The webcomics blog about webcomics

Steel Cage Deathmatch Go!

It’s Inventing Conflict Day today at Fleen. Grab a folding chair and prepare to launch from the top rope.

First up, Lore Sjoberg has an interesting bit in yesterday’s Table of Malcontents on the philosophically-explosive combination of webcomics and t-shirts. To wit:

I noticed that popular webcomic Diesel Sweeties has changed its title text from “pixelated robot romance web comic” to “pixelated robot romance web comic and t-shirt party.” Presumably this is a nod to the fact that t-shirts are a major part of the site’s income and that the shirts in question aren’t always, technically speaking, based on the comic strip.

It’s interesting that, in the absence of a steady paycheck from a syndicate, so many comics have settled on T-shirts as an income source. It’s also interesting that while the shirts typically started out as fan shirts, with characters or slogans from the series depicted, increasingly they’re like any other T-shirt shop, with random amusing or interesting images. Some comics, such as Questionable Content regularly show the characters wearing a wide variety of printed T-shirts, some of which then get transformed into actual shirts for fans to wear.

I think that the most likely reason for the non-strip-orientation of many (most?) shirts these days is that it’s easier to sell to Everybody with a computer than it is to sell to Everybody with a computer that also happens to read my comic. As popular and well-regarded as Diesel Sweeties is, there’s probably a lot more potential purchasers of a shirt that’s general-interest (like this one) than one that’s character-specific (like this one). Sjoberg continues:

I can see how this could be abused. I’d hate for web comics to turn into advertisements for merchandise, like a textile-based Yu-Gi-Oh. I also can’t help but wonder if there’s a backlash waiting around the corner. The geekish love of novelty T-shirts is deep and wide, but can it be infinite?

I should disclose that I own a small business that sells custom T-shirts, including those for my own comic strip, but I’m not associated with any other comic strip. So I may not be the most objective observer, but for the time being I say “good for them.” They’re selling things people want to the people who want them, and providing free comics to boot, so I’ve got no complaint. But I do have concerns.

No worries, Lore — in the internet, you’re allowed to change your mind about things like webcomics and t-shirts. Sometimes it’s cool to sell them, but later you realize it’s illogical to produce or buy them.

Speaking of Diesel Sweeties, there’s some good old-fashioned meme stomping going on in today’s installment. Apparently, Jeff Rowland is so enraged that he had no choice but to punch a bald eagle to death. This, naturally, occurs in the context of Rowland being critical of the President, which would seem to put him at odds with Paul Southworth, who reminds us all about the importance of loving the President, with as much inappropriate love as we can muster.

Lastly, Nice Pete would like you to know that he has a book out. You might want to get that one, as Nice Pete’s been known to engage in the regular act of murdering people he doesn’t like, and I’m sure buying his book will only improve his opinion of you.

I just know the day I take Nice Pete’s book to read on the subway will be the day the police decide to randomly search my bags.

One thing you can definitely say about Rich’s tshirts is that, even when they don’t share the same content as his comic, they definitely share the same style and sense of humour. It’s not surprising that a fan of one would also be a fan of the other.

So, there is definitely a little more synchronization going on than there would be if he just ran ad banners on his webcomic site for a totally unrelated tshirt store that he happens to run.

Is this more of that “murderer/webcomics fan” crossover demo?

Mr. Rowland, I think Stephen Colbert would like to have a word with you.

I feel like as long as you’re not putting capitalism ahead of the comic, you’re doing okay. Making money is nice but making comics is way better.

Webcomics’ dirty little secret is that most of the people who “make a living from their comic” don’t really make a living from their comic at all, they make it selling t-shirts that perhaps have some tenuous link to their strip (but not really). It’s not really something to feel guilty about, it’s just patronage in one way or another – a democratised, utilitarian form of “micropayment” far more acceptable to my mind than a Paypal begging bucket on your site.

That these tshirts have ceased to be so closely linked to their parent comics is a matter (I think) in part of natural selection – in a crowded field (and it gets more crowded every day) you need more options than your strip might provide. And if you’ve proved successful in an area, you want to develop it. The alternative is, after all, eating sawdust and drinking puddle water.

Personally, I would much rather make shirts that have nothing to do with the comic than attempt to shoehorn t-ready zingers into the strip or extract vest-centric mottos from complex source material.

As for Lore’s assertion that a backlash is on the way, I don’t think people will tire of owning short-run, attractive garments that their friends probably don’t have. I believe that’s the central tenet on which fashion is founded.

The only way to kill it stone dead would be to sell your designs to Hot Topic and have them printed in the thousands. And I believe that kind of suicide can only take place on an artist by artist basis.

It seems slightly strange to me that in a medium so connected with art and aesthetics as webcomics that t-shirts are the first step in merchandise rather, than say, prints, posters or postcards.
It seems a little wrong-way-’round is all.

It’s not really all that strange. You can print tshirts in very small numbers and sell them at a profit. Colour printing is very expensive and it’s harder to be sure of a return on your investment. Postcards, posters and prints are hard things to get right and hard things to sell!

Right, I mean, everyone wears shirts, but not everyone hangs prints of comic strips in their house. T-shirts are a much more common and accesible item.

Any way a comic strip artist can make a living without infringing on the source material is a-okay in my book.

Like John says, the numbers issue is a big deal. 10 shirts — that was the minimum number I was required to print for my first design. You don’t need to have many readers to sell 10 tshirts.

My books sell about as well, or perhaps a bit better, than my shirts do. But I couldn’t crack into the book market until I was sure I could sell a few hundred of them relatively quickly. Printing is expensive unless you are getting a lot of pages printed at once! If you want to sell your books at a reasonable price you need to print them in fairly sizeable numbers.

[…] Gary … and tired as hell. Which is probably why, in the context of this, I find this far funnier than I should. After all, we here at Fleen are all about webcomics community, and not interested in provoking shitstorms or internet fights to the bloody death. That being said, Bunny is owning all over those birds (start here and keep clicking on “next”, through the ten updates that Lem managed in one day). […]

RSS feed for comments on this post.