Long-form webcomics will break your heart - and you'll be fine.

Apr 21, 2022

Hello! As promised, I decided to write a bit about what's it been like, publishing a webcomic in today's context/market. It's also a time to reflect back on three years of production, with its ups and downs. I'll try not to go too long, so bare with me :P

Late 2017, early 2018, I was in the middle of production for Hiver Nucléaire 3 and working as a colorist for L'esprit du Camp. The thought of making a comic featuring my long-time OCs was becoming more and more feasible, so I set out to write the outlines of what would become the story you just read. Having released Hiver Nucléaire as a webcomic first and foremost, I decided to give it another shot, publicly and on Patreon. It worked in 2012, why would it be different now? In the meantime, I applied for a grant (I think it was more work than making the actual comic) and gasp! In August 2019, with about 70$ left in my bank account, I got the grant! I was ready to go!

... 'Cept, I had agreed to take on a teaching position in the summer, while waiting for the grant response. This abruptly put a halt to my grand plans of working full time on Utown. Shit. So in between the absolute insane workload that came with teaching for the first time, hiring my friend Ken to build the Utown website and actually drawing the comic, I started burning out REAL fast. Still, in December of 2019, Utown launched on Patreon. The Utown website went live in January 2020.

The first weeks were pretty exciting. I was eagerly putting out new pages, getting my first real wave of patrons. Things were looking peachy. But then, I got the case of the Internet: I started craving more. More likes, more patrons, more visibility. I was putting so much work in my pages, it was bound to get noticed, right? But the Internet changed since 2012, when I started releasing Hiver Nucléaire online. Long-form comics moved to Webtoons and social media was filled with easily-relatable, 4-panel strips. I wasn't getting any traction. At least, not the kind I was expecting.

I pitched Utown to Top Shelf and sent them the first 2 chapters. It politely got rejected, but at least I got a response. The verdict: not enough stakes, a slow start but hey, pitch again when you're further along! I was crushed and I stopped drawing for weeks. I was almost halfway through a very ambitious comic, with no publishing prospects and a webcomic that was barely getting views. 

Everyday, I would obsess over my website analytics, look at stats and try to find a semblance of an upward trend. Should I try Webtoon? Paid adds? Quit?! Aaargh!! After listening to Comic Lab for the past year and half, I heeded the Comic Dad's advice and decided to put the entire pages on social media websites instead of cropped panels. Fuck it. That's all the Internet would get out of me.

Things started looking up when I got a book deal proposal from my old publisher, Front Froid (under their sister publishing house Nouvelle Adresse). I had accomplished everything on my grant's to-do list: draw the damn comic, build a dedicated website and find a publisher. It wasn't all bad :)

The question I get asked now is "will you make your next project a webcomic as well?" The answer is: absolutely not. It's not worth the effort for me. Every new algorithm update has been going against static image posts, which especially sucks for long-form comics. The tools are increasingly painful to use (I'm looking at you, Meta Business tools). I can't wait to get my Sunday nights back, instead of staring at a white caption text box for each new page.

THAT SAID. I learned a lot by releasing Utown as a webcomic. First, I learned that I LOVE sharing process and I love hearing about comic artists talk about their craft. I found great joy in filming myself work as well! I met some really cool people through recurring comments and I cherished every feedback I got on Patreon. I learned patience, waiting for the right moment to share content, instead of dumping it all at once. I also realized that I prefer making books over getting viral success after all. Foolishly, I wanted both I think. But exclusively online publishing is a world I'm not a part of, and that's fine. Besides, I'm getting good at the book stuff. Might as well ride on that :P 

Utown was made almost entirely during the pandemic, which is non-negligible. Without conventions and book fairs, all the merch and promotion I had had planned on doing locally was a bust. The webcomic might be bilingual, but I was really hoping to reach my French-speaking audience through real-life interactions. It is what it is!

So that's where I'm at right now. I can't wait for the "online" part of Utown to be over. The book comes out in less than a month and I'm putting all my energy towards this now. Even though the webcomic experience was different than what I expected, I'm really satisfied about having seen it through. Thank you, once again, for having been there along the way. You guys rock :)


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