For many aspiring cartoonists, the effort of launching, creating, and maintaining a webcomic is a solo undertaking. It’s a long process that, while a labor of love, can prove arduous, especially if those creators are trying to make an income off of their work. For a long time there was no formal support system for these creators, whose work would likely never get picked up by a major print publisher and whose readership and revenue were entirely dependent on internet notoriety.
However, the comics collective Hiveworks, founded in 2011, is vastly improving the experience for online comics creators. Branding themselves as a combination publisher and studio, Hiveworks is offering the support and mentorship necessary for turning webcomics into sustainable businesses. The group provides a wide array of services including web hosting, ad placement (which increases both readership and revenue), facilitating web stores, marketing and product design, and even participating in Kickstarters. The result is a vast and diverse collection of comics and creators who can focus on the quality of their work, rather than the confusing and often overwhelming task of marketing that work.
I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with professional illustrator and Hiveworks Co-CEO Isabelle Melançon, whose popular webcomic Namesake I recommended last year. Here’s what she had to say about her work with the collective:
Hiveworks really is a one-of-a-kind endeavor, performing all the duties of a publishing company (advertising & promotion, generating revenue, facilitating sales, design assistance, and increasing audience) but based entirely online. How did such an ambitious project get started and how has it changed since its inception?
It started out of a hobby project that blew up. At first it only included the founder, Joseph “Jojo” Stillwell, and a few of his friends. It was more to assemble a few neat comics and get a bit of ad revenue than anything else. It grew as people got really interested in the potential of the idea. The transition from side project to main job came with a bit of growing pains linked to sheer size and Kickstarter projects (it’s around that time that I started wearing both hats–creator and administrator–to help Jojo make the transition smoother and fix the issues). We came out of that troublesome time with a more solid plan and motivation to make the webcomics industry better. Now that we’ve proved ourselves, we have so many awesome artists under our banners. Honestly, it’s just so exciting.
Your collective is home to a huge array of titles. Is there a criteria for media that is accepted into Hiveworks?
Generally, what we look for is quality and a good work ethic. We’ll consider all sorts of genres and styles. If someone pitches us a good idea and shows that they’re determined to work, we are delighted to have them on board.
When it comes to working with media that is made available online for free (as compared to a traditional publisher), what would you say are the biggest challenges?
One of the biggest challenges is making sure the creators (and staff) stay healthy and motivated. Unlike print work, webcomics can be very long-term. It’s a marathon, you always have to keep up production and communications. The work is cyclical, both on the creative side and the administrative side. So sometimes everyone feels like it’s the same old, same old and it can get a little disheartening when you feel your entire world is a screen. But the more we grow, the more we have grown into a community where creators support each other and it’s really helping that.
By contrast, what would you say are the rewards and benefits of working specifically with webcomics and online media?
You’re very close to your audience, for one, and the feedback is always fun. The freedom the creators have in the storytelling is also really rewarding. I think webcomics have grown in this sort of underground movement that can rival with the content of traditional print media in terms of quality and leave it in the dust in terms of diversity and originality. Online media allows you to be more experimental. I’d really have to say the biggest perk will always be freedom to explore your story and art as you please.
You mention on your website a wide range of other services for members and affiliates if they “need a hand,” including help with Kickstarters and convention appearances, just to name a few. How would you characterize Hiveworks’ role when it comes to supporting younger, more inexperienced webcomics creators who are not used to doing these things on their own, and what kind of work do these services entail?
The amount of work we put in for each comic varies from creator to creator. Some creators like having a lot of control on their stuff, others like when we are very involved. I’d say the bulk of the work is just making sure everything is scheduled and remains organized. Sites going up on time, payments being sent or collected on time, finding places to produce merchandise, adding stuff to the store, reviewing texts, designing books, organizing communications, etc. Essentially, most of what I do is just making sure stuff happens when it’s supposed to happen and that the pending work is completed well. Those little details that are on a schedule and need someone to pay attention to them.
What is an average day like for you as co-CEO?
Usually a good half-day of answering emails and talking to creators followed by working on a few pending tasks that vary depending on where we are at in the month. We’ve often said most of our work entails just talking to people.
It seems like this is really a golden age of webcomics and Internet creativity. Would you say that Hiveworks has changed the atmosphere and/or industry for the online comics creators who are working or seek to work with you?
I believe we did. We set in place a needed structure that allowed our creators to not only make money from their art, but also to feel secure creating. They don’t have to worry about things like the hosting or the store, and they feel the support of a community of friends. It’s helping more and more creators work full time on their art. Makes me feel like we are doing enormous good. It’s a great feeling!
You are a comics creator yourself with a long-running webcomic in production. It seems like having this kind of insight makes you especially adept at working with and promoting the work of other online creators. Has this been your experience?
Actually, a lot of my administrative experience came from my “day jobs” where I’ve worked in several offices as an administrative assistant and project manager. I think the main contribution my creative work brings to my administrative work is that I understand what creators go through, both good and bad. A creative project is pretty emotionally taxing sometimes, it’s something you pour your heart and soul in. Sometimes you need someone who sees the data, and sometimes you need someone who sees it with a critical eye and empathy. I like to think our team is able to offer those two points of view.
Finally, is there any exciting news for the future of Hiveworks that you might like to share?
Not for now! I prefer to reveal things in due time, but I assure you we are always working on something to make Hiveworks bigger and better! Please keep an eye on our social media for announcements.