I have a question for you: Who’s the webcomicker with the tricks that’s a sex machine to all the chicks?
Ya damn right. Brad Guigar is well known in the world of webcomics, and having recently made the jump from working for The Man, we at Fleen sat down with Guigar (via Google Chat) to talk about how he made the shift, what he’s doing now, and what we can expect to see from him in the future. First thing he did was to find the smiley functionality:
Fleen: Of course the first thing you go for is a smiley. You’re laughing out loud right now, aren’t you?
Guigar: HA! I am now! I’m like a 13 year old girl. I can’t text without a smiley.
Fleen: Okay, first question: you’ve been in newspapers for essentially your adult life, so you’ve been through newsroom reductions in the past, and knew that your shift out was coming sooner or later. When did you first start making concrete plans for the jump to full-time cartooner?
Guigar: About the time my older son was born. He’ll be ten in June. I had a serious setback at the Daily News, career-wise, in 1999. It kinda snapped me out of the “I’m going to be a career newspaper artist” mode I had been in. I was so furious¹ about what had happened, I dusted off my old comic-strip submission to the syndicates I had shelved years earlier. Four months later, I posted Greystone Inn4 on the Web for the first time.
Fleen: So when did Angry Young Brad figure the jump would be? If you started laying groundwork 10 years ago, it wasn’t with the intent to jump ship right away.
Guigar: Ten years ago, that wasn’t even really a possibility. But it was easy to see that it wasn’t that far off, either.
I’m an optimist. I figured it would be one of those inevitable conclusion things and I’d just quit work and become a cartoonist.
Then, my wife5 and I decided to start our family. That changed things. I could have made the argument to leave the newspaper years ago, but that would have meant two things: Less security for my boys and no health insurance. So I decided to figure out a way to do both.
Fleen: I don’t remember if you made it public knowledge that you were basically one person away from a layoff last year? Is that when the active planning started? A The next time this comes around, I’m going to be ready sort of thing?
Guigar: Oh yeah. It got real then. The conversation between my wife and I stopped being daydreamy and started becoming more actual preparation for the inevitable.
Fleen: So you started making family-related plans, but you also would have been making cartooning plans: With more time, I can do x, y, z to grow my business. Anything from that side you can share?
Guigar: I’ve known for a while that I wouldn’t be able to grow my business further until I was able to spend more time on it. For the foreseeable future, that’s going to mean a stepped-up presence with things like the new monthly download I launched this [past] week. Down the road, definitely more merchandising than I’ve been able to do in the past. By summer, a stepped-up book-release schedule, and maybe a couple of new things.
Fleen: Let’s talk about the monthly download thing. A couple of years ago, a number of webcomickers were flirting with premium content (like through [the now-defunct] AssetBar) so that you could see development sketches, or watch strips being drawn a day or two early. These days, that’s all gone away, and even more will ‘cast their drawing of the strips.
This is different — you pay a small amount, you get a full month’s worth of strips up to a month before everybody else. We’re about four days into the experiment, how is it working?
Guigar: Well, first off, I don’t see the online offering of my daily strip as the core product. The core product is the strip itself. The Web site is the engine that makes everything possible. Everything else are profit centers — books, downloads, merchandise, etc. So as long as I keep the engine going, as long as my revenue streams don’t interfere with one another, I can put together a business.
Fleen: So you see it as less “premium content” and more (as Howard Tayler might say) “get paid twice or three times for the same drawing”?
Guigar: Absolutely. This is not premium content. This is content.
Fleen: So how is the experiment working? You had a number in your head as to how many people would go for it, and how quickly.
Guigar: Not only have I hit the “magic number” in my head, but orders have continued to come in after the initial-day offering. That’s what sealed it. I unveiled this on April 6, six days into the month, and the response was still strong. Next month, when I’m able to offer it at the end of April, going into May, I’m hoping to see an even stronger response. Not only from the people who perceive a better value, but from people who didn’t quite know what to make of this thing when I first announced it.
This is something that no one has ever launched in webcomics (that I know of). I’m offering the entire month of Evil, Inc in advance. People that don’t want to pay aren’t penalized in any way … their reading experience is unchanged. But people who DO buy it, get to read my strips the way they read best — in a continuous narrative.
Oh… and I don’t want to say another word before I take time to praise the unsung hero in all of this … Ed Ryzowski, who colors Evil, Inc, did double-time on several weeks of strips to make this happen. The man is a phenomenal talent, and I’m extremely lucky to have him working with me.
Fleen: Let me spitball here for a second, because you said “continuous narrative”, which is how you’ve always pitched your printed collections. I can imagine Brad Guigar looking at the continuous narrative of the monthly downloads, and the continuous narrative of the annual collections. I can imagine him looking at the income from the monthlies as free money that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. And I can imagine him setting that money aside and not touching it until it’s time to pay the printer for that next annual collection.
Did you just invent a self-Kickstart mechanism?
Guigar: That’s an awful good spitball you got there. Depending on the strength of the response, that could be completely possible. But I want to make this point: I don’t want the digital download to fund the books. I want the digital download to be its own thing, and I want the books to be their own thing. And Kickstarter has become something that has evolved way beyond funding a project. It has become a community experience. I don’t know that it could be replaced very easily just yet.
Fleen: Interesting take. So what are you spending your additional time on? You left the 9-to-5, got on a plane to Seattle the next day, and have just wrapped your first Monday-Friday working solely for yourself. What are you spending all those additional hours on, aside from having actual evening times with the wife and sons?
Guigar: Oh, man, I can’t even explain how awesome it has been to sit down to have dinner with my family every night. This week has been a tremendous joy. Wednesday night, I came home at 6, had dinner, watched TV with the boys and fell asleep on the couch. It was bliss. Thursday, I snapped out of it, and made sure I got work done after dinner.
As far as getting extra stuff done, I haven’t experienced that yet, but that’s mostly because I’ve been trying to catch up with the stuff that I fell behind on doing Emerald City Comic Con.
Fleen: So what can we expect to see from Team Guigar this year that those additional 1500–1600 hours will let you develop?
Guigar: I have tons of ideas that I’ve been trying to get to for the past few years. I have a concept for a graphic novel aimed at children, I have ideas that I want to implement at Webcomics Dot Com, and I have a few thoughts on how I’m presenting my work overall on the Web.
Fleen: I was watching your status shift from typing to entered text and back again — how much did you end up deciding to redact there?
Guigar: HA!6 Caught me! I just don’t want to tip my hand too much at this stage of the game. Some of the stuff I have in mind simply might not work. Some of it might evolve. And some stuff might die on the vine.
Fleen: And, fundamentally, you’re not much of a LOOK AT ME I RULE kind of guy.
Guigar: I guess that depends on who you ask. But it’s not exactly something that I’m very comfortable with.
Fleen: You and Scott Kurtz caught some heat back in December when you made an open offer to consult with comics syndicates on The Future, then amended the offer to offer your ideas to the highest bidder. When can we expect to see that?
Guigar: That kinda fits right into this conversation, doesn’t it? I mean webcomics have been around for better than ten, twelve years now. And, aside from the influence of new tech (social media, digital tablets, etc.), webcomics haven’t really changed in their approach to a significant degree during that time. This whole conversation is about an innovation that I’m introducing that’s — to the best of my knowledge — unseen in webcomics at large. It’s a very simple thing, but it’s also a completely new way to envision a webcomic.
Take a look at how Scott has re-purposed his Web site. If you look closely, you’ll see some very important changes in how he’s positioning himself to his readers. He’s not just a webcartoonist. He’s pushing towards something greater than that. And that’s exactly the kind of thinking that we were offering the syndicates. And, yes, it’s been pointed out to us countless times that we didn’t submit our offer in triplicate on notarized, cotton-fiber paper. We get that. Needless to say, we weren’t able to get anything started. And I’m kinda disappointed about that, because I would have loved to have been able to delve into that particular puzzle.
Fleen: Okay, one more question, which brings back an old controversy. A couple years ago during a recording of Webcomics Weekly, you were interrupted by your son, who’d been in a fight with a friend over whose dad could draw Martian Manhunter better. Now that you have time, will you be settling that My dad can
beat up draw Martian Manhunter better your than your dad argument once and for all?
Guigar: Oh yeah! Y’know, we never did have that showdown, did we? He’s an abstract painter in real life. I think it would be a pretty cool competition. Luckily, he works in oils. And oil-based paint and J’onn J’onz share a rather unique Achilles heel.
Fleen: You’ve got to resolve this, Brad, or risk disappointing your son for life. I can already hear Cat’s In The Cradle in the background.
Guigar: God, I hate that song.
Fleen: Now I know what to get your for your birthday7 .
Fleen would like to thank Brad Guigar for taking the time to talk with us. As a final note, please enjoy this entirely out-of-context quote that didn’t make the final edit:
Fleen: You’re stroking your beard right now, aren’t you?
Guigar: Full-on mustache-twirling
¹ They say this cat Brad is one bad mother …²
² Shut your mouth!³
³ I’m talkin’ ’bout Brad.
4 Not to be confused with the Greystone Inn.
5 He’s a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman.
6 For the full effect, readers are encouraged to click here and skip to about the 7:40 mark.
7 I didn’t get it for him for his birthday.