I’ve had this poll on the site for a few weeks now asking people what their favorite method of reading comics is: online, or in print? And I acknowledged right up front that this is perhaps a silly question to ask on a webcomic site, but I myself fall into the position where I often feel more comfortable with print despite being a webcomic author… so call it a silly question from a silly person.

It might be because I prefer to “binge read”, even where print is concerned, waiting for trade collections over single issues, or even grabbing up some big thick omnibus to devour. It’s not as often that I find myself able and willing to relax in front of a computer for such a binge, particularly since it can be a bit iffy to do so at my day job and I’m still lacking in terms of decently-sized-yet-portable technology like an iPad. Even then, taking an iPad to certain traditional reading places of mine like the bathtub would be rather risky.

Of course, there’s one massive, obvious benefit reading webcomics online has over reading their print versions, and that’s cost.  If you go to a convention like San Diego Comic Con, big companies sometimes have entire racks or displays where they give away print comics for free. Smaller fry, like most webcomics people, cannot afford to do this with their print versions… and really, why should they, when they’ve got that totally free option available? Get your butt online if you don’t wanna shell out the 20 bucks, you old dinosaur!

But speaking of the ancient past, there’s that thing you can potentially do if you happen to be a creator yourself, with print versions of your own. Barter.

Oh, this is not something I advocate opening a conversation with. Struggling Independent creators need to eat, and books tend to not be edible. On the other end, well-known people and/or those with more than just themselves to answer to for sales are probably going to decline and possibly be very annoyed that you think what you’re doing is anywhere near worth what they’ve done. This situation is one I feel is best strenuously avoided, particularly with creators I happen to admire. There are times I’ve just plain given away a print copy of Zombie Ranch to a personal hero and just felt grateful they didn’t toss it in the garbage in front of my eyes (out of my sight, well, who knows? At least I can preserve the fantasy they might have liked it).

In between the extremes though, there’s plenty of talented people who I can think of as being more or less around my “caste level”, if such a term can be applied to comicsdom. This is still not blanket license to go around to them asking for barter deals. For one thing, all self-deprecation aside, I should consider that my own stuff has some value, too, right? So it just makes sense to look around and see first of all if there’s something I might want that seems like it might be fair to trade for. Part of that process includes talking to the other creator and gauging their enthusiasm for the work, and beyond that I’d say gauging their enthusiasm for having any sort of interaction with me. I particularly know we might be getting somewhere if the conversation turns to what I do and they seem interested in Zombie Ranch. At that point, if I’m interested in what they have, and they’re interested in what I have, I might suggest a trade arrangement.

And I have to be entirely prepared to still be declined, and not take that personally. Sometimes they’re just worried about having enough stock on hand, which is why the last day of a convention can often be the best time to actually go through with an exchange,  and if you make the offer earlier it can be best to phrase it like “Say, if you still have some copies left on Sunday afternoon…”

But sometimes they’re just plain not interested, and that’s fine, too. Not everyone is interested in everything, and if you don’t happen to like cabbages, you’re not going to trade for a cabbage. Or it’s just not your policy to barter. As long as both parties are polite about it, there shouldn’t be any cause for bad feelings.

What I like about brokering trades with other creators, when it does work, is that not only do I have something new to read,  but it’s so much more memorable than just exchanging business cards. You get a slice of their creativity and they get a slice of yours, and at least in my case I usually have it read in its entirety within a few weeks, something I can never usually promise to myself when I need to go look at things online.

Cases in point, at Emerald City I bartered with the respective creators for Mary Elizabeth’s Sock, Accursed Dragon, and Hominids, and while I can’t speak directly on Mary Elizabeth’s Sock yet (since Dawn has hold of it), the other two were well worth the exchange. But without those trades, who knows when I might have gotten around to checking them out? Particularly in the case of Accursed Dragon, which I’m pretty sure I’d never run across any ads or links for in my online ramblings.

Now Hominids, not to mince words, is absolutely gorgeous to look at, which will draw people in before they even get to the fact that creator Jordan Kotzebue is also a pretty darn good storyteller working with a concept you don’t see every day… I could call it Clan of the Cave Bear meets Elfquest, but that’s probably a disservice. I’ll just tell you it’s worth reading. There are naked cartoon boobs involved, but for once those are more just there in a National Geographic sense rather than being a source of gratuitous titillation (pardon the pun). Give it a look if you can.

Accursed Dragon doesn’t have the visual flash Hominids does, particularly since it’s presented in 100% black and white (although a new run of it promises color starting in April). And the story may be one you’ve heard before, with a cursed hero and an optimist companion on a quest to right wrongs… but for me it’s all in the fact that Ryan Smith has a great sense of comic timing. He makes me laugh, without necessarily forcing those laughs. The characters are simply drawn but expressive enough that the silent reaction panels have the desired result… and even if the story might be an old one (aren’t they all?), he does a good job moving it along. I’ll be honest, I went into those pages not knowing what to expect, but came out of them feeling thoroughly entertained and wanting to spread the word to others to give it a chance. So here I am. I don’t know if he’ll find our comic similarly engaging, but I hope this at least makes the trade worthwhile. In the webcomics world, I believe positive word of mouth is one of the best gifts possible.

So there’s a couple of examples of the benefits a bit of barter can achieve. And before I sign off this week, mentioning word of mouth reminds me that I need to announce a happy occasion. A few months back the wonderful webcomic Rusty & Co. had to shut its doors abruptly due to shakily-grounded-yet-ominous threats of legal action from Wizards of the Coast. Well, Mike R. has worked out a settlement.

Rusty & Co. is back!

And if you missed my gushing recommendation back when Mike did some fan art for us, I’ll just tell you that Mike hasn’t missed a step despite his recent woes. His art and humor are just as sharp as ever, but his audience, alas, has dipped far below what it was before the forced hiatus. I’m sure a portion of that is just people who are unaware things have returned to normal, so once I myself realized it I promised him I’d do my part to inform. If you’re a former fan, the time has come to return! And if you’re not a fan yet? Go be one! Also if you’re reading this before 9pm EST on Wednesday, there’s info on his site blog about the ComicMix contest R&C is entered into… it’s currently seeded against XKCD which is an unenviable match-up, but hey, take an opportunity to root for the underdog…. undermonster… whatever. You get the idea.