Lauren Davis, over at io9, had a great piece recently where she interviewed several webcomikers and got some pointed suggestions about what not to do when starting a webcomic. Very useful and practical advice from a number of folks who’ve been in the business for years. Go read it if you haven’t already.
But one of the interesting things about the article is what everyone doesn’t say. They talk of patience and passion and persistence, but there’s very little there about the either the actual business of webcomics or, for that matter, the craft of webcomics. Nothing about learning two-point perspective, or pen nibs, or lettering. Nothing about storytelling, or characterization. Nothing about update schedules. Nothing about whether print-on-demand is preferable to small print runs. Nothing about making tabling at conventions. The advice that’s given, while all very useful and worthwhile, is more about approaching the medium with reasonable expectations and a grounded perspective.
So that raises the question: why don’t these professional webcomic folks talk about anything concrete relative to making a webcomic? Why do they all stick to emphemeral notions of attitude? Is this some kind of conspiracy to keep newbies from generating more competition?
The answer speaks to one of the great things about webcomics, actually. If you look at the folks who were interviewed, you’ll see quite a wide range of talents and abilities. More significantly, you’ll see that they all have radically different approaches to pretty much everything about webcomics! What David Malki is doing is worlds away from what Evan Dahm is working on. It’s almost like comparing the guy who generates the crossword puzzle with Winsor McCay; sure, they both do work that’s syndicated in newspapers, but there’s not much relation between them otherwise.
But that’s one the beauties of webcomics! Everyone can do their thing and join in without having to follow the structures and formats of anyone else!
Stories can be long, complicated narratives that involve a lot of world-building over the course of many years, or they can be short, simple gags. The art can be detailed and painterly, or it can no more elaborate than stick figures. Updates can be daily, weekly, or just whenever the next portion happens to get done. Or anything in between! Merchandise can literally be anything you can think of!
There is no set formula for what works in webcomics. With no gatekeepers like there are in other outlets (comic books, newspaper strips, etc.), there’s no one to say stop people from coming up with and trying new ideas. New forms, new functionalities, new business models… Not everyone is going to light the world on fire with a wholly original and profitable webcomic, of course, but with everybody coming to the virtual table with a different background, and a different set of goals, and a different set of expectations, there are going to be any number of variations of workable ideas out there. What works for Dave Kellett might not work for you. What works for Jeff Schuetze might not work for you either. Those experienced creators know that, and they know that any specifics they might pass on to you that work for them might well not work at all for anyone else. So the best advice they give is the stuff that’s at a more strategic level.
You can find all sorts of people who will tell you what pens to use; many of them are trying to sell you something. But advice like this is less common, and is worth taking to heart.