intro: dont get your hopes up
look, i’m going to be straight up with you: there’s no messy drama or fallout that caused this. no juicy deets or salacious rumors to slurp down. you know if this were the case, i would have erupted across my various social medias in a frenzied rage with all the delicacy of a bull in a china shop partly for entertainment purposes. instead, this will probably be a boring at best navel gaze where i try to walk the line between pragmatically trying to explain why i left and moral grandstanding. because leaving abruptly looks weird externally, i do actually have to explain why instead of just mysteriously leaving during a period of time where i am being an obnoxious asshole. a combination of disdain for the current cultural zeitgeist and a growing culture of disrespect toward audiences has culminated in my online behavior devolving into the online version of grabbing people saying stupid shit on the street and shaking them very hard. this is something an insane person would do. i know.
the commodification and increasingly blatant commercialization of an art format that could once arguably be compared to other amateur transgressive arts (ex: underground comix, tijuana bibles) is borderline heartbreaking. not to be too dramatic, but i want to start smashing things like im a monster from the rampage arcade game to scare the NIMBYs away before they start building escape rooms where the fetish web comics used to be. there is no place unspoiled by the poison of advertising and sponsorships. except…
trying to make money in comics is a fool’s errand. go make furry porn commissions if you want to make money doing art! you’re completely out of your mind if you go into the arts to make money. full on detachment from reality if you choose comics. they should commit you if you choose web comics.
i think people have a wildly different perception regarding the popularity of A Ghost Story so i have approximate data to give people an idea. having culled the SHIT out of my analytics results to remove bot traffic, i think i have relatively accurate results, i get about 1000 unique visitors a month (generously rounding up lol), about half of them are regulars, and 10% of them donate to patreon (this is, imo, an unfathomably large amount lol. shocking and humbling. thank you for your continued support of me in spite of [gestures]). i feel like a small comic 99% of the time, but man. 1,000 is a big number. i can at least reasonably assume, i’m PRETTY sure, that i was a comparatively small comic in hiveworks.
my monthly payout was roughly $100 a month (and merch sales, if applicable) and their services included web site help, dealing with any merch sales, and site hosting in exchange for running banner ads (which have been a fixture on web comics since the conception of google’s ad program; remember the homestuck bidding wars??). banner ads felt like a small and reasonable compromise to be included in something that felt like a weird pipe dream. in certain circles, a hiveworks invitation was a stamp of quality with prestige; i was very aware of the company i was invited into keep and was initially pretty concerned with how my presence reflected onto them and their work. i was going through some serious brain problems due to a deeply stupid relationship and, as a result, i did my best to keep my head down, stay out of people’s way, and focus on not bringing undue shame to something i was well aware i was completely unsuited for. i had (and frankly, still have) no idea why i was chosen as i had not applied. i cannot stress enough that i was under no delusions as to the quality of my comic lol. my perception was that someone had stuck their neck out to make a special exception for me and i was constantly on the verge of fucking it up and humiliating them.
it was a very off-balance exchange extremely in my favor, and i was aware of this. especially since, being frank and honest here, i was bringing absolutely nothing to the table for them. i don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but its a reasonable conclusion that i was more trouble than i was worth, given the infinitesimal worth.
the vast majority of hiveworks readers completely bounced off my comic, which makes perfect sense given the hiveworks audience is i think more interested in the genre they primarily host: fantasy and magical realism. in comparison, “a ghost story” is a slow, slooow burn about federal bureaucracy and being insane with extremely amateur art; i know what i am! and that’s fine! but i became a little resentful (and i tried not to! honest!) after 7 years of perpetually being put on a back burner. it felt like i was being strung along for reasons beyond my comprehension or as the baseline of acceptable awfulness for the website’s quality. someone has to be the “worst”, objectively. it’s not a great feeling to know it, coming to terms with it i think was much healthier than trying to fight it. it was a really good driving force to keep my mind off the nightmare of my life at that point and improve my art a lot.
AGS’ irrelevance was underscored by it being mentioned once over the course of 7 years on official social media networks, upon which a great deal of importance was placed. but frankly, there is nothing worse than dealing with the guy who sucks whining for the spotlight as though they are clueless as to why they are getting the shaft. so i simply achieved enlightenment by getting over it and realizing where i was in the hierarchy and how lucky i was to have so much shit done for me. i was (am, unbelievably. it never gets less wild when i sit down and really think about it) making enough through patreon that the $100 became my monthly fun money while i lived in oregon. it was welcome, but not essential.
a lot of real life, awful things happened that suck and couldn’t be avoided: one of the main points of communication and organization became terribly ill, COVID happened and obliterated shipping and manufacturing rates for apparently all eternity, uhhh the fabric of reality began to unravel lol. it’s been a terrible couple of years. i want to underscore this stuff so that people understand i was not wronged greatly in the grand scheme of things.
there are things that started to chip away at me over time, which made me question if i was a good fit at all. genuinely: the only thing i want to do is to try to live happily within my morals doing what i love to do. even and especially if it means living very broke. that’s the exchange i’m consciously choosing to make when i pick up the pen every day. due to the generosity of the people who support me or have supported me at any time (special shout out to adam, who puts up with this shit for some reason), i am able to do that. i contribute a proportional amount to the household now but tried to be (was??) 50/50 or 25/25/25/25 when i had roommates. i don’t want my one unyielding selfish choice to be anyone else’s burden.
i was told by another artist in hiveworks that my confrontational behavior could be a poor reflection on the brand, which became the tipping point in my choice to leave. to be clear, no one in charge told me this, but even conceptually i was not comfortable representing a company that i felt i was a member of out of obligation or inertia. i didn’t belong there and my presence was an active detriment instead of a tolerated nuisance.
when the offer to leave was presented, i didn’t feel regret, or anxiety, or upset at all. i felt a placid sense of relief. i COULD leave. that’s TRUE. i had been kicking it around on my private twitter for a few months going back and forth with myself over what was more important to me: being able to take care of myself financially or doing something about my own hypocrisy that kept me up at night. if my incessant argument is that advertising based commercialization is a societal poison, then i need to put my money where my mouth is. and if i’m consistently annoying, i need to leave as a courtesy to everyone else.
i don’t regret my time with hive at all, but the overarching transformation from a collection of cartoonists to a brand is not where i want to take my art. i can’t bring myself to work even within the proximity of seven seas, a deeply abhorrent company. i am completely disinterested in wasting time or energy worrying about “the algorithm” because i don’t make comics for the computer’s sake and recognize that there’s a finite number of people interested in web comics in the world and an even more finite amount of money to spend on luxuries (because none of us have any money lol). i don’t want to repeat the familiar cycle of lamenting the death of art as we know it every 6 months.
people who are choosing to spend their limited funds supporting me are making a deliberate choice to elevate my presence in their life. i want and need to keep this in mind at all times, because it drives my attitudes toward what i want to choose to focus on. i want to keep my art (“art”) free with additional goodies being as reasonably priced as possible in the hopes that in this way we scratch each other’s back. making money drawing comics is a ridiculous privilege granted to me by people willing to sacrifice their time and money to me; i need to be thinking more about all that i have instead of worrying about what i don’t.
5 thoughts on “i quit hiveworks”
John Kensmark says:
I just . . . one thing I gotta say is that for a webcomic hosting company, the BRAND is the CONTENT. That is, like, one hundred percent. I read dozens of webcomics (and have dozens more in open tabs but haven’t started reading them, of course), and I’m old and internetty enough to remember when “Kevin and Kell” was a new thing. So trust me to have a reasonable Reader’s Perspective.
WebToons is a slight exception, because the site is annoying and insistent enough to eclipse the content to some degree, which is not a good thing, to the reader. But if you’re providing content, the Brand should be sucking your dick, metaphorically. And you’ve sure been providing content. For one thing, webcomics as a genre is partly defined by spastic hiatus and abruptly halting forever without explanation. That’s just how it is. If you keep updating even ten times a year, and not just all at once, you’re in the top tier of content-provision.
To a creator, the hosting Brand is gonna matter more, I realize. But 75% of that will always be the Brand gaslighting you because, you know, they want your precious content.
I’d like to praise your comic at length, but I know you’re still gonna feel like you have to say it’s not that great, and I get it, but really it’s terrific and hypnotic and engaging. Again, I read a lot of comics. And I’m not on many comic Patreons.
John Kensmark says:
Phrasing. So difficult. When I said “the BRAND is the CONTENT,” I probably should’ve said “the CONTENT is the BRAND.” I mean readers don’t give a shit that it’s Hiveworks. They give a shit about the comics. Hiveworks may mean it loads quickly. Hiveworks will link to other comics that might be good. But the comic is why people are there.
Seconded. As a reader I care far more about the comic than which site is hosting it. Unless, of course, that site is so terrible and annoying in it’s UI, design and layout that it severely negatively impacts the experience of reading the comic… *cough* webtoons *cough*… or the smackjeeves overhaul of 2019… But I digress. Whether a comic is hosted on Hiveworks or not has never been an indicator of the comic’s quality for me. In fact, many of the comics I read that are still updating aren’t on Hiveworks or weren’t originally on Hiveworks. If anything, the Hiveworks brand is best known for sudden unexplained hiatuses that never end. At least, it’s the pattern I’ve seen and how it looks to me.
As long as I enjoy the story and the art isn’t painful to look at I’ll stick with a comic regardless of where it ends up hosted, if it keeps updating. I’m very picky about the comics I read though. A Ghost Story was one I liked the premise of when I accidentally hovered over it’s icon in the discover bar when scrolling down to check the comments on another comic and loved once I started reading it. The story is wonderful and the art really isn’t that bad. It’s certainly much better than some other comics I’ve seen on Hiveworks. Those made the artist in me cry just looking at them and I couldn’t get through more than a few pages.
Sir. Orc says:
While I cannot speak as the decisions behind why Hiveworks chooses to invite artists or their promotional decisions, I can at least say this:
A Ghost Story is a genuinely good and quality comic. Indeed, I would say it was probably one of the better comics Hiveworks had to offer.
I do not waste time on comics I do not consider good. If a comic has bad art or bad writing, I will not follow it. And I have read and followed a lot of webcomics – probably more than should be reasonable. I’ve seen artists start out bad and improve dramatically, I’ve seen artists with strong starts crash and burn or abandon their projects. I’ve seen comics meander on for years if not decades with no clear direction. I’ve seen creators who engage with their audience, those who stay aloof, and those who actively mock them. So in all of this, I can definitely say that your work is genuinely of good quality.
The cast of A Ghost Story are generally not the most moral people. But their characters all make sense, they stay consistent with their motivations, and their development is a natural logical progression of what is expected of them based on what is established. None of the characters feel extraneous, no plot detail feels wasted, and no thread feels forgotten even when the gambits (and bodies) start to pile up. And for as shady as the characters are, they also have plenty of sympathetic qualities that make them seem just human enough without also feeling like it downplays or excuses their shadiness.
This is important to note, because striking this balance is difficult. For example, the main reason I stopped following Gunnerkrigg is that it felt like plot threads would be built up and then abandoned as soon Siddel got bored of them. Same with characters – some would be introduced and then discarded, others would be added but feel like they didn’t add anything to the plot as well. And he’s been around in this for a very long time. Unsounded has excellent art, and Ms Cope is a master at dialogue – everything her characters sounds natural even when she goes on fillibusters. But almost none of the main cast is likeable, or at least their likeable qualities don’t get developed until long after I stopped caring. Unsounded in general has a nasty tendency to poorly balance it’s tone – generally tending to get too grim too fast with too little balance. A Ghost Story has managed to perfectly balance it’s tone – dark stuff happens, but it gets offset by the stupid shenanigans of the cast, or the heartwarming moments. Even characters like Alice who are meant to be largely joyless can be sympathized with. The whole thing feels like Fargo meets Ghostbusters whereas Unsounded feels like a fantasy version of a Steinbeck novel – executed with technical perfection, but often far too bleak in tone for me to care.
I could go on, but I think this well establishes my point.
A Ghost Story is a good comic, and you should not be in doubt of that. I do not say it lightly.
Bees, you’ve made a lot of controversial statements but the idea that A Ghost Story was the worst comic in Hiveworks is utterly ludicrous. And I’m not saying that because I’m your supportive friend uwu or whatever, since I’m not. It’s just a statement of objective fact. That Patreon conversion rate speaks for itself, there are comics with 10 or 20 times the readership that get less support because they’re bland mass appeal people click on and maaaybe go “heh” before moving on to the fifty other comics in their feed in the webcomic cinematic universe. But the people who like your comic like YOUR comic, not just comics in general.
I like Dumbing of Age well enough but if Dave Willis retired there’s like fifty identical comics to replace it with, all made by generically nice people who carefully make sure not to get too controversial on main. There’s nothing else quite like AGS and there’s nothing else quite like you. And if the third-rate Webtoon wannabees didn’t respect what they had then that’s their loss.