Recently, a friend of mine told me that my comic Boobage had showed up on one of those tricksy pirating websites, where it had been downloaded a WHOLE mess of times. Way more times than any number of copies I've sold through my website, stores, or via Comixology. Okay, way way WAY more times. (I feel it's necessary to mention here that you can BUY Boobage from me here in book form or read here on Comixology, or find in one of these many fine stores.) It's by far my most popular book, since it containts both boobs and true stories, and has gotten a slew of good reviews.
He asked me how I felt about this, and I thought it was an interesting question. I've been doing webcomics for over ten years now, back when I started my "Greek Gods invading college" comic Gods & Undergrads in 2001. When you do webcomics, the model has always been that you create and have available comics on your site, updated regularly, all for free. Over the years cartoonists have been able to live off of their comics by employing ads, doing Kickstarters, even joining paid webcomic subscription services like ye olde Webcomic Nation back in the day (yep, I was part of that - I'm OLD!)
For those of us who regularly produce comics via the internet, it's always been kind of understood that we're going to have to give away a lot of content for free. Heck, just being an artist of any sort, people expect you to give away a lot of stuff for free, whether by offering payment in the form of "exposure" or "portfolio pieces" or being severely underpaid for loads of work. So we webcomics creators are already kind of predisposed to this. Finding a way of monetizing work that is already widely expected to be free has always been a challenge.
And why do I want to find ways to get money from my work? Nope, it's not to get ridiculously wealthy (though it's cute that anyone might think you can GET ridiculously wealthy from comics). For me, the goal has always been to live off of doing what I love. And what do I love? Comics! Drawings! Designing art stuffs!
Chuck Wendig wrote a post a few weeks back about his feelings on piracy and things such as Patreon, which pretty much sums up a lot of my feelings on the subject. But he also particularly calls out Patreon and Donate Buttons (things which I have and will be making use of on my site) as something that's beside the point of what he's doing - he'd rather you just BUY AND READ HIS WORK. As someone who is excitedly considering Patreon and Kickstarter as means of supporting my comics, at first I was a little disheartened, thinking he was criticizing those tools as being "beneath a true creator" or something. But no, what he's saying quite simply is - if you like the art, support the art. If you read the comic for free, tell people about it, blog about it, drive up those traffic numbers, buy a book version of the comic at a convention or a store or online.
When I found out my work was being swiped and read for free (well, the few books of mine that aren't already free), I felt the same way probably a lot of creators have in my place. AWESOME, there are people checking out my stuff - perhaps I have a new fan! Or two! Maybe they'll say hi!!
I'm off to go buy some of Chuck Wendig's books.