I’m not going to claim any great success as a web comic artist. I’m a long way from making a living at this, but I do think I have some good pointers for aspiring web comic creators.
I’m not going to go into what to write or how to draw. Either you got it you don’t.
First tip: RUN! RUN while you still can!
Still with me? OK, what are you waiting for? DO IT! There is no failure in creating something new. There will always be people that will find fault with your work. Ignore those that throw buzzwords around, don’t have any creative work of their own to show, or clearly never have anything nice to say. Their opinions are worth less than the paper they print on. Oh, wait! This is the Internet. No paper. That means they owe you! Their voice is completely dependent on the work of people that create something for them to criticize.
Support any co-creator, or be prepared to go it alone or find another artist/author on short notice. Too many great web comics have ended abruptly when the team creating it broke up or moved apart. Make sure any co-creator is as into the idea as you are or getting something out of it. Consider making (signing?) an agreement to continue the project amicably even if your relationship changes and/or you get separated by life’s events (like graduating). As for myself, I have trust issues making it hard for me to work creatively with others. The only person I’ve wanted to work with is Karen Ellis, and that’s more of a slavish adoration thing.
Keep your day job. I’m not just saying don’t quit work (just yet). I’m also saying you need to keep your comic separate and even SECRET from your regular workplace. Use a pen name for your site. Don’t tell your boss or coworkers (at least not at first). Don’t mention where you work on your site. And don’t feature events from your work too closely in your comic. Employers have long been skittish about hiring people with a significant web presence. They fear you might become successful and quit, expose business practices and abuses, or worse, make fun of them. They may also find content in your comic that offends them; marking you for untimely termination. Coworkers may express jealousy or hostility. And if something in your comic mirrors any of their experiences, they will think you lifted it from that. I’m pretty sure that having my name attached to TMI has cost me more than one job opportunity (but then, if that’s the case, I wouldn’t have wanted to work there anyway).
Think of the project as it’s own reward. Very few web comics provide a living for their creators. Even fewer result in syndication in print. Do your comic because you want to. That way when (not if, think positive) success comes you way, it’s all cake. (And remember me when you’re raking in the big bucks!)
Welcome constructive criticism. This is completely different from paying attention to trolls and deriders. Some of your peers and readers have a clue.
Think about other ways you’re going to publish. One of the things precluding a dead tree version of “Too Much Information” is that the early comics were created in the same resolution as published, for the web only. In order to do a print version, I have to redo all my old comics. Other artists have mentioned finding out their work had size and formatting problems, such as content too close to the edge, prone to being cut off in binding. Ka-Blam.com has templates that can help you work things out. I currently produce the originals for my comics for 300 dpi, then size down for the web site.
Look carefully at how you’re going to publish on the web. My early efforts were published strictly in HTML and every time I added a new comic, I had to make a new page, as well as changing links on the prior pages. That got old fast, and don’t get me started on layout changes. You’ll find iStrip still powering many comics and it worked well for me for many years. I liked it because it doesn’t require a database (an SQL database could cost extra and they were not real reliable at the time). But it’s been out of development almost since I first started using it and it lacks features such as blogging and RSS feeds. I’m currently using WordPress with the ComicPress theme (vastly improved in its 2.9 version) and that’s my current pick for serving comics.
Where you host your comic is at least as important as the software you use. I’ve seen many comics lose their hosting service over the years when their traffic got too big; forcing an unexpected change in hosts, or simply dropping the web comic project. Sometimes the hosting provider simply cut them off, but I’ve seen a few cases where the creator(s) got handed a big bill. There’s really so such thing as “unlimited” hosting. There’s always fine print that usually gives the hosting provider the option of drawing the line; usually something along the line of “affecting service” for other customers. So be prepared to have to pay more for hosting some day. I think my current hosting provider, Dreamhost, has been particularly fair with me in this regard. (Incidentally, if you click the link to Dreamhost on my site to sign up for service I do get something for it.)
Update regularly. You don’t have to put something up every day, but if you say you update monthly, do it. (I eagerly await the monthly updates of 3-4 Sabrina Online comics on the first of each month for example.) Any time you miss a regular update you’ll lose a few readers. Miss a week, and you’ll lose hundreds. A month can cost you thousands. In general it seems to take 3 or 4 times as long as any hiatus to recover readers.
At the same time, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Unless you can dedicate the hours a day it takes to create a comic, don’t promise daily updates.
Set aside time to work. There’s always something that needs doing, and others will have things they want to do that eat into your time, but this is your special project. Think of it as one of your chores. Be firm with anyone that says it’s just a comic (particularly if the word “stupid” comes up).
Don’t be too shy about monetizing your site, but don’t go crazy with ads. (Yes, I have 3 skyscrapers and a banner going right now, but I’m comparing performance. Really.) Too many ads dilute the effectiveness of the others. Right now, for me, the best return for ad space is Project Wonderful, followed by Google Ads. It’s too early to say if Consumer Junction is going to work out. I’ve also never really explored merchandising my work, and I really should.
I hope you find all this useful.