high, yet not everyone can do that. Yet I would hope their comics or what ever they do makes them grow and progress. You made some great points.

    I also agree with letting people know what great finds are out there and then feeling ignored. drives me nuts, yet I know I cannot force someone to like something else or even go there. That is free agency:) and yet they miss out and it is truly their loss.

Marc » 30 Jul 2010 » Reply

I've read a few webcomics which I would not have known about aside from others pointing them out to me. Getting the word out that you exist by word of mouth (instead of newspaper syndication) may be a much slower way of gaining an audience, but on the other hand, I'd say the audience is very loyal to the work and understanding of what effort goes into each page. Getting to meet you and others at conventions gives a feel to the work that is missing in the newspaper – you are a person we've been able to meet and see in action, which brings it to a more personal level for the reader.

    Trav the bean » 30 Jul 2010 » Reply

    it is slower but even newspaper strips had to be pushed to get into other papers. Yet you are right I like the personal feel creators can have with readers. I see that as whole new element to the game:)

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