As previously discussed, lots of webcartoonists sell t-shirts — it would be hard to find a successful comic that doesn’t. It’s pretty endemic to the whole notion of webcomics. Yet for some reason, it’s considerably less common among artists whose primary work is in print form.
(maybe webcartoonists have more committed fans in general? the regularity of updates means that fans get a little daily dose of the artist on a regular basis — even, with RSS, delivered straight to them. Not to mention the community fostered via message boards & comment threads. That makes it much easier to gauge the demand for any particular merch item — John Allison can talk to every single one of his fans at once by simply adding a sentence to that day’s update, whereas a great number of Adrian Tomine’s fans are people who just bought his book somewhere, making it very difficult for Tomine or his publisher to keep track of them.)
(Of course, it makes sense that people like John Romita aren’t whipping up T-shirts to sell — their reputation and fanbase is based on drawing characters they don’t own, and I’m sure Marvel and DC have labyrinthine corporate arrangements regulating the production of merchandise. But the contracts of “indie” publishers are rooted in creator ownership, so the process is much simpler. And self-publishers can of course do whatever they want!)
Not to pick on D+Q — it’s not like Random House has John Grisham shirts available on its web site. Fantagraphics seems to have exactly one (XL and XXL still in stock!). Top Shelf at least has our Owly shirts, which are pretty rad. The most T-shirty of indie publishers, Oni Press, clock in with two. Overall, it seems like a lot of missed opportunity.
But this is a post about Trend to encourage, not Absence that I wish would become a trend! There is, to quote Ryan North, a lot of sexy exciting merchandise for you! It’s largely cartoonists operating independently of their publishers. A lot of the reasons why there haven’t been more indie comics shirts — namely the time, labor, cost, and expertise required to produce and sell decent shirts — are being mitigated with the arrival of sites like Threadless, Design By Humans, and Shirt.Woot, which accept design submissions from artists, and handle all the production & sales for designs that do well enough in user rankings. I hear that even good old CafePress doesn’t suck anymore.
I wear my Paul Hornschemeier “OH WELL” shirt proudly on a regular basis.
I would already have thrown down cash for Corey Lewis’s Mecha Naga Buddha shirt if not for the unfortunate fact that redheads can almost never pull off wearing red.
Also throwing some designs at Design by Humans: the totally rad Chris “Elio” Eliopoulos (also known as “Not That Chris Eliopoulos!”), whom you’ll be hearing quite a lot about, very soon…