When I started this blog 4 weeks ago, I made a point of not wanting to bang on about the sort of things that I usually bang on about. That’s why there’s only one post about Jethro Tull so far, and none about Deep Purple . It’s also why you haven’s seen me telling you to drop by at Elf Life and go through the archives until now. But there’s gotta be a first time, and it’s now.
Y’see, the artist, Carson Fire, has finally started a set sale of his original art, which I’ve been telling him to do for some time. “Good for him,” I hear you say, and “Rah!” and “Arr!” because a lot of my friends have been saying “Arr!” in my presence lately. But the way he’s going about this, and the reason he’s going about it this way, both make me uncomfortable.
(I should point out that Carson reads this blog, and that I don’t mean to imply in any way whatsoever that he’s wrong for doing what he is doing. )
What he’s doing is this: he is setting financial targets for each day’s worth of sales, and deadlines for meeting these targets. When they are not made, a section of the archives is deleted! Today, the comic’s archives for 2004 (not a great number of strips) all went. Tomorrow, he’ll start eating into the archives for 2003. The reason for holding the archives for ransom like that is simple: he is flat broke and jobless and this is his last chance at making rent this month – he’s got stuff lined up for next month but that won’t help him much if he can’t pay this month’s rent. It’s a long story involving bad health, and a run of unbelievably bad luck which has been going on for four years almost.
And here am I, warm feet, and a limo waiting… well, not quite, but the difference in our respective fortunes is striking. Carson Fire’s Elf Life was what inspired me to have another shot at webcomicking, because it showed that comics could work on the web! They could look good (good enough, anyway – the scan quality on the early strips now looks crude to me), they could appear regularly, without fuss and they could reach an audience. An artist of professional quality and ambition with a long story to tell could get something on the web and get large numbers of people to take notice and get addicted. At the comic’s peak, when it was still appearing regularly, it had some 8,000 daily readers, won awards, and had a series of comic books coming out to take this success to the world of print. And then it all started falling apart. It fell apart because a comic that was a full-time job to make, made close to no money. And even with the upturn in the web advertising market and publisher Keenspot’s fortunes, it is still making almost no money for the artist.
Meanwhile, I’ve made some sort of a career out of comics. I get a bit of money from teaching, a substantial amount of money from writing and drawing Floor for Hello You! and a bit of extra money from the Dutch government through a loan/grant for artists to stabilize things. I’m also getting about as much money from Modern Tales for Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan as Carson gets from Keenspot for Elf Life even though ROCR has only a fraction of the readership that Elf Life has. I’m not rich by any means, but I can afford stuff , and at any time my biggest worry is juggling work deadlines, not making rent deadlines.
Among the stuff I can afford to buy is Elf Life art, which I’ve done but can’t go on doing indefinitely. It does make me pause, though, to note, that a popular comic like Elf Life can’t bring in enough money to support itself (which it has to! Hobbyism this ain’t) through one publishing model after four years! That’s an awfully long time to wait for things to build up. Other models also aren’t quite bringing in a living for their creators – Modern Tales’s subscription model is better in relation to visitor numbers but I’d still need several times as many paying readers to be able to focus on nothing other than ROCR – which is still my goal.
A handful of webcomics *are* doing well enough. PVP, Penny Arcade and the likes do very well. But they have massive readerships. How many is enough, I wonder?
In any case, if you have a bit of time, do swell the ranks of Elf Life readers, go through the archives while you still can. Elf Life is moving, literate, funny and at times unbelievably well-crafted – resembling more an epic print comic like Cerebus or The Replacement God than your average webcomic. And maybe purchase some artwork. It is really nice to look at the originals just for the craftsmanship in them, and they will look good on your wall if you frame them.
[Addition: Even the art pieces on sale are selling very slowly,
despite being, to my eyes, very fairly priced]
[Addition # 2: There was something else I was going to say but I forgot it again, and will probably remember it again once I hit “Save” on this edited post.]