Even the most adamant introverts who painstakingly create their comics panel by panel and hide them in the drawer must wonder what would the audience say about them. If only there were any! Do you belong among those people? Do you have an unfinished story and are you unsure about publishing it? Or, on the other hand, would you be glad if someone saw your characters and their escapades? Then go on reading! We’ll discuss the advantages of the digital form and look at the rise and fall of one of the most famous webcomics. We’ll also touch upon the financial side of things.
We are saving our forests, so why not reach for the digital space?
Transferring the comic book into a more tangible form is a dream of most authors. An artist can spend an entire year with making a book and paper pages appear to be a proper medium for something you spent so much time and energy making.
Color printing is not a cheap thing and may require a similar amount of money as the entire yearly costs of the endeavor itself. And what’s worse, small fish never end up in the publisher’s net and there are now too many comic book crowdfunding campaigns.
No wonder a lot of authors like publish in the digital domain. Without an intermediary who would build a barrier between the author and the reader, it is easy to communicate with the audience, and let's admit it, for many introverted types the idea of building a community from the security of a chat window is very appealing.
In addition to a number of advantages, digital publishing has its pitfalls. Nothing describes them better than the wild history of the Prague Race comics.
Prague Race: The story of one webcomics
One of the authors who stepped into the world of zeros and ones is the Finnish artist Petra Erika Nordlund. Her webcomics Prague Race has gradually appeared on social media and has disappeared again over the years, the same as the author's motivation and existential background.
The story of Leona and her friends, who get into the whirlwind of fantastical events after she takes away from a peculiar shop not only a poster, but also a strange parasite, is a very enjoyable reading. The author only needs a pencil and an occasional wash, her characters are lively and likable, and her love for detail can be seen in every panel.
Although Petra drew the first few pages at a university lecture, the speed of creation hasn’t always been consistent. The magic of web-comics lies in regularity. There is a strong bond between the author and the reader and hype is growing with every new page pushing the project forward. That's why most artists agree on publishing one or two pages a week. At the beginning the promise looks reasonable, and the author may also be happy with having a proper incentive to go on. But if one page takes two days, there is much less time left for everything else you want to do during the week. Moreover, fun can turn into duty.
Petra's journey is a prime example. She began publishing Prague Race almost ten years ago and the work has been inspired by pure enthusiasm for comics, the love for characters and a very vague idea of what it means to tell a coherent story.
“I didn’t plan anything. I just made everything up as I went, coming up with new plotlines on a whim if I felt like drawing something,” she says remembering her beginnings. “I’ve started several plotlines in Prague Race that I will never, ever have time to finish. It was the greatest sin of a webcomicker doing their first story ever.”
The twist came when her friend asked her if it was still “the same comic book” after seven years of drawing. An innocent comment has long deprived her of the motivation to work on the comic book, because it was no longer possible to ignore the fact that the story was going nowhere and the question of whether it made sense to continue was becoming more acute.
After a year of depression, when there was no single new page, something new appeared on the horizon. After an episode of Dragon's Den, the story outline for the story “Tiger, tiger” came into existence. The comic follows the adventures of a young aristocrat who steals the identity and ship of her brother. The author offers her readers a drawing style that has been refined by ten years of work on Prague Race and, above all, a complete story. The author admits that her new work has a far smaller fan base than Prague Race. However, a significant portion of the readers who have started following her in the past decade have found a way to this comic book. And while the new project does not provide enough financial stability, working on something that makes sense is irreplaceable.
Will we ever find out what happened with Leona, Mike and Colin…? Most probably not. When Petra looks back at the whole thing, she opens an important topic. A topic that at some point will catch up with any artist working on a long-term project: “I guess I just grew over PRace. I love it still, but it was the making of someone who doesn’t exists anymore. A 20-year old me. I cannot wrap my head around it anymore in the same way I used to. This, in my opinion, is the biggest problem in writing stories that are too long.”
Who pays me (if not me myself)
Although it is often a passion of one’s heart, and according to some people, it should be enough for the author to have a reader, ignoring the financial question is not possible. No one can create a quality work if they have to spend their time flipping burgers in a fast food restaurant.
A decade of work at Prague Race has brought Petra Nordlund ten thousand followers on Twitter, but mainly over 250 Patreon supporters who send her nearly seven hundred dollars a month. In even a better situation is the artist under the name Hamlet Machine, who is responsible for the Starfighter webcomics, supported by over a thousand fans on Patreon. In addition to his attractive drawing, he owes his popularity mainly to the fact that most of his comics take place against the background of a romance among young pilots and more than a story the reader enjoys a lot of nudity.
An accompanying merchandise provides satisfying pocket money, as most authors have accounts on sites like the Society6 or Hivemill. The latter even specializes in supporting authors who publish online comics.
Keeping it going
To sum up, the main pitfall is not to lose your drive. For those who make it through, there is often a reward in the form of a paper comic book, from which we diverted at the very beginning. For example, the unforgettable comics by Kate Beaton, released under the title Hark! A Vagrant, originally came out in the digital form. The humorous strips combining author's love for history, literature, and pop-culture have long been known as anonymous memes. Since 2011, when the first part of the collected comics has been released, this Canadian author is an unmistakable figure in the comic scene.
If you miss the last piece of motivation, I will end this article with a little bit of inspiration. One of the evergreens of the Internet comics is surely the Gunnerkrigg Court. Tom Sidell tells the story of a strange school surrounded by a mysterious forest. More than two thousand pages of comics explore the eternal conflict between nature and technology. The main heroine changes during the course of the story, and not only in character. Comparing her appearance on the first and last page is like looking into two parallel universes. The way the author has walked is admirable, and even if your comic book has never made into the physical world, the process itself and your own development, either as an artist or a writer, is definitely worth it.
Author: Štěpánka Jislová
Štěpánka Jislová is a Czech Illustrator and Comics artist. Born in 1992, she resides in Prague and apart from numerous illustrated books and two stand-alone graphic novels, she enjoys doing tattoo and cloths designs, teaches, writes and gives talks and presentations. She participated in the comics symposium The Superheroes of Eastern Bloc (2015) and was awarded a prestigious Getting to know Europe grant at Wilkinson College, CA. She’s a co-founder of the Czech branch of Laydeez do Comics. Main focus of her work is storytelling via symbolism and archetypes, which she explores through carefully crafted compositions and precise line-work.