On Webcomics: It's Not Me, It's You

By | Monday, March 17, 2014 Leave a Comment
I am pretty bad when it comes to social media, I think. I mean, sure, I've got my Twitter and Facebook accounts and all that, but I do a phenomenally bad job of engaging with people. Not for a lack of trying, mind you! But for whatever reason, my trying to participate in discussions, much less start them, generally ends with my being ignored and/or the conversation just stopping abruptly. I have no idea what it is I say (or don't) that causes this, but it's something I can trace waaaaay back to my BBS days. It was a little disheartening at first, but I've long since gotten used to it.

But that also means that there is about zero chance anything I create is going catch anyone's interest enough to pass along to reach a broader audience.

Which relates to webcomics how, you may ask. It relates to webcomics because, as a general rule, that's exactly what webcomikers have to do. Creating the webcomic itself is only a small portion of the job; they also have to market it. And if you don't have a huge advertising budget, that generally means a more grass-roots campaign of talking to readers and essentially convincing them to share your material with others, building up an audience slowly and organically.

What ends up happening, then, is that readers begin to follow the comic as much for the creator as for the strip itself. This is more obvious in autobiographical webcomics, but it holds fairly true for fiction as well. I have as much emotional investment in some creators as I do their creations. So even if the strip hits something of a dry spell, I'm willing to overlook that because I like the person who's working on it, and am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

One of the big reasons I like comics in general is something I call "singularity of vision." The voice of any given comic is pretty closely tied to the one or two (or maaaybe three) individuals making it. What the creator wants to say is entirely up to them, and the resulting comic is entirely theirs. Compared to, say, a TV show or movie where you've got the writer, director, director of photography, cast, composer, lighting director, special effects people, etc. all contributing to a piece that ultimately (in my opinion) severely dilutes the message of the original story.

So when I'm reading a webcomic, I'm seeing the work of (generally) one person. Whatever message it is that they're trying to get across is entirely on their shoulders. Naturally a piece that has only been created by a single individual is more reflective of them as a person than a work that's had dozens of people contributing. So it makes sense that a webcomic often has a stronger, more personal voice.

And it's precisely that more personal voice that readers often respond to. They might like the style of humor, or nuance of linework, or the overall theme, or the protagonist's character arc... whatever it is, it's the work of that one creator and thus provides an insight into their personality. So it stands to reason that a webcomic reader is going to feel more directly engaged with its creator than they might with a movie.

But that means that a webcomiker isn't really promoting their comic after all. Superficially, it might be a comic about six zebras and a monkey, but it's really one person's persona filtered through the lens of six zebras and a monkey. I don't care if your strip is set in outer space, or in some faux-medieval land. I don't care if your main characters are all humans, or abstract squiggles. I just want to see what each creator is trying to tell me. About the world, about themselves, about their thoughts... What a webcomiker is really promoting, when they're promoting their strip, is themselves.

It's possible to promote a webcomic while not presenting much of a personality outside the strip itself, but there are VERY few people who can pull that off. I think I've only seen one. So when looking at a webcomic ad or Twitter feed or whatever promotions are being used, think about how much of the promotion is selling the webcomic, and how much is selling the creator. If it's just the former, I'd bet it's not nearly as successful a promotion as it should be!
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