I generally feel that we don’t owe our readers a Hell of a lot. This might sound a little crazy, but for most webcomic creators, this is likely the case. Being a webcomic creator can largely be a thankless and time consuming job and often one that generates little to no money. Most webcomics out there, right now, do not make enough money for their creators to buy a cup of coffee a week, let alone provide any sort of lifestyle. Even the biggest webcomics out there, as successful as they are, are not making their creators rich. The webcomics just worked to get them other opportunities that actually make them the money; the webcomic was just a business card. For the rest of us Webcomics are a drain of money and time.
And yet, we still do them. Most webcomics will fizzle out and creators will give up when they realize there is no quick road to success. Few manage to stick it out and put out content year after year. Sure, maybe a little money comes in here and there through book sales and t-shirts, but overall, it doesn’t pay out like a normal job would.
Though many of us, the crazy ones who stick it out, treat our webcomics as a job. We hold ourselves to certain standards and schedules. I know that I am constantly stressed out about my production schedule and the time it takes me to generate a page of Cosmic Dash, for example. I spend as many hours working on a comic, for largely no financial incentive, as I do teaching and tutoring in my day job. I am at least fortunate to have a day job I love and enough free hours during the week to work on my comics, but even then it is still too much stress.
So what do we do?
When I say we don’t owe our readers a lot, I really mean this; We owe them about as much as we feel we owe them and no more. We few who stick with webcomics over years are essentially investing in a second job that delivers few benefits other than stress and some readers. We should be thankful to these readers, yes. But we should also realize until said readers are supporting you financially at a level to make the second job of webcomics worth it, then you only owe them what you feel comfortable with.
Everyone has a different level of themselves they are willing to give, and I recommend really thinking about how much you can personally give. What I have seen in my long, long webcomic experience of close to 15 years is this: creators can be masochists, and not the sexy kind. Creators can run themselves into the ground, and often do.
Burnout is one of the biggest causes for a webcomic to die.
So when I say we don’t really owe our readers anything, what I want to emphasize is this… time is special and limited. As a creator you probably have a compulsion to work. It is a kind of sickness that will wear you out. It happens to just about everyone. The work-life-webcomic balance is tricky as Hell. Except that you can also make it less tricky.
Take a freaking break once in a while. It is as simple as that.
In my own way I am trying to practice this in my own life. I work about 4 jobs, help run stuff at Comicadia, and I am a contributor over at Haunted MTL. It is a lot. I do two webcomics on top of that. It’s stressful. It’s exhausting. I love it. But I realize that I am under the constant threat of burnout and it came to a head earlier this year in a particularly stressful period of my life. I dropped everything for four months and hated it. I felt as though I failed and fell behind on everything.
Coming back was tough, but I am making it work, and more importantly, I realized that my time has value.
So yeah, I take breaks now. Sometimes I just take a week off of RGBots. Sometimes I don’t update Cosmic Dash. It hasn’t really harmed my numbers substantially, and beyond that it has allowed me to do a little necessary production work behind the scenes. It’s been great.
I am about three pages from finishing the current Cosmic Dash story, and you know what? I will probably take a couple weeks off before the next one.
Maybe once webcomics pay my bills I will treat working on them as a full-time job again. Until then, I just owe it to my readers to continue… but it doesn’t have to be every week.
They aren’t paying me for that.