It’s a Monday early in the month, you just paid the rent and you’re now wondering how you are going to live on celery for the next 27 days—that must be why so many posts on how to make a living at this here thing are coming out today. We’ve already seen Jerry Ordway plead to be taken seriously as a creator. But it’s not just the old paper and ink crowd that’s fretting this day. The webcomickers are at it too. John Allison is the creator of SCARY GO ROUND, seemingly a respectably successful webcomics creator. But even webcomickers are beginning to feel the pinch of new generations of cartoonists who don’t even have the structure of a website but just post everything on Tumblr, which Allison sees no payoff for:

Art isn’t democratic. It doesn’t take place in a caring, sharing environment. It is a huge “look at me”. We are the pre-schoolers who can still point at what we’ve done and get a sticker, and we want to keep getting those stickers forever.

I would never decry any service as worthless. There are people who have caught mass attention via Tumblr, and sold great piles of things as a result. There’s a use for everything, and an exception to every rule. The exceptions are the reasons that others try. But Tumblr sets the bar of success incredibly low. The payout will almost always be zero. Not beer money, nothing.

Matt Bors jumped in quickly, with a more whippersnapper-based response:

Yes, Tumblr is the new “Internet.”(Follow me here!) I’m old enough to remember–I am in my twenties here, folks–when only print cartoonists talked like this. Back then a few particular cartoonists who had blazed a trail for themselves online loved to laugh publicly at people who lost their jobs in print. The web was democratic, they said, and if you can’t make it work you should go die in a corner. If you followed that whole “debate,” you know what I’m referring to. If not, you didn’t miss out on anything that made you a smarter or better human being and I envy you.

I don’t bring this up to mock Allison’s financial troubles. If he’s struggling, that’s bad for all cartoonists and I’m in this boat with him. I have a sense of solidarity and constant dread about what is happening. But if your model can be completely undone by a new website you need to be more nimble. “The future’s uncertain and the end is always near,” a belligerent drug addict once sang before he abruptly died. People are raking it in on Kickstarter these days. No doubt that well will eventually dry up and we’ll move on to the next platform kids with their gizmos seem to grasp while the old and out-of-it Millennials struggle to keep up.

Frankly I think Bors is right, and Allison and Ordway are fretting about the unchangeable (even though I do the same kind of moaning and hand wringing for olden times here on a daily basis.) In fact:

“But if your model can be completely undone by a new website you need to be more nimble.”

Disruption is where it’s at, Matlock. Like ordering your movies every night on streaming Netflix? Good, because every minute of your entertainment is written in the blood of some video store/Blockbuster. Are you happy now?

This is a time for the nimble. You can bank on that.


  1. There is the perception that people are raking it in on Kickstarter because a small percentage of people are. Every artist I know who did a Kickstarter ended up barely breaking even or losing money because the Kickstarter costs were so high and the price of the packaging and shipping ate up profits, not to mention the time and energy to run the Kickstarter. Kickstarter is definitely not the only solution. I think most peopole who used it and found themselves in the red are too embarrased to admit it.

  2. I have a friend who is a jazz musician. She’s incredibly talented, but spends most of her time running a computer repair business. Because no matter how great she is, the fact is that there is no money in jazz. There is no money in comic books. The business has been dying for DECADES. Expecting to make money in art by doing comics is like opening a VCR store. If you want to make money as an artist or writer, go where the customers are. I used to work for magazines and newspapers decades ago. When print sales declined and bookstores closed, I stopped working for print. Now I work in games and draw for Amazon. When those businesses die, I will move on the the next thing. Do jazz and comics for fun.

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