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?
Collaborative 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.
It’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.
Copyright 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.
Let’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.
Creator 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.