- Posted by Johanna on May 4, 2010 at 11:12 pm
- Category: Digital and Webcomics
After 13 years, Goats author Jonathan Rosenberg is trying to figure out how he wants to proceed, or if he’ll be able to. He discusses how his long-running comic, due to its continuity and large archive, puts off readers, and the books (he was picked up by Del Rey last year) aren’t doing as well as he hoped.
Without growth, I’m dead in the water. There’s only so many times I can beg you guys to buy stuff. If I were single, or younger, or less encrusted in the leakings of children, I would hunker down, buy some ramen and just tough it out. But it’s not fair to my family to ask them to suffer like that, they deserve better. A lot better. So I have to make some changes. I’m going to take the next few weeks to figure out a last-ditch plan to continue to make comics and writing my career.
Now I feel bad that I didn’t care for the first book of three released over the last year. More to the point, I wondered how well the series was doing, since used prices on the volumes online dropped precipitously and rapidly. (The first book, cover price $14, can be had for $2 plus shipping, and the second is below $5.) That indicates either too many promo/review copies sent out, or more supply than demand.
I’m still new to analyzing webcomics, so I don’t know what makes the difference between a long-running strip effective at selling collections and merchandise to readers and one where users are content reading it only on the web without shelling out money. If I like a strip enough to follow it, I generally want to buy print collections, because I find those easier to read in lengthy sessions.
Rosenberg’s recent blog postings are enlightening, too: After celebrating the anniversary full of plans for the future and hoping to see some growth, the next two posts mention a convention appearance, after which comes a plea for sales and the third book announcement (due later this month) with the quote, “I’m sure folks at Random House are keeping their eyes on the numbers and the performance of this book will determine what happens next.” Then comes the hiatus announcement. There’s only five days between the two (and over a weekend), so that seems too short a time for any significant sales data to have accumulated, but maybe some publisher bad news fell in between.
I’m covering this not to wallow in someone’s pain — I feel very sorry for Rosenberg, who seems like a really nice guy with a strong sense of what he wants to accomplish — but because I think it’s an important lesson for anyone who wants to make comics. There is no job security. Even those you think of as stalwarts of the medium may be struggling. Your career is something to constantly work to improve.
Rosenberg’s comments reminded me of the situation I saw some friends in some years ago: they’d put in solid work on a DC comic book, but when the new editor wanted a new direction, they were out. And their work record didn’t matter much, because they weren’t big names. All they’d done is put out good work on a regular schedule. They should have done more covers or pinups or guest stories for other titles (even if it meant skipping a month or two on their home titles) instead of putting in consistent work in only one book. They needed to make more people aware of them as both people and creators. Without those relationships, without all that work beyond the art, they were effectively back at square one, barely one step ahead of those struggling to break in. Their situation made me realize that there is very little loyalty in comics, and even doing good work won’t get you a career. You have to be thinking of the next job beyond this one.
So if you do read and enjoy Goats, you may want to go ahead and preorder the next book, shown here, or buy some other merchandise.
Update: At Fleen, comments have become a fascinating discussion of how to manage long-running works and whether customers prefer buying after there’s an ending or before.