The webcomics blog about webcomics

Class Is Over, Go Home

I won’t say it out loud, I won’t say it out loud, I won’t say it out loud. Just leave my classroom already.

I listened to a good portion of Webcomics Weekly #78 on my ride to work this morning (but not the whole thing, as it clocks in at more than an hour and a half), much of which concerned itself with Chris Onstad’s recent announcement. Brad, Dave, Kris, and Scott had a rather different take on Onstad’s announcement than I did, which I guess comes more from the perspective of a creator than a consumer of these web-comical entertainments.

They were pretty unanimous that Onstad’s hiatus announcement was ungracious and unfair to his readers (which, as one of them, I didn’t pick up on) and I was puzzled by their reaction until a bit by Scott Kurtz nearly an hour in … I have to quote this part in full:

Now if a person who lives in a world where you’re lucky to have a job cannot find joy in occasionally repeating yourself when you get to do this for a living, then you need to take some of the money you made from your latest Dark Horse book and get some fucking therapy.

Now I get their point of view. Strong words, but illuminating. To fill in some info for other speculations that they had re: Onstad and willingness or reluctance to engage in commercial endeavors with his art (they were drawing from his refusal to run ads on his site), I can add the following:

  • Onstad self-published regular collections of Achewood strips prior to the (three and counting) Dark Horse collections
  • Judging from margin notes in the third Dark Horse volume, he miscalculated the costs of his first collection and sold at least some portion of the print run at a loss honoring pre-orders
  • At least since the second Dark Horse collection (which contained the earliest strips, the first collection having been The Great Outdoor Fight) came out, I have not been able to find the self-published Achewood collections in print
  • There appears to be no store associated with the Achewood site, and it has been some time since he ran a top banner advertising one of his shirts or other items of merchandise

Those last two are most disturbing to me — the last may or may not be a direct result of the Dark Horse deal (at three books and holding), but the next-to-last is almost certainly a result of his publishing agreement.

Speaking of books, we know that Meredith Gran’s Octopus Pie and Jon Rosenberg’s Goats weren’t picked up for further books by their publishers, and that Archaia’s Gunnerkrigg Court publishing was so badly bungled that it took approximately two years for Tom Siddell to be able to sell copies himself (via TopatoCo, where it promptly sold out due to unmet demand). I haven’t heard anything about a fourth Wondermark collection from Dark Horse, and their Sinfest collections have been coming out on an irregular and elongated schedule.

I really hope that Christopher Hasting’s Dark Horse Dr McNinja collections sell like hotcakes, smashing all known sales records, and that it doesn’t turn out that going to a big publisher means having less stuff to sell for the rest of his career. Hastings is a smart guy, and I’m certain he took all the best information and advice he could gather into this decision, but having another party in the mix means another set of priorities that may not mesh with his own.

I’m not trying to single out Dark Horse for criticism here, they just happen to deal with more webcomics properties than anybody else — but a publisher that deals with hundreds or thousands of titles will look at a book (or series) that doesn’t perform in a spectacular, record-breaking fashion year after year, and at some point will have to (by all the laws of economic reality) say, Well, time to let that one go. That point where it’s decided to cut losses (or more likely, cut something that generates too little profit to sustain the additional middlemen of publisher and distributor) probably does not come with the same criteria that a self-publishing creator would apply. It’s not evil, it’s not misguided, it’s not shortsighted … it just is.

  • Hey, let’s look at some book news that’s less melancholy, yeah? Steve LeCouilliard, creator of the Xeric-winninng Much The Miller’s Son, wrote to let us know that the third print volume of his series is on the way. LeCouilliarad didn’t mention the title of this book (I’m hoping for Electric Muchaloo or Much 3: The Muchening), but he did mention:

    The new book will be in a large 8 5/8in x 12 3/8in hardcover format with full color art similar in presentation to a typical bande dessinée album. Coming in June 2011!

  • Got an invitation to check out a webcomic called Tales Of The Brothers Three, which has been running for a couple of years and is nicely summarized here. I’ve liked what I’ve read, but I can’t stop thinking of the old Bag Brothers Three strip from the (presently, and perhaps permanently inaccessible Mac Hall). In case you don’t happen to recall with Rain Man-like precision a throwaway gag about cheap-ass Halloween costumes from seven or eight years ago, there’s photographic proof of cosplay. Of course there is.
  • Know who will never take the whole comics creator thing for granted? Ryan North. Documentary proof courtesy of John Campbell.

I’m an idiot. The title is Robin’s Eleven or Nobody’s Vault but Mine.

Although I do like The Muchening.

The track record of webcartoonists with major publishers is not good, and this saddens me.

I love doing this for a living, but (here comes the whine) I wish I could just do the funny bits, and not all those pesky business-bits.

Scott read a lot more into Onstad’s post than was there. That is probably the most polite reaction I can muster, so I’ll leave it at that.

But JUST Scott, right Chris? The other three guys on the podcast got it right.

I don’t really have any issues with general discussion of the podcast. Reasonably good discussion about the false dichotomy between commerce and creativity. But of the four, your interpretation of Onstad’s post was the most extreme… so yeah.

The guys quitting in an entitled huff. And telling his readers he doesn’t want to hear any whining about it. The man was struck by lightning and I feel he’s taking it for granted.

I’m not sure how I’m “reading into” what he said.

THAT’S what he said.

Well I don’t think I’m reading into anything. I think Chris has quit in an entitled huff because THAT’S WHAT HE SAID.

He said he was quitting and that he didn’t want to hear any complaining from his readers. That’s not an interpretation. Thats in his blog post.

Sorry about the double post/repost. My iPad and captcha don’t like each other.

Well I don’t think I’m reading into anything. I think Chris has quit in an entitled huff because THAT’S WHAT HE SAID.

Scott, this was the section of his post that you tended to focus on through the podcast:

I know it’s irritating that I can keep no regular schedule; that’s what RSS is for. Also, whatever I put up on is free to the world, and I won’t entertain a bunch of entitled whining. Here’s a great essay by the wonderful Neil Gaiman on that subject. This essay is a gift to writers and artists everywhere.

To summarize, you are calling this an “entitled huff” because he’s pointing out that his comic is free so there’s no point in his readers trying to make him feel obligation to produce more, and because Neil Gaiman said that George R. R. Martin is not anybody’s bitch.

Other than that, he said that he’s been doing Achewood for a really long time, he’s finding it harder and harder to do, and there are other things he wants to do more. I don’t see entitled, other than, you know, it’s his work and he’s entitled to do whatever he damn well wants to do with it, and I don’t see a huff. I see regret and fatigue, I don’t see huff.

I contrast this with the time you spent on the podcast mocking his process without displaying any particular knowledge of what he actually does. So yes, I see you making off-the-cuff assumptions based on a reading of his post that, quite frankly, assumes far more than there is actually any evidence to support.


fair points. But he could have said “thanks.” once. He could have shown a little appreciation and humility for the amazing life he’s walking away from. A life so many young artists would kill for.

I think that the success he’s garnered brings with it a little responsibility. If nothing else, a responsibility of gratitude.

I could find none in his post.

My podcast is an OPINION piece. And that means I get to state opinion. I get to make assumptions and talk freely and wonder out loud.

Nobody mistook that for anything but me assuming and wondering. We even spoke to not being able to understand his motive.

All right, I suppose I can see that. It’s an opinion show, and obviously you should be able to air your opinions on a show that is specifically designed to air your opinions.

For the record, when I hit ten years I went through pretty much the same thing Onstad did (only without the ridiculous levels of success part, which I will allow is a fairly significant difference) only I decided it was just a temporary period of disillusionment which would eventually go away. That turned out to be a solid hunch on my part, but I felt a fair amount of kinship reading some parts of that post.

Then again, I will admit I probably feel entitled, and my wife will confirm that from time to time I have been known to huff.;-)

Scott: Why should Chris say thanks? His work stands on its own merits. I feel like I should be thanking him. If he’s tired of the medium, or Achewood, or whatever, than that’s for him to decide.

Maybe he needs a break, and he comes back and does something even better. Maybe he never writes anything again in his life. Maybe he comes back and continues Achewood for another 10 years. Each way, his prerogative. I don’t know why Chris should be beholden to you or anyone.

“I think that the success he’s garnered brings with it a little responsibility. If nothing else, a responsibility of gratitude.”

This in particular troubles me. You, of all people, should know that success doesn’t just fall out of the sky. Chris didn’t get lucky: maybe to some extent, but his work, imagination, and artistic sense form the greater part of his success. He’s not Spiderman. Fuck Spiderman!

Last comment: as a reader, I’d much prefer Onstad “quit” early than water his comic down to oblivion. Certain webcomics are guilty of continuing exactly that print tradition that they were so certain they’d broken.

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