Sunday, July 15, 2012

What Can Creative Writing Learn From Web Comic Communities?

As of late I’ve been exploring the web comic world. Why? Because there is an artwork being provided to an audience for free and it seems to do well enough to stay afloat. My main resources for this reading and speculation have been from PVP, Penny Arcade, and Questionable Content. The following are three observations that creative writers can note from these web comic communities.

1. Content is crucial.

As Jeph Jacques of QC says repeatedly in his About page, “Don’t suck.” The comic is central. It has to be good. If we’re creating something, especially if we want to share that something with an audience or maybe even possibly make enough money to eat, sleep, and make more somethings, then the something that we offer up has to be good enough to keep an audience interested.

Besides, if you’re putting all that effort into an art, wouldn’t you want to produce something worth the time, energy, and care you give to it?

2. Advertising, merchandising, or crowdfunding.

How do you manage to make any sort of living from a web comic? Some comics or corporations charge their audience for access to the comic itself. What I love about PVP, QC, and PA is that the content is free. Let’s face it: if you’re a nobody and you’re trying to make a living off your art of choice, it’s going to be downright exasperating trying to get people to buy your work when they have no idea what your work is like or why they should support you.

This is why free content seems preferable. Let the audience see what you can do, because if you’re making a comic or a story that people enjoy, they’ll come back to read more. If they come back, then there are a couple options for making money that doesn’t cut off potential audience members from becoming a fan of your work.

First, if you establish a steady flow of sizeable traffic to your site, you can monetize by putting up advertisements. Maybe this isn’t the prettiest option, but it’s a more stable way of ensuring income. Plus, you can always orient your page design to minimize the intrusiveness of the ads as best you can. Advertising is a balancing game of deciding how much money for you is worth how much ad space your audience has to navigate through (and there is a point where ads will sink your ship rather than keep the waters steady).

The other option I’ve seen is merchandise sales. Put an iconic picture on a T-shirt, write a quippy phrase on a tote bag, or make a plushy animal and all of a sudden you have a way for the audience to help contribute to creative production. Merchandise also serves as a way for more people to become introduced to your work through exposure to those labeled products. This isn’t a guaranteed paycheck every month, but it is a way to allow an audience to become a dedicated community that more directly supports the artist.

3. Find your audience.

You don’t need to reach everyone in the world or have 100% approval ratings. You need a niche. Whatever your subject or genre or common cause is, you need to find the community that is interested in what you’re providing. This generally means being an involved community member yourself. If you expect people to come to your story site or your web comic page, then you need to be out participating on other people’s sites too. It’s not just a supply and demand chain in this system. You can’t be the mysterious stranger walking into town and expect everyone to come running. It’s a community so you'd better slap on a “Hello, My Name Is:” badge and start shaking hands.

This isn’t an easy task, and in all honesty, I’m not quite sure how to do it. The hope is that I’m producing this content and you’re enjoying it. That’s really it for this stage in the game. Hopefully you’ll come back and check out the site now and then, maybe leave a comment, but you have the choice of whether or not to support the site because you're the one deciding if it’s a site worth supporting.

See you around the interwebs,


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