The webcomics blog about webcomics

15 × $

Q: What do you get if you mix (from the right) Dean Haspiel, Raina Telgemeier, Rich Stevens, and Ted Rall, then get Collen Venable to wrangle ‘em?

A: Webcomics: A Primer. The session started late due to A/V issues, but they were sorted out in time for Venable to invite each of the others to show a small sample of their work. Rall showed work by himself and others from the Attitude 3 collection, Stevens browsed the internets to show some of his latest web-only and newspaper strips, Telgemeier hooked up her iPod to show pages from Smile, and Haspiel had examples of Brawl and Billy Dogma to share. Yay, technology.

The question then turned to the philsophical “Why webcomics?”, with Rall providing the most cogent answer — immediacy. Unlike working in print where weeks can go by between original work, reader reaction, and counter-reaction, webcomics offer the ability to put the strip up and receive immediate feedback and community with the readers. Or, as Stevens put it, I get the strip up at 11:57, and by 12:02 people are emailing me with spelling corrections.

This led to the question of when to post — a simple question that appears to have no answer. Haspiel had a web-traffic expert tell him that Tuesday morning at 11:00am is the idea time to put content up and have people pay attention; Rall said that Friday is the peak day for editorial cartoons; Stevens noted that his peak traffic is on Mondays. Speaking authoritatively, Telgemeier noted that Wednesday is the peak day for dental comics.

Almost without prompting the conversation turned to who a webcomicker is; Rall noted that all cartoonists, in effect, are webcartoonists now. The work gets put up on the internet, which provides a larger audience but also makes it easier for people to send you death threats.

Asked if a uniform size for the comic help in eventual syndication/print efforts, Haspiel noted that he made every page of Billy Dogma a uniform block, but then thought about the possibilities for placing things inside the block instead of the restrictions of the form. Stevens once made a 58 panel comic because he got inspired, but wishes I’d been like Dean. I had to release PDF E-books of my old strips because I can’t print them.

The next question dealt with mobile devices. Haspiel points out that in a world where people can watch LOST on the subway, they may as well read my comics. Stevens noted that iPhones don’t require much in the way of reformatting, but Telgemeier worried about page compositions being lost in such a small space. Haspiel agreed with that being the major drawback, but Stevens felt that a good enough story would hook the audience and drive them to a book version.

Okay, you know how there’s sometimes an elephant in the room, and you’re just waiting for somebody to point it out? Elephant time. Venable then opened the floor to questions, and the first one dealt with the economics of free: “What does the boss think about you putting out on the net for free what they’re trying to sell?” Rall jumped in with both feet:

If I were in charge of the world … I would force everything offline. All cartoonists, all newspapers, no more archives, nothing. And every cartoonist would make fifteen times as much money. Giving it away, I think it’s insane and stupid.

For those who remember the qualifications that Rall made at SPX last fall, where a similar statement was couched in terms of specifically editorial cartoonists, there was no such qualification this time. It was a blanket statement, and it was made while sitting next to one of the strongest proponents of a business model where you (quoting now) Give away a ton of stuff, and edit down to things of value [that you can sell].

From this point, the dialogue got pretty fast; what follows is as close to verbatim as I was able to notate. Haspiel was the first to respond with a disagreement:

If it’s good, it’ll sell; Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, they put music out for free but also for sale. I would almost insist on new contracts with publishers that I could put portions of content online, because it builds an audience.

Rall responded:

Only print pays. Otherwise, you have to be in two businesses. You have to be a cartoonist and a businessman, and not many can do that.

Stevens, not quite close enough to his mic:

Great! You’re trying to keep people out [of the cartooning business] and that’s great. It’s less competition for me. If you have a story that’s compelling …

Rall:

I can’t make money on t-shirts. I can’t design a t-shirt that will sell.

Stevens:

You can sell novels and books. You have bestsellers.

Rall:

A book will only sell for 6 to 12 months. They don’t pay enough to live on.

Stevens:

So? Adapt!

Rall:

And what kind of hours do you have to work to make a living, Rich?

Stevens:

Not enough! I’d work 24/7 if I could.

[I believe that with that last line, both Stevens and Rall felt that his own point had been made — Rall because Stevens spoke of working insane hours, and Stevens because he thinks sleep interrupts his compulsion to work.]

The next question from the audience came from Calvin Reid, and came straight back to the issue just concluded: Rall spoke about the good old days, when many more cartoonists were making a living, some doing extraordinarily well in terms of today’s dollars. But wasn’t it just as hard to break in to big-paying syndication deals back then?

Rall thought the question was misleading, that there is no ‘breaking in':

You have the illusion of breaking in, but until you are paying the bills, you are not a professional, working cartoonist. It’s harder to break in now because the overall pool of money is smaller.

Stevens responded:

Is it? I wouldn’t have tried to break in [to syndication] if you hadn’t called me [editor’s note: Rall recruited Stevens into his current syndication deal]. And what if ‘professional’ isn’t your goal? If you’re not watching TV, you’re doing a comic and it’s paying your internet bill? That’s a better hobby than watching the goddamn Food Network.

And that’s where we’re going to end it, since my hands are getting tired and I still have to go back and format and linkify everything above. In any event, plenty there to argue about in the comments. Let’s finish up with some vaguely contextual quotes:

Rich Stevens, on Dean Haspiel — He’s hunky.
Colleen Venable, on Haspiel’s observation on the number of people reading webcomics from work — That’s a great thing about webcomics.
Stevens, on same — We’re why there’s a recession.

Haspiel, on the benefits of webcomics — Webcomics are lifting the veil between creator and audience.
Raina Telgemeier, on reader interactions — I’ve gotten hate mail over Baby-Sitters Club from 13 year olds with detailed reasons why I was The Devil.
Venable — At least they’re writing!

Edit to add: The spam filters are getting a little aggressive on this comment thread; from what I can tell, it’s mostly due to people that haven’t posted much in the past posting a lot now. Apologies to Eric Millikin and Ted Rall, who have had posts eaten or delayed. If you have difficulty, please send an email to us via the Contact page and we’ll do what we can.

Pretty fair and accurate if you ask me- and I was there.

One thing to keep in mind before anyone pig piles on Ted is that he realizes there’s no going back in time. He just sees how well the “pros” did in the old days and liked it that way.

Hmm… weird. I know a lot of print comics guys in the comic book industry that STILL don’t get it. They think webcomics are “stupid” to give things away…. meanwhile I know personally people making over 50k with webcomics publishing… I agree with Rich… ADAPT…. Adapt or die. Adapt or go punch a clock somewhere. It’s not HARD, but it is hard. You gotta love it.

Thanks, Rich.

DJ, it’s not that I don’t “get” it. It’s that I don’t like it. I get it, I’m adapting, so are most smart cartoonists. The web isn’t going away, and once some people give away their cartoons for free, everybody else has to.

But your point is telling: if you think $50K a year is success, there’s an economic problem with the web-based model.

In the print world, $50K is subsistence. It wasn’t uncommon, 30 or 50 or 90 years ago, for a syndicated cartoonist to earn $500K in today’s dollars.

The consequence of this change is that the best and brightest cartoonists will go into other fields, hastening the demise of the form. It’s already happening.

I don’t think there’s any way to change this. But I don’t have to think it’s awesome!

Wow– 500k would be nice!

I think my side is coming from the independent comic book market where publishers and indepenedents haven’t been making profits for a long long time. Many feeding on creators by offering them backend deals on “profits” that they know will never exist. Very few indy publishers really pay. So now there is a way for these publishers to begin making pure profits from their work, and that’s going to keep the artform alive, not kill it off.

I don’t think think there can be a demise of the form really– we’ve been drawing since the beginning of time, in caves and now on apartment walls. ;)

I know the record industry wasn’t really PLEASED with mp3s, but it’s working out quite well for a lot of artists.

Your point only really holds for a cartoonist who is capable of getting into the newspaper to begin with, and most webcomics have format or content issues that would prevent that.

Look at something like Order of the Stick: A full-page color comic with a continuing storyline and a heavy dose of roleplaying-game jokes. He would have ZERO chance to get that published in a newspaper. Heck, even to get it in to Dragon Magazine, he had to strip out the storyline aspect and go with one-shot gags. If he waited until he found a print source to take it, he’d still be waiting today.

Instead, his books are on sale in every comic or hobby shop I walk into, and he’s put out a board game based on it, too. He gets hundreds of people to line up at his booth at conventions, waiting to buy his stuff and get his autograph. I have no idea what his actual profit margin is, obviously, but he lives in Philadelphia, which is not a low cost-of-living location. And none of that would be possible if he hadn’t bypassed the people who control the printing presses and delivered his content directly to the audience.

You’re probably right, all professional cartoonists WOULD be 15x richer if everything was forced offline…primarily because there would be 1/15th as many professional cartoonists. For the people who would be shut out completely if editors had the power to keep them out of print, isn’t a smaller piece of the cartooning pie still better than a day job in accounting?

And people wonder why cartoonists get cynical.

Ted,

I remember back in 1996 when there were no webcomics. The only “online” comics were at Comics.com and Chron.com. Nobody was making alternate livings online giving comics away.

I wanted to be a part of the print-only world back then and wasn’t near good enough. But I was talking to people who were and they were all telling me that things were really bleak for cartoonists. It was depressing as hell. One guy who did a strip about a zoo had quit to go back to his day job because he couldn’t keep going.

I love the web. But if there was a print-only way to make more money, I would totally do it. Tonight. I would switch over.

But I don’t see that it’s there. And I’m not sure that’s the fault of people making a living giving it away. I think if you offered all of us an alternative offline that made 3 times as much money we would all take it.

Anyone else?

Let’s keep in mind, too, that many of those pros that were making $400-600K (…and Schulz and Davis: far, far above that) were doing so only after two to three decades of work.

I came close to six figures last year, and may end up making it this year. Give me two more decades, and I have every expectation of being in mid-six figures.

Scott, actually, if I were given the option to go exclusively into print full-time or stay online in a part-time capacity, I’d still stay online. It means a lot more work but I’m not accountable to anyone, I set my own deadlines, and I decide my own agendas. The print environment demands more responsibility but, more importantly, I think going offline closes off communication between you and your audience.

Here are three things to think about:

1) As Ted says, “I know personally people making over 50k with webcomics” is a joke. That’s less than an average income, not a success story. It sounds as ridiculous and out of touch as Dr. Evil blackmailing the planet for 1 million dollars. At first I thought that was a typo, and it was supposed to be a complaint about people making ONLY (not over) $50,000.

2) Scott, that’s weird; it sounds like webcomics really weren’t on your radar back in 1996. I remember there being hundreds of comics on the web back then. And there were likely hundreds if not thousands more that were totally off my own radar. Comics spread like a virus. Pretty much as soon as there was a web there were webcomics.

3) I think it would be cool if more of us actually focused on fixing our screwed up economic system rather than looking for success stories inside it. Unemployment, homelessness, foreclosures, every economic indicator is in the toilet. “Success” is our changing this system, not “I personally know somebody else who is almost making average money inside our current system. Hooray.”

One guy who did a strip about a zoo had quit to go back to his day job because he couldn?t keep going.

If it’s the one I’m thinking of, that was a really cool strip. I used to follow it daily in 1997 on the Web. I wondered what happened to it. Sad to see it go.

Anyway, 50K would be more than I am making now as a librarian. I’ll take it.

Oh, and: Eric, I totally agree with your last point. “Success” would make more sense if we didn’t have to worry about going bankrupt if we went sick, or that our government will bankrupt the whole society through corporate give-aways, bail-outs and imperialist wars of choice.

But I suspect that may be a bit off-topic. :-)

[…] and the US Postal Service (for the timely delivery of my Jinxlet), and all the contributors to the comments thread of yesterday’s post, for a really thoughtful and valuable […]

You’re probably right, all professional cartoonists WOULD be 15x richer if everything was forced offline…primarily because there would be 1/15th as many professional cartoonists.

There are 1/15th as many professional cartoonists now. The 14/15ths who are online, but not being paid, are not professional. You can be unpaid and be a great cartoonist. But you can’t be unpaid and a professional cartoonist. The web is giving the illusion to many cartoonists that they are successful because thousands of people read their work. But exposure is worthless unless you can, in the jargon of the Web 2.0 cool-aid drinkers, monetize it.

But I don’t see that it’s there. And I’m not sure that’s the fault of people making a living giving it away. I think if you offered all of us an alternative offline that made 3 times as much money we would all take it.

Anyone else?

I’d have to think very long and hard before I made the decision. As it stands, my comic provides a very comfortable, sustainable income for my fiancee and I, and I get the added benefit of being able to give it away to anybody who wants to look at it. I’m happy with the way my business is growing, and my readers are happy that they get to kill 45 seconds at work every day by looking at my comic.

I guess what I am saying is that in my case, it ain’t broke so I’d be disinclined to fix it.

I hate what Ted is saying, because it’s right. The proprietor of this site loves to trumpet people “making a living from webcomics” but in 90% of cases, they aren’t really making a living from comics per se, they’re making a living from tshirts, an entirely separate and complex business that the existence of their comic enables. Now, I could argue that I’m making a living from comics myself, but if I pursued that point to its natural conclusion, I’d be eating dinners of roughly half the size every night.

The question is, where do you draw the line. Is selling prints “making a living from comics”? What about selling advertising on your site? I would say I make a pretty good living as an artist but it’s a nebulous thing to try and pin down.

I work gentleman’s hours of 9 to 5, not rstevens crazy hours, by the way. He is crazy.

And I’d love to be an old school artist, taking home a fat cheque, drawing a terrible comic (about golf) for an hour a day then playing golf for the rest of the day before getting into my solid gold bed and dreaming about money and golf. But cartooning may now have, in webcomics, its own version of the “long tail” that now exists in publishing and music. It’s easier to subsist on your own terms, but much harder to be a blockbuster in a very crowded field.

Every system of art support and distribution has had it’s failings, and webcomics are no different. In a Webcomics art-as-commerce system, some cartoonists will sink, some will swim, and some will grow to super-stardom. But the vast majority will fail. 90% or more. There is no argument in that.

But let’s not pretend that this wasn’t the case in the past. Let’s not repaint the history of cartooning as though it were some gilded age… until the internet came along. The fact that 90% of cartoonists “failed” was just as true in Cruikshank and Gilray’s day, it was just as true in Herriman and Outcault’s day, it was just as true in Schulz and Walker’s day, and it is just as true in Webcomics.

Any monetary system you can apply to art distribution and support (whether it be Renaisance nobility-sponsorship, modern European state sponsorship, capitalism’s editor-screened publishing, artist self-publishing, or Webcomics) will leave the vast majority of people “unsuccessful”.

Moreover, EVERY system will pass over a percentage of geniuses. And, even worse, EVERY system finds a way to promote half-ass work.

Syndication, I think we can all agree, did that. As does state sponsorship. As does editor-reviewed publishing. Each has it’s failings.

Could a Watterson exist in a Webcomics world of self-promotion and merch? Probably not. Are there geniuses working in Webcomics who would not have made a living in previous art-distribution system? Probably so.

We can’t chose the age we’re born into. All you can do is work your ass off to make the age you’re born into work for you.

Whining about past “gilded ages” holds little water for me. We’d all love to be working in some golden age of Post-War newspaper publishing, before TV really took hold…when newspapers were still king and London’s Daily Mirror was selling 8-9 million copies a day. Guess what? We ain’t living there. And whining ain’t bringing it back.

There are 1/15th as many professional cartoonists now. The 14/15ths who are online, but not being paid, are not professional. You can be unpaid and be a great cartoonist. But you can’t be unpaid and a professional cartoonist. The web is giving the illusion to many cartoonists that they are successful because thousands of people read their work. But exposure is worthless unless you can, in the jargon of the Web 2.0 cool-aid drinkers, monetize it.

No, you are misunderstanding me. I am saying there are at least 15 times as many cartoonists who are making money off of cartooning online as appear in newspapers. Maybe not enough money to be their sole means of support, but money nonetheless. That makes them professionals.

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of online comics that most people who don’t obsess over this stuff have never heard of that quietly rake in donations and merch sales from the same few thousand readers day in, day out. It may not be enough money to suit your needs, but that doesn’t matter. Not everyone needs the same amount of money to make something worth doing for them.

If a college student can make an extra couple of hundred dollars a month for beer and pizza by putting the comic he was going to do anyway online and asking for tips, maybe opening a CafePress shop, why shouldn’t he? Because of some nebulous notion that he’s ruining it for the other cartoonists? How does that affect him? His work was never going to be picked up for print in the first place. He wouldn’t BE a professional cartoonist, even part-time, if he couldn’t put his work up for free. And if he wants to start considering it as a career, there’s nothing stopping him from devising a new comic and trying to get it into print anyway.

I guess we can dream about a world where all cartoonists join hand in hand and sing songs about how none of them will cartoon until their price is met. Man, that would show the world! Where would they get their cartoons then, huh?

The web is giving the illusion to many cartoonists that they are successful because thousands of people read their work.
I’d say they see having that audience as a type of “success” worth achieving in itself. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that attitude. And it’s all too likely to be the only type of success many of them will have, so it’s better they take joy in it rather than see themselves as failures.

The web is giving the illusion to many cartoonists that they are successful because thousands of people read their work.
I’d rather say that they regard having that audience as a worthwhile “success” in its own right. It seems a reasonable attitude to me. And things being as they are it’s likely to be the most success they’ll ever have, so it’s better they take some joy in it than think of themselves as failures.

Sorry for the double-post. :(

I am not really sure I can understand why people are so commando about giving things away, why the idea of paying for content generates a storm of indignation and nerdfury. Like if you don’t put a great big Creative Commons stamp all over everything then you just rootkitted my macbook.

I guess we can dream about a world where all cartoonists join hand in hand and sing songs about how none of them will cartoon until their price is met.

I think what I dream about is an industry/ecosystem where a journeyman cartoonist can make some kind of healthy, sustainable living working reasonable hours , without having to become some kind of IP factory/merchandise production house. Maybe that’s the world we live in already, maybe not.

I dream about an industry/ecosystem where I can make a healthy, sustainable living sleeping ’til noon and then loafing around my house in my pajamas, but the world certainly doesn’t owe that to me.

but the world certainly doesn’t owe that to me.

No, it really doesn’t. It’s kind of wierd though, that (web)cartoonists seem to have to play this game where they are only allowed to charge for what they create in a kind of second-hand, indirect way, isn’t it?

Bad Idea wrote:
If a college student can make an extra couple of hundred dollars a month for beer and pizza by putting the comic he was going to do anyway online and asking for tips, maybe opening a CafePress shop, why shouldn’t he? Because of some nebulous notion that he’s ruining it for the other cartoonists? How does that affect him? His work was never going to be picked up for print in the first place.

Of course, you’re right. Everyone makes individual decisions. Sadly but unchangeably, whoever makes the worst economic decision for himself instantly drags down everyone else to the level of his poor judgment.

It remains a fact, however, that the 20th century print syndication system created a bigger pot for a smaller group of cartoonists, while excluding others. Maybe I’m an elitist, but I think it was better. Webcomics are undeniably more democratic, but it also, perversely (because so many young artists are hardwired libertarians) Soviet. Hey, we’re all poor. But we’re all poor together!

It’s like college admissions. In Europe, college is free, subsidized by the government, because fewer people are allowed to attend in the first place. Here, every moron can and does get in. But a college degree is worthless–because every moron has one.

But a college degree is worthless–because every moron has one.

That’s got to be the most idiotically sweeping statement I’ve ever heard — and I’m a webcomics pseduo-journalist.

Maybe your college degree is worthless, but mine (electrical engineering, with minors in political economy and national security issues, plus graduate studies in engineering and history) took a hell of a lot of hard work, and have provided for me very nicely, thank you.

If you don’t want your work to be seen as valueless, then don’t tell people it lacks value.

My impression of Euro-college kids is that they’re all lazier because they aren’t paying for their education. Maybe I’ve only met the wealthy ones.

I feel like a special wizard standing between worlds here- I do double duty because I hope to eventually make trillions on print stuff… but I subsidize this dream by giving away free webcomics and mailing out t-shirts.

Everybody wins! Nobody loses. Until the dollar crashes.

Wow. I just wandered over here randomly, and I have to say, I think Ted
Rall’s dream sounds dandy, but awfully unrealistic. Erik Millikan – do
you have numbers to back up your assertions about 50K? According to a
quick websearch, wikipedia says the middle quintile income range is 34K
– 55K — for households. The median number of income earners for the top
two quintiles is 2. Data is apparently from the 2004 Census.

I don’t draw comics, but I work in theater (amateur – I’m sure Ted would
sneer. I’m starving Equity actors!), and I know actors, painters,
writers, and musicians. My impression is that under any circumstances,
only a tiny fraction of artists of any kind make a living solely on
their chosen art. If they’re very lucky, their day job bears some dim
relationship to their chosen medium. In many cases, what money they make
is from tie-ins. I don’t know the numbers, but I suspect Schultz got
rich on Dolly Madison ads, TV, and plush toys, not his check from the
syndication.

Who are the other wealthy cartoonists? Scott Adams, Mort (or Greg)
Walker, Cathy Guisewite, Lynn Johnston? Out of ideas, the lot of them.
Apparently Johnston just challenged up-and-coming cartoonists to
“knock her from the page.” Good luck to them. It’s a lottery, and
not because of free webcomics.

Thanks to all of the professional cartoonists for free stuff on the web.
I buy more comic books in a year now than I did from age 10 – 40 all
together. I was in the Clango Club for a brief moment, and since I make
(slightly) more than 50K I occasionally contribute to other
webcartoonists. I never think of it as charity, or a handout. I’m paying
them for their time to entertain me, which makes them professionals as
far as I’m concerned.

Oh and Ted, I liked a handful of your cartoons that I saw, so I bought
one of your books. Remaindered. I didn’t care for it very much. Sorry.
But let me quote from another of my favorite cartoonists, Joey Sayers:
“Never give up on your stupid, stupid dreams.”

It’s kind of wierd though, that (web)cartoonists seem to have to play this game where they are only allowed to charge for what they create in a kind of second-hand, indirect way, isn’t it?

I wouldn’t say that (web)cartoonists aren’t “allowed” to charge for their work. They’re allowed to do whatever they like. If you want to charge your audience $10,000 per comic, you are free to do so. (And in the panel discussion at STAPLE!, I believe I cited just this strategy as the best way to make a living from comics.) But when nobody buys your $10,000 comics, that’s not the oppressive hand of the Man holding you down — it’s just people, ordinary people like me, who like reading comics for free.

I think in a Rallian world where cartoonists demand to be subsidized for sharing their precious, life-giving art with the grubby masses, you’ll find that people just won’t read comics. I don’t read webcomics primarily because I love the artform, I read them because they’re free, and this FUELS a love for the artform.

And I think Chris, above, is dead right.

I never liked the opinion from people that went “Oh, he’s not making money from his comics, he’s making money from t-shirts!”– ERNNT!– that sounds like he’s the guy in the mall with a cheapo heat press ready to put a WOLF and the MOON print on a shirt for your father in law. UGH. Merchandise from webcartoonists is their work, printed on different materials that they are selling. People are buying it because it’s their work, and it’s supporting them. And WOW, there’s no corporation or agent taking a cut. I don’t think it matters if R Stevens or anyone else were making brown paper bags, they could sell me.

Hell, I sold FAKE BRICKS! But I wasn’t a fake brick salesman, people bought them because it was a joke/theme from my comic. Sure, like Ted says, you do have to learn to be a it of a business man, but it’s not hard when you have an audience there who are willing to buy things.

Again, speaking from the comic book industry side of things, which is just about as worse off as the syndication side o’ things– I saw it akin to a boat that was sinking, and people were trying to patch it, and nobody wanted to make waves. On that boat, a lot was taken care of for you, which was awesome because you could sit on that boat and just focus on drawing comics all day– suddenly you find yourself on an island with a community that has been thriving without living on the boat all those years. I mean– cruises can be awesome, but all cruises end… (and now you get the shits on cruises I hear-)

I see in comic books, indy publishers showing up and asking questions about “webcomics” now. They think that just by trying out plopping their old print comics online that counts as “Well, we TRIED WEBCOMICS and it didn’t work for us.” — No, they didn’t. That’s not webcomics. And neither is just taking a comic strip and slapping it on a website. It is a lot more to think about, community– one-on-one with your readers…

We’re all poor together? Soviet? Nah. I know a lot of webcartoonists making nice side income, and I know a few who don’t have day jobs and get to do what they love. I know some guys making a “living” but it’s because they don’t live in some crazy expensive city. Use me for an example if you like— before working on the web, my wife and I were renters, holding down two jobs to make ends meet…. after figuring out a formula for doing things, here we are ten years later in me trucking along– we own two pieces of property with two houses, one we own outright and rent now, and the other we’re paying a fixed mortgage on (WHEW! dodged that bullet!) — and my wife doesn’t HAVE to work anymore. She can spend time with my 3 growing boys.

Maybe I’m extremely LUCKY. I sure feel that way every fucking day, because I know guys who thought they had it MADE IN THE SHADE working in factories or big corporate jobs– and now they’re out of work, and I’m still trucking along. It’s not a “we’re all poor together!” thing… it’s a wide wide net here, and I think there is pleny of opportunity for smart cartoonists out there.

You’d better know how to wipe your own ass first though. Dependency on too many others is a death nail in ANY industry. That includes the internet… what happens when cyber terrorists take down the net or something? You should still know how to make your own books and mini comics then!

I’m boggled by Eric Millikan’s claim that 50k is “less than an average income”. According to US Census Dep’t statistics, the median income for individuals over the age of 18 is about 25k. If you limit it to age 25 and above it pops up to 32k.

Only the top 20% of households in the US have incomes over 88k. (And that’s household income, which at that level typically includes two earners.)

An individual earning in the 35-55k range is in the middle quintile — the middle of the middle class.

that’s not the oppressive hand of the Man holding you down

Oh.
That’s kind of how I sound, isn’t it? *sigh*
Recently there were a bunch of conversations on various internets about a popular podcast switching from being free to a subscription model. There seemed to be a not-insignificant percentage of those conversations that regarded it as a breach of some kind of Law of the Universe, that they had the right to free content.
Chris Above is right, maybe a little mean at the end there? To take the theatre as an example, though, wouldn’t it be weird if you didn’t pay for a ticket to the show, but maybe bought a tshirt or signed poster on your way out?
I guess it’s more like a busking model, you set up on the footpath and maybe sell a few CDs from your guitar-case. It works for a lot of people, and makes for a nice lifestyle for a while?

Sadly but unchangeably, whoever makes the worst economic decision for himself instantly drags down everyone else to the level of his poor judgment.

It certainly hasn’t been the “worst economic decision” for me. You’re confusing “poor economic decisions” with “economic decisions you disapprove of.”

It remains a fact, however, that the 20th century print syndication system created a bigger pot for a smaller group of cartoonists, while excluding others. Maybe I’m an elitist, but I think it was better. Webcomics are undeniably more democratic, but it also, perversely (because so many young artists are hardwired libertarians) Soviet. Hey, we’re all poor. But we’re all poor together!

Define “all.” I can think of probably twenty people making a comfortable living off of their comics and the subsidiary commerce thereof, and I wouldn’t call them “poor.” I’m certainly not in that tax bracket, and I’m hardly the biggest game in town.

It’s like college admissions. In Europe, college is free, subsidized by the government, because fewer people are allowed to attend in the first place. Here, every moron can and does get in. But a college degree is worthless–because every moron has one.

I fail to see how this applies to webcomics. Also seconding Gary’s calling-out of your ridiculous, hyperbolic generalization.

Also, for shits and giggles, here are some results from the 2000 census:

The Census data, based on estimates from the long form sent to one in six households, showed that among people 25 and older:

21% of Americans had taken some college courses but had not earned a degree in 2000, compared with 18.7% 10 years earlier.
15.5% had earned a bachelor’s degree but no higher, compared with 13.1% in 1990.
8.9% earned graduate or professional degrees, compared with 7.2% earlier

If I’m reading the statistics right, that means less than 1/4 of the population surveyed had any kind of college degree. 1/4 of America may be a lot of people, but it’s hardly “everyone.”

(sigh) Is it really necessary to devolve in pedantry? Of course not “all” webcartoonists are poor. Of course not every American has a college degree.

But you knew that. The reason you pretended not to get the hyperbole (a basic feature of, ahem, cartoons) is because you wanted to dodge the point.

To recap:

1. The free model, though probably not sustainable in the long run, is here for the time being. I can’t change it.

2. It is nice when people can use their art as a loss-leader and develop merchandise to sell them. But it is not possible for most people.

3. Economic success for webcartoonists has been defined down. Eric Millikin is right when he calls $50K a lame income. Even in, say, Portland, it’s tough to live on that–especially if you’re, say, over 35 and have a car payment. God help you if you have student loans.

4. The print-dominated “dream” I describe isn’t utopia. It’s history: the very recent past. By definition, anything that ever was can be again.

I’m boggled by Eric Millikan’s claim that 50k is “less than an average income”. According to US Census Dep’t statistics, the median income …

OK, sorry for totally boggling your mind, dude, but:

It’s Millikin, not Millikan.

There’s a difference between average and median.

Median is like when you list a bunch of things and then take the one listed in the middle. Average is when you add up a bunch of things and divide by the total number of things. Here’s a totally sweet lesson plan for grades three through four which might help. And when I say “totally sweet,” I mean that literally; it’s all about COCOA IMPACT CRATERS!

If third grade math is too mind-boggling, I’m not sure I can help you.

How are the salaries of newspaper cartoonists of any era even relevant? Most webcomics could never be published in a newspaper in the first place, be it because of their size, form, art, obscure topic, “offensive” subject matter or quality.
The reason people publish online is because it is the most profitable avenue available to them and their work, period. The choice probably wasn’t between the web and print… it was between the web and nothing.

To blame these people and their free comics for destroying the 20th century print syndication system’s “bigger pot for a smaller group” is asinine. Even if it’s true — and I’m highly skeptical that it is — so what? What should those artists have done instead? Ignore the web and continue making no money from their comics at all? Give up their (hypothetical) $50,000-a-year income as an online cartoonist so that someone else can keep making their (hypothetical) $500,000 a year in print?

It sucks that print doesn’t pay what it used to. But no artist has to feel bad for picking the most profitable publishing route available to them, personally. If someone is able to make a modest income, or even HALF of a modest income, publishing a free-to-read webcomic about, I don’t know, their model train set hobby… then good for them! Because that’s a heck of a lot more money than the zero dollars they would have made trying to do that comic through the newspaper syndicates.

Meanwhile, just like in print, a handful of online artists do become superstars, and a handful do pull in big salaries. Maybe they’re not the SAME cartoonists that would have succeeded in print, but they are still success stories… and a reminder that the abundance of “competition” from small, free-to-read comics does not somehow drag everyone down and inhibit everyone from being successful.

[…] Tyrrell has a lengthy post on the panel Webcomics: A Primer, which includes lots of nuts-and-bolts discussion among creators […]

I apologize for the meanness of my last paragraph in my post above (though I still like Joey’s phrase – it’s become something of a mantra for my own endeavors, though I haven’t bought the t-shirt yet). And Millikin, sorry for spelling your name wrong.

Please elaborate on your math lesson. What I learned while getting my BA in math is that “average” is a hopelessly indeterminate word – if you mean ‘mean’, median’, or ‘mode’, then that’s what you should say. At least I specified median.

I still want to see figures, if you’re really claiming that 500 K is closer than 50 K for any of the above measures for anyone who can realistically be called a professional artist.

I’m not trying to flame or troll. Actor’s Equity is, I think, an interesting parallel to what Ted is talking about. It’s a guild intended to make sure that talented people get paid a decent wage to do professional work. A tiny tiny handful get rich. But the reality is still that some of those rich are hacks, some people get paid way past the time they’re any good just because their name is recognized, and by far most Equity actors still need day jobs.

Hi Chris. Mean is the same as average. From the delicious cocoa craters third grade lesson plan: “Mean – sum of all of the measurements divided by the number of trials, also called average.”

As far as figures that support my mind-boggling assertion that $50,000 is “less than an average income” and “almost making average money,” I had some in a previous response but Gary’s site choked on them for some reason. Here they are again, wish me luck:

NY Times: “… the average income in 2005 was $55,238, still nearly 1 percent less than the $55,714 in 2000 …”

USA TodayA: “From 2001 to 2004, average family income fell 2.3%, to an inflation-adjusted $70,700 from $72,400 …”

Ted I got your hyperbole. I just fail to see how your (incorrect) generalization about college degrees applies to webcomics. I was not being pedantic, I was demonstrating the inherent fallacy of the generalization.

And I have yet to see any evidence that the free model will not be “sustainable in the long run.” You could be right of course, I do not claim the be Nostradamus, but you haven’t actually said anything that backs up your statement beyond “well, this is what I think.”

Either way, I suspect only hindsight will tell us whether your prediction is correct. People have been saying the free model won’t work ever since people started giving comics away on the internet, and in the ~8 years I’ve been reading webcomics (let alone the four+ years I’ve been doing them full-time) I have yet to see anything that makes me think they might be right.

[…] has coverage of the Webcomics: A Primer panel which included Dean Haspiel, Raina Telgemeier, Rich Stevens and […]

I suspect only hindsight will tell us whether your prediction is correct. People have been saying the free model won’t work ever since people started giving comics away on the internet, and in the ~8 years I’ve been reading webcomics (let alone the four+ years I’ve been doing them full-time) I have yet to see anything that makes me think they might be right.

J. Jacques: No doubt, we’ll wait and see. However, I’ve got one big thing working for me: past performance. As you say, webcomics have been a big deal for nearly a decade. Yet only a handful (3? 4?) creators make a full-time salary doing them. Moreover, those salaries are by any objective standard very, very low.

Personally, I love webcomics. Many are just fantastic, better than what’s available in print. But trust me on this–unless someone figures out how not just to subsist but to get rich doing them, the funniest webcartoonists are going to find something more productive to do with their time.

Sitting around talking all Reagan-y about bucking up and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps ain’t gonna cut it.

Ted, I’m really not sure what you’re proposing! Besides the quote in the initial article (“If I were in charge of the world … I would force everything offline”) I don’t understand what you’re asking us to do. And if you’re just griping, with no proposal — well, I think your point is by now well noted.

I’d also question those 3-5 people making a living from comics on the Web. Right off the top of my head I can think of at least 10 or 20. (Sure, few of them have mansions, but more on that in a sec.) For example the Foglios, whose books — in print! — were faltering before they took their work to the Web. Would you have them just say “Whoops, can’t hack it in print, time to go home”?

And let’s say there IS some finite amount of money in comics that is now being distributed more thinly across all cartoonists. (Putting aside the example of, say, xkcd fans who probably were not contributing huge sums to the overall cartoonist money-pool three years ago the way they are now.) I really, really can’t see the valid argument behind hoping that less people make more money. I thought you were a lefty!

If the valid argument is just sour-grapesy “Well, I USED to be able to pay the mortage,” that’s fine, but dude, so did buggy-whip manufacturers, and after a point their constant complaining got hard to hear over the roar of the motorway.

Yeah Ted I am baffled at your 3-4 people argument, like Malki. This may simply be an issue where you have different information than I do, but as far as I know there are at LEAST 25-30 people making “full-time” wages off of their comic, and many (half? three quarters?) of them are quite respectable incomes, not just-barely-paying-the-bills.

This is maybe not the kind of discussion for a public place though, since we’re rapidly going from GeneralizationLand to HowMuchMoneyPersonXMakesLand.

Here is the elephant in the room we need to acknowledge in this discussion: Ted, and other immensely talented and hard-working cartoonists like him, have worked their entire adult lives to succeed within a particular business model. When they were starting out, they surveyed the field they hoped to enter, they adjusted their efforts to match what was needed…and with years and years of hard work, they found success (…in editor-reviewed print comics that were paid for by advertising and reader subscriptions/fees). And now, just as they find the comforts of their hard work finding fruition in mid to late career… a huge cultural, technological, and business paradigm-shift has made that income model increasingly unreliable. It’s like training all your life for an Olympic sport, only to find that the Olympic committee decided to cancel that event. Of course there’s going to be sour grapes: If I spent the next thirty years building an entire career in Webcomics only to find, in 2038, that Brainbeam Holo-Comicsâ„¢ ruined my business model, I’d be pissed, too.

Eric Millikin, there’s a reason economists generally use median instead of arithmetic mean to talk about income groups. A relatively small group at the high end has incomes orders of magnitude greater than the typical person, and that distorts the figures. As that NY Times article you linked to points out, “The growth in total incomes was concentrated among those making more than $1 million.”

According to Census data, 55% of Americans make $50k/year or less.

Ted, I lived quite comfortably (and paid off my student loans) on a little less than $50k/year, living in New York City. I guess not having a car saves a big chunk.

If I remember correctly, my early-1990s reading about making it as a professional illustrator said that one could expect to make about $50k/year. (Obviously, big star illustrators would make more, and many would make less.)

Anyway, Ted, someone have figured out how to get rich off webcomics — the guys who do Penny Arcade. They’re the big superstars of the field, the Charles Schulz-level success story.

But not every newspaper cartoonist was Charles Schulz, right? Nor was every magazine cartoonist Charles Addams. How many cartoonists hit the jackpot in the print world, as opposed to just puttering along making enough to get by?

Avram, you’re quite right. Not every newspaper cartoonist made millions and millions. But many–hundreds of them at a time–made very comfortable livings. I don’t see how the current online model offers any possibility of that happening again.

BTW, I am not really pissed about the new paradigm. That would be as dumb as getting pissed at the weather. It’s uncontrollable. I’m just annoyed at people saying it’s sunny when it’s actually pouring rain.

…but *that’s* what we’re saying, Ted. For some of us who are adapting well, it’s very, very sunny. Ask my Los Angeles mortgage payments how sunny: Webcomics are making me a great income.

According to Census data, 55% of Americans make $50k/year or less.

OK, so hopefully now everyone can understand that $50,000 is an unexceptional income. It’s less than average, 45% of Americans make more than that, etc.

someone have figured out how to get rich off webcomics — the guys who do Penny Arcade. They’re the big superstars of the field, the Charles Schulz-level success story.

This looks like more dumbed-down expectations. Charles Schulz was often in Forbes as one of the highest paid celebrities. He continues to be one of the highest paid dead celebrities. He’s like Elvis level. As far as I know, we have nobody in webcomics that is at that level of income — around $32 million a year. Penny Arcade’s income, on the other hand, is described as “enough to live on at least.”

What Ted is saying here — that the economic opportunities for cartoonists today are worse than in the past — ought to be completely uncontroversial. Unfortunately there seems to be so much denial about this (here, anyway) that the conversation can’t even move anywhere. If this basic fact can’t be understood, then you can’t move on to examining the sources of the problem, the severity of the problem relative to other benefits, the possible solutions to the problem, etc.

There are, what 120? 130 full-time editorial cartoonists working in America? And 200-250 full-time syndicated strip/panel cartoonists? Let’s be generous and say 500, total.

Now, let’s ignore all the men and women who (I personally know) have to maintain a second job, despite their syndication contract. Let’s say there are 500 working, full-time editorial and strip cartoonists in America today.

Can Webcomics replace those jobs? My thought is that yes, in time it can….*but only for the strip folks*.

And this is where Ted is right: not every type of cartoon can be monetized on the Web. My personal feeling is that the editorial folks are really, really boned in this paradigm shift.

I have yet to see someone monetize editorial stuff online in a way that even approaches their old on-staff or syndicated salaries.

So it’s not helpful to tell an editorial cartoonist that you have to adapt and monetize your work online… their genre of cartooning is damn near impossible to monetize on the Web.

That’s not without historical precedent in cartooning….that an entire genre of cartooning be destroyed by the advent of a new technology. With the advent of the photograph, literally THOUSANDS of workaday American illustrators could no longer find an income, all within the span of ten years. Once the price to take, develop and reprint a photograph dropped to a certain point, people who had worked in newspapers, advertising, catalogs, and magazines…all found their jobs made irrelevant in a technology paradigm shift.

My gut reaction is that a similar thing will happen to editorial cartooning. It will continue, but in a far diminished cultural presence. The economics of getting readers to pay to read editorial cartoons just isn’t there. (Yet, anyway.)

And maybe that’s what Ted’s referring to: It’s definitely raining for editorial cartoonists, so hearing how sunny it is for web strips doesn’t help much.

Good point, Dave. Ted is (I think) mostly coming from the world of editorial comics, and from what I’ve been reading, editorial cartoonists have been getting squeezed pretty hard.

Eric, I never disputed that $50k was an unexceptional income. In my first post in this thread, I described it as part of a range in “the middle of the middle class”.

As far as the economic opportunities for cartoonists now, compared to decades ago — I think that’s actually a very complicated question. You need to take into account that there are several kinds of cartoonists, and that for some people cartooning is just part of a broader artistic career. You need to ask if the economic health of a field is best described by looking at its top earners or the broad middle.

You also need to consider the general culture. Modern Americans change careers far more often than the Americans of several decades past. While a cartoonist of the 1950s might get a syndicated slot and churn out a daily strip for the rest of his life, a modern cartoonist might do a webcomic for a few years while in college, then use that experience to snag a job at an animation studio while working on a graphic novel in his off hours, and then leave animation for freelance illustration, or computer game character design.

Dave, your empathy is making my snarkiness look petty.

Eric, I never disputed that $50k was an unexceptional income.

Awesome, Avram. Hopefully whoever it was that was holding $50,000 up as an example of success and/or had their mind blown by my assertion that $50,000 was less than the average income has now joined us in economic reality.

I’m empathetic because I’ve had the same discussion with dozens of cartoonists at the Reubens or at an NCS meeting…so I’ve learned that the slow, dawning realization is a painful one.

Their initial reactions are all predictably the same. You hear them say:

1.) “There’s no way to make a living around comics online.” Then you begin to show them your bank statements, and eventually they concede that point.

2.) Then they say “But there can’t be more than five of you doing it.” Then you start to list out the dozens of Webcomics doing it, including Penny-Arcade, xkcd, PvP, Questionable Content, Schlock Mercenary, Sheldon, and dozens more…and they concede that point.

3.) Then they say “But *I* don’t want to have to adjust my business model to do it that way. I just wanna do comics and get paid for it.” And that’s the rub, really. They don’t want to change. And hell, we can all respect that. If I had worked for decades to build a career around a certain business model…I wouldn’t want to change, either.

Dave, “dozens of Webcomics doing it” (whatever “it” is) isn’t even close to the same as a comic industry employing thousands of people, with the top earner making over thirty million a year. Someone who points this reality out to you isn’t just some old fossil who can’t handle change shaking his fist and telling us to get off his lawn and turn down the rock and roll or whatever.

You, me, and several other people are doing really well in our new economy, but that doesn’t change the fact that this economy is really bad for a lot of other people. While I appreciate the enthusiasm and positive outlook behind your “We did it, so can all of you!” attitude, I think the reality is that our current economic system does not support this.

On a related note, this week I helped a homeless man buy lunch. It used to be I knew almost every homeless person in my stomping grounds by name, but there are so many new ones that I can’t keep track anymore. This guy told me that he’s been homeless now for a little under two months after he lost his job. His wife had to move back in with her mother, and so now he hardly sees his wife anymore. If I’d suggested that he could solve all his problems by getting with the times and embracing the new economic future that webcomics represent, he probably would have punched me in the face.

Our economic system is horrible.

No argument there. We’re in for tough times in the next 6-24 months.

But that has little, if anything, to do with basic point here: That there’s a massive cultural switch of people preferring to read things immediately online vs. reading them a day later in newsprint…and the resulting business failure of the latter when that happens.

Let me state that better, Eric, so that we can stay on topic:

– The current state of the general economy is terrible…but is largely due to macroeconomic forces in state, federal, investment, and corporate policies.

– The current state of the newspaper comics industry can largely be traced to one microeconomic decision: The individual decision by the consumer to no longer take a paper.

You can rail about the sucky state of the first one all you want, but the truth is the second one would’ve happened even in a healthy economy. Thus, Rich’s original point: We need to adapt. Regardless of how fair or unfair it may seem.

…Because the bottom line is readers have forced that adaptation on us. They no longer want a paper.

I also am not terribly surprised that a business model barely a decade old does not employ thousands of people, with the top earner making over thirty million a year. I’ll bet most of the let’s-say-25 people earning full-time incomes from comics on the Web weren’t doing so five years ago. I’ll further bet that in five years there will be more doing so, and the top earners will be making more than they make today. I don’t think this is reason for alarm.

I will agree, however, that editorial cartoonists have a tougher row to hoe than most. But look at the JibJab guys, or David Rees whose non-traditional, magazine-and-alt-weekly print success has probably very little to do with the economic fortunes of newspapers. There will be new markets for different forms of political editorial content in the future because there will be new markets for different forms of everything in the future.

Eric, I can conclude only that you have some special, personal definitions for the words “success” and “unexceptional” with which I am unfamiliar.

Interestingly, the big-shot Web 2.0 bigwigs I’ve talked to think that editorial cartoons have a brighter future online than apolitical comics. They point to the tendency of political stuff to go viral, especially when it responds quickly to breaking news. Certainly it’s easy to imagine a political comic (static or animated) making the rounds to millions of phones or Blackberries or whatever about a topic that everyone’s talking about.

Print editors and publishers are hurting editorial cartoonists more than the web ever could.

My overall point is a much broader one: Most cartoonists, political and otherwise, can’t come up with a second line of business to support their cartoon habit. So that model doesn’t work.

That leaves ad-supported websites. But the rates are so low–and deservedly so, since the value of an online reader to an advertiser is so much less than that of a print reader.

Consider the New York Times. NYTimes.com is, by all accounts, one of the most successful examples of a paper transitioning to online. Indeed, it has 13 times more readers than the print edition! But here’s the trouble: overall revenues are 13 times less. In other words, a NYTimes.com reader is worth 1/169th as much as a New York Times reader to the Times Company.

OK, you say, they’ve gotta adapt. If they can replace every NYT reader with 169 (or, better yet, 170) NYT.com readers, then they’ll be fine.

Maybe they can replace 10,000 NYT readers with 1.7 million NYT.com readers. But can they replace 100,000 with 17 million? The paper’s circulation is 1.1 million. Will 187 million people read NYT.com? Probably not.

Like Mulder, I want to believe. Damn, we’re all webcartoonists now! Very few print cartoonists don’t have their own websites. But the numbers don’t make sense, at least for those of us who would like to see a lot of cartoonists be able to generate a living wage.

P.S. When Dave says he’s making beaucoup bucks, I wanna know: how much? As Eric says, I’m sure it falls somewhere short of seven, much less eight, figures.

Just a random thought I had about the prices of things lately– I was thinking about the price of comic books. 3.99, some almost 5 dollars, when not too long ago they were under a dollar, and not long before that, a dime! And for 64 pages! These are the days I think Ted refers to when many cartoonists were bringing in a decent living, especially some editorial cartoonists. I know the price of printing has gone way up, but I always felt like the cover prices of comic books were always a bit artificially inflated– i mean, a book that costs 30 cents to print, costs almost 4 bucks to own. Huh?

Anyways, on the same line of that thought I wonder if people, with the internet age here, aren’t deciding what’s REALLY worth their money anymore. What’s worth what… as if, if newspapers only still cost a nickle, or comics a dime, I wonder if there wouldn’t be MILLIONS more readers. Stuff just got too damn expensive somewhere along the line, and with the internet it’s beginning to seem like a MYTH that has collapsed. — That myth of price was everywhere though, from cassette tapes to CDs…. CDS cost like a 9 cents to make– they sell for 20. And the artists were always LAST to get their measily 5 cent cut, if anything. Maybe the internet has finally killed Facism or something?

Ted– Just out of curiosity here, how much money are you thinking is a livable wage for cartoonists, if 50k would be considered non-successful? Like, if in a perfect world there was a way for a GOOD cartoonist to come online and use a cookie cutter method to make a salary per year drawing a daily comic strip– what would that be to be a comfortable living?

Also, I’m not sure where you live, but I have many friends in large cities paying outrageous amounts for rent, etc.. with no REAL benefit of working and living in a big city as cartoonists with the way the web works now.

Take Hugh McLeod for example, http://www.gapingvoid.com – he’s in marketing and draws cartoons on the backs of business cards. He was living in New York, London– and now he’s moved to Alpine Texas, where he has everything he needs and he does his work from there. I have no idea how much money he makes, but he’s extremely happy.

I suspect, D.J., that we’re on the same page existentially. If I made $30K a year (significantly less than I do now) drawing cartoons, I would be very, very happy. After all, I’d be drawing comics and getting paid. I dreamed of that for years! Most cartoonists never get that.

In a broader, economic sense, however, it is relevant to compare the overall scale of what cartoonists earned a few decades to what they earn today to what they seem likely to earn in the future. That’s where I worry, not especially for myself–I’m getting older, and can see retiring before the economics get too hard, and I personally have others pots on the fire that should ease the transitional pain–but for the profession overall.

To answer your question, editorial cartoonists at midsize newspapers can currently command at least $100K. Many earn substantially–several times–more than that. $50K would be on the very low end of editorial cartooning–and editorial cartooning is in crisis. Comic strip artists do better…much, much better.

Eric is exactly right: First, we all have to understand that the future is very, very scary for all cartoonists, including webcartoonists who have adapted to the new paradigm. If we all get on that page together, we can put our heads together and start to figure out some ways to save ourselves.

If, on the other hand, we all look at the few artists who have won the Toon Lotto as role models to emulate…well, we’re probably fucked.

By the way, I drew a comic about this topic for tomorrow:

http://www.rall.com/rants.html

Ted, to answer your question: I told you in the above posting how much I made this year…just shy of six figures. That’s in my fist full-time year with “Sheldon”, and with 15-25,000 daily readers.

Now I’ll ask you in turn: How many guys can you name, syndicated on their first strip after 2001, who don’t have a second job? Can you name one? Even one?

You’re playing a sophist’s trick trying to compare my 1-year career with Mort Walker’s 40+ year career.

Here are numbers to chew on: Based on my first quarter numbers for 2008, I’ll be breaking six figures this year. If my readership continues to grow 2-5% every month (via RSS, the site, and via e-mail signups), how many years will it take me to crack seven figures? Eight figures? Gosh, about the same amount of time it used to take a syndicated cartoonist to crack those same amounts.

Gosh, imagine that! It takes years of work to get to eight figures! Whodathunk!

Oh, and Ted, because I can already hear you wondering how to crack six figures with only 15-25,000 daily readers, let me give you a hint from my business chapters in “How To Make Webcomics” (Image Comics, 2008; Guigar, Kellett, Kurtz, Straub):

*High-margin items….e.g., our artwork.*

Not all of us have opted to become low-margin t-shirt salesmen.

You don’t know need to sell many daily comic strips at $100 to $155 a pop via the site…
http://sheldoncomics.com/store/item/originalart.html?strip=080323

Or at $560 a pop via eBay…
http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=290213638931

Or at $400 a pop via galleries…
http://www.storyopolis.com/kellett.html

…to make a damn good income. Throw in a wheel-barrow full of book sales, and a few big-earning conventions every year, and Ted, even you could be making a living online.

Very funny strip, Ted. Though after reading it I thought I should pipe in with my two cents, as I’m a full-time webcomic creator that generates most of my income not from T-Shirts, but from advertising revenue.

Webcomics I produce have generated over $80,000 alone from ad-supported ebook downloads on WOWIO.com in the past eight months. It’s anyone’s guess how long WOWIO will last as a business, but at the moment, their payouts are very real.

Additionally, my webcomic sites have made over $20,000 in ad revenue since December 2007 from ADSDAQ, and I’m seeing similar results from other ad networks like Gorilla Nation.

Full-time webcomic creators who thrive on T-Shirts and other merchandise sales may be prominent, but ad-supported full-timers exist, too. And our ranks seem to be growing as the outlets that supply advertising to indy sites grow and improve.

(For those wondering, the revenue numbers quoted above are unrelated to the company Keenspot, which I bought 100% ownership of recently.)

(That said, I am working to increase our T-Shirt output and merch sales. Once we’ve got that going in addition to sweet, sweet ad revenue, we’ll really be doing gangbusters.)

Just another anecdotal point for the income discussion: I edit comics and earn $50K per year (but would have expected $60-80K had I taken a similar editorial job elsewhere). I live in an expensive city, and I own a car and pay a mortgage and keep the cat fed. Since I suspect my raise this year won’t be to 6 figures, I’m thinking I need to ditch this sorry gig and become an artist instead. Editors, we get no respect anyway….

Unfortunate Editor: You speak the truth! And my apologies if my gauche mentioning of income came off as rude.

Unfortunately, whenever I have this discussion about Webcomics, the conversation always comes down to “Oh yeah, well how much do *you* make??” Which, in the American Puritan tradition, is the rudest possible thing to expound upon. (For the French, your personal religious beliefs are the rudest possible public topic. For Americans, it’s your personal income level.)

So on that note, I’ll just wish Ted well in the years ahead, head back to work, and duck out of this conversation permanently.

Eek, eek.

[…] Editorial cartoonist and United Media’s Acquisition and Development Editor Ted Rall, Rich Stevens, creator of online and print comic Diesel Sweeties, along with web cartoonist Dean Haspiel, Raina Telgemeier, Collen Venable were at a recent event to discuss the impact and viability of webcomics in the cartooning industry. […]

[…] our discussion of webcomics and the economics of free is winding down, but it’s just heating up over at The Daily Cartoonist. My favorite part is […]

Wow, if I get to 1k views a day with a strip I’ll be pumped and obviously will still have to remain working at my nightslave job stocking groceries, which atm pays less then 20k canadian per year.

Hey Ted- Love the NY Times analogy, but it’s totally reversed when you compare a typical print reader to a typical webomics reader.

Chris Crosby isn’t bullshitting on these ad numbers, BTW. I’ve been trying to learn from him in this regard and am finally seeing some results. (tho nowhere near his yet)

How in the world can so many assumptions be made about an industry that’s roughly a decade old?

And is it right that we only compare online content with print? I know for a fact from working in television that there is a TON of money in it, much of it wasted and horribly distributed for TV content. I was on Viacom’s comprehensive health plan for a year on a show that never even aired. Imagine how many cartoonists could make their life’s work on that kind of money! The money TV networks use to furnish an unaired show’s wrap-up party.

Things are changing and advertisers are reluctant to put their money elsewhere, but they will. The money exists, and it will go where today’s youth are. (Incidentally, MTV is miserably behind in the times, and they know it. Especially since they lost the MySpace bid.) Kids born in the 90s don’t think of the internet as a novelty or a catalyst for change like us old-timers do. (I’m including myself in that, and I’m 23.) The internet is second nature for them.

I think there there are two worlds here. One where people are living an a fish bowl and think that 50K is not a lot by any standard (and yes I did get the analogy of how much the regular syndicated person did and does make), and another one where you’re outside looking where money is the goal to make a living to do what you love, and how much based on living expenses, what your parents made, etc where even the “low” amount of 50K is more than great it’s extra where you can do what you love and have bills paid even if it is rent and not mortage..

I’m also not talking about some low income state. Both my parents were (I say “were” because they are now retired) teachers in Orange County California which is not a cheap place to live, own a home are not working because their retirement is good based on what they made. This is what I grew up as a standard of living. So I can’t fathom how 50K grand (plus a bit because they had a masters degreee and that helps out in teaching) is some sort of small amount. It was enough for me have grown up in a home where two parents worked and had enough to pay bills, buy computers and not other extra in life.

I’ll even concede that 50K isn’t what it used to be, but it’s more than enough to live comfortably keep bills paid and enjoy a family life. I know because that’s the kind of income I grew up with.

Right now If I could make 50K it would be a very comfortable living.

My point though was two worlds. The one in a fishbowl where you don’t really see out, and the one where you can ONLY see in. I”m sure there’s tinting from either perspective, but I think it needs to be mentioned that we are talking about two different worlds here as it almost seems that the discussion is talking about one.

If you’re on the outside, you don’t mind making consesions in lower income to just get in and enjoy something more what you do 8-5 PM. There’s also the factor where that 50K is more than what you are making now (and that’s with my BA in one field and AA in another field)

I can’t speak of IN the fish bowl as i myself am on the outside peering in.

Didn’t mean to make this sound as direct as is probably does but, I thought these were posts worthy of note…

If I was only looking to make money from my webcomic, I probably would have dumped it after strip number 25.

The cool thing (and difficult thing) about webcomics, is that there is NO ONE to blame for your comic’s demise but YOU. On the flip side your comics success is all you as well.

Another great thing about webcomics is that there is no restrictions on your character’s dialog. It’s not like YES I can finally start swearing in my comic, it’s more like, YES I can finally use REALISTIC sounding dialog. The editorial rules on dialog (and subject matter) for the comic pages in newspapers have not changed with the times and I think it is partly responsible for decline in readership.

Would I love to have a syndication deal? Damn straight I would. But, I would probably try to build a strong web presence for the comic, too.

[…] of this writing, the great print/webcomics meeting of the minds is now up to 80 comments here at Fleen, followed by 175 at TDC, meaning that just keeping up with progress on the issue has […]

[…] after we were done talking about Project Wonderful business, Ryan and I got to talking about the Fleen thread that exploded about the business of comics. (Ryan linked to it […]

[…] was the print vs. web discussion that raged through the comment strings of both Fleen and The Daily Cartoonist! After the back and forth on the threads seemed to be at a standstill, […]

[…] It seems that Greg Carter was following The Great Web/Print Comics Convocation of Aught-Eight and wondered, “But does this conversation apply to people not doing […]

[…] after we were done talking about Project Wonderful business, Ryan and I got to talking about the Fleen thread that exploded about the business of comics. (Ryan linked to it […]

[…] Interviews Only print pays. — Ted Rall, SPLAT! Symposium, 15 March […]

[…] as slash and burn, and don’t get me started on his near-religious adherence to the idea that Only print pays), but it’s a shame that he now faces the financial difficulty that comes with job […]

Haspiel, on the benefits of webcomics — Webcomics are lifting the veil between creator and audience.

[…] of whom — massive close-out sale on the only pop-culture t-shirt measured in radians) said at SPLAT! back in 2008 which boils down to Think you can’t make a living at webcomics? Good! Less competition for […]

[…] the filters than the previous two weeks; for some reason, they’re really attached to this old post regarding the SPLAT! Symposium back in March 2008. No idea why it’s so attractive to people that really want me to buy fancy […]

RSS feed for comments on this post.