You ever stop to think about a publisher’s decision to print any given comic? Not a specific one, just in general. For every comic that gets printed, whether that’s a newspaper strip, a monthly comic book, a graphic novel, or whatever, the publisher had to sit down to look at a proposal and decide whether it’d be worth the time, effort, and resources to print it. In some cases, the decision isn’t particularly difficult. If there’s a popular creator involved whose work regularly sells very well, or if it focuses on a character who’s already appearing in well-received places, then it’s an easy decision. Which is why we see Batman and Wolverine show up in so many places.
But if it’s a new talent or an unproven set of characters or an unusual concept, the decision is trickier. The publisher has to essentially guess how much interest the potential audience would actually have in the work, and calculate whether that’s enough to at least offset the costs of production and distribution. A bad guess here could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. And while that may not be a huge amount for a companies like Marvel and DC, that could be devastating for a smaller publisher. Or even worse for an individual creator trying to self-publish. There’s a big risk there.
Which is why webcomics is such an attractive alternative. The monetary risk involved in producing a webcomic is negligible by comparison. A domain name and hosting fees for a full year are easily found for under $100. If a webcomic tanks, the only real loss is whatever time the creator put into it.
This allows a creator to test the work and see if there is indeed an audience who might be willing to pay for it. It would like take time to generate an audience, of course, but that’s a matter of communication first. Letting that potential audience know of the webcomics’ existence. Only then will they decide whether it’s worth continuing to read and/or pay for.
As utopic as that might sound, it’s not to say that there’s no risk involved with webcomics. Financial risk, perhaps, but that’s not the only kind.
Another possible risk is one of rejection. While rejection is often thought of in more immediately social aspects (asking someone out on a date, for example) it applies to people involved in any creative endeavor as well. Whether they’re producing a webcomic or a painting or a song or a meal or… well, anything creative, there’s a chance that their intended audience will check it out and say, “I don’t like this.” And while that may mean exactly that and nothing more, a dedicated creator often puts much of themselves in their work and a rejection of the work, to them, can be a rejection of themselves. Creative work is generally intended to be shared as a way for the creator to declare, “I have something to say.” A rejection of that message may as well be a rejection of the person who crafted it.
None of this is to even remotely suggest that any creator whose work isn’t liked will experience a crushing emotional defeat, but that notion of rejection is still something we as humans don’t like. And putting creative work online in a venue where literally anyone in the world can see it is a significant source of emotional exposure for a creator. I’ve seen more than a few creators—including ones many people would consider successful—wrestle with the idea that people are rejecting their work and, by extension, them.
So while the idea of doing a webcomic sounds promising financially, it does come with some other risks that a creator might not expect, relative to a small print run of some mini-comics at a local convention.