In the past let’s-call-it-a-year, I’ve seen more than a few friends and acquaintences that have been working on webcomics for several years get some good “breaks” into the comics industry. Some had their webcomic picked up by a noted publisher, others were able to sell new stories to a publisher, and some were hired to work on reasonably high profile projects for Marvel and DC. Ethan Young, for example, had his Tails webcomic picked up and published by Hermes Press, and now Dark Horse just published a new story of his, Nanjing. I am absolutely thrilled that all these people are getting some more attention directed towards them and their work; all of these people I know because I saw the great work they were doing and reached out to them in some capacity to tell them so.
However, I do have a concern that other webcomikers who haven’t attracted that kind of attention yet will see these types of examples and then try to create their own webcomic to use as a springboard into “something better.” There’s a couple problems with that approach.
First, the reason why these folks are getting hired based on the work they put into their webcomics is because they’re also putting their all into the webcomic. Their webcomics are true labors of love, and they’re attempting to make the best comic they possibly can because it’s a story and set of characters they’re passionate about; they want to portray all that to the very best of their ability. That kind of love and dedication shows on each and every page they make. And while you can still put a great deal of effort into a webcomic without being passionate about it, and even make it objectively better than many other webcomics, without that passion, the work is going to feel hollow and labored. And if the work that you do on your own time is hollowed and labored, what editor would expect you to work harder on something you could well be less passionate about?
Second, I take issue with the notion that anything is “better” than webcomics. Not that webcomics are the end-all and be-all of the comics medium, but having your webcomic printed by Oni or getting hired to draw an Avengers story aren’t the end-all and be-all either. There are a number of webcomic creators out there doing not only well, but significantly better than their print counterparts. At least financially. One assumes that if you’re given the choice between earning a living working on someone else’s intellectual property and your own, being able to work on your own material would be more emotionally satisfying in the long term as well.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to work on an official Batman story, or to be able to work with Michael Richardson. But, as a creator, it’s worth stopping to reflect on why that might be a personal goal. And does that become the end game in and of itself, or is that just a bucket list item to cross off as you get back to the work you really want to do? There are no right answers, and I’m certainly in no position to pass judgement on anyone choosing any path along those lines, but I hate to see people go down a road like that with a load of unquestioned assumptions.