When I started doing webcomics in 2000, I was embroiled in what we called the “Print vs Web” debate. Syndicated cartoonists were insisting that the “give-it-away-for-free” approach we webcartoonists were taking would erode comics publishing. We argued that it was a bit more complicated than “give it away for free” — and besides, that erosion was happening whether we cartoonists participated or not. During these heated exchanges, it always amazed me that these guys couldn’t see what I so plainly saw — that this new way of distributing content had amazing power that was freely available to anyone who wanted to take the time to master it.
But, like my good friend, Scott Kurtz, once observed during an episode of Webcomics Weekly we recorded, one of these days we were going to become Those Guys. That’s because Those Guys were us twenty-or-thirty years ago. They worked damned hard to get where they are today, and they absolutely dread some smartmouths upstart coming along telling them they have to learn their profession all over again from Square One.
Fast forward about ten years and — yup, you guessed it — I looked in the mirror and saw one of Those Guys.
The iPad had revolutionized publishing. And the Kindle Fire jumped right in an expanded the playing field exponentially. Now it was downright cool to pay for downloaded content. But that distribution came with a whole new set of parameters — retina display, DRM and MOBI files, oh my!
Damitall, I worked darned hard to learn HTML and cut out the middleman and direct all my efforts to a central Web site! And I was not pleased at all by these upstarts telling me that I had to learn my profession all over again from Square One. And, in between stiff belts of Geritol and yelling at the kids to get off my lawn, it started to dawn on me.
It was Put Up Or Shut Up time.
So I Put Up.
Specifically, I put up a digital download to see whether I could do this independently — without the help of Amazon or iTunes or anybody else. And I could. Then came the next challenge: How was I going to make people pay for a digital download from a free webcomic?
I played to my strength. I have one thing that most webcomics don’t have. A buffer. My comic strip, Evil Inc, is self-syndicated to newspapers, so I have to be at least two weeks ahead of my publication dates. Plus, I work with a phenomenal colorist, Ed Ryzowski, but as amazing and swift as he it, he does require time to work his craft. So I already had a buffer or two-or-three weeks. With a little work, I could make that four-or-five, and then I could offer my readers the entire upcoming month of strips at the beginning of the month.
So I did.
It started last June. And to be fair, I didn’t publicize it much beyond my immediate audience. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to maintain a four-to-five-week buffer. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Some people balked. They felt I was asking too much for approximately 20-25 comic strips. And they were right.
I played to my strength again. I started Evil Inc in 2005. And my comic often veers into longer storytelling, with storylines that arc over several weeks. The back-up feature, “Tales from the Evil Inc Archives.” was born. And now every issue of the Evil Inc monthly comic features that month’s strips plus a multi-page feature that highlights a character or storyline from the comic’s deep archive.
As the popularity of the download grew, I decided to try to expand my efforts. The monthly comic is now offered as an iPad-friendly PDF as well as a made-for-Kindle MOBI file. It’s available on the Evil Inc Web site at the beginning of every month, but it’s also offered on Amazon.com, at DriveThruComics.com and as part of the beta-test group for Comixology’s Creator-Owned Comics initiative.
Some Evil Inc storylines span more than one issue of the monthly, like Unstrung Hero (part one and part two), in which a superhero turns the tables on the villainous Lightning Lady by masquerading as the super-villain and doing good deeds in an attempt to besmirch (“de-smirch”?) her vile reputation at Evil Inc. Some are action-packed romps that span tropes and galaxies alike, like Space Pirates (part one and part two). And other Evil Inc storylines, like this month’s Road Trip, focus on the characters’ attempts to live a normal live in America despite their super-powers. All of them look fantastic and read beautifully on a tablet.
Ten issues later, I’m confident in saying that this experiment has been a success. I was able to deliver the January issue despite a weeklong Christmas vacation with my wife and two sons in DisneyWorld and a month full of other happy holiday distractions. Reader response is still strong. And I feel a lot less like the grumpy, old man I was becoming at the beginning of last year.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want you to get off my lawn.
Evil Inc itself is a corporation created by Silver-Age bad guy, Evil Atom, who realized that he could run his plots much more efficiently as a licensed, registered corporation. Today, almost all of the world’s supper villains either work directly for the company or purchase its products and services. Captain Heroic is one of the few super-heroes who stand in the way of total world domination, but his secret marriage to super-villain, Miss Match, and their son, Oscar, keep his hand super full. One part SuperFriends, one part Dilbert, one part Modern Family, the crew at Evil Inc give new meaning to “punching-in” for the day.
Besides “Evil Inc,” Brad Guigar has created the daily strip “Greystone Inn,” the weekly sex-advice comic, “Courting Disaster,” and the weekly look at Philly living, “Phables,” for which he earned an Eisner Award nomination in 2007. He wrote “The Everything Cartooning Book” for Adams Media, and he co-wrote the seminal “How To Make Webcomics.” Brad runs Webcomics.com, a subscription-only Web site for Webcomics news, tutorials and advice, and he is one-quarter of the popular Webcomics Weekly podcast.