When I was at Comic-Con a few weeks ago, I decided one morning that I would try to see what was going on with webcomics, strips that reach their primary audience online. Well, okay, I was “inspired” by the huge booth where the guys from Penny Arcade were briskly selling print collections, T-shirts, even documentary DVDs as Mike Krahulik (left) spent the weekend drawing on his tabletop—the sort of business you can pull when you’re attracting, as their Wikipedia entry claims, two million daily page views. But they weren’t the only webcomic artists around, so I decided to see who else I could find.
Dan Goodsell (right) had scored a booth right around the corner from the official Peanuts concession, which brought a lot of foot traffic. By the time I spoke to him Saturday morning, he’d already sold 150 of these toy versions of his character, Mr. Toast. He’s been drawing and painting Mr. Toast and friends for years, but it’s the website, launched in 2002, which really seems to have helped Goodsell find an audience for his work. A couple aisles over, Dave Kellett had copies of Pure Ducky Goodness, the first collection from his webcomic Sheldon, for sale at his booth. “I’m giving away the daily comic strips (and full archives) for free, which encourages fandom and word-of-mouth marketing and viral distribution,” he cheerfully explained. “Then, once a comic strip like mine atrracts an audience of 10,000 or more readers, it’s been shown time and again that such a strip can reliably sell self-published books to 10 percent of that audience.” He’s thrilled to be reaching his audience without intermediation, and with a second collection due in the fall, Kellett anticipates that he might be able to cut back on his other jobs and draw the strip full time within 2-3 years. “In light of the death of newspapers among younger demographics,” he concluded, “it’s a pretty exciting time to be a comic strip writer.”