Unless you’re willing to shell out some serious money for social media advertising, it can be difficult to expand the audience for your webcomic. Comic sharing sites and apps are great, but you’re still just a needle in a haystack … of needles.
One good way to expand your audience is to draw fan art and guest comics for other webcomic artists.
I have done this for a few of my favorite webcomics and I’ve learned some tricks and some pitfalls along the way.
- Guest comic vs. fan art
Fan art will almost always be received well by any webcomic artist, regardless of how popular the artist might be. Fan art is the ultimate flattery, and artists often enjoy seeing another artist’s take on their characters. (*There are a couple of cautions, though. See “What to draw”.) However, although the artist may share it on their social media site(s), fan art will likely be relegated to a sub-section of the artist’s website and may not be seen by all viewers. The upside is that fan art is usually kept on the site in perpetuity.
Guest comics, if accepted, will normally replace a webcomic’s regular posting and are usually put front-and-center on the artist’s site. They’re often used when the artist needs a vacation or is about to miss their posting deadline for various reasons, but still wants to offer content to their loyal fans. Usually the artist will include your name and the name of your webcomic as well as a link back to your webcomic website or social media site. However, there are some cautions about what to draw for guest comics; see “What to draw” below.
- Choose carefully
You might think that it’s only beneficial to draw guest comics for webcomics that are well established and have a bigger audience than you, but that’s not always the case. It’s also not always obvious how large an audience a particular webcomic has. Some webcomics have a niche following that can be quite large.
Draw your fan art or guest comic with the goal of cross-promotion. In the long run, drawings for many smaller, lesser-known comics are likely to be more readily received and can build your audience faster than trying to submit a drawing for a very popular comic. Plus you help those artists build a bigger audience for their webcomic at the same time.
The type of comic will also determine the type of art you draw. A webcomic with an ongoing story-line will be less likely to accept a guest comic because they may not want to interrupt their story-line with your non-sequitur submission, but they would be more likely to accept fan art of their characters.
- Build a relationship first, if possible
If you submit a guest comic without ever having interacted with the artist on any level, it’s going to look like a blatant attempt to boost your own ratings and will likely not be well received. (However, this is not necessarily true for fan art.) Spend some time building a relationship with the artist: leave comments on their website, if they have a mechanism for that; comment on their social media site(s); share their comic on your social media site(s); like, favorite, re-Tweet, and +1 their comics on a regular basis.
Doing this will establish you as a FAN, not just another webcomic artist trying to leech on their success.
- Flattery will get you everywhere
When submitting your fan art or guest comic – especially if it’s unsolicited – don’t just email it to them and say “Here’s some art. Please post it.” Include some praise for their work before you make your pitch. Tell them WHY you’re a fan and what motivated you to draw your guest comic or fan art. Most of us webcomic artists aren’t making much (or any) money from our creations, so we’re fueled by flattery and admiration (and occasionally constructive criticism, but that’s a whole other article).
But make sure your flattery is sincere and specific. Don’t just say “I love your webcomic.” Instead you might say “I love the chemistry between character A and character B.” or “I love how the lines of your drawings are simple, but convey a lot of expression.”
- Let it go
I’m always extremely flattered to receive fan art or guest comics, but not every artist feels that way. And let’s face it, webcomic artists are people; some people like to interact and some don’t.
If you send your artwork to an artist, don’t EXPECT them to do anything with it. They may be extremely grateful and post it all over the place, or they may not even acknowledge your submission at all. There could also be technical glitches preventing your submission from reaching them. I once sent an email to a webcomic artist and didn’t hear back from him for months. It turns out that I sent my email to an old address that he didn’t check much. He had forgotten to update the contact information on his website.
When I send a guest comic, I’ll usually tell the artist to use it if or when they need to, or I’ll (jokingly) encourage them to steal the joke if they want.
Offer your artwork as a gift, and let them decide what to do with it.
- What to draw
Some Dos and Don’ts here, some that I’ve learned the hard way:
- For guest comics, as much as possible, stick to the style, dimensions, and resolution of their regular posts. If they regularly post 4 panels and you give them a 12-panel strip, don’t expect that to get posted.
- If you’re drawing the artist’s characters, mimic their characteristics but make them your own. Don’t just copy their design but put your own spin on their characters. Artists like to see another artist’s take on their work.
- Unless the artist has specifically asked you to, DON’T insert your characters into the scenario of their comic. This applies to both fan art and guest comics. It just comes off as blatant self-promotion and is not often received well.
- An exception to the above would be crossovers for fan art. If you’re going to mash-up their characters, do it with popular culture references that everyone will know (like Star Wars or zombies). Don’t mash them up with your
- Chose the type of art that’s appropriate for the webcomic you are submitting to. Fan art would be better received by a webcomic with an ongoing series. A ‘gag-a-day’ webcomic would probably welcome either type of art.
John Sutton is an amateur webcomic artist from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and has been writing and drawing his webcomic, The Petri Dish (www.the-petri-dish.com), since 2012.