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20 years of webcomics and Internet culture.

This timeline explores changes in Internet cultures of funding and content dissemination, as demonstrated through the world of webcomics.

1993: Emergence of Webcomics. 

Early webcomics rise to prominence through forums and personalized websites. One example is David Farley’s Doctor Fun, which has been called the first popular episodic webcomic strip and was uploaded in September of 1993.

2003: The early 2000s webcomics world.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, a variety of newer webcomic artists formed communities that would define the webcomics community for the next decade. Their experiences are examined in my history section.

2004: Topatoco founded.

Cartoonist Jeffrey Rowland founds merchandising website Topatoco, which, while it’s decreased in prominence, continues to sell merchandise for a variety of media today, is created with the intent of distributing webcomics merchandise, thus generating revenue for webcomics artists.

2006: Project Wonderful Founded

Artist Ryan North founds the advertising service Project Wonderful, intended to improve webcomic artists’ (and eventually others’) experiences of running ads on their websites. Together with merchandise, banner ads formed the source of successful webcomics’ income for the majority of the 2010s.

2009: Kickstarter

The crowdfunding website Kickstarter launches in 2009, with a stated mission to “help bring creative projects to life.” Over the next few years, Kickstarter will become the most common way that expensive webcomic projects, such as printed book runs, are brought to life. Years later, in 2016, The Guardian will call it “one of the biggest powers in publishing.”

2013: Patreon

Crowdfunding is reeimagined into small-dollar donations given by “patrons” when Jack Comte and Sam Yam found Patreon, due in part to Comte’s dissatisfaction with the ad revenue he receives from Youtube. Webcomic projects and artists, including the established artists that have been working in webcomics since the early 2000s, go on to join the site for a steady source of monthly support.

2015: Ad blockers

In 2015, ad blocker usage reaches 20% across the United States, a number that’s been climbing and continues to steadily climb per year. While ads aren’t dead, they’ve become an increasingly inefficient way for webcomic artists to generate revenue.

2016: Social media

Halfway through the decade, in June of 2016, the number of monthly active Instagram users stands at 500 million, compared to a mere 90 million in 2013. 24 percent of online adults use Twitter, compared to 10% in 2010 and 18% in 2013. The increasingly personalized algorithmic structures of social media are leading users to discover and visit fewer new websites independently of social media. More and more webcomics are either promoted or hosted on a major social network.

2018: Project Wonderful ends its run

The 2006 ad network Project Wonderful announces its termination, towards the end of a decade in which fewer individual creators’ websites relied on banner ads. Its site now reads, “2006 – 2018 – 12 years, 6 months, and 12 days of ads that didn’t suck <3.”

2019: Patreon reaches creator milestone.

In January of 2019, Patreon posts a blog post celebrating its milestones, in which it announces that more than 3 million patrons are now supporting more than 100,000 creators. The scope it’s achieved in what has been, at this point, six years of existing is illustrative of the grip that individualized funding currently maintains over online art creation, including webcomics.