Where webcomics go, so goes ebooks

In an embarrassment of riches, we have two different posts comparing the self-publishing ebook gold rush of today with the self-publishing webcomic gold rush of yesteryear. That first link is to Ursula Vernon, who is awesome, and the second is to KB Spangler, who I had not heard of before now.

Both make similar but not identical points and they’re both worth reading (the first post for the comments; the second post has some important links showing how little some incredibly talented comics creators earn). Important to note: people continue to point out the outlandish rare success stories and say “I want to be like that!” People continue to suggest “Hey, you could just do it for yourself” as though that route is equally attractive and equally beneficial (those aren’t the same things) to everyone. People still talk about it like it’s astrology: the success stories prove that it’s 100% viable while the failures are always failures of poorly applied process (wrong cover, not enough self-promotion, too much self-promotion, you should have bought ads on blah blah blah).

A big difference that neither poster touches on is the payment method. Webcomics are something people want to consume for free and creators have to make their money through merchandise, or selling collections of back issues, or ads. Personally, I read three or four different webcomics and I doubt I would pay for any of them. Maybe Order of the Stick, but even then I would watch for trade paperbacks and then put a purchase request through my library. That’s how I read corporate comics, too. I love comics, but comics are expensive.

People are used to paying for novels. In fact, there’s a general perception that free or $0.99 novels are not very good. When Del Rey set the ebook for Child of Fire at that price, I made a point of including the words “promotional” and “limited time.” I didn’t want people thinking they would get what they pay for.

As for the whole BUY MY BOOK thing… look, you can find out about my novels right on my front page. That one on the top is self-published, but do I want to push a “BUY MY BOOK” message? Nope. I want to push a “READ THE SAMPLE” message. Amazon/B&N/Apple/Etc all let you download the first 20-some percent so you can give it a taste test.

The difference being, you can’t get the whole book for free. If you like it, you have to pay to get the rest. If I like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, I can just keep clicking the little arrow on the right until I run out of fun or accidentally click an Google ad and shove a couple of pennies at the creator.

The novel is something I can sell. A webcomic is something that draws in people who might someday click an ad, pledge in a Kickstarter, or buy a “Wookie Jesus” tshirt. The difference there is non-trivial and I realize how much that sucks. I am an ass who does not send money directly toward the people who make things I enjoy. Either I get it for free or I ask my library to pay. I have to do the same thing with books, mostly, so don’t hate me.

Anyway, if you’re curious where ebooks might end up, both links are worth reading. Check them out.

11 Mar 2013, 11:27am
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Free Marvel Comics

Yeah, I spent an inordinate amount of time this morning putting Comixology on my wife’s iPad and downloading as many of the free Marvel comics as I could snag. I tried for all 700-some, but there were issues with server overload, obviously, so I’m going to try again later.

The free comics (first issues of new and old books) are only available for a short time, so snap them up if you want them.

I have to say that I enjoy reading comics on the iPad. For novels I think paper is better, but the electronic format works nicely with panels and art. I just wish I could afford them.

10 Dec 2012, 7:40am
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Authenticity as a barrier to success

(Added later: Inman offers a response to the article in question and it’s quite long. It’s also a pretty detailed dismantling of the article itself, in which the cartoonist points out several of the comics he’s done that on controversial topics.

All of which flies in the face of the original article and what I’ve written here. I encourage people to check it out.)

Should I have said “barrier” in the subject line? Maybe it should have been “path” with a question mark at the end.

For example: there’s this unfriendly article on Matthew Inman, the guy behind The Oatmeal. Inman started out as an SEO expert, creating quizzes, cartoons, and other sites that included links to clients’ sites, driving up their Google ranking. When he got sick of that job, he struck out on his own. A quote:

“With The Oatmeal, I wanted to create something where the viral marketing itself was the product, rather than trying to put it on something else.”

Some of this most popular, most-linked comics are about grammar misuse; he basically instructs people how to use the language correctly, and makes fun of the ways people get it wrong.

Not that he particularly cares about grammar himself. The truth is, he noticed it was something people got angry about on the internet, did some research to look up the correct usages, drew the comics, then had an editor check them.

End result: profit. He even sells posters to schools, which is a nice gig if you can get it.

You can see this all through his site: Comics about how terrible it is to fly a plane. About bad customer service over the phone. About people who talk in movie theaters.

Are these things that Inman himself cares about? The question misses the point. The readers care about it. People on reddit care and once they start linking to him there it spreads all over the internet. Inman wants to make comics that reinforce the opinions you already have. His usual everyman protagonist, bald and overweight, is supposed to be “relatable” for his audience. It certainly doesn’t represent the cartoonist himself, who is a full-on fitness nut.

Sure, they’re funny. I’ve laughed more than once on his site; the guy is clever and has a way with the over-the-top joke. His drawing style is also unique and expressive, the sort of thing that make people think I could do that if I wanted to even though they couldn’t.

Then there are things that are odd or absurd, like the online quizzes. How many 5-year olds can you take in a fight? How long would you last if you were chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor?

All that stuff is charming and linkable, but it comes from me, not from him. It’s tailored to appeal to me. If I were to guess, I’d say this comic about making things for the web is personal to him, if you forget about the fat guy gorging himself on Cheetos or whatever that’s supposed to be. The rest of it, who knows?

So I’m stuck in this weird place. You know that thing that happens when you’re all “MY GOD WHAT A GREAT MOVIE THAT WAS IT’S MY NEW FAVE I WISH I COULD DO THAT!” and your friend says “You mean the movie set in New York that didn’t have a single non-white face in it?” or “You mean the movie where the villain murders all these people to get a magic doohickey and the hero defeats him by giving him the doohickey?” or “You mean the one where the world is set right by reinstalling a king?” or “You mean the one where the cops can only stop the bad guys by ignoring all those pesky laws, regulations, and restraints on their power?”

When that happens, it’s like walking into a glass door. Boom. I am being pandered to so efficiently that I didn’t even notice. How could I not notice?

It’s like a Hollywood movie, I guess. Big summer tentpole pictures are full of characters and story choices designed to appeal to the widest possible crowd, and that’s fine. I enjoy movies like that. I enjoyed THE AVENGERS and WRECK-IT RALPH.

But I enjoy them at a remove. I know they’re designed to flatter and thrill me without being personal in a challenging way. I know they’re not going to tell me anything I’m uncomfortable with, as long as I’m in the target audience. There’s nothing wrong with that. Let me repeat, with boldface: There’s nothing wrong with that. People make work for all sorts of reasons, and the marketplace of ideas and entertainment is large enough even for the stuff aimed at SEO. And who wants to hate on a Wookie Jesus iPhone case?

One of the big changes that the internet has brought about is the idea that niche markets pay, if you keep your expenses down. If you’re good and “authentic” (by whatever definition) you can reach people.

But to reach really really large audiences? Millionaire in just a few years audiences? Best to click on through to the article above and study up on Inman’s advice.

6 Oct 2012, 10:15pm
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To hell with it.

I’m just going to straight up embed this comic. Source!


Read more like it!

9 May 2012, 11:46am
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The Hero Initiative

Folks, I just donated $25 to The Hero Initiative, which is basically the price of three matinee tickets to The Avengers (plus a buck).

The movie is bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars, and none of that goes to the people who originally created that content, many of whom are living in difficult situations. I donated as a way to show my thanks and my respect, and I hope you do, too.

Randomness for 4/6

1) A webcomic appreciation of Doctor Who. via @sinboy

2) The invasive species diet. I don’t care how much good it does for the planet, I’m not eating nutria.

3) The Dalek Relaxation Tape. Video.

4) Worst Album Covers Ever. Some of these are NSFW.

5) It’s Official: Star Wars Kinect Is the Worst Star Wars Thing Ever. I don’t know. To me, a little silliness if just fine.

6) D&D: The Important Questions

7) Awesome animated gifs. No, seriously for real.

Randomness for 3/28

1) A history of the McFarlane/Gaiman Miracleman lawsuit.

2) Trompe l’oeil graffiti vanishes Egyptian military barrier

3) A working scientific calculator, built from Minecraft blocks.

4) Two words: Explosive. Polymerization. (Video)

5) Eight “forgotten” live-action children’s shows from the eighties. I doubt “Small Wonder” has been forgotten, but “My Secret Identity” is the only other one I remember (but I’m a bit old for this time period)

6) Heroic Goofballs: Aardman takes on DC. Video

7) An infographic showing the last words of executed inmates in Texas.

Randomness for 3/4

1) United Artists’ Rejection Letter for STAR WARS. via @rodramsey

2) The Internet Justice League

3) Minecraft Middle Earth

4) Finally, a lit contest I can care about: 2011′s Oddest Book Titles of the Year. I’m rooting for the chicken sexer.

5) Why do innocent people confess to crimes they haven’t committed?

6) Against Big Bird, The Gods Themselves Contend in Vain. Big Bird wrests celestial justice from an Egyptian god in a Sesame Street special. For real.

7) A prosecutor and cartoonist creates A Criminal Lawyer’s Illustrated Guide to Crime.

Randomness for 2/13

1) Former ‘Static Shock’ Writer John Rozum on ‘What was Really Going on Behind the Scenes’.

2) Harry Potter and the Chinese Bootleg Subtitles.

3) Classic depictions of Venus Photoshopped to make her thinner.

4) This karate rap is even worse than you expect. Video.

5) A scented candle for ebook haters.

6) How to use a women’s urinal. “I am convinced that women could pee standing up, with the same accuracy as a man (which means, what, 90% accuracy?), if they practiced as often as men do.” Via @ccfinlay

7) A functional bathtub made of books.

  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Named to Publishers Weekly's "Best 100 Books of 2009" list. Get the audiobook here.

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