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Creating Comics: The Battle for the Backing of Online Readers

Chronoctis Express © Aerinn

Chronoctis Express © Aerinn

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know I’ve been regularly plugging my SF comic project, Crucible (co-created with Smuzz, lettered by Jim Campbell), which runs on the web comics platform Tapastic and is embedded here on downthetubes as it’s released.

It’s been an interesting experience – the Tapastic platform is easy to use and offer a number of useful tools for aspiring web comics creators to not only publish but also promote their work. It’s comics dedicated, unlike the perhaps more favoured and more well known Patreon, which is the platform of choice of many British creators such as Al Davison and Emma Vieceli.

We’re very slowly building a subscriber base, but it’s been quite an effort to get as far as we have, and illustrates how much work comic creators are putting into promoting their work to grow their audiences, efforts on a par with the intensity of promoting a crowdfunding pitch for its duration.

Sadly, as even the more successful creators will relate, gaining readers is only part of the battle when it comes to self publishing online. Persuading those readers to back your project with real money, such as this beautifully-created manga-styled strip by French artist AerinChronoctis Express, is another.

As comic creators are finding, and as web comic creators have found from Day One (sometime in the 1990s), not only do you have to have a great comic and publish it regularly – you generally have to gain a huge number of subscribers (or in the case of more traditionally published web comics such as Kate Ashwin’s brilliant Widdershins, or big league, long-running strips such as Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics or Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik’s Penny Arcade), a massive number regular readers.

Once you have that hard won mass audience – and that takes time and a lot of patience and promotion some creators don’t have – then you can, hopefully, start to generate some income, or persuade your fans to back you in your additional projects such as print editions of your comic. (I’m mentioning Widdershins here again because Kate has had considerable and deserved success getting backing for her print collections, as you’ll see from her latest campaign, which has gained double her planned target).

The opening page of Chronoctis Express by Aerinn © Aerinn

The opening page of Chronoctis Express by Aerinn © Aerinn

French artist Aerin has crafted a wonderful comic strip, as you can see from the samples here. She’s gained some 4700+ subscribers; but even though the Tapastic platform appears to favour manga strips in terms of highlighted projects, that’s not enough to have the knock on effect of gaining financial backing via their service, and she’s closing her Tapastic support page in consequence, to focus her efforts on her Patreon instead.

“I tried to earn money to make a living and continue to give new free pages of my comic,” says Aerinn of Tapastic, “but it didn’t work, so I have to stop it… Unfortunately, the support system in Tapastic does not fit what I can and want to do.

“I love Tapastic, but… I have to do choices that will help me, so I can make the maximum of pages of Chronoctis Express.  It’s not easy to know what to do when we make self-publishing, that’s why I’m trying a lot of things to make a living from my art.”

Aerinn has detailed the considerations she made in making the changes, scaling back on the number of pages she’ll be drawing and switching in full to Patreon here.

Finding the right audience for great work, especially on the web, is a major battle. When you consider just how much work is out there, and how hard it is too find (despite “Best Web Comic Lists aplenty), I’m filled with admiration for creators who give it a try, just as those of us who published small press comics in the 1980s did with little chance of reaching the kind of potential audience you can today.

Equally, I’m hugely impressed by those creators who’ve made their creations such as success online, through talent, hard work – and a lot of self promotion!

I think you have to be pretty ruthless with yourself when you’re self publishing; if something isn’t working, drop it (never easy, I know, after all – it’s your creation) and refocus, look at what is working and do what Aerinn’s decided to do and concentrate efforts on what looks like the best option for your creativity to shine, both in terms of gaining an audience and in order to pay your bills.

• Please let us know what you think are the challenges of making a success of web comics creatively and ‘commercially’ (if that’s your aim – leave a comment below! What’s worked for you? What hasn’t? Spill the beans (and promote your web comic as well!)

Web Links

Tapastic

Used by myself, Mike Garley, Nick Miller and a fair few other British comic creators, the team behind Tapastic is called Tapas Media, headquartered in Silicon Valley in the US. Their aim is build an open platform and community for indie web comic artists and visual storytellers to connect with fans.

Patreon

Based in San Francisco, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform created by musician Jack Conte and developer Sam Yam. It allows artists to obtain funding from patrons on a recurring basis or per artwork.Basically, you carry on what you always have done and if folk like what they see, they choose what level of backing they give you. Patreon also deal with any of the tax issues in the EU that are the result of recent VAT changes over digital content by allying with crafts-focussed site Etsy as a ‘middleman’ service, using their larger presence to sort out the often microscopic payments on behalf of sellers using the platforms (WIRED news item on this here).

• i09: The Biggest Mistakes People Make When They Start A Webcomic

Read our interview with Kate Ashwin about Widdershins; and check out her latest Kickstarter for the story, a series of light-hearted adventure stories, set in a magical version of Victorian-era Yorkshire, featuring grumpy treasure hunters, accidental thieves, failed wizards, and more besides…

• Follow Aerinn on tumblr: http://o-aerinn-o.tumblr.com/ | Check out the official Chronoctis Express site: http://en.chronoctis-express.com | Check out Aerinn’s Patreon page

Paste: 20 Best Web Comics of 2014

About John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative" who is currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 25 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary, including DEATH'S HEAD II and WARHEADS. At Marvel he wrote strips for THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS, THUNDERCATS, DOCTOR WHO and co-created SHADOW RIDERS with Brian Williamson and Ross Dearsley. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. He has written comics for Marvel UK, Judge Dredd Megazine, Lucky Bag Comic, CGL (an Italian publisher), STRIP Magazine and ROK Comics; and edited some of Titan's British comics collections including Dan Dare and Charley's War. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.
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