Webcomics creator tries the honor system

Frank Page has been drawing Bob the Squirrel since 2002—"in internet years, that makes the strip as old as the last ice age," he said in an e-mail—and he draws much of his inspiration from everyday life. "90% of what happens to me in my real life, whether it is ugly, embarrassing or not, gets put in the strip," he said. "It's that willingness to show the blemishes that really speaks to my readers. Anyone who draws a daily comic strip will agree that the process of creating is simultaneously the best therapy and the quickest route to insanity."

Perhaps that's why he hit on what seems at first like a crazy idea: He put together a 22-page comic telling the origin story of the title character and invited readers to download it and pay whatever they think is fair. So how's that going? I was curious, so I e-mailed Frank a couple of questions, and he was kind enough to respond. While donations were "all over the map," he said, "people seem to be comfortable with the $3-$5 range," which he characterized as "very fair."

Quick Q&A after the jump.

Robot 6: Why did you decided to go this route, and how is it going so far?

Frank Page: Originally, I was going to do a comic book. I had done one shot comics in the past and they sold relatively well. But, I had already done that. I wasn't going to learn anything by sticking with what I knew. If graduate school taught me anything it was that sometimes you need to dive first, learn to swim second. So that's where the exclusive digital download came into my little thought process. I mean, why not? The readers get their comics immediately, I get feedback immediately and my start-up costs are practically nothing. The "pay-what-you-can" concept was just put there to see what would happen. If it worked, it worked... if not, then i'd re-tool it. So far the response has been great. I'm very pleased with the results of the experiment... and it's making me think a little bigger. To paraphrase one of my Bob book titles: "mistakes are learning experiences..."  There are definitely more digital comics on the horizon.

Robot 6: Are people buying the book, and are they paying or freeloading?

Frank: People are definitely responding. Honestly, I was prepared for there to be a lot, if not total, freeloading. I really had no expectations other than to see what would happen and if there was a demand for it. 70% of the downloaders contributed something. The amounts varied of course... The people that did pay more than made up for those that did not. It really made me feel good to see that, even with the option of not paying for content, that most of my fans did. My fans are the best.

Detective Comics #994

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