You’ve no doubt noticed that webcomics have all sorts of different update schedules. Some are daily, some are three days a week, some are weekly… Some don’t even have a regular schedule and just get updated seemingly haphazardly. Ever wonder why that is? I mean, comics in the newspaper come out daily—why can’t webcartoonists keep the same schedule? Comic books generally come out monthly, and that’s a little less than a page a day—why can’t webcartoonists keep that schedule?
The short answer is usually money. Both comic strip and comic book creators (at least the ones we generally associate with those jobs) are paid by publishers. John Romita, Jr. gets paid by publisher DC Comics for every page of Superman he works on. Rina Piccolo gets paid by King Features Syndicate for every Tina’s Groove strip she draws. As with any industry, they command different rates than other creators based on readers’ demand for their work, but the comics they create lead very directly to income. The more work they do, the more they get paid. Piccolo gets additionally for her work on Six Chix. And Romita will get paid additionally for all the variant covers he’s doing for DC’s books in April.
Webcomics, though, have a very different economic model. Their comics, largely, are provided to readers for free. There is no one paying webcomic creators just for doing the work involved in making their comics. Their income comes from the comic only indirectly, through sales of paperback collections or t-shirts or whatever. Items that readers want long after they’ve already read, and responded positively to, the comic itself. And unlike the comic strip and book examples I noted above, there is no base rate. Both Romita and Piccolo will get the same amount of money regardless of how many people actually read their work. By contrast, webcomic creators’ income is dependent on how many readers they have. Because more readers equals more sales, and those revenues filter more directly back to the creators.
All of which means that creating a webcomic is by no means a guarantee of income. If an artist lands a gig at a comic publisher or with a newspaper syndicate, there’s a fairly regular revenue stream for them. Webcomics? Not so much. So webcomic creators are then forced to work other jobs in order to pay the rent, buy groceries, etc.
This, then, is why crowd-funding options like Kickstarter and Patreon have taken off so well in the webcomics community. Those tools provide a more predictable means of determining how much money will come in at any given time, allowing creators to focus more on the actual creation process and less on dealing with a “day job” to ensure they have a roof over their heads.
But even those sources are not guaranteed, and those “day jobs” still take time away from comic creation. Whereas Piccolo and Romita can afford to devote a full day working on their respective comics every day, a webcomic creator can only do their webcomic work after putting in a fully day of working for The Man. Which, in turn, means they have little time for dealing with any even short-term emergencies that arise, like dealing with a plumber fixing a leaky sink or having the tires changed on their car.
The point is that webcomics are frequently a side gig in addition to whatever they’re doing to pay the rent. Imagine working a full eight-hour day, only to come home and work on a new comic every night before crashing into bed. It’s not a schedule many can keep up, certainly not for long, so it’s little wonder webcomics update schedules are often slower and less rigid than print comics!