The internet has been a wonderful platform for aspiring comic artists. Anyone can get their own online space to post their work, whether it’s on a dedicated comics site such as Smack Jeeves, an art site like DeviantArt, or blogging platforms like Tumblr. Each site tends to draw a different audience, so ambitious creators will post their work across multiple sites to draw as many viewers as possible. However, artists who wish to turn their hobby into their job often hit a road block: internet publicity relies on free access. Few viewers will bother with paywalled content, especially for works they aren’t yet familiar with. As Watkins pointed out, the result is that many online comics will simply drop off the face of the planet when their artists struggle with life issues and cannot afford to spend so much time on a hobby that doesn’t pay the bills. “Donate” buttons only went so far!
In the past, it was rare that even popular webcomics could sustain their artists financially. Comics like RPG World that were lucky enough to land a publishing deal might only get a single book out. These compilations did not usually sell enough to produce sequels, and the comics themselves tended to “end” on indefinite hiatus. RPG World stopped updating, without a real ending, in 2005. The artist, Ian Jones-Quartey, has since sold the old web domain and moved on to a successful job in animation where he works on the hit cartoon Steven Universe.
While Jones-Quartey found success doing art in another field, other webcomic artists were not so lucky. However, that is now changing. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter allow artists to keep their content free, but also amass the funds necessary to produce print copies of their comics and/or temporarily treat comics as their full time job. For example, gigidigi’s Cucumber Quest has successfully put out three print compilations and is still updating with new comics. The Kickstarter for the first book raised $62,953, quite an impressive amount!
However, Kickstarter campaigns are a one-time payment, which is not ideal for artists seeking to make a career of their work. Patreon seeks to address that flaw with a system that allows interested fans to make monthly payments to support their favorite artists. In return, they get access to exclusive content, such as art streams. Artists who have enough of a fanbase can thus make a living (or partial living) off of their Patreons. The creator of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal earns over $8,800 per month on Patreon alone, which is a yearly salary of over $105,600!
Of course, both Kickstarter and Patreon rely on the artist already having a sizable fanbase, so neither of them is a shortcut to fame and riches. Aspiring artists must still face all the difficulties of getting their work out there in the first place. Crowdfunding does offer an excellent alternative to dealing with publishers, who may be unwilling to take chances, and keeps control of the comic completely within the artist’s hands. It’s a great way for fans with money to spare to help support them, and incentivizes said support with some kind of reward for pitching in certain amounts. Overall, crowdfunding looks like a positive force of change for webcomics, and will hopefully result in fewer popular series being abandoned.