Regardless of your religion (or lack thereof!) it’s hard to escape the onset of the holiday season. At least here in the United States, there are any number of large corporations who are more than willing to remind you of that at every opportunity. You can’t even buy groceries without getting hammered with aisles of gift wrap and outdoor decorations while listening to carols being piped in over the speakers.
If the Occupy movement has done anything, it has brought attention on the growing disparity between the wealthy and everyone else. But the semi-obligatory tradition of gift-giving needn’t be an exercise in contributing to multi-million dollar CEO bonuses. I’ve noted in this column before how creators often try to earn money by selling items related to their free webcomics, so why don’t we look at some of the places where you can obtain great gifts for your friends and family, help out individual webcomic creators, and avoid giving money to the 1% who really don’t need it.
A lot of webcomic sites will have a Shopping section listed somewhere in their navigation. Many times, this actually links to a third party site that produces and/or distributes their wares for them. Generally, these are fairly small companies started almost exclusively to help independent creators get custom products out to their fans.
In fact, TopatoCo’s About Us page reads: All of the TopatoCo member artists are directly supported by your purchases. As a company, we keep the lowest commissions in the industry, which means that the largest portion possible of your money goes directly to the creators of the products you buy. We’re pleased to report that quite a few of our artists are now able to concentrate full-time on their creative work, thanks to you and us working together to support them.
TopatoCo, its 2003 origins making it one of the oldest companies we’ll be looking at today, has goods from the likes of Cat & Girl, Dinosaur Comics, Axe Cop and Wondermark. There’s an abundance of t-shirts there, often with clever catch-phrases and slogans from the comics, and some other soft goods. They also have printed copies of many webcomics (both books and prints) as well as mugs, pint and shot glasses.
Focusing a little more narrowly is Indy Planet. They primarily sell pamphlet comics and graphic novels, but also have a variety of t-shirts. Webcomics like Garanos, Dynagirl and Johnny Saturn can be found there in print form. Interestingly, the actual printing is done at Ka-Blam; both companies are owned by 01 Comics, Inc. which was started in 2010.
Etsy, which launched in 2005, and Storenvy, started in 2008, area broader in scope than just webcomics, instead catering to anyone with something to sell. They might be artists of some sort, but not necessarily; they could be just collectors with items to sell. (Though creative types do seem to be the most predominant vendors, by far.) The creator still has to create their own products, and these online stores simply act as a marketplace. Original art for Girls With Slingshots can be found on Etsy, for example, and Madame Butterscotch prints are available through Storenvy.
Equally broad in the scope of their clientele, though more limited in the types of things they offer, are print-on-demand book services like Lulu (2002) and comiXpress (2004). They will take a creator’s digital files, store them, and then print them one at a time as customers order them. There’s no inventory for creators to keep track of. Because of the individualized printing, these products can run a bit pricier than those printed in bulk quantities, but there’s no concerns about running out of stock. Some installments of The Devil’s Panties can be found on Lulu and Yirmumah can be found on comiXpress.
Of course, there are other similar outfits to companies like the ones I’ve cited here, and some creators opt to handle the sales and distribution portions by themselves. But it should remind readers out there that purchasing gift items from smaller operations like these means A) you’re financially supporting the small, independent creators you enjoy, B) you’re doing your bit to keep money circulating among the 99% instead of going to the 1%, and C) you’re almost guaranteed that the gift recipient will NOT already have what you got for them.