2005 was a mixed year for me. Work-wise I continued working on my existing projects, but didn't win any new ones. I got an award nomination whose fall-out, in the end, was mostly negative (through no fault of the people involved in the award, I must add), got a bit burned out on webcomics, and produced very little new work on the web compared to the years before. Instead, I spent the better part of the year on an archaeological mission to bring my work of the past back to light.
I liked doing that. It was easy and fun to prepare The Lives of X!Gloop for the web even though the art dating from 1989-1992 was horrendously bad. It was less easy, but more fun, to show people two early Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan stories and find out that this didn't chase away the loyal readership. On the other hand, it made it hard for me, again, to promote the comic to new readers, because the work from 1991-1995 isn't exactly a showcase for my art skills. Nevertheless, the benefits of rerunning the old work outweigh the disadvantages: my workload was down for much of the year (and when I did start drawing new work for the web again in December, it was murder again), I am slowly filling the big gaps that exist in the ROCR archives and I'm rediscovering the work of that naive young writer/artist who tried to update the classic Goscinnyan approach to comics for the 1990s. Talk about my reach exceeding my grasp!
I left Modern Tales and republished my comics on a new free website in October, regained control over the reinderdijkhuis.com domain in November and started reposting my late-1990s work in December. There seems to be a bit more of a buzz around ROCR again now, with the readership trending up, more people trawling my archives and the comic getting mentioned in online conversations more... although a recent reference by a Websnark commenter to that "Swedish Elf-Life" strip (as I am calling it, I am not going to attempt to type out the proper name on the account I know I am going to misspell it badly) that the writer thinks he or she might read on Modern Tales may or may not count, and is probably a sign that I haven't publicized my move from Modern Tales well enough if it does. There's reason to be optimistic.
A picture is emerging of what my goals should be for 2006, and of how I could give myself a better chance at accomplishing them.
The overarching goal is the same as every year: to make a living — a good living — from cartooning, so I won't have to go back to working for a boss. It doesn't have to be with online cartooning; indeed it would be a bad idea to pin myself down to just that. However, I'll focus on that aspect of my plans because I'm posting to my online readership here.
Here's what I need to accomplish in 2006 to make the online work stable enough to keep doing it in 2007:
1. Increase the number of readers, and the readers' involvement in the comics. Counting readers is surprisingly hard, but in the past week, 1500 individual visitors looked at the site, including both people who came back repeatedly every day of the week and people who accidentally dropped in once, went "Yuck!" and fled. I need to get that up to 15,000 to be able to sell merchandise or make significant money from advertising on the website. Getting there from here will be difficult, but I don't think it's undoable, if I do the other things on the list. Naturally, I have other reasons than money to want as many people as possible to read my comics, but money at this point is the make-or-break reason. I also like it if readers come back and getting feedback from you motivates me a lot. Thanks to all of you who posted comments to the archived comics: you are helping me a lot with that.
To get more readers, there are some things that I'm happy to do (I'm already doing those: I buy advertising on webcomics sites and will buy more on sites outside the webcomics community in the new year), some things that I'm willing to do if I must (I dislike link exchanges and topsite lists, but they can work, so if my other strategies fail I will use them), and some that I am not willing to do. I will not pander to any demographic or change the work itself to make it more commercial. I've made a few baby steps in that direction in the past, but it's always left me with a bad taste in my mouth. My online comics are what they are and if I have to change them to suit the audience I might as well work for a boss. For well-paid work outside of webcomics, it will be a different story, but what you see here will have artistic integrity.
2. Showcase a much wider artistic range than I have been doing in the recent past. Someone who doesn't like humorous fantasy may still like to read autobiographical comics, experimental work, a kids' comic set at a school... I've done all of these things and more. Getting my other stuff online (as I've been doing with my wordless Pin Drop comics) will help me accomplish goal number 1, but also make it easier for me to get work published in print or get new projects from paying customers. In the process, I may have to start thinking about the website as reinderdijkhuis.com instead of rocr.net...
3. Create new work of much higher quality. To be able to stick to my self-imposed deadlines for ROCR, I've often allowed the quality to suffer. Never again. I will use the fact that I have old material to give myself time to work on new material including new ROCRcomics, and make them as good as I'm able to. I'm doing that already: I drew Headsmen, which will run in January, while the old story The Green Knight's Belt was running. After Headsmen, I will run old material again for a while and use the time that buys me to work on another new story at a very steady pace. I will also work on new sidecomics whenever the urge strikes me.
4. Have fun. Because what I'm doing is an uphill struggle at the best of time, and goal number 1) is one that has eluded many artists more talented than I. Whenever it stops being fun, I should take a breather, look at what I'm doing, and change things so they become fun again.
Is that it? I think that's it. Happy new year, all!