Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lessons from Goats

"I've Made a Huge Mistake."

That's the title of Jonathan Rosenberg's latest blog post. Rosenberg is the creator of Goats, one of the most venerable of the venerable old webcomics. Goats launched in 1997, a time when I when I was using the Internet primarily to play video games on AOL. In 2006, Rosenberg was able to start living off of Goats and became a full-time cartoonist. Now, after 13 years of multiversal misadventures, Rosenberg is lamenting his wasted time.

So what happened? Well, Rosenberg has reached a point where Goats can no longer support his family in the manner to which they've become accustomed (which is to say, providing his children with such luxuries as food, shelter, and medical care), which he suspects has something to do with the strip's epic format:

Goats is thirteen years old. Since 2003, I've been working on a single epic storyline meant to culminate at the end of 2012, at which point Goats would toddle off into the sunset and I would start my next comic. Easy, right?

It is becoming apparent that this approach isn't viable. While I'm happy with what I've done creatively, the webcomics medium rewards quick, easy updates with traffic. Long, continuity-filled stories like Goats that take a long time between updates tend to stagnate, although there are certainly folks more talented than I who can pull off this difficult feat.
The Internet is still, in many ways, the Wild West for content creators, and Rosenberg was one of the first cartoonists to plant his stake. In 1997, creators were trying to share their comics with the world, and maybe build a following. They probably weren't thinking about what their business models would look like in 2010. And they probably wouldn't have anticipated the reddit and Digg culture that drives eyeballs toward gag-a-day strips like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and xkcd over long-form comics. Some folks, like Scott Kurtz of PvP, have been able to innovate through the Internet's environmental changes, but it's a lot harder if you're looking to tell a single story over the course of 15 years.

And then there's the question of whether webcomicking is a young (or at least childless) person's game. Rosenberg notes that if he were unattached, he'd "would hunker down, buy some ramen and just tough it out."

But this is also also a sobering reminder that readers need to actively participate in the webcomics ecosystem. With a few exceptions, donating to creators and buying merch are optional. Creators are putting out their work for free, and if you can't afford to give something back monetarily, that's totally fine. But do wear your webcomics heart on your sleeve. Tell other people what comics you enjoy. If you use Twitter or Facebook, don't forget to share your favorite pages and story arcs. And when you're doing your gift shopping or making out wishlists, don't forget to check out your favorite creators' shops. Plenty of folks put out awesome t-shirts that can be appreciated by webcomics readers and non-readers alike.

If reading Rosenberg's missive inspires you to spend your dollars on Goats merchandise, that's great. Check out his TopatoCo store, consider buying his books, grabbing a Squid vs. Wienermobile t-shirt, or picking up some Republicans for Voldemort bumper stickers. But don't forget to support the other creators who have kept you entertained for free.

Incidentally, for the "hunker down and eat ramen" set, Templar, Arizona's Spike is working on Poorcraft, a starving artist's guide to the frugal like in comic book form.

I've Made a Huge Mistake [Goats via Fleen]

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