Arts

Artist Jeph Jacques has the keys to webcomic success

Merchandise, ads and micropayments, says popular artist

Jeph Jacques after his talk on webcomics at the Halifax Central Library on Wednesday.
Jeph Jacques is optimistic about the future of webcomics, ‘there’s so much talent, even just in this city’   Haley MacLean

If you love webcomics, you can make a living at it.

That’s the message a successful webcomic artist delivered at the Halifax Central Library on Wednesday.

“If you can get those core readers to invest in your work, it can be enough to support you,” said Jeph Jacques.

Jacques has been running his webcomic series Questionable Content since 2003. Since then it has acquired a huge readership, turning his creation into become a full-time job.

Webcomic economics

Jacques says his profits are equally divided into three main sources:

  • merchandise such as physical copies of his comics, clothing, mugs and other items referencing his comics
  • ad revenue on his website
  • and his Patreona micropayment system used for the public to help fund creators

Micropayment systems like Patreon have allowed more content creators to pursue art while also having economic stability. Therefore, webcomics have become a more prevalent artform on the web, more so than when Jacques first started with Questionable Content.

Currently on his Patreon, Jacques supporters provide him with almost $8,000 USD a month. He describes the sorts of rewards he provides for his donators in his Patreon introduction video.

Ad revenue on websites can also be a major factor to help artists maintain their funds. During the first year of Questionable Content Jacques estimates he had approximately 30,000 viewers on his site every day, which was enough to support him financially during that time.

Jacques has also utilized the funding program Kickstarter in the past, when in 2013 his campaign raised more than $140,000 USD to make a new album for his post-metal band Deathmøle

Starting Questionable Content

A year after completing a degree in music at Hampshire College, Jacques began drawing comics in his free time. He is self-taught in cartooning, having only attending art classes while still in high school.

“I was looking for a creative outlet to do on my own,” said Jacques. “It was a process of learning how to draw again.”

Jacques never expected to become a full-time webcomic artist. After being fired from his day job, he decided to try to sustain himself purely from the profits he was making from his webcomics.

“One month turned into two, which turned into six. I realized that I had been doing this comic strip the whole time and didn’t need a day job,” said Jacques.

Social media sharing

As Facebook grows in popularity, the audience for webcomics is growing, but fewer users are clicking through to the original webcomic’s websites. Creators have had to adapt to ensure they still maintain visitors on their pages. Although Jacques just maintains his website, other creators have also made Facebook pages for their work so they can profit from the attention it may also gather on social media.

Jacques has noticed a downward trend in his website traffic, but his work being shared on social media has allowed it to reach a broader audience. “Website traffic is going down, but I have more fans than anytime before,” he said. 

“At the start (mid-’90s) you could count the successful comic artists on one hand,” said Jacques. “We have this diversity now and it’s making the market a more rich and exciting place to be working in.”

Some of Jacques recommended webcomics:

A webcomic workweek

Along with Questionable Content, Jacques is also currently maintaining another webcomic project entitled Alice Grove, which he started in 2014.

He updates Questionable Content five times a week, while updating Alice Grove twice a week.

Jacques likes to layout his workload on a day-to-day basis, dedicating approximately 30-40 hours a week either writing or drawing the comics. Questionable Content takes 2-3 hours of his day, while Alice Grove takes 3-4 hours.

“I get up and I usually try and get one comic written by noon, but it varies pretty widely,” said Jacques. Some days he has a comic strip idea pop into his head while in the shower and is done by mid-day, while other days he works well into the evening.

“My goal for the next year is to build up a small buffer of comics, so I’m not just doing Questionable Content the day it get published,” said Jacques.

Promo poster for “Webcomics with Jeph Jacques”
Promo poster for “Webcomics with Jeph Jacques”   Halifax Central Library

Moving to Halifax

Jacques moved from Easthampton, Mass. to Halifax in September 2015. His reasonings stem from the heart.

“I met a lovely young lady who happens to live up here in this area, and one of the nice things about my job is that I can do it from pretty much anywhere as long as I have an Internet connection,” said Jacques.

At the library talk, a member of the audience asked Jacques whether Halifax could become incorporated into the plot of Questionable Content, which is set in the United States.

“I don’t know if Halifax will have a direct effect on it, but you pull inspiration from everywhere,” said Jacques. “But I am a lot happier here.”