On the Proper Care and Feeding of Artists

Hey geeks,

Recently, a bunch of we cartoonists got in a discussion about what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate in terms of copying people’s styles, reposting people’s stuff, and so on. I think most people do these sorts of things innocently without some sort of philosophy or intellectual defense. Just as you aren’t born knowing that it’s inappropriate to pick your nose at the table, you aren’t born knowing that it’s inappropriate to repost original  work without trying to credit the author.

Since people generally don’t know this is a point of etiquette, the responsibility falls to artists and informed consumers to teach them. It’s beneficial for the artist for obvious reasons. However, it’s also beneficial to the reader. If your favorite artist has to get a day job, she won’t be producing as much or as high quality of work. So, if you can contribute to that artist’s revenue and readership, you’re ultimately helping yourself.

So, here goes: The Proper Care and Feeding of Artists


Before anything else, artists need money. They don’t necessarily need a lot, especially if they’re young, but they do need money. This is mainly because an artist without a day job is a productive artist. She has more time to spend reading, thinking, and producing the material you like to read. Extra money for leisure can be good too, as an artist who is constantly worried about making rent isn’t really in a state of mind to do outstanding work.

With that in mind, here are ways you can help:

1) Buy merchandise

Generally speaking, this is the best way to support an artist. If you’ve been a longtime reader and wish to contribute, buy a shirt or a book or something. If an artist has just 2,000 readers who are willing to buy a single item per year, that artist can probably quit her day job (albeit to live off ramen). If you like her art, be one of the 2,000.

2) Donate money

Not everyone takes donations, but if they do, contribute. I personally prefer sales because donations are more fickle. I’ve heard stories of people who rely largely on donations getting hit very hard by economic downturns. My sense is that people in recessions can still justify buying a book, since 20 bucks is not bad for the several hours (at least) of entertainment you’ll get from the book. It’s harder to justify paying for something you were going to have anyway.

That said, especially if your beloved artist does donation drives, contribute. Much like with merchandise, it only takes a small group of contributors paying a little per year to buy an artist out of her day job.

3) Turn off adblock for favorite sites

Adblock is great, unless you sell ads. Personally, I estimate I lose something like 10% of ad revenue (though it may be higher) to people who use adblock. If your artist gives you good content and doesn’t put on nasty ads (like pop-ups, noisy ads, etc.), you can return the favor by turning off adblock

4) If you view the comics ad free, pay for it

In addition to adblock, there are many other ways to view a comic for free. You might do it through an unlicensed website or app. Or perhaps you check the site through rss. If you’re doing so, you’re not contributing to the artist’s ad revenue.

I’ve had people come up to me at cons and say “I use adblock, so here’s 5 dollars.” I think this is awesome, and a great way to think about supporting your favorite artist. As a reader, if you never buy something, I’d estimate you’re worth between 2 and 5 bucks to me annually via ad sales, if you’re super loyal. If you want to run adblock or read through rss or whatever, you can make up for the lost ad sales by buying one or two things a year.


The best thing for an artist’s career is word of mouth. There are lots of ways you can help with this.

1) Spread the word

If you can’t send money, you can still spread the word. Pick a few favorite comics and send them to friends. If your favorite artist runs ads, she’ll make money off the pageviews. And, maybe one of your friends will buy something from her.

2) Spot theft

If you see one of your favorite comics posted offsite with no attribution, take action in two ways: First, alert the site owners that copyrighted material is being posted on their site and request attribution. Second, if the site allows comments, post a polite complaint along with a proper attribution. Most cartoonists have archive searching, so it should be easy to find the original site for the comic.

3) Encourage good attitudes in others

Most image theft isn’t malicious. People see something funny, dump it to imgur, and post it online without thinking of the loss to the original creator. When you see this, instead of calling people dicks for doing it, talk to them about how it’s important to support the artist. People who have the right attitude about image theft really do a huge service to we artists.

I should add that this is especially true for newer artists. I’m fortunate enough to have a large audience, so I always have defenders when my comics get posted improperly. But, if you’re a fan of a comic with, say, under a thousand readers, you need to step up to the plate in that comic’s defense. It’s very likely you’ll be the only one who can do that.


1) Encouragement

This is more true for some artists than others, but everyone appreciates a friendly email now and then. I’m at the point where I get more emails than I can respond to, but I still read every single one, and every single one brightens my day. As an artist, you have only limited interaction with your readers. So, even if a small army of people are reading every day, you can feel like nobody’s visiting the site anymore. Hearing from regular people who read your stuff can really turn around a crummy day.

2) If your artist is going through a change, don’t be a dick about it

All artists change from time to time. If your favorite artist is making a change somehow, give it a fair shot. As a reader, it’s very hard to tell if you dislike the new thing because it’s bad or if you dislike it because it’s different. So, keep an open mind, and give it a shot.

The thing to realize is that if your artist never changes, it’ll be bad for you too. You’ll get repetitive, stale work. So, even if you could get an artist to revert back to her old style by complaining, the result wouldn’t necessarily be something you’d like. Stick with the artist while she’s feeling out this new direction. If you liked her work in the past, there’s a decent chance you’ll come around to the new thing.

Also, realize that there’s a learning curve to everything. If your favorite artist is suddenly also doing origami sculpture, realize that her first 100 attempts aren’t going to be Grade A. If you don’t like it right now, consider leaving and returning in 6 months.

3) If you’re learning from your favorite artist, there’s a fine line between homage and theft

20 years ago, if you were a big fan of Garfield, you might decide to draw a completely original comic called Argfield and show it to friends via a xerox machine. These days, the equivalent is to put it online. The problem is that online, if your style is very similar, you might confuse readers. This is especially worrisome from an artist’s perspective if your content is more edgy than the person you’re imitating. As a webcartoonist, my reputation is everything to me. If someone, for example, copied my style and did a racist joke, I could lose a lot of readers over it.

Copying your heroes is an important part of every artist’s development, so I don’t want to discourage that. However, as I said, it’s a fine line. Here are some clear rules:

(A) Don’t steal someone else’s words.

(B) If you’re doing a very close copy, just to learn, credit the artist and not yourself. If you do a great rendering of Gabe from Penny Arcade, that’s awesome, but don’t claim it as your own.

(C) Don’t imitate for too long. Learn by imitation, then move on, and cultivate your own style.


I know the above is quite a list of recommendations, but when you think about it, it’s all pretty simple. If you like someone, you should: contribute financially, tell people about it, and be good to the artist. The above are just a bunch of particulars that facilitate those 3 things in a big way.

In the last few years, a lot of online cartoonists have made the switch to full time. This is great! But, there are still many artists who have to skirt the line by taking odd jobs. There are even artists who once were full time who have been compelled to go back to a day job.

Running a website means you have to speed up just to stay in the same place. As more websites and vendors go online, you have to have a larger and  larger audience just to make the same revenue. So, we as artists really rely on the readers to help us keep things going. So please, do your part by following the simple rules above.



PS: I have a suspicion I’ll get suggestions from fellow artists about additions to this document. So, there may be edits after it goes up.

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113 Responses to On the Proper Care and Feeding of Artists

  1. Fizz says:

    Is there a reason that more webcartoonists don’t put their ads *in* the RSS feed? That just seems like a win for everybody, but the only comic I read which does it is Questionable Content.

    • ZachWeiner says:

      Some do, but in terms of revenue per reader (in my experience) the money isn’t as good. I monetize my rss through feedburner. Off 50-70k daily rss people, I get 10-20 dollars most days.

      • Ryan says:

        $10-$20 is still money per day. The cost to earn that money is what, a little bit of time setting up the RSS feed and a few hours maintaining the ads per month. Even if you only get $6-7 per day that is still 1800-2100/year. Seems like a no brainer to me.

        Being an RSS reader myself I would not mind an ad at the top and at the bottom of my feed, but I also go to the site for the votey’s. JJ @ Questionablecontent.net does this with his feed.

        I have also noticed C&H feeds only posts a link to their site to alert me that a comic is there. I assume that this is for Ad reasons. This really doesn’t bother me at all because the reason I am a RSS person is purely so I don’t have to remember update schedules for the different sites.

      • Gem Newman says:

        I click through every day for the votey. I definitely agree with Ryan that RSS is the way to go for notification, but I have no problem clicking through to the site.

        Thanks for this little write-up, by the way. It’s very informative.

    • Ian says:

      I think the annoyance caused by RSS ads isn’t worth the small revenue. Everyone should be clicking through to SMBC too for the Votey.

      • ZacharyRD says:

        I’m with some of the other comments; I like Ads in my RSS feed, when done well (QC is a great example). And by “like ads” I mean, “accept them as a tradeoff to supporting artists”. C&H, for example, gets read less by me because of the way they do their RSS feed, and because their ad has brutal pop-under ads on it.

      • Adam Snider says:

        Ah, but having ads in the RSS feed *and* on the main site would mean that people like me (who subscribe to the feed but click-through to the site in order to see the votey) are worth an additional few cents in ad revenue, since we’ll be seeing the RSS ads and the on-site ads.

      • Drew says:

        I think the real annoyance is going through to each individual site. This is a tough issue for me– I really want to support the artists I like (especially ones who draw on my Dinosaur Comics dry-erase boards) but I prefer to sit down to my material in one list in one place.

        I’m absent-minded, and would never keep up with serial comics if I had to go to them individually. My RSS “home” feed, which I completely read every day, has about 5 great comics, 3 sources of veterinary CE stuff, 1 cooking, 1 news site, 1 language column, a few logic/rationality blogs, and some miscellaneous other stuff. I read it all by scrolling down a single page, usually while eating a meal. It’s my version of a newspaper.

        I agree, I really wish artists would put their ads in the RSS feed in some way (although it’s also annoying when they’re done in separate posts, or if they are as vertically long as the comic itself…) Alternately, I wouldn’t mind a reminder from the artist, based on their pageview and the size of their RSS, how much I’m costing them per year, with an annual reminder (when I might choose to donate to make up for the convenience.) This might not be popular with others, though.

        • Justin says:

          If you use Google Reader you can make a bookmarklet that basically pulls to the next site on your rss list. This is better for comics because it shows the original site and layout, also shows their ads and context, and keeps things one after another so your not having to do any more navigating than hitting a bookmark on your bar.

    • Jeph says:

      I do it because it meshes well with the way I update my RSS feed. None of it is really “automated”- I use Feeder, which is an application that essentially turns updating your feed into sending an email. So whenever I post a new comic, I make a new item in Feeder, paste the Project Wonderful code in along with the comic and news post, hit “send,” and I’m good to go.

      You can actually look on my Project Wonderful stats and see how many more people are viewing my comic on RSS, because the PW banner ads only run on the front page of my site and in the RSS feed. It’s a significant chunk of people!

      tl;dr everyone should put (non-annoying) ads in their RSS feeds

  2. I’m curious about 3b. If I free hand draw a picture of gabe, in a style similar to gabes, I should give him full credit? Or like “this is a picture I did of Gabe from Penny-Arcade in their style”?

    • ZachWeiner says:

      Yes, you should give credit. You can, of course mention that you did the drawing. But, it’s courteous to say something like “based on Gabe from Penny Arcade” with a linkback.

      • Raiser says:

        And, to take it a step further, when you figure that ‘Gabe and Tycho’ (the characters) are fundamentally different from Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (the people they represent, AKA the Penny-Arcade guys themselves), you really are just making a picture of a Penny-Arcade character in the artist’s style.

        It’s no different in this respect from drawing, say, Skull from PvP in Scott Kurtz’s style, or drew the entire cast of Least I Could Do a la Zach Weiner. You have a character (source image) you don’t own and an artist style that you’re copying that isn’t your own.

        It’s like citing a book quote. You don’t have to be overly formal (lord knows we’re not getting docked for not following MLA format, here), but at the very least, let people know it’s not yours, and where they can find more of it.

        “I drew this! The character belongs to that guy (at this link) and this other guy (at this other link) is who I drew it like!”

        It doesn’t take much.

  3. Jordi Cronin says:

    Glad someone’s said something about this, It is a big problem and apart from comics there are many artists on deviantart and equivalent sight’s who keep losing viewers and revenue to this.
    Couldn’t agree with you more about the importance of staying civil when trying to stop this. There is nothing more offputing than having someone rage at you for sharing something you just thought was amazing.

  4. Angela says:

    As an aspiring, hoping one day to not need a day job, artist/cartoonist myself… I thank you for this.

  5. It’s nice to know that I’m worth $2-$5 of ad revenue a year, so I know how much I should be spending to make up for adblocking.

    (I, personally, am probably worth quite a bit less, since I almost never click on google ads even when I see them, and google ad payouts are based on clicks, not impressions. But still.)

    Thanks, Zach!

    (Also, the tab order for the comment form is still messed up. The three info fields have tabindex=”1″, tabindex=”2″, and tabindex=”3″ respectively, but the textarea doesn’t have a tabindex attribute at all. This means that when you tab out of the Website input, you go to the first normal tab-target on the page, which is one of the links at the top of the page.)

  6. Kisai says:

    When I ran some statistical analysis on ad blocking on webcomic sites I manage, I found that they fell into 3 categories:
    1) Malicious intent – (adblock blocking all ads of every origin, including ads like PW, which are inexcusable.) Generally the person knows they are being evil. This accounts for 2% of all traffic based on ip matching.
    2) Proxy stripping – People using proxies (usually to bypass work filters or censorship) whereby the default settings strip javascript to cover their tracks. This results in a lot of referral spam as the referrer and agent are masked. This counts for up to 5% of all traffic, depending on how NSFW your comic is.
    3) Unintended consequences – These are people who downloaded “webcomic reading” software, like greasemonkey scripts for firefox, or apps for the iPad and Android devices. These programs are often poorly thought out and do much more damage to the site(especially dynamic sites that use wordpress) by pulling unneeded data just to find the comic image instead of using links to the pages like a RSS reader. The dumb versions of these try to guess the next page and depending on how your server returns error pages, might waste enormous amounts of bandwidth in 403/404/500 errors. The smarter versions follow the next/previous buttons, but don’t cache what they’ve downloaded for the next time, often pulling 5 pages, even when only one page is read.

    The point at which you worry about ads being blocked are when the numbers the server shows (eg with webalizer) are far off the mark from what the ad network or external analytic systems show. The web server itself counts robots, proxies and bad software. However the external analytic programs like Google’s rarely detect the first two, and only detects bad software if it uses a browser engine (as with iphone/android apps.)

    • that guy says:

      I think it’s unfair to claim blocking ads is by definition ‘malicious intent’. There are plenty of people (for example, my mother) who install something like Adblock Plus to get rid of pop-ups and other annoying ads, and simply don´t consider that it automatically blocks ALL ads, even non-annoying ones on websites that rely on them for their revenue. Once it´s on it’s always on, and it´s easy to forget about it unless someone points it out to them. You’d need to manually add exceptions to the program in order for it to NOT block everything, which is something a lot of people don’t think about doing or simply don’t know how to do.

      Even if someone knows about it but doesn’t care, it’d be more accurate to call it laziness or selfishness than ‘malicious intent’. It’s overly paranoid to assume that everyone is out to deprive you of your income.

    • Ptorq says:

      “Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” – I’d give an attribution for that, but I can’t remember where I read it.

      Anyhow, the point is that if you’re going to block ads, the simplest way (depending on how you do it) may be to block included images from domains other than that of the main page. I disagree that this is either “evil” or “inexcusable” in all cases… the point may be simply to save bandwidth.

      I don’t block ads myself (of course, I don’t click on them either, so that may not be much better from the artist’s standpoint), but I can certainly see the attraction of doing so. Fortunately, evolution seems to have taken its toll on the most annoying types of ads (exactly how stupid does a designer have to be to think “Nothing gets people to click on an ad like making it scream at them while burning its image into their retinas!”, anyway?). Now if we could just drop large heavy items on those people who design radio ads with car horns in them…

    • Tale says:

      For others like me who wondered what “ads like PW” meant, apparently it means “ads from Project Wonderful”, an ad service that makes its money not from click-throughs or impressions, but just by auctioning how much time an ad will run for on a site.

      Which is kind of interesting to me that blocking them would be considered to be inexcusably malicious. Apparently I don’t understand enough of how it works, because if the auction is for time then what difference does it make whether I fetch the ad?

      Unrelatedly, after tabbing through the Name/Mail/Website boxes for leaving a comment, tabbing again ends up moving to the top of the page instead of to the comment box.

      • ZachWeiner says:

        Because buyers determine whether or not to buy based on ad performance. There’s an indirect economic effect there.

        • Mark V says:

          Also, the Project Wonderful site reports page traffic for each ad box, and I think the traffic-counter depends on javascript not being blocked.

          Actually, there is a very direct way to pay for the lost ad revenue from blocking a Project Wonderful ad — put in your own bid for that ad space. (Yes, simply giving the money to the artist has less friction, but this has a nice symmetry).

      • Jermiah says:

        0. the tab thing is VERY annoying.
        1. I do block ads. I don’t consider myself as “inexcusable”. Ads are unsollicited, annoying, bandwidth consuming, and most of the time: ugly. I don’t have time for that. If you need me watching crappy Flash ads to carry on doing funny comics, then I’m sorry, I can’t do that for you. First off, stop considering yourself as an “artist”. Only time will tell if you’re one. Second, stop telling how a “good reader” should behave. This is far, far away from how things work. You offer your “artistic production” for free over the Internet ? So be it, then let me enjoy it for free. You consider that you’re good enough for people to spend money to see your “art” ? So be it, start selling exclusive content. But don’t blame ME for not behaving as you’d want me to, based on your financial needs. Not only is this rude, it is also improductive and laughable. Come up with a decent way to menetize virtual creation and I’d be glad to be part of it. Essentially beause your idea is good. Not because you told me to.

        • Zabinatrix says:

          Yes, exactly! Or, alternatively, you can behave like a decent human being.

          Instead of coming here to say a lot of derisive “You’re not a *real* artist”-stuff and go “Hah, if you don’t force me to pay for your product, I will avoid giving you money in any way possible” you could actually think about your fellow humans.

          For instance, you can think like this: if a comic is worth your time (and bandwidth, if you pay for used bandwidth), if it is entertaining enough for you to read, why shouldn’t you support the artist? Because he isn’t “selling exclusive content” like you say? So because a guy is nice enough not to force you to pay for his best work, you feel that he deserves nothing?

          Yes, you are right that you don’t have to pay. You don’t have to have ads enabled. You don’t have to buy merchandise. And you are right that you don’t have to consider it art or good. But if you don’t feel that it’s art, if you don’t feel it’s good enough, if you don’t feel that it’s worth paying for or viewing an ad or two… Then why are you wasting your time reading it?

          You’re not “working the system” and being all smart if you go “Well you’re the one not monetizing, so I don’t have to pay, haha!” You’re just being an ass, and contributing to why even good webcomic artists struggle financially. If you don’t like the comic, fine, go somewhere else. But if you do like the comic, it’s in your own best interest to give it at least minimal support – so that the comic can continue and so you can continue reading it.

  7. Oliver says:

    Bringing my 0.02$, I think you’ve left behind something new, inserting itself between apps and straight donations : micropayments.

    I’m thinking of a system like flattr.com

    With flattr.com, it’s possible to donate a sum with a simple click on a flattr icon present on a website. As a flattr member, we may decide to donate them x $ per month, and they will distribute this money evenly between all the persons whose icons we clicked during the past month.

    On top of all, the interest is the ease of use, one click means money, period, nothing more to handle. And it’s from people already decided to use that system. No second thoughts.

    Flattr is a new system, growing big in countries like Germany, slower to raise in USA.

    Zach, you may wish to give it a go, perhaps.
    I’m adblocking your website and not buying your shirts (no harm meant, but I’m French, and US shops have US sizes and crazy shipping fees), all I’m doing is occasional retweets and posting links to your comics occasionally on my blogs. However, if there were a flattr button, you’d get a monthly # 2€ worth click ;)

  8. david says:

    i have SMBC in my rss feed, but I always check the site (mostly because of the votey). it’s just easier to have a place where to check all the comics i read, especially when they have different update schedules

    • Liz says:

      I do the same, it’s nice to have a service keep track of what updates when, but I do always come look at the page, if ads aren’t included.

    • Art says:

      I use Google Reader for my RSS, and have no issue with artists just putting links in the feed, even, as opposed to including the comic. I’m using it to ease knowing when sites have updated. (This does mean that if an artist’s RSS feed breaks, if the comic is sporadic enough I might not notice…)

      (Naturally, I always click through for the votey)

  9. Kdash says:

    Do advertisements pay per view or per click? I was under the impression that they only generated revenue if the visitor actually clicks on them. And as someone who generally ignores ads, I always just figured that my using AdBlock wouldn’t really hurt anyone.

    If there was a way to let AdBlock download ads on certain sites, but then hide them from view, I would definitely do it. After all, I tend to block ads more for aesthetic purposes (I prefer to have less visual noise when viewing sites) than for the sake of speedier browsing or bandwidth conservation.

    • Gar Molloy says:

      Depending on where you’re getting your advertising from, ads are paid for on a cost-per-thousand-views(CPM) or cost-per-click(CPC) basis. Project Wonderful does ads based on whatever the high bid is at the time, but site traffic is analysed on cost-per-view and cost-per-click. SMBC is a high-traffic site, so their ads are correspondingly expensive, however, the cost per thousand views would be relatively low, and a good ratio of clicks to views keeps the ad slot attractive for advertisers.

      Basically it’s better for the artist all-around if readers view the site with the ads, either directly (more people seeing the ad means the CPM goes down while the cost of the actual advertising slot can remain the same or even be raised) or indirectly (a more successful advertising slot will draw higher bids).

  10. Coby says:

    Recently I have been reading smbc from my smartphone. I see ads on the site, but do you still get ad revenue for it? I realized that might be an issue reading this, and just wanted to make sure.

  11. Mathew Walls says:

    Why do you keep saying “she”? It’s very jarring. And also incorrect. “He” can be used for an non-specific person of unknown sex, but “she” always refers to a female.

    • Dale says:

      Not in Dungeons and Dragons it doesn’t.

    • Shoshanah says:

      I find it much less jarring than using “he/she” or “their” for a single person of unknown gender. I use “he”, like I was taught in elementary school, but using “she” is a neat approach to combating sexism in language without butchering grammar.

    • Estelore says:


      “The use of “he”, “him” or “his” to be used as a gender-neutral pronoun, however, is today seen by some as prejudicial.
      Some authors though, turn the convention of the “universal he” upon its head and instead use “she” as referring to a subject of unknown gender. For example, Shafi Goldwasser, a noted female computer scientist—computer science being a field largely dominated by men—uses the pronoun “she” exclusively in her Lecture Notes on Cryptography in reference to cryptographic adversaries.[8]”

      Short form: It’s a matter of preference, since style manuals no longer subscribe to that rule, and calling it incorrect is… incorrect.

    • Estelore says:

      The use of “he”, “him” or “his” to be used as a gender-neutral pronoun, however, is today seen by some as prejudicial.
      Some authors though, turn the convention of the “universal he” upon its head and instead use “she” as referring to a subject of unknown gender. For example, Shafi Goldwasser, a noted female computer scientist—computer science being a field largely dominated by men—uses the pronoun “she” exclusively in her Lecture Notes on Cryptography in reference to cryptographic adversaries.[8]

      from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun#Universal_.22he.22

      Summary: Since modern style manuals no longer subscribe to the use of Universal He, this becomes a matter of preference to the writer. Calling it incorrect is… incorrect. :P

    • Merus says:

      “And also incorrect. “He” can be used for an non-specific person of unknown sex, but “she” always refers to a female.”

      Your information is out of date: “he” always refers to a male. There is, as of yet, no commonly accepted gender-neutral singular pronoun; varying approaches, such as interchanging ‘she’ and ‘he’, using the plural pronoun ‘they’ as if it’s singular, and inventing a gender-neutral pronoun such as ‘zi’ have all been proposed. For the time being, it’s up to the writer.

      Also surely you have better things to do than to quibble about semantics. (I do, but I have templates.)

      • Mathew Walls says:

        “He” always refers to a male? No, it doesn’t. That is patently false. No accepted gender-neutral pronoun? Yes there is, it’s “he”. “They” has also been widely accepted for a very long time.

    • JimKarnage says:

      Are you serious? You actually think it is acceptable to use “he” as a gender-neutral pronoun, but have a problem with using “she” to refer to a hypothetical artist?
      Personally I usually use “they” if referring to a hypothetical person of unknown or irrelevant gender, but I admit that CAN be jarring. I would assume that perhaps the reason some people might deliberately use “she” in a context like this even though it may be more instinctive for a male person to use a male pronoun is to try to correct the out-dated assumption that “he” is the appropriate default you seem to think it is.

      • Mathew Walls says:

        “You actually think it is acceptable to use “he” as a gender-neutral pronoun, but have a problem with using “she” to refer to a hypothetical artist?”


    • wrincewind says:

      “Why do you keep saying “she”? It’s very jarring. And also incorrect. “He” can be used for an non-specific person of unknown sex, but “she” always refers to a female.”

      overall, recently, there’s been a drift towards using ‘they’ as a non-gender specific indicator for a person or persons unknown. personally i prefer it, i find ‘he’ just as jarring as ‘she’ in this context.

      it’s not terribly important though, unlike the content of this article, which i’ll be reminding quite a few people of in the near future!

      • Mathew Walls says:

        That’s the whole point. The pronoun is not important, the context is. And when you use “she” you make the audience focus on your weird pronoun choice instead of the content.

    • Sarah Kazmierski says:

      Thank you! It takes me out of what I am reading every time, and you could argue I have incentive to see “she”. “He” is correct, but “he or she” is also fine and suitably PC.

    • DaveR says:


      Zach is doing it because of exactly the biased ‘correctness’ which you describe. That ‘jarring’ sense reminds us that the unisex ‘he’ does not adequately describe the genders of artists online, and using ‘he’ could inadvertently promote the idea that most or all webcomic artists are male.

      The fact he does it without drawing attention to it? That’s just cause Zach is awesome.

      (Although Tab Atkins Jr is right about the tab thing, Zach.)

      • Mathew Walls says:

        Using “he” as a gender-neutral pronoun does not imply that all the people you’re referring to are male. That’s why it’s called a gender-neutral pronoun. And he didn’t do it without drawing attention to it, because that’s impossible. Any time you use “she” like that you weaken your message by distracting people with your weird pronoun choice.

    • PsychLobster says:

      She can be used for a non-specific person of unknown sex.

    • Kevin O'Donnell says:

      I use ‘she’ as much as possible with my daughter, now 5, and just the other day the benefits of doing so showed themselves.

      We were reading a book called “ninja, bear, cowboy” that is basically about the rock, paper, scissors game. The coyboy is obviously a boy, the bear’s gender never came up, but my daughter referred to the ninja as “she” even though that night I hadn’t and we hadn’t read the book in ages.

      Had I always used ‘he’ for everything my daughter may not have done that, having learned that all characters are first male, then potentially female.

      Now my daughter knows she can be a ninja someday.


    • JRM says:

      This is a potential threadjack, I know, but I like Zach’s usage here. Thos sort of use is becoming much more common; appropriate use of language changes over time. A reactionary prescriptivism on this strikes me as a little more “You meddling kids! Get off my lawn!” than is optimal.


    • I can’t speak for all of us, but as a Non-Specific Person of Unknown Sex, i’m quite happy to be referred to using he, she, it, that, or “hey you.”

    • Socks says:

      As far as I know, use of “he” for a non-specific person of unknown sex went out back in the 60′s, but I admit I’m not up on the finer points of grammar. I’m waiting for the day when we get a standardized non-gendered pronoun besides “it”. There are a lot of different versions of non-gendered pronouns floating around out there.

      In any case, I tend to view it as “she” always refers to a female and “he” always refers to a male. Most people I’ve seen use the plural (“they”) to refer to a non-specific person of unknown sex. And I don’t find the “she” usage in the above article jarring at all.

    • Molly says:

      You’re quite wrong; “she” is no less (and no more) neutral than “he,” except for the added benefit that “he” has been used for centuries as though it actually were neutral. It’s not. Believe me, this “she” doesn’t like the fact that I get subsumed under “he” 98% of the time.

    • Emma M. says:

      As a woman who sometimes gets a little tired of being “Other” (our default language setting is male–why?), I smiled all the way through this at the courtesy Zach extended. Maybe you found it jarring, but I found it affirming.

    • Mystere9 says:

      He’s obviously making a metaphor that all good web-artists are akin to vessels upon the mighty seas. And ships always use a female pronoun, as anyone knows.

    • He uses “she” because of his general awesomeness. Just like me.

    • Brittany says:

      I believe she is merely an example, in which case it is perfectly appropriate.

    • Ian says:

      No… what Zach is doing is called “consciousness raising” whereby he turns the sexism inherent in language on its head to make us more aware of it, so that in the future we can be more aware of how we consider both sexes. What you’re suggesting is just flat out sexist.

    • Ptorq says:

      You’ve never seen this style before? I certainly find it less jarring than when people “invent” words (like “shi” or “ze” or whatever) or use “she” and “he” in alternating paragraphs when they’re clearly referring to the same person making the subject in question sound like a very confused and undecided transgender individual.

      If you decide that you just have to show your disdain for the Evil Phallocentric Maleocracy in your writing, established rules of grammar be damned, using “she” instead is definitely one of the least objectionable ways of doing so. (Of course, I still think those who do so are being a little silly and oversensitive, but it doesn’t make me want to hit them.)

      • Leona says:

        Am a woman. Did not notice. Would have noticed ze, zi, (s)he, he/she, etc. Conclusion: This is preferable to other attempts at being politically correct, and still nice to women. :D

      • Mathew Walls says:

        There are certainly worse ways to go, but that doesn’t make this a good choice. HIV is worse than influenza, but I don’t want either of them.

    • The French says:

      Well, English is such a poor language after all. Lack of undtermined pronoun designation is a no-go for most linguists. If people of the world were like coding hipsters, English would have long ago be left usupported by the open-source French community, just like SmallTalk died long ago under the assaults of C++/

  12. Cup says:

    That’s certainly conventional, but it’s not a grammatical rule. At least not in English.

  13. Courtney says:

    Hey Zach! Great post–it really makes clear my contribution to your business and how I can contribute more. I’d also like to mention that I appreciate your using feminine pronouns to denote your hypothetical artist. ‘He’, when used in the traditional fashion as ‘gender neutral’, is problematic and though I immediately noticed the use of ‘she,’ its use brings our language one step closer to eliminating that noticibility–and that tricky latent language bias. Thanks!

  14. Dylon says:

    Dear Mathew Walls,

    Many authors deliberately write “she” instead of “he” when speaking globally of persons of unspecified sex because the current English convention arbitrarily identifies unknown persons as male.

    The convention is arguably misogynistic, misguided and the product of a time of overt sexual oppression; since convention dictates the prescription of certain language rules, and conventions can change, the usage is often intended as commentary and to spark social change.

    That is, the use of the global “she” is typically aimed at balancing the use of the global “he,” or showing awareness of the equal status of non-males as persons, or at least to bring attention at the arbitrariness of current linguistic trend.

    tl;dr: The rules of language change through time. People who use the global “she” disagree with–and generally hope to change–the convention of the global “he.”

    C.f. http://oxforddictionaries.com/page/heshethey/he-or-she-versus-they

  15. Shoshanah says:

    Question: most of the ads I see on the webcomics I read daily are for other webcomics. So, how does the “industry” sustain itself?

    I’ve been reading a dozen or so comics for years, and I definitely want to support the artists. But I rarely want merchandise, and I have trouble justifying donations to webcomic artists instead of, say, starving children in africa, so I only donate very occasionally. I’m glad to learn my presence contributes a bit to the revenue stream.

    • Shoshanah says:

      Really, I need to make the mental/financial switch from viewing it as a donation (which competes with other worthy causes for my cash) to viewing it as paying for entertainment.

    • ZachWeiner says:

      Most of the ads on my site are not for comics.

      But, even if they’re for other comics, that’s money sloshing around the system, which exposes readers to more comics.

  16. elliotbay says:

    As someone who for the most part does not produce content other people would like to view, I think it’s worthwhile to note that it’s not just the artist you’re helping when you attribute their work correctly; it’s your reader as well, because you’re pointing them to somewhere they might can find more of that content if they enjoy it. Depending on the website administrator, that might be a more compelling argument than one focused on the artist’s well-being (even though that’s a good argument as well).

  17. Stavros says:

    I was under the impression that all the ads are pay-per-click now. With this in mind, I may be among the worst payers ever – having clicked on about two ads per year for the past few years (okay, maybe a couple more due to misclicks).
    Of course, I try to offset that through buying merchandise and/or donating (you’ll be getting my $60 for SMBC Theater kickstarter soon, I hear ;-))

    The only problem: Since I read just about everything through RSS, the “Donate” and “Shop” buttons or links are rarely visible to me and I won’t think out of the blue that “Hey, SMBC Comic is great, let’s see if they have a shop or something!” but if you make a mention through the feed once in a while, I’ll definitely follow. And it works, since this is how I learned about SMBC Theater (because you announce the new videos in your comic feed) and the kickstarter (ditto).

    So, don’t forget to mention whenever you put any new product in the shop, and a reminder that there is one once per season or so. It will lure people like me in, and you definitely want that ;-)

  18. Jason says:

    Kills me a little each time I see a great photo posted without credit. It’s like look at an orphan Tiny Tim.

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  20. Krishna says:

    Bravo, Zach! I’ve linked your article to share it with my readers. Keep the insights coming (I’m enjoying your blog!).

  21. Dan says:

    I’ve actually found a benefit to not blocking ads on web comic sites. Most of them run ads to other web comics. I’ve grown my web comic bookmark list significanly because I see their ads and check them out.

  22. Guy Smiley says:

    As a suggestion to help people who are using adblock (or, in my case, noscript), it’d be nice if sites would put up some text behind where the ads should appear in their layout stating what domain the ad is coming from.

    I don’t really like having to go domain fishing to get ads to function properly, and honestly I believe that ads really, really don’t need or deserve script permissions to function, but I do also like to at least contribute via adviews, and understand how important they can be to webcomic artists. This would make doing that a little more convenient for me and others like me, and seems like a reasonable burden to put on webcomics designing their layouts.

  23. Oops! says:

    Thanks for a super informative post! I’m guilty of using Adblock, partially because my computer is slow, but admittedly also because until now I had (selfishly) only looked at the issue in terms of “I don’t like to click on ads, so why should I see them?” Now I have been educated. Disabling Adblock on this and several other sites…

    • ZachWeiner says:


      And remember, it’s the responsibility of the artist not to use annoying ads on you.

      Happy nerding,

      • Bas says:

        If I were certain that Ads on a page were not flash based, I would drop AdBlock no problem. But I find it rather irritating when I’m trying to read something great while flashing ads are in my peripheral vision. It distracts and gets away from the reading experience. Non flashing content is not a problem.

        Anyway, as far as I know, Chrome with adblock does download the ads, but strips them from the page. So the load is there, but the visual annoyance is gone. BANG! Everyone a winner.

        Is that still true?

      • JRM says:

        I salute your efforts to avoid fraudulent ads. The ads I see on SMBC might not always be stuff I’m interested in, but I don’t feel compelled to scream about the fraud.

        I have little doubt that there’s an income loss in not putting up fraudsters’ ads, but we love you for it, Zach.

  24. I heartily endorse the sentiments in this here article. As for additions, i’d suggest a little bit about WHY it’s always been so necessary to support artists thusly. That is, maybe a bit of discussion about how artists have historically always needed patronage and never more so than today. I don’t think that most people understand how little money 95% of artists bring in, and how disproportionately successful the Big Names are. It is NOT common for artists to make a living from their work.

    The arts are in a serious financial lull right now as well. Every artist i know in every medium is making a fraction of what they were bringing in in the 1990s, and i’m talking actors, musicians, everybody (my sister’s band has a major label record deal, and they make approximately $fuck.all/month, which i think would surprise most people). Appearances are deceiving, and never in our favor, and it’s something that the audience doesn’t necessarily understand because they see the most successful acts in the media and assume artists=rich, when in fact the vast majority of artists live on very little money indeed (artists=poor! memorize it!).

    Patronage is Normal, is the point that needs to be made here. Handouts are Necessary. Heck, there are classical composers (Haydn, etc) who only had careers because aristocrats gave them money, and i’m quite sure that’s not common knowledge. Artists need support, and they need it more than most people realize, and moreover artists themselves need to feel right about ACCEPTING that support– especially in the current economy. Don’t have a donation button? Freakin’ get one!

    Short version: The arts are hurtin’ right now, more so even than usual. Patronage has Always been necessary. Think of your favorite artist as a busker, and go from there.

    • Diderot says:

      Tons of artists also produced very “valuable” (as perceived today) work without any financial support. This is a very Hollywood-driven dream that all so-called artists should be living off their “art”. Making a living out of what you do daily is most of the time, a shame, sometimes, a lucky chance. Quit whining, pull yousrlef together and come up with something worth more than wishful talking. That’s what I did.

      Denis Diderot.

  25. Daan says:

    Great text! I have started a webcomic myself and was thinking how to tell my readers how they can help me. This just does that. Many people just don’t know.

  26. chuck says:

    that doesn’t sound very fair does it?

  27. He uses “she” because of his general awesomeness.

  28. rocketpanda says:

    I don’t think it is incorrect. I think Zach uses it on purpose to show he’s not just talking subtly about himself in the third person, but about all artists.

    I use ad blocker at home and at work and didn’t realize it stopped sites from generating revenue from those ads. I will make sure to unblock smbc and the other web comics I visit daily. This is probably the most important thing you mentioned as everyone I know uses an ad blocker. Lucky for you, I mostly read them in the morning at work through Chrome’s Incognito mode, which for some reason doesn’t use the ad blocker.

    • timt says:

      in a new incognito tab, it says:
      Because Google Chrome does not control how extensions handle your personal data, all extensions have been disabled for incognito windows. You can reenable them individually in the extensions manager.

      other than that, i am happy to hear that me stalking smbc gets you at least some money, sadly living in austria makes it a pain in the ass to order merch from the US because of shipping/handling/customs, not only in a financial way but also quite time consuming :(

      i was very happy to see your book on amazon germany last week – its really great!

  29. Niklas says:

    It would be great if artists would licence their works also to a EU based T-Shirts/Mugs Printshop. Sending the bitmaps should be much cheaper and faster than mailing the products.

  30. Julie says:

    I also always thought it was a per click thing on ads, so I never knew doing and RSS feed or ad-blocker was harmful. I will have to do the donate/buy thing from now on, thanks for enlightening me!

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  32. m@ says:

    I took a dump on a canvas and sold it for 2K, at year later I told the buyer what I did and they demanded their money back.

    Moral of the story, sometimes you should not give away yours secrets as an artist.

  33. Barton says:

    In the ‘personal encouragement’ department, I’d like to say that I think that the ‘baby/object permanence’ cartoons are genius… I had one taped to my door at work for months.

  34. Jordan says:

    I have a folder that I open each morning with about 15 webcomics and I don’t even have adblock installed.

  35. Peter M Dodge says:

    Heh, all the fine points about proper attribution and civility and the vast majority of posts are people arguing completely irrelevantly over gender pronouns, completely missing the point of the article to begin with.

    The internet never ceases to depress me.

  36. Peter M Dodge says:

    Also, someone is either trying to be ironic, or … Iunno what:


    I don’t see a link back to SMBC with that comic :|

  37. Adrien says:

    There’s one simple and yet very good thing on smbc-comics: the #comic anchor in the pages. It makes it sooooooo much nicer to link someone to the comic on the actual page.

    If there’s a lot of things on the website’s pages, it’s annoying to mention the exact position of the comic. #comic solves that.

    Please, have others use it too. :-)

    • Zabinatrix says:

      Haha, the #comic-anchor is actually the one thing that really, really bugs me about SMBC, so it’s funny to see how other people like it.

      My main problem is that SMBC is often a bit slow for me. I don’t know if it is for everyone or if it’s my connection, but it usually takes a while between the page starting to load and it actually going to the anchor. I have a large screen with high resolution though, so I can still see most of the comic, and I’ll automatically start reading it as soon as it shows up.. and then the anchor loads and the page jumps right as I’ve started reading.

      Not a huge deal, but when I’ve been away for a while and am reading through my backlog of comics, it gets so irritating after a while – always this jump right as I start reading, making me lose my place. And if I was going to go back two or three comics to look at something I saw a few days ago, the navigation buttons jump right as I’m about to click them. Sure, stupid first world problem :) but still irritating. I much prefer sites where the default behavior of links is to load the top of the page, so that the page stays still until I decide to scroll.

  38. _dave_ says:

    Regarding “spot theft”, given that as you say most comics are reshared without proper attribution mostly out of ignorance, why don’t you add a “smbc-comics.com” signature somewhere in the picture itself? It would be easy to edit out, but non-malicious user wouldn’t do that.

  39. Ian in Canada says:

    A very good blog post. Creative types really do need support, including not damaging their reputation. Suppose this means that I should thinkg twice about web publishing my strip Sunday Morning Brunch Food though. :(

  40. [name redacted] says:

    i agree with most of your post except, but:

    as a longterm (since 2004 i think) european reader, i won’t buy any merchandise, simply because i’m not a fan of importing a shirt from the other side of the world and paying more for shipping alone than it would cost me to print the shirt myself, if i had the artwork (i’d have gotten some qc shirts years ago if not for this). add import tax to that and 3/4 of the money i spend is gone before it reaches the artist.

    also as an european reader, i won’t be seeing you at any cons and have no way to just give you some cash to compensate for the add revenues you won’t ever get from me because i use adblock unconditionally. that’s partially due to the fact that all animated ads are annoying, and partially because i’m accustomed to this from years of mobile browsing with my 10″ linux netbook, where every blocked ad means more screen space, less badwith used and faster loading times while browsing via 3g, and serious speedups in cases of flash ads (i’ve gone so far that i’ve actually disabled flash on my main browser and have a second browser for youtube etc). this is more of a religious point, similar to never ever typing my real name and mail address into a wordpress comment form, or not using my shift key for internet discussions.

    donating for webcomics is also not an option for me if the donation isn’t for something special like new servers or whatever – if your only regular income is donations, you’re doing it seriously wrong (i could rant on this for a while, but this would derail this post even more). i’m a fan of the foss model: put the content up for free, give people an option to pay for something, and see where it goes – and only quit your day job if you know you can.

    the point i’m trying to make is, if you don’t live in the us, it’s not that easy to support webcomics artists financially, and if you don’t have paypal or are not fond of donating, you’re pretty much out of options. kickstarter changes this a bit, but there’s still the shipping costs if there’s actual non-digital rewards involved (i got the $25 reward anyways, plus $10 shipping).

    i could go on for a bit, but the bottom line is, give people something to pay for, and try to make it painless, and don’t expect to be able to live from art alone as this is a huge privilegue – i’m not quitting my day job to play music all day, either.

    • Ersamus says:

      Maybe it’s becase I’m European toi, but you really spoke truth to me. I give credit to every single one of the words you’ve written (and most likely to those you’ve decided not to write)

  41. fikster says:

    On the subject of AdBlock and the convenience of RSS, and for Mac users out there: consider using Reeder (there are likely other apps with the same features). Reeder can display the actual web pages (on top of the RSS summary) inside the application itself. As Reeder does not support AdBlock, you get to see the ads, without having to maintain white- or black-lists of sites in your regular browser.
    And for folks who do not like Flash, ClickToFlash will remove Flash from the page, both in your browser, and in Reeder. What’s not to love?

    I also agree that for European readers, shipping and import duty make it suck somewhat to purchase merchandise. Paypal buttons do help in this regard (Studio Foglio for example is getting more money from me these days that they did when I used to purchase their printed monthly comics). Still, buying the odd piece of gear from time to time is not necessarily the end of the world, money-wise, and you can be assured that very few people on your side on the pond will be wearing the same cool t-shirts as you do :).

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  43. Peter M Dodge says:

    Another footnote, speaking as a Canadian, some countries (including ours) suffer under some extraordinarialy restrictive bandwidth caps; I easily exceed mine (and thus get charged more) just with normal web browsing, let along my brother who plays MMOs etc. As a result I’ve gotten pretty aggressive with adblock, with one exception: google adsense. I’m not sure why more sites don’t use it. It pays per impression, IIRC, and more importantly the bandwidth impression for server and client both is minimal.

  44. LP says:

    I noticed on your twitter that you tend to link directly to Imgur pictures rather than to the gallery page. Similarly to the ads on your and other artists websites, it’s the main source of revenue to keep the site up.

    “People linking to the page rather than the image is what keeps imgur going. If everyone linked to the direct image then imgur would have no source of revenue. However, I want people to use the service however they want, and by no means would I ever force anyone to do it one certain way. So, I like it when people link to the page because that’s how imgur makes money, but you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. I’m just happy that you like the service.”

    I apologize if this sounds like I’m trying to call you out on something, I just see it as an opportunity for you to lead by example and support your fellow web-site-people.

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