The Webcomic Graveyard


That is a word that evokes certain dread in webcomic readers. Updates that mention an impending hiatus often get more comments than usual, specifically in response to the hiatus rather than the actual page. Why? Because they fear what’s coming—death.

Webcomics get cancelled and abandoned more frequently than most any other type of literature. There is a veritable cemetery of forgotten stories that will never be completed wasting away in cyberspace. Sometimes a creator will reboot or hand the series off to someone else, but this is atypical and not always successful. Is any of this a surprise? Not really. Webcomics aren’t usually a lucrative business and with no deadline, contract, or material gain to look forward to, the motivation to continue making a webcomic has to come from within the creator. That alone is a rare discipline, but even the most motivated writers find themselves in a predicament where they cannot complete their work. Life gets in the way, there’s a dispute in the creative team, or perhaps the writer simply no longer has the resources to continue. There is a trove of unfortunate circumstances buried beneath the graves of dead webcomics. If these lost tales had epitaphs, what would they say and what lessons could both readers and creators take from them?


gravestone_disputeCollaborative projects have high potential due to people pooling their talents and resources together, but the more there are involved in a single project, the more chances are of people clashing. To clarify, this doesn’t necessarily mean a feud is in store. Sometimes the writer and artist can’t sync up their schedules or somebody essential is no longer in touch for whatever reason. Sometimes a lost team member can be replaced, but as Abstract Gender proved in going through several artists and a terminally inconsistent schedule, this doesn’t always work out very well. Other times, the one who runs the website can’t support the comic any longer. Perhaps it was a commissioned work that never went through. The best preventative measure is to start with a small project first to see if the team is compatible, but even with multiple team members, keeping a reasonable workload everyone can comfortably manage is imperative. Whatever the reason collaborations don’t work out, it’s best to avoid finger-pointing and unnecessary drama. Even when the project fails, there’s still a group of writers and artists left over who may later team up with someone they work better with or even create something all on their own. From the ashes of a dead collaboration, a newborn series may arise.

gravestone_lifeIt’s easy for readers to forget that behind each webcomic is a person with an actual life. Marriage, sickness, death, moving away, technology failure, lack of finances, divorce, a new job, or just a complete lack of time and resources can all sneak up on the creator. This is a catch-all potpourri for webcomic death and while some series, such as 2P Start, might wrap it up before calling it quits, many others just don’t have the time to keep going. In the case of technology problems, there are actually a few very effective ways to avoid this situation, such as working with mirror sites such as a hosting site in case of server failure. As for having a lack of time, building up a buffer in anticipation of future busyness, keeping a light update schedule, and getting help from friends via guest art to cover busy weeks can help when time is scarce. Unfortunately, these preventative measures are not foolproof and there are some unfortunate situations, such as health problems or even death, which cannot be worked around. Sadly the audience isn’t always kind about a comic ending due to life issues. This is exactly the wrong response, particularly since creators don’t wish to share details of their personal lives. Some people are quite open about what’s going on, like the author of Keychain of Creation, who got tendonitis and posted supplemental materials in the meantime, but has not been able to post updates since.  Not everyone is so forthcoming, however, and pestering them with questions about updates only cause further frustration. Thankfully, this is a situation some webcomics may recover from. When an on-hold series comes back, whether via reboot or the long-awaited hiatus break, the best response is a warm welcome and continuing support from fans.

gravestone_C&DCopyright laws are a serious muddle on the internet. On websites like YouTube, videos are constantly being taken down because of copyright infringement. This happens to webcomics as well, particularly those that are based on another’s intellectual property or belong to a publisher. Witches and Stitches, the first webcomic ever made, is no longer available anywhere online for this reason precisely. Creators must pay close attention to their contracts if they have one, or else they risk this happening to them. As for derivative works, keep in mind that fair use does cover parodies and educational materials, but not direct adaptations. Nonprofit webcomics may not get hit on this as often, but it’s always best to give credit to the original just in case. The audience has no real bearing on this situation. It’s a sudden death and the only proper response is to just let it go. Once copyright infringement is involved, it’s all over.

gravestone_draughtsLet’s make this all perfectly clear; trolling a webcomic writer is not acceptable, no matter how bad the webcomic is or is perceived to be. Even the most hideously offensive material should simply be ignored in favor of polluting it further with vicious comments. It’s far too common for people to be mean-spirited on the internet and cyber-bullying is no joke. For creators, the only advice here is to take the rudeness in stride and, like anyone who dares to enter politics, consider the mockery as all part of the game. In truth, the blame in this case rests on the readers. The message here is very straightforward: do not harass a writer or artist and don’t encourage others to do so. Even if a webcomic comes across as offensive, it’s important to be civil in saying so. The audience has only themselves to blame if a webcomic dies because of this.

gravestone_wearyCreator disinterest. This is just about the most frustrating ways a webcomic can end, and also one of the most common reasons. There are just too many webcomics to count that fall into this category. Whether it’s because of a work overload or just not much dedication to start with, this is something that at best inspires disappointment and at worst, ire. Creators can avoid this by starting out small. Rather than begin with an overly-ambitious project sure to trigger burnout, it’s better to start with something relatively short and easy, like a oneshot or a journal comic with a light schedule. Many promising ideas get put on hold forever because the creator didn’t realize what he or she was getting into. Though this is frustrating to many readers, there’s very little to do but accept the death and move on. Sometimes a reboot can happen, but this is far from the norm. This is the main reason people dread a long hiatus—once it reaches a certain point of non-activity, fans have no choice but to walk away, knowing a good thing has come to an end.

Dead webcomics are a sad sight to behold, especially for grieving readers. Visiting their graves and re-reading the dust-laden archives serves as a sad reminder of what might have been. The best reaction is to acknowledge the reason behind the death and appreciate what remains. The story may never be finished, but there is always the story behind the story.

Written by Sarah Driffill, creator of Princess Chroma.


17 Responses to “The Webcomic Graveyard”

  1. DaemonDan

    Nice article, Sarah!

    To be honest, I always kind of worry that this may happen to me and mine someday. We have years of comic planned out (story wise) on a bi-weekly posting schedule. Hopefully everyone can stay on board for that long, but a big part of me realizes the chances of it not working.

    So you have good advice for the reader on why things end. Any good advice for the collaborative team to not fall apart?

    • Reverend Vas Littlecrow Wojtanowicz

      Just as in marriage, honest communication, clear expectations, responsible financial management and a contingency plan in case of failure are the keys to a long-lasting collaborative relationship. In fact, collaborations and marriage have many of the same pitfalls as well.

      • melaredblu

        I second what Vas said. In this article, I kind of focused on advising amateurs just starting out, so I emphasized not going straight into huge projects and getting to know your partners early on. That advice probably doesn’t apply to you since you’re already knee-deep in it. However, the other pointer, to keep the workload comfortable, does apply. Even if you have to fiddle with the schedule or take the occasional break, the easier you make it for the people involved to do their job and not have a burnout, the longer it should last. I know I hope your comic is able to continue to the end. I really enjoy reading it!

  2. SinclairGray

    I fear hiatus of my own comic so much that I force myself to work on a page a day. Starting Small has helped me out a good bit. 1 page a week may seem slow but it’s easy for me to prevent life from messing up my time working on it. Hopefully I can keep working to the point of 3 pages a week.

  3. AOB

    This was an excellent article, Sarah, and very much one that needed to have been written. The biggest example of webcomic deaths that comes to my mind is Hannah Is Not A Boy’s Name. It was popular and 4DE advertised it prominently next to its Lackadaisy title, but well, stuff happens.

    It does. For whatever reason, stuff just happens. Stuff happens to everyone including me, you, your neighbors down the street, people living across the globe. Webcomics are usually manned by a single person who’s taking time off from life to engage in creation. If that life decides that it can’t spare the creator time for whatever reason, that’s it. But it is natural and so, we can’t put blame on anyone.

    I’m hoping personally that my paid contract with Ryan and mutual enthusiasm will keep the project going, but I understand that something may pop up in the future. For now, we’re working at a slow, but steady pace and that’s good enough.

  4. JRChace

    Very interesting article! I love the gravestone headers for each subject. As someone who is about to get a lot of life interference soon (first year of college), I heed these words and hope my own comic does not fall to the fates listed above!

    • melaredblu

      The gravestones were, in fact, Marisa’s idea. It was quite clever of her to suggest a visual for each section. I wouldn’t have thought of it otherwise.

      If you’re going into college for the first time, I personally suggest you update at a slower rate than you make pages. That way, you can build up some buffer and allow yourself a grace period for when midterms and finals pop up without having to stress about your schedule.

  5. SidneyConrad

    “Hiatus” essentially feels like a round-a-bout way of saying “it’s over”. Not just with webcomics, but all media creators on the net, it feels hardly any of them ever come back. One webcomic I use to read was called “Cheer Up, Emo Kid” went into hiatus right when I was getting into it. He had a very legitimate reason, but once he used that word it felt like it was over. Then miraculously he did come back but I had no idea until about a month after his return. Despite the pleasant surprise, I was out of the habit of reading his strip and with the hiatus being so long, my attention was already dedicated to other things elsewhere.

  6. hipopotamo

    My main fear is that my artist will get a real job and become to busy or disinterested in the comic, and that new art might have a jarring effect on the readers…
    This is great advice Sarah and Vas. This is a long term enterprise and we have to be able to work in the human relationship department if we are to come to the end of the venture. Dan, hope it works for you too!

  7. Mayyday

    Great stuff. I found I had to cut back my own workload from daily, thrice, twice, and now only one page per week. This was to not only allow myself a life, but to also let me take my time on each page rather than cranking out garbage. One well-drawn page per week is better than three stinkers, especially if you’re a reader trawling the archives.

    • melaredblu

      That’s a very wise choice. As Shigeru Miyamoto said, “A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever”. The same applies to other entertainment mediums as well, so it’s good that you choose quality over quantity.

  8. NeilKapit

    In the case of Sonichu, an “original” webcomic with frequent delays and an untimely end due to the author’s ongoing nervous breakdown, you could argue that the story behind the story IS the only part of the story worth reading. Of course, that’s one of the few cases where the author really deserved (most of) the trolling he received.

    But seriously, great article. I strongly agree with the sentiment and try hard to keep a consistent schedule as a result.

    • melaredblu

      Trolling is obnoxious and rude. ‘Sonichu’ was terrible and nobody is going to miss it, but I still stand by my opinion.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Keeping a consistent schedule’s a good habit to have and I always look forward to your updates. Your current intermission is really something else.

  9. Michael Yakutis

    Great blog, Sarah! Thanks for sharing it with us. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that webcomics are just as much an endurance test as they are an artform. But that’s just how it goes, I suppose. I wish I could say that we’ve never put any of our comics on hiatus…but that’d be a lie in all regards 😛

  10. Lunapocalypse

    It makes me happy to read what has sort of plagued my thoughts for the last couple of months. My project I started last December falls into the “biting off more than you can chew” category; the fact it’s my first stab at a comic isn’t healthy either. The scope I have in my head spans hundreds of issues and dozens of chapters with 40-60 pages each, and after a year I’m only 2 issues in. Where it is headed is seriously uncertain.

    Thanks for a good read, Sarah.

  11. eyebeast

    Great article Sarah, to know our enemies is to be mindful of them.

    Copyright infringement is my personal fear, as a few of my characters are *similar* to copyrighted monsters. I’m hoping that since I’m creating a parody of common fantasy tropes this will protect me.


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