In a recent piece, Boston.com did an interview with several webcomic creators, including Jeph Jacques (Questionable Content), Jeffrey Rowland (Overcompensating), Richard Stevens (Diesel Sweeties), and Michael Terracciano (Dominic Deegan). Here’s an excerpt:
Questionable Content is not just a hobby for Jacques, 31. It’s his job.
Webcomics were once seen as a new path to syndication. Comic artists would post their work online, hoping to attract a large enough fan base that syndicates would take notice, offer them contracts, sell their comics to newspapers, and give them a cut of the profits. But for Jacques and many other webcomic artists, syndication is out of the picture.
“There’s no real money in that,’’ he says.
Jacques, who says he earns six figures from his webcomic, is among a small but growing number of professional webcomic artists. There are, by some estimates, 36,000 webcomics in the world, but Wikipedia counts only 47 professional webcomic artists, meaning only a minuscule percentage are making money at it. Mostly they earn money from merchandise sales, supplemented by advertising and donations.
They arrived at this profession by various paths, but none originally set out to live this way.
Jeffrey Rowland, 37, of Northampton began drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates in 1999. All he received in return were stacks of impersonal rejection letters. Craving constructive criticism, he began to upload his drawings to a website.
He eventually hit his stride with a webcomic called Wigu, about a little boy named Wigu Tinkle and his adventures with intergalactic beings such as Topato, a flying potato. Successful Wigu T-shirt sales made him realize that he didn’t need to be syndicated to make a living drawing comics.
“If a syndicate came to me and offered me a hundred newspapers, I would probably say no,’’ Rowland says. “I’d have to answer to an editor, which I wouldn’t be happy with. I’d probably make less money, with more work.’’
This is precisely the situation Richard Stevens, 34, also from Easthampton, found himself in four years ago, when his webcomic, Diesel Sweeties, was syndicated by United Media, which distributes Dilbert, Rose Is Rose, Get Fuzzy, and other strips. Diesel Sweeties portrays brightly colored, pixelated robots and humans, and their romantic entanglements. The site receives a few million page views every month.
Stevens now says syndication was a terrible decision.
“It’s nice to have a syndicate handle things if you have 1,000 newspapers and your whole job is drawing seven days a week. But if you are committed contractually to draw seven days a week and you don’t have clients, you’re really working for free,” says Stevens, who was syndicated in about 20 newspapers. “Even when I was syndicated, I was making 80 percent of my money from my website.”
Incidentally, Boston.com has a paywall thing going, so clicking on the article more than once brings up the accursed registration warning. It’s likely stuff that you’ve heard before, but it’s still rather nice to read how these guys accidentally becoming creators in a previously unproven comic medium.