Making a comic in a post-print world.
Comics on the phone whaaat...
Where do you read comics? No really, where? The Funny Pages in the newspaper are gone. American comic single issues are pushing six solid dollars a pop. Printed Japanese manga volumes have hovered around $10 each for ages now.
So let’s see that’s $5.99 per single issue (which they hope will 3x in price on day because of single issue rarity) or $10 (or less if used) for a book of 3-4 single issues.
Alright, but that comic series has 20+ volumes to read. That’s $200+ to catch up on a long standing series. Yeah, yeah, One Piece is 100 volumes deep but that’s like the Simpsons of shonen manga. We have lots of manga and trade paperbacks on our bookshelf but very rarely do we end up buying the entire series. We average the first ten volumes before moving on to the anime or running out of spare cash for comics.
And I think that’s the biggest point to make. Comics aren’t a need. You buy them with spare money once in a while like a new videogame or novel. I worked in a comic shop and I saw folks who came in every Wednesday to buy their two copies of every new issue (one to read one to keep) of whatever they were into. They didn’t even have to shop for them or worry about it being on the shelf because these were the folks with a subscription. We bagged their orders up and they paid when they came in. But that was only a handful of people compared to the vast pool of potential readers.
The best way to read a comic and insure that the author/artists can afford production is a subscription. I posted about this a while back about how I started reading manga on the Shonen Jump app. After buying a few physical copies of Chainsaw Man I wanted to read the rest but it was vastly outside my budget to do so. The publishers of Jump will let you read a massive amount of their catalog of comics for only $2.99 a month. I can read 100 chapters/issues per day which I’ve never managed to reach in a normal day. Amazon/Comixology has a similar thing for $5 a month if you’re into US comics.
A few bucks a month to read hundreds of dollars worth of comics each day is far more accessible for the majority of people out there. Especially right now when folks are sweating over paying rent. Those of us who can go back and buy physical copies of the stuff we read will do so, but without a widespread audience and readership comics and series will get dropped. And yes, larger libraries will carry comics like this for those who can access them but I don’t see that as a steady source of income for a title.
That’s cool for comics produced by Marvel and Shueisha(Viz/Jump) who have an unstoppable library of titles to publish on whatever platform they want, what about smaller publishers and independent creators? You can self publish a comic on Amazon just like a text format novel. You can format and produce a comic through ingramspark as well. Color prints might throw a wrench in your competitive pricing goals, but you can do it.
But what if you’re like me, someone who isn’t a professional artist or writer with a following eager to read what I produce? Where do you build? Back in college I would read a half dozen webcomics via browser bookmarks and rss feeds. Those folks self hosted their comics via wordpress plugins. They were the reason I bought a wacom tablet in 2006 and realized I hated digital drawing XD.
I didn’t keep up with too many webcomics from the past decade. Social media formats of “one big image” sort of changed how comics were done online. In order for people to read your comic you need to format it for the popular media of the time. We moved from paper to browsers to tablets to… phones.
Welcome to the world of vertical format comics. I absolutely love LOVE the shonen jump app when I’m on my iPad. It’s a perfect size for reading the text and seeing the details. I think I posted about discovering Webtoons before but I didn’t dive into it too much until after reading Chainsaw Man on the Jump app. Once in a while I would want to read a chapter on my phone. While the app works just fine the format of the comic is teeny.
That’s an actual screenshot from my big chungus iPhone 13 max. (I think substack will stretch it too, but you get the idea from the phone UI) You lose a ton of detail and it’s hard to read very busy pages. Vertical is the new black these days. Websites are set up as mobile first, which can make most websites on desktop look massive and crazy.
Compared to what the screen looks like when using a vertical comic reader like Webtoons:
Rather than swiping left or right to read it, you scroll down just like you would with nearly anything you read on your phone. The panels can be melted together, or overlapped for interesting story effects. Now, Webtoons is the big app for this. It’s big in Korea but the US app and the comics posted are in English. Tapas is the other option for those who want to self publish their vertical comic easily. There are some like Lezhin, Netcomics, and INKR but not all are as easy to self publish on - yet.
But there is a small issue with most of these platforms which you’ll notice as soon as you go to their sites. These platforms overwhelmingly cater to romance comics. If that is your game get over there now because your readers are waiting.
Even if you click the other “genres” you get bombarded with what is essentially a romance story.
Then there is the issue/bonus? of this platform being PG-13. You can’t post comics with heavy gore, adult content, extreme violence, or language. Most of the readers are teenage kids in high school, and so are the characters and stories. Even though the majority of the stories are romance or relationship based they are “clean”. You can’t post your own version of Chainsaw Man on there but nobody is stopping you from posting something you’d let your kids read.
Another issue is some platforms DO allow adult content and you might not be comfortable with your squeaky clean isekai story being search result buddies with the uWu dragon waifus.
But I do think it’s weird for Webtoons to offer horror and thriller genres only to censor things like blood and knives:
So where else would you publish a comic these days? You can go the old school route with a self hosted site but most of the wordpress comic themes and plugins are no longer maintained which makes them a security risk. You can publish them on Kindle but the Unlimited program requires exclusivity, plus I think the target audience for manga/comics is moving away from their support of Amazon. You can do like I did for my novel and self publish it everywhere but again, same issue of “readership reach” costing you and the readers money. This is why I think a platform is the way to go.
So getting paid, most of the vertical comic apps offer a bit of money based on views and followers. It’s based on ad revenue sharing and it’s probably the most sustainable model for allowing users to read stuff for free while keeping the lights on. The app hosts your work for its viewers, they post an ad somewhere on the page and give you a cut of the add revenue at a certain level of readership. You brought the traffic to them, they give you a cut.
But we know that won’t add up to massive piles of cash, thankfully unless you’re asked by a platform to produce exclusive content for them, you can post your work in other places to reach readers from those ecosystems. Webtoons profiles even have a link to the authors patreon so you can donate directly to them. Does that mean you’ll need to keep up with various platform and social media updates to market your work? Yes, but you would have to do that anyway, even with an endgame publisher.
Did I spend the last two weeks working on the best way to deliver my Punkinz comic to readers? Yes. Did I go down a rabbit hole of new-to-me formats and media? Yes. Is the baby taking a nap while I write this? Yes. Did I remember that concept I sketched out in December and realize I could maybe do something with it? Yes.
We’ll see how this goes…