Is there still room for amateurs in modern webcomics?

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Inspired by a forum topic, as more than one of these blog posts seemed to gestate. Let’s begin with a quote and move on from there:

“Used to be when you clicked on a comic you expected the early pages to be kind of (or extremely) crappy and it just got better as it went. Used to be tons of popular comics were just kinda… mediocre. The art wasn’t perfect. The writing was sloppy. But they got better.

Now it seems like there are so many comics that start straight away with professional quality art, that are just amazing the whole way through, that those of us who started by floundering and trying to learn the craft are just shoved under the bridge, shuffled off to the wayside by people who’ve hired artists, marketing teams and are creating amazing comics.

There’s no room for the slow evolution and process of improvement. People expect instant gratification. There’s too many good comics to bother giving the amateurs a chance anymore. Is it even worth starting a comic anymore if you don’t have it polished to perfection from page one, written and rewritten and perfected before you ever let someone lay eyes on it? I’m talking about us, you guys, us with our page one to page 300 showing vast improvement, us with our one or two man teams, us with our 5 dollar marketing budget spent on 3 cent Project Wonderful ads. Is there room for us anymore?”

-Tiana, Between Places and Stargazer’s Gate

I never really took note of webcomics until a big name got involved with them. Warren Ellis is one of the finest writers in comics today, and when he announced he would be publishing a series for free online I looked into the scene and was captivated by the possibilities. The way he described the landscape held such an allure that by the end of the year I had sorted through the ten-plus years of character and plot work that I had been accumulating for this one character since 1998 and front-loaded it into Zukahnaut.

I knew it would be the hardest thing I’d ever done and that I would have to improve as I went, but the way Ellis talked about webcomics made me feel as though it was both okay and totally worth it. “We don’t wear no stinking badges here,” he said, and gloried in the freedom to do whatever he wanted in the webcomic medium because “hey, I’m not charging you for it!”

So the big dogs jumping in the pool isn’t a downside at all, not to me. It raises the water level, sure, and maybe those without the endurance to kick their legs and stay afloat will drown. Let’s be honest here — most of them would have drowned anyway. This stuff is hard. But when someone with Eisner awards and television shows and movie scripts comes to play in your pool, passersby take note. They come to watch. They treat the other people there with a new respect. “Oh, you do a webcomic? Like FREAKANGELS? I loved that!” is much more preferable than, “Ugh, like that Tails Gets Trolled thing my cousin showed me…?”

Sure it’ll be harder to get noticed when there’s good stuff out there to compete with, but would you honestly rather be the brightest teenager in a room of toddlers, or the fresh-faced kid at a conference of seasoned veterans? When you’re around people who are better than you, you have the opportunity to study them and learn from them. You can more easily grow to their level and again, they elevate you by association.

I say there is room for average comics. There’s room for mediocre and downright bad comics, too! More importantly, there’s room for them to grow into something more. Their time in the light is still there waiting for them — it might take a little longer to get there now than it used to. It might involve someone giving them a break or taking them under their wing if they’re especially lucky. With endurance and with patience and with a determination to learn, anyone can swim with the big dogs. There’s no shortage of space.

We just have to keep kicking our legs is all.