Q&A With Tom Dell’Aringa ~ON~ Marooned, Print Viability, and How To Make Webcomics

Like many webcomics creators and comics creators who will soon be webcartoonists whether they like it or not, Tom Dell’Aringa is struggling to grasp the idea of finding success with his space-comedy comic, Marooned. The Webcomic Idol finalist is looking for answers to his most burning questions, so take a look at what he’s dealing with and see what you think.

Digital Strips: Thanks again for taking the time to offer us some insight into your process and thoughts on the subjects again, Tom! It’s much appreciated. With these questions, I’m just trying to get a feel for who you are as a creator and what your process is. Details like this can always help struggling or new creators to establish themselves so the more you have to say, the better.

Tom Dell’Aringa: Glad to help!

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I don’t think they’re ok…

DS: Have you read, or do you want to read How to Make Webcomics?

TD: Yes, I bought it pretty early on after it came out, it kind of coincided with me starting Marooned. I found parts of the book to be very helpful. For the sections on getting up a web presence and preparing your strips, I already knew most of that stuff, having worked in the web industry for over a decade. (Plus I used to be in the print industry). Although I did work into my workflow Brad’s process of getting my lineart on it’s own layer – that was invaluable. (I now have a Photoshop action that runs my strip preparation for me).

The chapters on cons and monetizing and such were all very interesting. I think one of the big benefits of the book is reading it and realizing there are other people out there who know the struggles you are going through, and they have overcome many of them, so it is possible. Because the web changes at such lightning speed and specifically the webcomic industry is definitely one in flux, I think the book may end up needing an update in the near future. But I think it’s a good book for any aspiring webcartoonist.

DS: Would you see the Assetbar model, which Achewood started and now PvP and Octopus Pie are utilizing, as a possible method of bringing in money to your strip?

TD: I think it’s a very interesting idea, and I had some long discussions about it with Steve Ogden. First and foremost, I think before you could even consider such a thing, you’d need to have a very large readership – very large. Of that readership you need that core “superfan” group who is willing to shell out some extra money for premium content. That’s going to be a very small number.

Most importantly, what you dump into there has to be compelling content. That may be the hardest part. I haven’t looked into either PvP or Achewood’s yet, but I’m going to, to see what they are putting out there. My fear is that it’s sketches of upcoming strips and little notes about what they’re doing and so forth. I mean how long will people be willing to pay for stuff like that? My guess is not long.

However, if you are doing more than that – extra stories, really nice bonus artwork and who knows what else, maybe it can work. It’s a very hard concept to pull off – to get people to pay for more of what they are getting for free. But I do think it’s an innovative idea – we need more innovative thinking. And the fact that you care share your asset dollars among different comics (as a fan) is a good idea. It seems there is some confusion about how to sign up and use the money, and that’s not a good thing. They need to make it super easy to use.

From a creator standpoint, you have to have the ability to do all that extra work to make it worth people paying the extra money. Will the extra money generated be worth the time spent? That’s part of the reason why I think you need a big audience. I might be able to get one or two people to try it out, but it would hardly be worth it for me at this point to spend all kinds of extra time working up bonus content for 4 dollars a month.

DS: Do you attend conventions and if so, what is your level of networking?

TD: My comic is not quite a year old yet, so I have not had the chance to do a convention as a creator. As a fan, I’ve been to a handful. A couple friends of mine did a comic years ago and I visited them at Artist’s Alley (back when Wizard World was still the Chicago ComiCon I think). It was cool to see all the independent stuff and I think it was one of the first times I thought about doing something myself.

Last fall I went to the Windy City Comic Con and brought my daughter, who is a wonderful artist herself, with me. It’s a new, small con but they had some really talented folks there. I love just browsing and checking out other people’s work and seeing new techniques – I could do that all day. I did talk to a couple other webcartoonists that were there about some of the merchandise they were offering, but I didn’t really make any connections.

DS: In your post about monetizing Marooned, you talk about the graphic novel as a viable option for profit. Would you see a print version of Marooned as a graphic novel or would it have to be something more specifically focused on the print media?

TD: I’m really not sure. There’s all kinds of bad news in the comic book industry lately about Diamond, and print in general is just getting harder to deal with. It’s not easy to sell a graphic novel by any means, and then as someone pointed out, if you do you often are not their priority. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. And so much depends on proper distribution and things like that which are out of your control.

I could always do it as a traditional comic book. Everyone loves to point to Bone as the great indy success story of course. The one (and only one) similarity between Bone and Marooned is that they are both fairly serious, long running stories that have a sense of humor. But again the hardest thing would be distribution.

I really think there’s little if any money to be made in going the traditional routes with print. If I’m going to do something in print, I’m most likely going to try and go my own way. Many people might think that’s tough, and it would be, but I would at least be in control of the process and of the costs, and making it or failing would be on my shoulders, not anyone else’s.

This is one reason why I’m working on doing some Ashcan/Mini comics to get started. Plus, I need to get something out there and into my reader’s hands.

DS: Many people see the webcomics model as a means of gaining exposure to make money off merchandise and printed editions later on. Do you agree with this view and would that be your goal for Marooned down the road?

TD: It certainly makes sense. Really that is the model, get noticed and then sell the merchandise, because we’re giving away the main content for free. A lot of people make the argument that syndicated comics are no different. Yes they draw some kind of salary from the syndicate for their strip being in papers, but the big money comes from merchandise – strip collections, stuffed animals and the lot. Peanuts and Garfield are of course great examples.

The first thing you need is a fan base. Doing a webcomic is a good way to build a fanbase. You have an extremely cheap entry point – a website and a comic. Then it’s up to you to promote yourself and do something people like. It’s pretty raw actually. Basically the web will respond pretty harshly if what you have isn’t appealing. You’ll just simply not get any readers and be forced to start over or quit. (Or slave away in obscurity forever.)

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Not everything works flawlessly in science fiction-centered universes

I’ve been fortunate that people seem to like what I’m doing and I’ve been able to improve my product over the first year. I’ve built a small fanbase. So definitely the goal is to present them with merchandise that they would like and that would be fun for me to create. Really a big part of this is that the strip is a creative outlet for me. I don’t really want it to become “work” in any sense. I do it because I enjoy it. If I could make some money doing it too, that would be great. But I realize that it’s a very hard road.

Right now I have the Ashcan comic and a T-shirt both in the process of being created. I’ve got a couple ideas for some other things as well. I do think merchandise is one place where there’s room for a lot of innovative thinking. I definitely want to do a bigger, color book down the road at some time. But that will take some capital up front and I need to have more strips in the bank before that happens. Right now I just hit 80 strips, which isn’t nearly enough for a full color book.

DS: Do you live near or talk regularly with any other creators and what does that do for your creativity?

TD: I don’t live near anyone, but I have made friends in the webcomic circle and I am constantly talking to them. It’s great to keep the creative juices and ideas flowing. I’ve already mentioned Steve Ogden (Croaker’s Gorge, SteveOgden.com) who has become a good friend of mine. I talk to him on almost a daily basis about all kinds of things creative, but of course specifically Marooned and his Moon Town project. For both the current storyline and the next one coming up, Steve and I had great story meetings over the phone, and he really has helped me solidify the stories and helped me keep the thing on track. The truth is Steve really is kind of a “silent partner” in the whole thing.

Tony Piro (Calamities of Nature) has been a great help to me in many ways. He’s like me in that he digs deep into each facet of the craft to find out what works. We definitely chat back and forth about things and share some of what is going on with our strips to each other.

Dan Bois is a fan of mine who is also a graphic artist and has done some comics and has given me great ideas about stuff for cons. He even sent me some stuff, buttons and magnets and bookmarks for example, that he made as examples of what I could do.

Aside from them I talk to numerous other artists around the web here and there. In fact Chris Hallbeck of Book of Biff is another good guy, and he’s a Chicago dude as well. Plus there are the artists in the Palace in the Sky collective, of which I am a part, that chat in the forums about all kinds of topics. I’m sure I’m leaving some people out too.

DS: In the comments of the previously mentioned blog post, Eben07 notes that profit should not be the focus, but rather enjoyment and excitement about doing what you love. Is there a line where a hobby must start returning something in order to continue to be viable?

I couldn’t agree more with Eben on that. I don’t need Marooned to return an investment for me. While I’m spending a little bit to keep it going, it’s not a big deal – it’s no more than people spend on any hobby they do. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try and make it a success. You never know what can happen, and I would love for Marooned to someday help pay the bills. Plus if the strip is generating some money, that would allow me to do some neat things (like say a maquette) that I cannot do now.

So it definitely depends on what your definition of “viable” really is. I never had aspirations beyond the 12th strip when I started. So at this point, everything has been a bonus for me. So I’m definitely not shackled by any need to have it return some kind of profit. That was never the goal in the first place.

Having said that, I will continue to explore means to see if it can be done. Because it would certainly be great if that would happen.

Wow, that sure gets the wheels turnin’, huh? Take Tom’s words to heart, fellow creators, and stay tuned to future editions of us trying to figure out webcomics, one creator at a time! Also stop by the Marooned site and give Tom some love by picking up a copy of his first Ashcan (mini-comic) collection!

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One thought on “Q&A With Tom Dell’Aringa ~ON~ Marooned, Print Viability, and How To Make Webcomics

  1. I think AssetBar could be a great money make for comics. The biggest problem I see with it is the perception that it’s a subscription service. People donate $2 all the time for wallpapers or whatever. If I told you that for $2 you get to see 30 days worth of background material, plus full access to everything I’ve ever downloaded in the past, that sounds like a fantastic deal in comparison. There’s such a stigma against subscriptions for webcomics (or almost anything on the web for that matter), it may really hold AssetBar back from reaching it’s full potential. I hope I’m wrong about this.

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