Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Webcomic Role Models to Avoid

Human nature can make us pretend we're doing better than we are. This is why you can find lists on the internet of "webcomics that support their creators" but which are contaminated by false reporting.

Types of falsification include:
  • not making enough to support yourself, and drawing from other sources of income (often family money)
  • not reporting the free labor of spouses
  • "forgetting to mention" a full-time job
  • lying
Why should we care? Many people playing at a webcomic career don't care, and get irritable when you present the facts. I've had otherwise solid comic creators pursue me across blogs and forums to argue their blind faith in undocumented claims by others.

For anyone with the passion and determination to attempt a webcomic career, these false case studies matter because they muddle the process of becoming successful. If you copy a faulty role model, you can't expect success.

Outing people who cheat at stuff is entertaining but tiresome, as they bombard you with slovenly argued letters in their defense, or, in some cases, epithets. They call you a "hater," for the crime of questioning them.

Instead of relying on people like me to name names, it's better for readers to learn the warning signs:
  • They talk about themselves a lot, usually without self-awareness. An extreme example, but memorable, is the cartoonist who filled a long column with graphic details of his toilet-related practices
  • They could probably update more frequently without breaking a sweat, or go the extra 10% and work in color, or give up a reliance on cut-and-paste
  • They make lots of noise about being broke, but jet around to cons to hustle cash
  • Alternately, they make a lot of noise about their success, but close analysis doesn't support it
  • They dress down and generally don't act their age
  • They often show signs of recreational drug and alcohol use
  • They love the spotlight, and often have slick, carnival "charm" personalities they turn on for cons. Newcomers wander off muttering, "Gee, what a nice guy"
  • They live in New England of the Mid-Atlantic states, or Texas (primarily "old money" states)
  • Though the more savvy ones run for cover, the ones with the most dubious claims to fame are prickly, and will bombard you with mail, alternating fake seductiveness and baritone threats, should you be the lucky journalist who outs them
  • They may do decent comics, but they never seem to do brilliant comics
In short: webcomics are their sole claim to legitimacy, and they will lie, cheat and steal (mainly via tax evasion) to protect their self-image.

Compare that with the most successful webcomics:
  • They usually avoid the "webcomics scene," especially time sinks like snarky forums and Twitter
  • Their output is notable
  • If they sell anthologies, they actually shift enough copies to be on publishers' radar (though I am all for self-publishing if you can execute it)
  • Sometimes they have a business manager, a webmaster and/or an agency that promotes them for public appearances. Alternately, they may have a creative team, like Cyanide and Happiness
  • They tend to update 5-7 days/week
  • Asked to name the most successful webcomics, the average webcomics reader will miss half of them in favor of fake successes
  • They are disproportionately creators of humor comics
  • They generally skip conventions, as they don't need the hassle for the cash
  • Though their reticence sometimes earns them charges of snobbery, the majority seem to be decent people who return professional courtesies
The pretense of not judging people is, to me, for wimps. We judge people all the time. The problem is that we are prone to doing it naively. Sharpen your skills and you won't get duped.