Are eBooks The Next Webcomic Bubble?

In the summer of 2000, I had this genius REVOLUTIONARY idea… I would put a comic strip on the web!

Nobody was doing it (or so I thought) and I’d make a name for myself. Hell, I’d be the next Bill Watterson!

I loved comic strips. As a child, I used to get lost in the world of Peanuts. As a teenager, I loved the satirical wit of Bloom County. And then I discovered the magic that was Calvin and Hobbes.

So I created the comic Todd and Penguin, and waited for the world to take notice.

And not knowing anything about anything, I then spent a few years in relative obscurity. After a glowing review from Eric Burns at Websnark and getting picked up by Keenspot in 2005, the comic started to get some attention and a decent following.

But something interesting happened in that space of five years.

As hosting got cheaper, a handful of companies sprang up offering free webcomic hosting, suddenly ANYBODY could put a comic online. And it seems like almost EVERYBODY did.

Seriously, there were thousands upon thousands of new webcomics!

And HOLY SHIT, the crap floodgates had opened!

It was as if anyone with a scanner and a pen was putting a comic on the web and calling themselves an artist. And there were some awful, AWFUL comics out there. Stuff that made you cringe in embarrassment for the creator and cry just a little bit for the form.

Technology’s blessings are also its biggest curses.

Suddenly, people who never would have thought to draw a comic before suddenly think that they can. They see marginally decent artists getting acclaim without understanding WHY those artists are getting praised.

And they rushed into webcomics thinking they’d be the shit.

But for every 7,000 or so bad webcomics, there were also a few success stories—comic creators who were able to leverage an online audience for print deals. And still others, who said screw syndication, and bypassed the gatekeepers to make their own fortunes.

And their success caught the attention of some traditional cartoonists—the ones in the newspapers who made money. These “real artists” started to see webcomic artists as the enemy, devaluing art by (gasp!) giving it away for free on the web! They were feeling threatened.

Sound familiar?

EBooks are the new webcomics.

Thanks to technology, artists (writers) suddenly have the capability to bypass the gatekeepers (the publishing companies) and directly build and speak to their audiences with very little upfront cost. And some writers and publishers are feeling the heat.

Like webcomics, I’m sure we’ll see an explosion of bad books out there. Embarrassingly bad books.

But that’s okay.

Because good content (if you know your space and can build an audience) will rise to the top. And bad writers will either get good or give up. Just like a lot of the bad cartoonists.

THE ONE BIG DIFFERENCE

The biggest difference between webcomics of the last decade and eBooks now is a significant one. There is finally an infrastructure in place to sell to your readers.

This was not the case 10 years ago when webcomic creators were struggling to find a way to make money for their work. Sure, they could self-publish, create tee shirts, sell ads on their websites, or beg for donations, but those weren’t sustainable methods of making a living for most artists.

Thanks to Amazon, iTunes, and a few other players, readers now have a CONVENIENT way to download eBooks to their devices. And with Print On Demand, writers can also satisfy the diehard print fans.

While there are still some difficulties in easily formatting comics for an eReader, and the quality sucks on some of the devices, technology will change that, I’m sure.

WHEN THE WALLS COME DOWN

Remember how I said that everyone and their sister was suddenly putting out webcomics? And a lot of them were bad?

Well, include me in that number.

My first comics were horrible. Thankfully, I was blissfully unaware of just how bad they were.

But I knew enough to know they weren’t good enough.

(see the proof below)

A Todd and Penguin comic from 2001 - Click to see full size

A comic from 2008 - a bit better

Another from 2008

I didn’t compare my work with other crappy webcomic artists. I compared my work to the best on the web and in print. And I kept working at getting better. I was learning on the job, while also learning how to build an audience and interact with readers.

And eventually, I got good enough to get a job as an editorial cartoonist at a newspaper—remember those things?

ARE YOU READY TO DO WHAT IT TAKES?

So, yes, the competition for writers is going to increase.

And there’s gonna be A LOT of crap out there.

And maybe you (or maybe me) will be writing some of that crap.

But keep at it.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Don’t be afraid to learn on the job.

If you’re really new to writing, maybe you can try a pen name so you don’t do long-term damage to your brand.

The most important thing, though, is to keep writing. The competition is gonna be stiff.

Fortunately, a lot of writers will think they can just show up. They can mail it in. That it’s enough to simply throw a book out there, and magic will happen.

We know better, though.

We know if you want to make it as a writer, you treat writing as a job. You bust your ass and put in the hours. And you pay attention to what’s going on in your genre and the publishing industry.

That’s what the successful webcomic artists did. And that’s what successful writers are now doing…

Working. Hard.

3 responses to Are eBooks The Next Webcomic Bubble?

  1. Judith Briles

    I like the way you connect webcomics to ebook. The scenario is almost the same and the outcome will undoubtedly be the same, if not in the same time frame. Nevertheless, working really hard will distinguish excellent writers from the sudden sprout of writers-for-the-sake-of-writing.

  2. Mihai

    You know, I was lacking motivation till 10 minutes ago when I read your article. What your words managed to do was remind me of the fact that giving up is not an option – for when I hear of hordes of people trying and only a few succeeding, I immediately imagine myself as being one of the latter. It’s that kind of attitude, combined with the necessary patience and determination, that yields proper results. Thank you for this post. 🙂

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