A Webcomic Manifesto

man i fes to

a public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives, as one issued by a government, sovereign, or organization.

I don’t usually talk about webcomics. I publish one, and have for a long time, but other than a few off-the-cuff thoughts that I’ve posted on message boards and discussion lists, and the occasional e-mail that winds up getting published, I haven’t devoted a lot of time to the topic.

I do have opinions though. I have a lot of opinions about pretty much everything, and that includes webcomics. And I was thinking of those opinions today when I read an article at Fleen that discussed opinions provided by both Scott Kurtz and Shaenon Garrity.

Both comments are thought-provoking and worth reading, but neither are mine. So after the break I will repost something I put on LiveJournal in 2006 that still encapsulates my thoughts on creating webcomics — and not just webcomics, but creating pretty much anything on the web:

When I was at What-the-Hell?! Con in January I was asked, during the webcartoonist discussion panel, what my “webcomic manifesto” was. Or maybe it was my “webcomic creed.” I can’t remember which, but it was one of the two, and the meaning of the two words are close enough — a “manifesto” being a public declaration of belief, whereas a creed is a system of belief that might be used as a basis for creating a manifesto — to allow me to use the same answer for both.

The answer I gave went something like this: I remember looking at a photograph of a shop window in England during the early days of punk rock. Taped up in this window was a sheet of paper that displayed three chords scrawled in very crude tablature, and under that were the words “now start a band.” That has always been how I’ve thought of webcomics: as the punk rock of the comics world. That was certainly how I thought of it when, ten years ago, I decided start a comic for OS/2 eZine despite having no drawing ability to speak of, and I’ve never had any occasion to think differently, despite the “scene” being flooded with people who could be described as being truly talented.

(An interesting and sadly ironic aside: that in-your-face, defiant poster posted in the late 70’s in England has now been turned into a t-shirt you can buy through

I tend to get frustrated and slightly annoyed when I hear some other webcartoonists give advice to people who are interested in doing their own webcomic but aren’t quite sure how to start. The advice is almost always the same, and always involves doing a lot of work before they even get started. You know, practice drawing, create a buffer, make sure it’s a solid story idea… I have even seen some suggest doing market research.

None of these suggestions are inherently bad… and if your plan is to do a commercially successful webcomic, then I’d wager that those suggestions are the bare minimum of what you need to do. But damn it all to hell, none of them are necessary.

There are only three things you absolutely need to do to do anything on the web:

  1. Get a website
  2. Do whatever the hell you want with it
  3. Accept the consequences of step 2

That is it, and anyone who thinks that maybe there ought to be more to it than that is seriously missing the point. Step 1 requires steady employment or a benefactor. Step 2 will be as easy or as difficult as you make it. Step 3, on the other hand, is probably one of the hardest things you will ever have to do.

Accepting the consequences of doing whatever the hell you want to do with your webcomic can be a tough pill to swallow. The fact that you want to do something doesn’t mean that anyone is going to particularly care that you do it. You can pour your heart and soul into a project, create a piece of art that challenges and moves you, and none of that obligates an audience to give a damn. And not everyone will. Inevitably, someone will hate everything you do and everything you stand for, because this is the Internet, and that’s just the way things work out here. What’s worse, there will be people who simply don’t care about you at all, will look at your work and yawn, move on, and never think about it again.

The Internet is a big place, and it’s easy to be just another faceless website in a sea of faceless websites. And that can be tough to take.

Step 3 requires a certain amount of self-awareness and honesty about what it is that you really want to do. If you really want to be rich, but you act like you want to be all about the art, you’re going to be a miserable son of a bitch. And it’s just as true the other way around. If you decide that what you really want to do with your webcomic is to make a lot of money, or be insanely popular, or even be an underground sensation… well, you’ll have to make concessions in order to get there (and there are no guarantees, even then.) That said… if you really want to make money, or be popular, then you can’t think of them as “concessions” — you have to think of them as “steps toward a goal.”

And if you go in one direction, the people who want to go in a different direction will most likely dislike you and feel threatened by you. You will not be able to make everyone like you, no matter how hard you try. Someone, somewhere is going to feel compelled to hate what you do on general principle alone. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. You could be feeding starving children, and someone will invariably feel threatened by it, get worried that it will interfere with his “starve the children of the world” campaign, and spend a great deal of time trying to push your work into irrelevance, or browbeat you off the net, or something similarly stupid.

The good news is that this works both ways. Just because someone else doesn’t like what you’re doing doesn’t mean you have to give a damn. And to help you keep that in mind, I’d like to teach all something I’ve found useful. It’s a little something I call


  1. Make a fist.
  2. Raise the fist in front of your face, with your curled fingers and thumb pointing towards your face.
  3. Slowly and deliberately raise your middle finger. (Internet users from Great Britain and many former colonies of the Empire may substitute this with raising the index and middle finger, then parting the two fingers into a “V” shape.)

There. You now have every tool you need to be web cartoonist. If anyone tells you different, think of it as a chance to practice the webcomics salute.

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