Author: Chuck Rozakis

The Theory of Webcomics: Superstar Theory

The Theory of Webcomics: Superstar Theory

In my last entry, I discussed a number of the ways that webcomics make money and mentioned that only a few of the thousands of webcomic artists are able to actually do so. There are a number of factors that play into which comics make money (and for that matter, which attract the most readers, and which work best with each type of business plan), but I think a critical one is what economists know as “Superstar Theory”.

Aside: I am an economist by schooling, and years ago, this was a major point in my undergraduate thesis paper. I didn’t invent the phrase—that honor goes to actual economists like Sherwin Rosen—but I suspect I was the first person to use it in reference to webcomics. I’m going to assume you have a basic idea of how economic supply and demand works, here: As people demand more of a good, the price goes up; as producers make more of it, price goes down, and everything else pretty much flows from that.

The classic model would be a baker: If more people want cupcakes, and start lining up at his door to buy them, then he can raise the price and make more money. If a second bakery opens up down the street, people can buy cupcakes from either of them, and the first baker will need to lower his prices or he’ll see his business go to the competition.

In most modern artistic fields, there are a small number of artists that grow huge followings and tend to get the majority of the word-of-mouth “buzz.” This concept is known as the Superstar phenomenon, in which a relatively small group of people earn significantly more money than most in their field, and, in fact, dominate that field in general. Performers, writers, and sports players of the first rank command huge incomes, and there is a large gap between their salaries and those of people of the second rank—though the difference in skill between first and second rank may be minute. (Think of what Harrison Ford makes versus what his “unknown” female co-star makes.) For an economist, this can be complicated to examine with your classic supply-demand model, because that model assumes that products are undifferentiated—one is as good as any other. What’s missing is an account of “box office appeal,” or the ability of a single person to attract a large following.


Webcomics You Should Be Reading: ‘Wonderella’

Webcomics You Should Be Reading: ‘Wonderella’

What if Wonder Woman was a total jerkass? Not evil, or a supervillain, or the crazy Nazi-lady from Whom Gods Destroy, but just a self-centered, self-absorbed jerk?

Justin Pierce answers that question, by showing us The Non-Adventures of Wonderella. [link:].

Pierce skewers (did you see that? That was totally a pun) bits of DC Comics continuity, along with barely-disguised cameos from both DC and Marvel, and a smattering of other pop culture and cartoon references. Wonderella and her sidekick Wonderita fight evil (when it gets in their way), get drunk, travel through time, interact with historical and religious figures, and demonstrate superpowers they don’t even have names for yet.

There’s a book available that collects the first 99 strips, titled Everybody Ever Forever, plus the usual assortment of prints and buttons for sale. The strip also appears on Graphic Smash, where you can pay a fee to read Pierce’s other superhero-themed comic, Killroy and Tina.

Notable moments:

Drama: Not as such. This is a humor strip. There’s some lovely schadenfreude, though.
Humor: Requires at least a basic knowledge of comic book superheroes, and a willingness to accept that the protagonist is OMG TEH WORST PERSON EVAR.
Continuity: Low. Reading from the beginning will allow you to pick up some of the running gags, but pretty much every strip is self-contained and can be read independently.
Art: Pierce uses a bright, no-outline, construction-paper-cutout style reminiscent of early Scary-Go-Round [link:]. Various deviations from this indicate that it’s obviously a stylistic choice, not an artistic limitation.
Archive: Two years of page-size comics, about 115 comics.
Updates: Once weekly, on Mondays.
Risk/Reward: Wonderella tends not to suffer consequences of her actions, so long-term conflict and resolution is really not an issue with this strip. Enjoy it while it’s here, mourn it if it goes stale or ends.

‘Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog’ Headed for TV

‘Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog’ Headed for TV

Jonathan Mahood’s Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog may soon be coming to television. The strip was optioned by producer Radical Sheep Productions in May 2007, and recently announced a deal with TVO to develop an animated series based on the strip. The series is planned to be 26 11-minute episodes aimed at the six to 12-year-old audience. Script writing and animation design is already underway.

The strip tells the story of a ten-year-old boy who wanted a dog and got Bleeker: a canine-shaped walking cell phone/mp3 player/camera/printer/smoke detector/GPS that isn’t actually very good at being a dog. As Skip struggles to enjoy dog ownership, he is hampered by Bleeker’s quirky operating system, low battery life and frequent calls to technical support.

Pat Ellingson, Creative Head of Children’s Media, Content and Programming for TVO says of Bleeker, “What we love about Bleeker is that it’s a show that makes you laugh but has a lot of heart. Amongst all the comedy and the antics, Bleeker teaches us life lessons about the importance of friendship, community and family. It’s both educational and fun. We think it’s a great fit for TVO.”

Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog was launched in July 2006 on Comic Sherpa. In February 2007 it was picked up by for online syndication, where it can be seen daily. Mahood has a Cafepress storefront with the usual assortment of branded clothing, and the first collect of Bleeker stripsis available from

‘Least I Could Do’ Volume Five Available for Pre-Order

‘Least I Could Do’ Volume Five Available for Pre-Order

Ryan Sohmer, creator of the webcomic Least I Could Do, announced that the fifth collection of his strip, titled Yield To Me, is available for pre-order. Four other collections are also available, collecting the first four years of LICD strips: I Have My Moments, My Will Be Done, Because I Can, and I Love This Guy. Limited-edition box sets of all five books are available for pre-order as well, and pre-orders of book 5 will also come with a limited edition key chain.

Least I Could Do follows the adventures of Rayne Summers, the wish-fulfillment Marty Stu of every single man. The comedy is reminiscent of Comedy Central’s The Man Show, with overblown plots that seem to somehow work out and constant sex-based farce. (Sohmer’s original blog post announcing the book also includes a photo of a naked woman tastefully presenting the book. This should give you an idea of his authorial style.) LICD premiered in 2003, created by Sohmer and Trevor Adams. Adams was replaced by Chad Porter later that year, then by current artist Lar deSouza in 2005.

Sohmer and deSouza also produce the fantasy webcomic Looking For Group. Their company Blind Ferret Entertainment produces animated shorts based on their comics, as well as the PvP and Ctrl-Alt-Del animated series.

Former Syndicated Cartoonist Steps into the World of Webcomics

Former Syndicated Cartoonist Steps into the World of Webcomics

Rob Cabrera, best known as the author of United Media-syndicated comic Silo Roberts has started a new independent strip inspired by this year’s presidential campaign. Super Tuesday plays the standard political-cartoon style and focuses specifically on Barak Obama and John McCain. Updates are expected to vary in frequency as events develop on the campaign trail.

Silo Roberts, Cabrera’s previous strip, was “the story of a multiethnic middle child who struggles to find his place in today’s melting pot of a world”. The strip was syndicated by Uniuted Media from 2004 to 2006, when Cabrera ended the strip to focus on graduate school. The Silo Roberts section of Cabrera’s website is “under construction,” but promises a print collection of the comic in 2008.

Cabrera’s previous notable move was a rare crossover of comic strips with the NBA: Silo Roberts featured Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade in December of 2005. The strips and a related news piece were featured at, and the strip was made into a series of limited-edition Topps trading cards, released in May 2006.

The Theory of Webcomics: How Webcomics Make Money

The question is how webcomics make money. The answer is: Most of them don’t, but the ones that do usually rely on numerous sources. These typically include advertisements on the site, donations from readers, merchandise sales, and paid online content.

The webcomic itself can play several fundamental roles, all of which rest on the same idea: You come to the site to read the comic.

When the revenue source is advertising, the comic consists of a draw that makes the presence of advertising acceptable, in the same model as a TV show. Depending on the hosting site (and the author’s preferences) these can be Google text ads, banner ads put together by Project Wonderful and similar ad brokers, or customized ads solicited and designed by the artist himself. The former two are the easier choice, and typically the available ones to smaller comics with less traffic. More popular comics can often solicit advertisements from online retailers or other comics. The biggest comics, such as Penny Arcade [link:], have been known to attract advertisements from companies looking to tap into their audience, such as Sega.

When discussing donations, the comic plays the role of a bridge or connection between the author and the audience. The author is typically closer and more responsive to audience feedback than a novelist or print comic author could be, often maintaining comic forums or a Livejournal to communicate with them. Over time, the audience thinks of the author not as a faceless comic-making entity, but as a friend who gives them free stuff and deserves to be rewarded for that. Randy Milholland is the undisputed master of this, having dared his readership that he would quit his day job if they’d donate a year’s salary. Which, in a matter of days, they did.


Webcomics You Should Be Reading: ‘Something*Positive’

Randy Milholland is a very, very angry man. He distills that anger into the purest form of hate known to man, which he uses as ink. And with that ink, he effects a marvelous transformation of rage into humor, he creates Something*Positive.

Of course, as many an astute reader has noticed, “Your comic isn’t positive at all! It’s mean!”

S*P is based in Milholland’s real life, and follows the adventures of Davan MacIntire (obviously modeled on Milholland) and his friends as they find and lose love, perform irreverent musicals, play inventive role-playing games, deal with family troubles, and cause amusing property damage and extreme bodily harm to those who incite them.
Milholland also has a number of other comic projects. Those that are still updating appear on the main S*P homepage, and include: Super Stupor, a gag-a-strip comic about super-heroes and villains who are a bit more genre-savvy than usual; Something*Positive 1937-1938, which chronicles the life of Davan’s namesake, a friend of the character’s grandfather; Midnight Macabre, which follows stand-up comic Gaspar Baugh as he tries to revitalize a late-night horror TV show in 1981; and Rhymes With Witch, a collection of unconnected gags that have randomly emerged from Milholland’s brain. He has a discontinued project called New Gold Dreams, based on a roleplaying campaign introduced in S*P; and filler strips titled Life With Rippy, featuring Milholland and his “muse”, a talking straight-razor.

Notable moments:

The introduction of Choo-Choo Bear, the malleable kitty
Davan is the universe’s buttmonkey, in what become Kim’s most well-known running gag.
A second disturbing cat, Twitchy-Hug, is introduced and eventually removed.
A crossover with Queen of Wands . The main character of Queen of Wands eventually joined the cast of Something*Positive permanently.
Aubrey’s business venture, the sex-line for Geeks, Nerdrotica.
Fred and Faye MacIntire’s perfect day

Drama: Medium. The world of Something*Positive sucks, and though the characters virtually always bounce back and pass the suffering on to others, actual pathos has been known to rear its ugly head.

Humor: Excellent, though dark and often offensive. Milholland makes no bones about slaughtering sacred cows, turning humor out of sensitive subjects. Viewer discretion is advised, but if you can handle most stand-up comedy (particularly George Carlin), you’ll appreciate this.

Continuity: High. Very few of the comics stand alone, and stories tend to weave around to different characters as exciting eents happen in their lives. This is one where it’s important to start from the first strip [link:] and do an archive trawl in order.

Art: A cartoon-ish line-art style that has improved as the comic has evolved. How detailed the background art is varies from strip to strip, ranging from detailed depictions of Davan’s childhood home to flat one-color backdrops.

Almost seven years, about 2000 page-sized comics.

Irregularly, usually 3-7 comics per week. The main Something*Positive strip tends to be a bit more reliable than the others. For most of the archives, Milholland maintained (or retroactively added) a five- or seven-day-per-week schedule.

Risk/Reward: The story is very slice-of-life, and like life, doesn’t have a real beginning or ending. Milholland has commented that he has an ongoing plan for all of his comics and when they’re due to end, but schedule slips have called that into question. The best approach is probably just to enjoy it while you’ve got it.

The World of Webcomics Celebrates Ryan Estrada Day

The World of Webcomics Celebrates Ryan Estrada Day

Guest comics are a tool of the trade in webcomics: The host needs a day off, the guest wants to get his work out there. A small comic can get a huge boost to traffic with a link and endorsement from a more popular site, and a guest comic is often the best way to get both.

Artist Ryan Estrada has taken this to new heights by drawing 70 comics, all of which were posted last Wednesday, 9/18. The comics are now being posted at Estrada’s own site, and are archived at each of the host sites. The lineup includes such notables as 8-bit Theater, Real Life Comics, Overcompensating, Dominic Deegan, and Wapsi Square. The good folks at Fleen have been kind enough to work up a complete list.

This is actually the second time Estrada has set guest comic records: Last year, during “Estradarama 2007”, he posted guest comics to some twenty different sites. This draw attention both to his ongoing work and the then newly-created custom-comics service Cartoon Commune.

This year, he’s using the day to announce a new full comic book, written with John Baird of the Create a Comic Project, titled Create a Comic Project Presents: Climate Change. The 34-page book is available at as a $6.00 printed edition or $0.50 download.


Willis Proposes via Comic

David Willis, author of Shortpacked! and Joyce and Walky proposed to Maggie Weidner, his girlfriend of four years, using not just a single strip, but a week-long storyline of Shortpacked! Weidner, also an artist accepted in comic form, which was promptly posted to the Shortpacked! news section.

Willis is a long-time webcomic artist, having started Roomies! in 1997, continued with the sequel strip It’s Walky from 1999 to 2005, and continued that with the pay-per-month subscription strip Joyce and Walky. Shortpacked!, a less drama-heavy strip premiered in 2005 and chronicles the misadventures of the employees of a toy store.

Willis isn’t the first webcomic artist to propose in his comic. Mike Krahulik (“Gabe”) of Penny Arcade started the trend in 1999. Greg Dean of Real Life Comics did it in 2005, though he had actually proposed the week before, and the comic follows the (often embellished) events of his life. Eric Burns, also known as the webcomic pundit Websnark gathered a collection of 17 webcomic artists to create his proposal comic for co-blogger Wednesday White. And this past June, Three Panel Soul artist Ian McConville programmed a video game to propose to his girlfriend with.

Congratulations to Willis and Weidner, we wish you many happy returns. That, and we’re thankful you didn’t propose via LOLCat.

The Theory of Webcomics: Could DRM Kill Your Webcomic?

The Theory of Webcomics: Could DRM Kill Your Webcomic?

The idea that the march of technology is too slow and could kill a baby art form is nothing new. Scott Kurtz wrote “Could Success Kill Your Webcomic?” in 2002, as he was then concerned with the increasing cost of bandwidth that came with an influx of readers. Fortunately, in the last six years, technological growth outpaced his concerns, but things were a bit dicey for some popular webcomics for a little while there.

Webcomics are taking the market share from print comics, particularly indie ones (though I wouldn’t be surprised if the general correlation between the advent of the web and decreasing sales of major companies’ print comics turned out to be a causation). When it comes to attracting new readers, a free product available on the web and updated daily (or several times weekly) is far more enticing to cash-strapped kids than a $3 22-page pamphlet that requires leaving the house to acquire and only advances the story once a month.

On a similar note, I’m of the strong opinion that when a company is able to produce and market a color ebook reader at the right screen size and the right price-point, it will kill the pamphlet comic book and hugely broaden the market for webcomics. Once the reading experience is equivalent, the decreased effort of ebooks can win the market for them. Why buy when you can download? If you want a physical copy, wait a few months and buy the trade paperback.

Obviously, the solution for the big companies is to appeal to those new readers by directly competing with webcomics and taking their advantages for yourself, while keeping your original advantages (professionalism, well-known brands, and the like). Of course, there are problems with translating print-sized comics to screens: Virtually no-one’s monitors can fully display ten-by-seven inches in portrait format with enough magnification to make it readable without destroying your eyes. Which means you either expand the image and have to scroll, or you can’t read the text and need to magnify it. (And in the worst cases, you need to scroll in multiple directions.) And there’s the loading wait when you turn a page. Most webcomics solve these problems by formatting their comics to fit most browsers, intentionally limiting the necessary scrolling and optimizing their text size for reading on monitors. The comics themselves are set up as compressed graphic images that load quickly. The archive sections of sites are usually designed with stripped-down graphics so that you can read through them quickly.