There are, of course, thousands of creators out there right now toiling away on their webcomic. Some of them are crap, of course, but many of them are quite good, some downright excellent! But even though webcomics have their awards categories in the Eisners and Ignatzes, they don’t quite rise to the same level of fame as other print comics. I mean, there are folks out there making a comfortable living for themselves doing webcomics — Jeph Jacques has nearly 5,000 people contributing on Patreon; I can’t see how much everyone is donating any more, but even at only a dollar a piece, that’s $5,000 a month! The last I was able to actually check, it was actually closer to $8,000.
And we’re talking about 5,000 people sending Jacques for a webcomic that he puts online for free. Assuming that only 5% of his readers contribute to his Patreon, that suggests a regular readership in the 100,000 range.
I think most people would qualify that as a successful webcomic! But how often do you see Questionable Content talked about outside of the site itself? How often do you see it come up on comic news sites? Who writes about it besides me and Gary Tyrrell?
Why do you suppose that is? Why do print comics, even less successful ones, receive more attention? In 2017 so far, only about three print comics per month have made it past 100,000 readers. The overall average sales for the Top 50 titles hovers only around 50,000—that means the best selling titles in print comics, as a rule, only do half as well as Questionable Content. Why aren’t we talking about that?
I think it has a lot to do with the ‘validity’ of print. With webcomics, a creator just does their work and throws it online; if people like it, great. But it’s basically just one person doing their thing, and other people like it. Or don’t. Whatever. But print has a greater ‘prestige’ because at least one editor and one publisher, probably several, looked at it and considered it worthy of publication. Those editor and publisher roles have long doubled as gatekeepers, and they were given a measure of authority. Ostensibly, they’re very knowledgeable about what constitutes good and/or bad comics through years of hard work and experience in the medium. So a comic that has made it into production has something of a stamp of approval. A (presumably trained and talented) editor said, “Yes, this is a good and worthy comic.”
Which it may well be. But there are any number of other comics out there that are just as good, if not better, that did not receive such an approval. But because readers don’t see an ‘official’ approval from an editor, there’s less certainty (in their minds) about its quality. Sure, maybe 100,000 other people like it just as much as you do, but are those 100,000 readers right? Or are you all just indulging in some guilty pleasure?
A comic’s quality, of course, has little to do with whether or not it was approved by an editor or publisher. But we’ve been trained for the past five centuries or so that an editor is an implicit indication of quality. Without one, “Well, that’s just webcomics.” Readers on the whole seem to still need an editor’s validation to really accept a webcomic’s success.
Do you, though?