Blog Tutorials and Resources

Merch it like you mean it

A primer on how to make money off your artwork on today’s internet

Ads are pretty great, right? You get anywhere between a few cents to a few dollars a day in exchange for making your website look kind of cheap and trashy. We just can’t love them enough, so we stick them all over everything because there is nothing that your comic needs than some gaudy eyesore right next to (or above or below) it to draw attention away from it.

Yeah, I’m not a real big fan of using ads. You can make five dollars in a month on Project Wonderful ads, or you can make four times that by selling just one t-shirt or print. I’ll tell you which one I’d pick.

I’m aware of the ongoing argument about shirts and other merchandise – there’s the contention that if your primary source of income is merch, rather than the comic itself, that you aren’t truly making a living as a cartoonist. And, uh, I don’t really care. I have to confess that I’m a lot more personally invested in getting that paper than I am in scoring points on somebody else’s totally arbitrary purist credibility scale.

If you’re of the same mind about turning your artwork into cash money, let’s continue.

I am going to assume you’ve heard of Cafepress. Let’s not talk about cafepress. You may have also heard of Zazzle. I’m not going to talk about Zazzle, either. In my experience it seems like these two options tend to be about as far as the webcomics crowd is willing to investigate as far as merchandising options go, with maybe Topatoco as being the aspirational destination.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a bigger world out there.

Blog Tutorials and Resources

Some excellent resources for making comics on the internet went subscriber-only earlier in the week, and if you follow webcomics news at all, you probably don’t need me to tell you, since it’s already been reported and commented on by every major source all over the internet.

I have no strong opinions on the subject in either direction, the idea of a paysite for tutorials isn’t totally alien to me,, nettuts, and 3dbuzz all charge a premium for access to their content and they seem to do okay for themselves, so what Guigar’s doing isn’t an unproven strategy. If you’re broke, though, there’s still a lot of useful information on the subject of telling stories with words and pictures if you know where to look.

Here’s some of my favorites:

Comic Tools is an excellent, if sadly neglected blog on the craft of making comics, but if you dig through the archives, there’s a lot of information there that is still very relevant. I especially like the articles on drawing and using dialogue balloons, a subject that tends to be an afterthought.

One of the things I’ve always found to be very instructive is to look at other peoples’ process, and there are a number of people who’ve documented theirs to share it. Kazu Kibuishi was kind enough to post a three-part series of how he makes Copper, and it’s just wonderful.

And there are of course the old standbys that seem to make the rounds about once every year or so: 22 panels that always work and Disney’s comic strip artist kit. If you haven’t seen them, there’s also a neat set of instructional drawings by osamu tezuka on how to draw manga. All the instructional text is in Japanese, but you’ll get the idea.

Many of the articles on Animation Meat can readily be applied to comics. there are a series of lecture notes and internal memos circulated to animators available on the site. Of interest especially are the notes on work habits, thumbnailing, drawing, and storyboarding.

Finally, it seems like everybody and my mom are running their comics on the wordpress/comicpress value meal combo, and if you’re one of them, it behooves you to take at least a little bit of time to optimize your wordpress setup. Lifehacker ran an article earlier in the year on doing exactly that, and the article itself is an excellent springboard into other useful WordPress-related learning tools.

If you have your own favorite resources for making comics, be sure to leave a comment and link me up, I’d love to hear about it.

Blog Tutorials and Resources

On finding a voice

I sometimes find that when I am drawing, there’s a sneaky, subtle temptation to imitate. Especially when I’m able to identify a certain style or mannerism that’s very popular with those circles I’m used to moving in – there’s the thought, “oh, well, this is what people like, and so it must be good, and if I want to be successful, I need to teach myself to draw like that.”

And it’s very persistent, and sometimes it wins over, and there is of course the bewildered disappointment when my attempts to pander don’t net me the success they have for others.

It takes a certain special kind of mental discipline to have enough faith in yourself to be willing to sing with your own voice. People are drawn to novelty, and if you are willing to be different simply by being yourself, rather than by some forced effort to stand apart from the crowd, that kind of distinctiveness has a very appealing resonance.

One of my guiding principles for about the last half of the decade has been: do the work that you want to do, and do it as best you can, and your audience will find you. It’s not a lesson that sticks, though. I have to keep learning it over and over.