The Wonderful World of Webcomics

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There is a specific corner of the Internet that I have been nerdily obsessed with for the past several years. That place is the wonderful world of webcomics. I grew up reading old Chris Claremont issues of X-Men, which spurred in me a genuine love for comics. Sadly, my dreams of becoming a famous comics artist were slowly dissolved as my interest shifted from the illuminating hobby of illustration to the quieter arts of impressing girls and getting decent grades. I blame you, teenage Dave. Eventually, I was reintroduced to comics when I started working full-time at a desk job featuring a computer connected to the Internet.

Jeph Jacques, creator of Questionable Content, describes webcomics as “comic strips on the Internet.” Simplified though it may sound, it’s a fairly apt description of what one can expect from a webcomic.

Artist and TopatoCo founder, Jeffery Rowland, explains why webcomics function so differently from traditional comics.

“Simultaneously the worst and best thing about webcomics is creator-editors.” he says. “You got to be kind of an idiot-savant to be able to pull that off; I am not even kidding. Anybody with a successful webcomic will agree with me.”

Webcomics are 100 percent independent, crowd sourced, and socially marketed. The content being generated is user marketed, user commented, and socially directed. The most successful webcomics have strong followings on Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs. In fact, traditional marketers can learn a few things by studying how webcomic artists utilize social media.

Hark! A Vagrant!

Easily one of the most clever webcomics in current publication, Hark! A Vagrant! is the historical brain child of Canadian-born artist Kate Beaton.

Webcomic

The art is simple yet engaging, and the punchlines come fast, yet hit slow. In addition to creating her comic, Beaton regularly updates a Tumblr, Facebook page and Twitter account. Like many webcomic artists, Beaton uses these outlets as a means of personal branding. Everything works together like a professional social media marketing campaign, with the end goal of pushing traffic back to her comic.

As Beaton has said, “The only one who can push the quality of the comic—the one thing that really, really matters—in the right direction is the creator.” Applying this theory to personal branding has helped her sell herself just as much as she has used it to sell her comic.

Dr. McNinja

Written and Illustrated by industry professional Chris Hastings, this webcomic is about an Irish ninja who’s also a doctor.

Webcomic

Much like Beaton, Hastings supports his webcomic with personal branding through Facebook and Twitter. He also sanctions an unofficial forum, where fans can congregate remotely to discuss the comic as it is serialized.

A prominent figure in the webcomic community, Hastings believes “the community in comics-making comes out of mutual admiration and respect.” This is at the heart of how social media marketing works for Dr. McNinja. Hastings has built a strong community of support, providing a great deal of earned media among his peers. Readers like Hastings because he is nice, and they know he is nice because of the brand voice he promotes through social media.

xkcd

Arguably the most popular webcomic in circulation, xkcd is written and illustrated by Randall Munroe. Before writing webcomics, Munroe was a robotics engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. Are webcomics lucrative? Well, Munroe now works on his comic full-time and makes more money than he did working for NASA. There’s some food for thought.

Webcomic

You might be asking yourself what “xkcd” stands for.”It’s not actually an acronym,” he says.”It’s just a word with no phonetic pronunciation, a treasured and carefully-guarded point in the space of four-character strings.”

Munroe’s approach to social media, much like the production of his comic, is nontraditional. He hosts a forum and blog. Neither are particularly pretty or accessible. You might think this breaks some essential rules of social media, but Munroe proves that through these mediums he is able to add a social aspect to his art and, therefore, generate brand loyalty. Why is that? It’s because he keeps both his forum and blog social.

A shock, I know.

This tells us something important about social media. The most important aspect of using social media as a marketing tool is to make sure your social media campaign is actually social. Engage with your audience, create an effective flow of communication and start the conversation with your consumer base. Why are webcomics successful? Why are they manifestations of social media driven art? Because their creators are intimately involved in brand management and voice.

While webcomics speak to a very specific audience, the tactics employed by these artists can translate to other areas of marketing. When looking at any successful business model, comic based or not, one can usually find something useful.

 David Pemberton; follow… @Dave_Your_Fave

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