A lot of cartoonists are really intimidated by the prospect of what it takes to get their comics online. I thought it would be worthwhile to write up some tutorials on the subject, in an attempt to show what an easy thing getting your work on the internet can be.
I’ve been putting my comics online since 2000, and, frankly, in a lot of ways I’m probably not a great example of how to do things… I’m not particularly successful or well-known, and most of my comics on my main site were put on here years ago, many of them poorly scanned (I’ll get around to fixing this eventually).
Nevertheless, I do have some knowledge about this stuff, and I thought I’d share it. My main comics website can be found at stwallskull.com, and I do a regularly updated webcomic (currently on hiatus as I work on a children’s book) at soapythechicken.com. Additionally, I’m the webmaster for The International Cartoonist Conspiracy, a cartooning group with cells all over North America (and soon… the world!) that includes both amateur and professional cartoonists, which all cartoonists are encouraged to join… more information on that can be found here. I actually make a living doing web development and flash animation, so I’m not totally unqualified to write this thing. And just because I may not take my own advice on this stuff doesn’t necessarily make it lousy advice.
There are advantages and disadvantages to putting your work online…
DISADVANTAGES OF PUTTING YOUR WORK ONLINE
1) People can access your work online for free.
2) At this time, it is very difficult to make money with online comics, although some people do.
3) Any image you put online can easily be used and altered by individuals without your consent. Depending on how they do this, and how you present it, this may or may not be legal… however, it is certainly easy enough for someone to do if they want to.
4) What works for comics on the printed page can be very different from what works for comics on the screen. You may not like some of these differences. You may want to take these differences into consideration when designing comics for online viewing. For example, horizontal comics pages will probably fit better on most screens than traditional vertical pages. Although you have an “infinite canvas,” as Scott McCloud has pointed out, many people will only have the patience for what they see immediately… the internet is the land of the short attention span… this is likely the reason that most webcomics are presented in the traditional strip to strip format.
ADVANTAGES OF PUTTING YOUR WORK ONLINE
1) People can access your work online for free.
2) By putting your work online you have increased your potential audience exponentially.
3) Putting your work online is free, if you want it to be. If you can afford to put some money into it, you have more options.
4) Your artistic options are not affected by printing cost limitations… your work can be full color, or even animated, if you’re inclined.
5) The desire to please an audience actively interested in your work can be a good motivator to produce more work on a regular schedule.
6) It is an inexpensive way to display your portfolio, which can save you a lot of money when trying to find cartooning, illustration or animation gigs.
7) There are a lot of opportunities for innovation of the comics form in online comics.
8) It is relatively easy to offer online RSS subscriptions which make it so people who subscribe will see whenever you post something new… unfortunately I don’t think a lot of the free comics services offer this, and this part is really key to building an audience.
Personally, I think the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages. The internet gives you access to a potentially enormous audience for your work that you can not find anywhere else.
If you’re concerned about putting stuff online because you are giving it away for free, there are a number of things to consider.
First of all, you don’t have to put ALL of your work online. If you are working on a graphic novel, for example, it may be worth considering putting a “first chapter” online for free to generate interest in the larger work. Even a sketchbook could go a long way towards generating interest in the rest of your work… check out Sam Hiti’s great sketchblog for a good example of this.
Most webcomics don’t make any money. There are notable exceptions, like PVP and Penny Arcade. Of the comics that are making money, most are doing so through advertising and merchandising. There are people offering paid subscriptions and exclusive content of their work as well, with greatly varying degrees of success. I suspect that it is pretty hard to establish a large audience for your work using paid subscriptions unless you have a large following going into it. Once you have built a fan base, it may be something to consider, but I doubt it is a beneficial option for the majority of cartoonists.
The bottom line, though, is that there is no more effective way to generate interest in your work, build an audience, and inexpensively distribute your work than the internet.
Next: Publishing Options, and the Necessity of RSS Subscriptions