As of Saturday, my all ages, watercolor comic, 7" Kara, will have been online as a webcomic for a year. It's been a busy year- webcomic collective launches, loads of conventions, 100+ blog posts, hundreds of videos. During that time, I juggled weekly 7" Kara updates, but benefitted from having a substancial buffer- keeping my workload just under crazy, rather than tipping the scales.
In the stream on Saturday, February 10th, I talked a little bit about launching my print comic as a webcomic, but I wanted to go in depth today, and share my experiences with you guys. I want to use this post not to celebrate this accomplishment, but to reflect on the year that passed and share some of the choices that I made during that year.
|1 Year Launchiversary Illustration|
|1 Year Launchiversary Illustration (voted on by Patrons)|
|Early Promotional Launch Image|
Launching the Comic:
On February 10th, 2017, 7" Kara went live on two platforms- the Drupal based home site (nattosoup.com, with a redirect from 7inchkara.com) and on Tumblr utilizing the Simple Webcomic theme at 7inchkara.tumblr.com. Although I'd planned on releasing 7" Kara as a webcomic for a long time, this launch was a bit of a rush- with the help of friends, I able to have it up and ready for the Comic Garden launch which was set for February 14th (a two week timespan from notification to completed launch). In order to meet the requirements of the collective, I had to alter my plan for updates- rather than one chapter a month once I'd gotten halfway through the comic, I opted to share one comic page a week, updating on Fridays. Although Comic Garden is long a thing of the past, I opted to keep 7" Kara online and updating, and helped form another webcomic collective, Ink Drop Cafe, to not only serve my comic, but the comics of 13 other artists.
Because I launched ahead of the Comic Garden launch, and because I had to shift focus to help regroup after CG's dissolution, 7" Kara got caught in the fray and never saw the promotion I had hoped for its launch. I'd hoped for a bang (since I'd been working on the comic since 2012, and had already put in years of in-person promotion) but settled for a whimper, and have tried to work promotional efforts for the webcomic into my regular online interactions. My advice to others launching a new webcomic would be - CELEBRATE IT, don't rely on others to promote your launch. You are responsible for your own promotion and success when it comes to a launch.
Webcomic Launch Announcement:
7" Kara Webcomic Announcement Timelapse
This was prepared before the launch and intended to be a large, in-depth tutorial that also promoted the comic itself. Unfortunately, my editing computer absolutely couldn't chew through this file, regardless of what we did, and we finally settled on releasing it as timelapse months later.
I launched 7" Kara with a MASSIVE buffer- over 100 pages of watercolor comic spanning five chapters. I also launched 7" Kara after the print copy of Volume 1 had been in print for three years, and had been available in my online store for the same length of time. I'd shared in-progress images for years
To be blunt, when launching 7" Kara as a webcomic, I'd pulled my punches and didn't really give it my all. I should have made it an event, and promoted the heck out of it- a stream, a giveaway- things that encourage engagement and resharing. Although other artists don't usually throw launch parties for webcomics, 7" Kara is an unsual comic- in print for several years, a solid buffer and a year's worth of updates- that's a huge reason to celebrate!
In the year since, I've learned that if you want something to succeed, you really have to give it your all, and KEEP giving it your all. Even if the reaction is lukewarm, you have to be enthusiastic and upbeat, something I've managed at conventions, but have increasing difficulty feigning online. I should have hyped the launch from the moment we started preparing the sites, but I'd kept quiet, afraid I'd miss my initial deadline. Many webcomic artists are afraid of seeming spammy when promoting their comics, but the general consensus seems to be:
- Twice a day on launch day (morning/evening) is totally legitimate and expected on sites like Twitter, where information gets lost.
- Participate in weekly comic-focused chats like #WebcomicChat (encore is Saturday, new prompts on Sundays), #ComicBookHour (Sundays) and #ComicArtistsUnite- don't just spam your answers, engage other artists for a better result
- Share art and process regularly on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram- any social media where you have a presence and audience
Since launching 7" Kara as a webcomic, I've also launched two complimentary longform blog series- Intro to Comic Craft and Watercolor Basics. Both series heavily feature Kara process and art, and frequently link to the webcomic's main site. Unfortunately, series like this aren't nearly as popular as my alcohol marker posts were, as they seem to appeal to a smaller audience, so this promotion hasn't had the positive effect I'd hoped it would.
I've also edited my Twitter and Instagram profiles to include not only links to Kara, but to this blog and the Youtube channel, so all my content is a little more accessible.
Ink Drop Cafe Launch:
In April of 2017, Ink Drop Cafe officially launched. Ink Drop Cafe has two main interfaces- our website that promotes member comics and affiliate resources, and our Discord channel, which serves as a hub for a multitude of artists.
You guys have probably seen the Ink Drop Cafe ribbon on a variety of helpful tutorial and overview posts, particularly those in the Intro to Comic Craft series.
The front page features a news section (left) a random member comic (right), and then all member comics below. If you haven't checked out the site yet, I highly recommend you do so!
Ink Drop Cafe members are required to place the IDC member comic rotator in their sidebar. You can see that to the right side of this blog. With every refresh, a new comic is featured. This increases visibility for all member comics, and hopefully helps bring in new readers. Ink Drop Cafe uses their Twitter to engage members of the comic community as a whole, and to promote the works of individual members, also increasing visibility. As a member of Ink Drop Cafe, I also make it a point to boost and reblog members and affiliates regularly- although this is not required, I enjoy using the audience I have to help my fellow members.
To help promote the launch of Ink Drop Cafe, I created a couple pieces of promotional art to draw interest.
These images were used on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram to help generate interest and hype for the collective's launch. I also put together an informative introductory post explaining the goals of the collective and introducing the original members:
Ink Drop Cafe Launch Announcement (Blog Post)
Other Promotional Efforts:
It's been about three years since 7" Kara was collected and published as Volume 1, and during that time, I've tabled at about a dozen conventions a year, had special postcards printed up to advertise the book, and have plugged the print comic countless times. I co-created How to be a Con Artist, began regularly updating my Youtube channel, and improved the quality of this blog drastically. I've pursued professional relationships at shows such as TCAF, ALAC, and A2CAFand joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in 2016. During that time, I've marketed 7" Kara as an all ages comic aimed at children, and have done moderately well with in-person sales.
At conventions, I've found that having a portfolio with original pages out on the table for people to flip through is a great way to get casual observers interested in my work. Even when space is limited, I make sure I have copies of 7" Kara fanned out on the table (usually 3, with a stack beneath the demo book) and the portfolio flipped open. I also sell originals at my table, many of which prominently feature Kara, and I've found that branding myself clearly as a watercolor comic artist has helped increase interest in the books.
Since launching 7" Kara as a webcomic, I've also started handing out 7" Kara promotional stickers and Ink Drop Cafe fliers.
|Literacy related image created for the ALAC 2015 auction, also used as my promotional Volume 1 postcard|
All of my convention branding and banners also feature Kara, as its important to me to keep my branding focused and consistent, and introduce opportunities to talk about my work.
Earlier I mentioned that 7" Kara has been the inspiration for long running series such as Intro to Comic Craft and Watercolor Basics, but even when I'm not using comic pages and process for blog content, Kara is usually featured in some way throughout the post. She's frequently the subject for field tests
In October, I did an Inktober-wide worldbuilding event that celebrated and explored the Lilliputian world I'm building for 7" Kara. For every day of Inktober, I developed one Lilliputian skill or class, writing a short explanation to accompany the illustrations. A few of these were recorded and released on Youtube, and the whole was compiled into Lilliputian Living, my Inktober 2017 zine.
Having a webcomic to promote has changed my interactions within the webcomic community. Although I've made comics for years, and have been in several anthologies and have worked professionally, it seems I was never really PART of the webcomic community. I existed as a fan and as a supporter, but as anything more, it seems I was invisible. Launching 7" Kara is a lot like reinventing the wheel- having to prove myself to new artists and convince them that my work is worthwhile. My efforts here, at conventions, for How to be a Con Artist, in anthologies, and on Youtube don't count for anything in the realm of webcomics, and this has been a hard lesson to learn.
My interactions with ongoing webcomic community have changed now that I have a webcomic to promote. In the past, I mainly focused on promoting my Youtube channel and this blog, and occasionally mentioned having a comic in print, and really didn't seem to gain much traction. I would pick and choose which topics I participated in, since my experience running a webcomic was nil, and while I am still selective about the topics I participated in, I definitely participated more in all three chats this year.
Since I was now actively participating in WebcomicChat, I signed up to do art for them. I was selected to do two illustrations, one for Promoting Your Webcomic, and another for Kidlit Comics.
For the first event, I decided to also promote 7" Kara, using her as my subject for this chat. WebcomicChat always credits their volunteer artists, and I'd hoped this might spur some conversations or at least some interest in my comic. While I did enjoy painting this illustration, and am pleased with how it turned out, it did not have quite the effect I had hoped. That's why, when Web Comic Chat asked me for an illustration for Children's Comics, I opted to do something I could use in my portfolio.
Although this illustration didn't have much of a positive effect either, it at least generated a piece for my portfolio that addresses some of my weaker points- drawing boys and including animals in my illustrations.
This year, I also submitted 7" Kara to Comic Tea Party.
Comic Tea Party is an opportunity for comic fans and comic creators to chat about webcomics. Every week, a comic is selected from the signup roster, announced to the public, and then people are given a week to read it before that comic's Comic Tea Party. Creators are highly encouraged to participate in their own chat.
You can read a transcript of the event here.
The Comic Tea Party was a hugely positive, and much needed, experience for me. Many webcomic artists work in a relative vacuum- no comments, no engagement. Even within Ink Drop Cafe, 7" Kara goes mostly unremarked upon, and I'd gotten used to hearing nothing. I'd just assumed that perhaps in the realm of webcomics, gentle, slow paced comics written for all ages just don't have a place. In person, at conventions, my experience is different- people are excited about watercolor, enjoy the fact that I'm creating something different from the norm, and 7" Kara always finds an audience, even if it's a small one. Online, I have often felt like my work has no place, and I've grown reticent to talk about story aspects of my comic.
I took copious notes during the chat, and have started to work some of the suggestions from the Tea Party into the comic. I really enjoyed this experience, and it was one of the first really positive experiences I've had with 7" Kara as a webcomic since the launch.
So this year has been a fairly rough year- a lot of work, a lot of promotion, and not much to show for it. This could be due to a few factors:
Possible Pitfalls and Shortcomings
In all this time, I have not paid for advertising, I have not utilized the free advertising option on TWC or SmackJeeves, and my only mirror is a Tumblr, rather than a Webtoons, or Tapas account. This isn't bragging- it's a confession- these are tactics that have been vital for other creators in building an audience and launching their comic successfully. There's always been a self-sabotaging streak in me, and I never made the time to make or launch effective ads, despite commissioning another artist to write a post on just that.
The rationale behind my reticence towards ads is simple but stupid- I'm terrible at designing attractive banners, let alone attractive ads, and wanted to wait until there was enough archive to keep a reader, and until my design skills had improved enough to attract readers int the first place. There are plenty of great, affordable advertising opportunities available for webcomic artists- Project Wonderful, TWC, and SmackJeeves all have paid and free advertising tiers.
I'd considered mirroring on Tapastic or Webtoons, but Tapastic has gone through so much TOS drama this year that I decided it wasn't worth the effort, even if it means a huge loss of potential audience. Tapastic also changed their recommendation algorithms, which makes it harder to build an audience if you're just starting out. Mirroring on large, already populated sites like Tapastic and Webtoons can greatly increase your potential audience- but should you decide to leave those sites, or try to funnel those readers to your home site, there's a drastic loss in readership.
Fortunately for artists who are interested in self-hosting their comics, Archive Binge offers two of the features that were most appealing (to me) about Tapastic and Webtoons- Readers being able to create lists through a site, search by tags, and Archive Binge keeps your place in your comic automatically.
Read 7" Kara through Archive Binge today!
My Year in Webcomics
All in all, launching 7" Kara this year has been an exercise in endurance and perseverance. The first year for most enterprises is a huge learning experience, and I feel like I've learned quite a bit, although it's mostly trial and error.
This has been such a weird experience for me- sharing pages that are 'dead' for me- having been completed and in print for almost four years, promoting pages that don't reflect my current standard of work, feigning excitement when promotion felt futile. I still love comics, and I still love working on Kara, but having such a large buffer divorces me from genuine update to update excitement, and the progress I share on Twitter and Instagram is so far in advance it's almost irrelevant to the comic itself.
Kara's always had a decent reception as a print comic at conventions, and it's as a physical comic that I feel most confident promoting Kara. A stack of books, a portfolio of the original pages, and engaging interested readers in person is where I'm strongest- I feel like in the multitudes of webcomics crying out for attention, I get lost. This feeling frequently leads to me taking a backseat when I should be rallying my courage, and it's something I hope to work on in the second year of the comic.
A few things I've learned about launching a webcomic, vs promoting a print comic:
- So much more work than you originally bargained for. It's more than just maintaining regular updates, which are hard enough, even if you have a buffer.
- Traditional media comics have special considerations too- its actually a lot harder to make banners and other promotional images on the fly, IN THE STYLE OF THE COMIC. I have a huge library of promotional images, and I still have difficulty making attractive banners that reflect the style of my comic accurately with the materials I have prepared.
- SO MANY BANNERS. Every site has different size requirements! From TWC (Top Web Comics) to Tapastic, to banners for the collectivbe and its rotators, to Tapastic, to Twitter cards, to Project Wonderful- I end up making banners in every shape and size. And while my banner making skills have improved somewhat, I'm still frustrated by the skill gap between my banners and those of other comic artists, and this is an area I'd like to improve in.
Here are a few of the banners I've created to promote 7" Kara.
- Every now and then, just flip through your archive to catch errors.
- Tumblr, even themes designed for webcomics, aren't particularly mobile friendly, and will require a lot of tweaking to fix.
- Number one lesson I learned from releasing 7" Kara as a webcomic: Internet things are hard. Even when you've done internet things for decades.
For me, when I launched 7" Kara as a webcomic, it didn't seem to matter that I'd written this blog for almost 10 years. That I'd done video on Youtube for three years. That I co-founded How to be a Con Artist, and was one of two remaining contributors, four years prior. That I'd had 1,500 Twitter followers. When I launched Kara, I had to start all over again. So don't assume your side projects will help promote your comic projects. You really have to treat your webcomic launch like it's your debut, and you will probably have to treat every launch like it's your debut.
Going from print to web has been a challenging, often frustrating experience. I continue to struggle to find my audience and my niche, to find ways to promote my work that are authentic and honest, and to not judge my worth, or the worth of my work, by the reception it gets online. Although webcomics is an open playing field with few gatekeepers, available to anyone with determination, moderate drawing and writing skills, and time to spend, webcomics requires more than just a comic and a warm body behind it for success to happen. I still haven't unlocked the right combination to help my work shine, but I will continue to push and try to find new ways to market and promote my work.