How should I start this… maybe “they said it couldn’t be done?”
When I announced in May that I would be launching a DAILY webcomic, a number of old friends provided gentle hints along the lines of: “um, isn’t that going to be a lot of work?”
Let’s break this down into an input & output side, and let’s start with output: the pros all do 5, 6, or 7 strips a week… Charles Schulz did, Johnny Hart did, Mort Walker does/did, the great George Herriman did… and if one retorts that these artists did much simpler cartoony drawings, then I can respond that Al Williamson, Alex Raymond, Leonard Starr, John Prentice, and Bill Griffith render/rendered gorgeously-drawn realistic strips 5 and 6 days per week (true, some of the latter had assistants… light bulb… could I get an assistant? ). But at the time I launched Epiffany in May 2012, I was ahead by 35 strips, had cut back on hours at one of my jobs, and 5-days a week seemed totally doable… sounded great!
But the problem is that unlike the above examples, my strip does not yet pay for itself. Two summer trips put a pretty good dent in my 35-strip “cushion,” and although my roughs are months ahead and finished pencils remain somewhat ahead, when I got back from my July trip I was inking each day’s strip the night it was due… as in, some 60 minutes before midnight of the due date… if the scanner were to break down or there were a power outage (common out here in the boonies!), there would be no fresh Epiffany strip the next morning… horrors!
Input: I’m happy to report that Google Adsense and Project Wonderful have accepted Epiffanyjones.com for advertising (see nearby advertisements), but so far revenue is in the pennies. Now, we’ve all partaken of websites over the years where the admin constantly pleaded: “Click the banners! Click the banners!” Well… imploring your friends to click the advertising is kind of like having your mom patronize your lemonade stand… it might help for a few days, but can’t be sustaining! Added to that is the fact that the intelligent audience for Epiffany is made of people who may find advertising abhorrent; they may even have adblocking programs… hmm… that’s not going to work for long.
Webcomics are a truly DIY medium; with the availability of internets and digital tablets and illustration software packages, anyone can do them, and, gosh, nearly anyone does! Thewebcomiclist.com has 20,300 strips listed as of this writing; that’s a lot of strips for readers to sift through and be whelmed by. If Epiffany is going to be a standout lucky enough to pay for itself/myself, it’s going to take time and a long, slow buildup of readers & recognition.
The big picture-window view is that working for somebody else takes precious time away from Epiffany… look: in some ways Epiffany is a thinly disguised version of myself, in that, like her, my dishes, laundry, and bills pile up to a point where a breeze from an open door could blow them over. To get the dishes & laundry done and to pay for myself, I need to back her off to 3 days a week… my hope, of course, it that it will eventually pay for ME and that, like a real pro, I can bring her back 5-days per week, but… who knows — further down the line I may find that I can only handle 2 days a week (I hope not)!
Therefore: starting today (noticeable tomorrow!) you will see new Epiffany strips on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, instead of the daily (5 days per week) comic. I know that most readers won’t mind and many may not even notice… most fans I talk to catch up once a week on Friday as time allows. Hey, we’re ALL too busy, right?
I have to reveal & plead total ignorance for not knowing that the great Russ Heath — renown for war and other comics for publishers ranging from Timely in the 1940s to EC in the 1950s to DC in the 1960s to Warren’s Blazing Combat — was the illustrator for the backcover illustrations of Roman and Revolutionary war soldiers marketed for years on the backs of comic books.
How did I finally get a clue? A recent book about comic book advertisements — Mail-order Mysteries (Kirk Demarais, Insight Editions, 2011)– gave me the first idea. This nicely-produced book provides the straight dope on dozens of these items, ranging from X-Ray Spex (that name later adopted by a seminal early punk band), the Charles Atlas Fitness Program, the Polaris (cardboard) Nuclear Sub, the Vacutex Blackhead Remover, and yes, the Roman and Revolutionary War soldiers so ably illustrated by Russ Heath.
And what kid would not have dreamt about these soldiers — assuming they were rich enough for the $2.98 price, or lucky enough to talk their parents into forking it over (“it’s a rip-off,” was the retort from the author’s parents; although the word “rip-off” didn’t arrive in my neighborhood until the 1970s, my parents essentially provided the same sentiment… didn’t everyone’s?!?). Sadly, the soldiers were almost 2-D thin — on the order of a refrigerator magnet… and although they had stands, it’s hard to imagine them standing upright.
This is an entertaining and fun book. Each spread covers one item and includes the original ad, a photograph of the product (how did he track these down?) as well as accompanying packaging and advertising imagery. A “Customer Satisfaction” box at the end provides the author’s final general sentiment, and yes, most were rip-offs. But the product of Demarais’ research is one that historians of, oh, the year 3000, might find revealing… and today’s pop culture aficionados, comic book mavens, and coffee tables are sure to be pleased.
And what of Russ Heath? He is still with us, but at age 85 has fallen on bad health. In 2011, a call went out for help with his surgery expenses. “As a society, we’re not taking care of the people we need to. I think it’s imperative that we find a way to do that, and more practically, find the money,” said artist Howard Chaykin in a 2011 interview. Said comics writer Mark Waid: “This guy gave you joy… this artist or this writer did something that you enjoyed over the years, and now they’re in a bad place…. we owe them.” The Hero Initiative, a not-for-profit corporation that has provided support for many veterans in the comics industry, was able to help provide medical services for Heath; find out more about it here.
Thanks to JB Winter for turning me on to this book.