The webcomics blog about webcomics

Emergency Post To Vent Rage

Editing to add: We never delete anything here at Fleen, so the posting below stays up; but as you read through, be aware that Neil Swaab has updated his own site to apologize for his choice of words.

Swaab has acted in an extraordinarily honorable fashion, especially as it was in response to my own rather angry and impolite goading. I can only ask that he feel free to call me on any poor arguments that I may make, and hope that I can react with as much class as he has done.

Chris Hastings of Dr McNinja pointed me to a post by Neil Swaab of Rehabilitating Mr Wiggles about the alt-weekly cartoon market drying up. Decent points to be made, but in the middle, this tired old thing again:

I know there are plenty of web comic artists who are able to subsist on the income they make from their website, but they aren’t making money from their comics; they’re making money from merchandise. Not to belittle web-only comic artists, but when their income is derived from t-shirts, it makes them salesmen first, artists second. (emphasis mine)

I am officially sick of this argument. Everybody that looks down on webcomics creators as “artists second”, get off your goddamned high horse.

If you’d care to explain to me how Sparky became richer than God off of Peanuts, have the intellectual honesty to admit that it wasn’t because he was a brilliant artist with a unique vision that resonated with so many people. It was because Snoopy was licensed to appear on everything from MetLife billboards to (gasp! horror! shame!) t-shirts.

The only thing that those t-shirt shilling webcomickers Swaab looks down on are doing different than “the artists” is cutting out the goddamned middleman and keeping the goddamned money for themselves instead of allowing somebody else to take a huge cut of it in return for convincing them that “artists” don’t sully their hands with such base concerns as filthy lucre.

This argument is bullshit. It’s dead. Get over it and while you’re at it, get over yourselves.

Get ready to hear the same thing from comic book people now that Diamond is drying up for them. Things change. Win or go home. And other cliches…

Syndicated cartoonists don’t want to have to be businessmen. Webcartoonists don’t want to have to be poor.

I caught this blog post and wanted to respond to it.

You’re right. It was not a very well thought-out statement and I apologize to web comic creators for the way it was worded which was far from my intent and came off quite badly. Obviously web comic artists are artists first and foremost and wouldn’t be creating a comic if they didn’t love it. And merchandising does play a large part in any cartoonist’s career, as you mention. My intent in bringing up the question was that there are a lot of great artists out there whose work doesn’t translate to t-shirts or easily marketable products and who don’t have an interest in merchandising to support themselves. Their work shouldn’t fail because of that and that’s what that model thrives on. In my haste to illustrate that point, I chose some very poor words that look really quite awful now that I see them again. I’m genuinely sorry and thoroughly embarrassed about that statement and hope the web comics community accepts my apology. Please be assured that web comics have my utmost respect. If there’s anything else you need (blood-letting, pound of flesh, my first born children, etc.) to convince you of that, please let me know and I’ll try to accommodate.

Sincerely,

Neil Swaab

A lot of us farm out our distribution to third parties and can still make a comfortable living off of it. I think it would certainly be possible to hire someone to do the merchandising as well and maintain a livable income.

Greg Carter: I’ve noticed that comic book people have in general always been much more accepting of webcartoonists than syndicated comics people for some reason. Maybe it’s because the comic book industry has been allowed to evolve and change over the past 100 years while the newspaper strip industry has pretty much stayed the same?

Thanks to a manager, an employee, and a t-shirt distributor, my only relationship to my comic is drawing it. It’s not different than if I had a syndication deal, except that I get paid better and have no editor.

Additionally, part of being an artist is knowing that the world doesn’t owe you a living. If there are artists who can’t make a living at what they do, what does it matter that they used to be able to in the past? There are plenty of people who want to make a living doing what they love, but are unable to because the market won’t pay enough for it. Should there be a system designed to support them?

Hey Neil, as the fellow who pointed your post out to Gary, and as professional webcartoonist/t-shirt salesman/guy who’s comic isn’t about computers or video games, I really appreciate the apology. I am absolutely with you that their needs to be new ways to monetize webcomics, just because not everyone is good at, or likes designing shirts. But it’s a fantastic time to be independent, and I wish everyone who’s trying the best of luck making comics work for them.

I don’t think you should be comparing mainstream syndicated cartoonists with alt-weekly cartoonists. Sure “Sparky” (as in Charles Schulz, not Tom Tomorrow’s penguin) got rich off schilling Snoopy, the cute little family-friendly puppy dog. This has little to do with Neil’s comic about Mr. Wiggles, the f-bomb dropping, STD- transmitting psychotic teddy bear.

It’s also a myth that webcartoonists can only make a living on merchandising revenue. There are a bunch of webcomics like my own that thrive primarily on advertising revenue.

Neil,

Yours is the one reaction to my post that I didn’t expect; I am impressed and will tell the world that you’re a stand-up guy. Please hold on to your blood, flesh, and offspring.

No doubt we will continue to have very different perspectives on how webcomics can accomodate various creators (although I do think that both editorial and alt-weekly cartoonists will probably have the toughest transition in front of them). I will continue to point out arguments I both agree and vehemently disagree with, but please believe it’s not personal.

With any luck, the back-and-forth will produce avenues of exploration that will be beneficial to all.

Thanks Chris and Gary. I’m glad that we can be on friendly terms. I really wasn’t trying to cause any kind of upset or ill-will in the webcomics community or speak ignorantly but I did on both counts and you were certainly right to call bullshit on it. Glad we could mend this. I hope the rest of the community is as forgiving.

Neil–

I only speak for myself on this, but perhaps my thoughts will offer you some insight into why this sort of thing bothers a lot of webcartoonists.

Almost all of us grew up reading the work of alternative cartoonists. We looked up to (and still look up to) you guys as the trailblazers. But, when we got to an age where we could attempt to be pros too, most of us didn’t fit in. So, we spent the last ten years working on our craft and building a universe online where we could make a living as comic artists.

Now, we’ve succeeded. The number of professional webcartoonists is growing exponentially, and the quantity, quality, and variety is greater than anything comics have seen for years. Genres that haven’t really existed since the fifties, such as Romance, are back and strong. Genres that were never popular in print, such as Gaming, are some of the biggest comics online. By blazing our own trail, and defying a lot of the naysayers, we’ve been able to hew out a living for ourselves.

Recently, a lot of the veteran cartoonists we’ve looked up to are running into hard times due to the dying newspaper industry and the bad economy in general. Since many of us are still big fans, we’ve reached out to try to help people understand how webcartoonists work – how we feel the future of cartooning in general will work. Although there have been a few people to embrace the web side of things, mostly it seems like we get treated like idiot kids.

It’s like trying to give someone a handshake, and being spit on.

Adding to the bitterness is what a lot of us perceive as hypocrisy. Alt cartoonists used to be the rebels who were making a new model for the comics business. They had to put up with people shitting on them in order to get where they are. Now that a new generation is trying to do the same thing, we’re getting shit from alt cartoonists.

Furthermore, on countless occasions, we hear people (whom we still respect as artists) who claim that there’s no money on the web, even though there are literally hundreds of professional webcartoonists, some of whom are millionaires.

Worst of all, we really think you guys are cool! There isn’t an artist in the webcartoonist community who wouldn’t get wide-eyed at the chance to see Max Cannon’s studio. Most of us are doing fine in terms of income, growth, and popularity, and would relish the opportunity to help some of the pre-web cartoonists make the adjustment. But, instead of coming to us for help (or even accepting our help when offered), we’re often treated like brats and nobodies.

If the last five years are any lesson, the web is the future for comics. Traditional artists who insist on this “us/them” dichotomy based on irrelevant things like particular modes of revenue are going to end up without a job. This is a situation nobody relishes.

Right now, there’s still a lot of good will and respect. But, as many traditional format cartoonists have noted, the print comics business is on its last legs. If any of the folks who do traditional stuff want to make the adjustment before it’s too late, there are plenty of webcartoonists who’d be happy to supply the detailed information on how to go about it, merely in exchange for the opportunity to work with some of our heroes.

They’re certainly welcome to email me.

The community IS very forgiving, and even welcoming. But the webcomics community is also very sensitive to criticism that it’s somehow not “legitimate”.

There are TONS of ways to succeed in webcomics without doing t-shirts. Howard Tayler makes a good living from his work, most of which comes from book sales (according to his Open Source talk). Phil and Kaia Foglio make the vast majority of their income from books as well. Dave Kellet makes his money from selling original artwork. T-shirts and merchandise are NOT the only path to webcomics success.

The problem is, it takes time, effort and hard work to set up those revenue streams, whichever ones you choose to pursue. But it definitely CAN be done, no matter WHAT your comic is about.

[...] “I am officially sick of this argument. Everybody that looks down on webcomics creators as ‘artists second,’ get off your goddamned high horse.” – Gary Tyrrell [...]

It looks like it’s kind of a dead issue, given Neill’s honorable retraction above… but it’s worth pointing out, in case this issue ever comes up again, that this logic means it’s a misnomer whenever musicians get called “artists.” Because like webcomics artists, most working musicians depend on merch sales — that’s the dominant model for much of the biz.

For most musicians, they get next to nothing from album sales, they barely break even or even lose money touring… the place they make their real ducats is at the merch booth. And I don’t see how that has f-all to do with their artistic credibility or lack of same.

Hi Neil, I must admit, you are a very stand up guy for retracting and the apology. :) The webcomic community is indeed very welcoming and most certainly open to share info, there’s plenty of readers out there and a community (and shared communities) of fans for all of them.
On that note, I make most of my money from advertising, original art sales, book and lastly t-shirts. In that order. My work doesn’t translate well to shirt sales and yet I’m doing this gig full time.

I think your point about Snoopy is a good one. But it also raises a distinction. I’d argue it’s different when one has their comic character merchandised raising it’s popularity versus a cartoonist who is also really good at coming up with clever t-shirts that sometimes sort of relate back to a reference in their comic. I’m not saying one is better than the other. Just that I don’t think it’s the same thing.

[...] of liked that he put those thoughts out there. Even though many of the responses were strong — one, two — I tend to see passionate dialogue as a good thing, and I think it’s really only the fact [...]

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