Seven Years…


Today, June 12th of 2007, marks the seventh anniversary of the first appearance of Schlock Mercenary on the web.

The first three or four weeks of the strip went up in June of 2000 in a long-extinct subdirectory of the domain. Then I discovered Keenspace (now ComicGenesis), and their automation made my life much easier.

For the first three months the strip never had more than about 150 readers. When I joined Keenspot in September of 2000 that number immediately grew by more than an order of magnitude. It continued to grow, and four short years later, in September of 2004, I left my day job with Novell. Not long after that I flirted briefly with anti-collectivistic independence, and then wisely joined eight fellow pros here at Blank Label Comics. Server logs lately indicate that somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 people enjoy the strip each day.

And it really has been “each day.” Schlock Mercenary has run daily, without fail, for seven years now. There have been some “late” updates, but for me “late” means the server needed to be reminded that there was a comic to be displayed. And as of this writing the next forty-seven days of the strip have been inked.

Lots of aspiring webtoonists ask me for advice. I have none to offer. I spent four years neglecting my family and working seventy- to ninety-hour weeks between my day job and the comic strip. My strategy was “deliver the goods every day, without fail, forever.” I’m pretty sure that qualifies as “doing it the hard way.” Nobody who asks for advice is looking for the hard way.

I celebrated the day before the anniversary writing a bonus story for the next book. This bonus story will have as its last strip a re-imagining (with the same dialog) of the very first strip on the web, where Schlock enlists with the Toughs. This particular bit of writing drove home just how far I’ve come in the last seven years. I’ve grown almost immeasurably as an artist, significantly as a writer, and quite tangibly as a businessman.

Through it all, however, I have been humbled you, fair reader. You have graciously allowed me to capture small slices of your imaginations, and thousands of you have contributed in recent months and years to allow me to pursue this work full-time. Sandra and I (and our four kids, two of whom are younger than Schlock) stand gratefully in your debt. We remain committed to delivering this strip every day, for free, forever (or until I die.)

Every so often someone will email me and say “I feel guilty for spending a mere 20 seconds reading an update that must have taken you hours to create.” My response: Please don’t feel guilty. First, it didn’t take hours. Art for art’s sake can take its time, but art for money has to go fast. Second, you should know that there is a psychic energy generated by tens of thousands of people laughing at the same time, and I’m working on getting it to power my giant robot.

38 thoughts on “Seven Years…”

  1. Thanks for seven years (though I’ve only been reading for about the last four years.) I look forward to you discovering immortality, with which to continue the strip forever. Failing that, give me another 30 year, anyway. 🙂

  2. The trick is that 20 seconds times 40,000 people is about nine and a quarter days of reader attention per comic. You’re definitely coming out ahead.

    Given that we can probably assume at the very least that, on average, every one of your readers has read through the archives (averaging over those that haven’t and those that have done so multiple times, and those who read part of the archives but no longer keep up with the comic), you’ve captured somewhere on the order of 65 years of reader attention with your comic. (Having read through the archives at least thrice myself, and at 20 seconds a comic, you’ve captured around 42 hours of my own direct attention, and that doesn’t even count the time I spend reading your LJ/Blogunder, or chatting with you at conventions and Schlockfests…)

    As one of the proud 40,000, I want to thank you for your dedication to the craft, and for just handing all this amazing work out for free. You’ve inspired me in my own execution of this craft, and I know I’m not the only one for whom that is true either.

    Congratulations. Now get back to work. The buffer won’t grow itself. 😀

  3. THANK YOU. Although I’ve only been reading Schlock for a year and a bit, it has made the last year and a half so darn brilliant. 😀 (Apart from the Pronto thing, I might forgive you… one day…)

    Congratulations, Howard, and thank you for being such a dedicated webcomicer-person-doodah.

    1. I’m just disappointed in the specific manner of Pronto’s death, at least for his sake. I’m sure he’d have wanted a much, much bigger BOOM associated with his demise.

      But I really like that Howard is willing to kill off major characters. Now they just need to work on staying dead. 😀

      1. Yeah, Pronto’s probably one of the few that’s truly envious of Hob. Although, if I had to pick for myself, I don’t know if I could think of something better…

        As far as staying dead, Pronto doesn’t have the PD fleet powering intergalactic time travel wormgates. He’s just a dude with a sniper-trained cat. (Maybe next time he’ll get his name in the title, or something.)

        1. Oh, no, I forgot about Norwest! Now who’s going to take care of him?

          Someone needs to make sure Schlock doesn’t continue his reign of terror upon small, cute pets.

    1. no, no, Gav built it for him.

      Howard, I’m happy to contribute my time and, upon occasion, my money; you make me laugh, and that’s definitely fair value in return.

  4. Wow! Happy seventh birthday Schlock! Great work on the first 2556 comics! Here’s to another 7 years of uninterrupted scifi mercenary epic!

    Lots of aspiring webtoonists ask me for advice. I have none to offer.

    Speaking from the consumer point of view, I really appreciate comics like yours which never fail to have *real* updates on the schedule they set (and I don’t count 4th wall breaking “I’m going on vacation” strips or filler guest strips). But of course, that’s not the easy way either!

    Thanks again for your wonderful comic! Hope you keep being interested in doing it until the zombie apocalypse destroys us all!

  5. wow

    I really have been reading Schlock from the beginning, then. I’d just started a new job in 2000, and the first week or so I was there someone introduced me to Keenspot. Whgich led to an immediate drop in productivity, until I disciplined myself to read only on breaks. 😉

  6. I tried to keep up with you when I did Randym Thoughts, but couldn’t. You had this commitment to it that I couldn’t match. And I hate the time it took to draw. I’ve plotted multiple ways to do a comic since then, but they always involve some degree of WORK. That’s just… that’s just not my thing.

    I think that’s why I want to be a writer. None of that moving around, leaning over a table, scanning in stuff, wiggling the mouse all over, etc. Just sitting and typing. Ahhhhh.

    I have a very strong recreational ethic.

    1. I’ve talked to lots of writers at conventions. Apparently there is actually a work ethic involved there, too. They have to sit at the keyboard for hours on end racking their brains and making words come out.

      Oh, and then they have to RE-write, under duress, as their editors threaten to not pay them unless their 900-page novel can be shortened to 600 pages.

      My friend Ken Rand says “Anybody can say you can’t write. Let nobody say you don’t.”

      1. Yeah, working at writing is still work, but somehow I’ve been able to hack that.

        Ouch — “hack” is probably not the word I want to describe my work.

        But yeah, I wrote 2 novellas when I needed the money. (They even wanted another from me after I had a real job, and I said no. Pay wasn’t good enough, and they were novelizations of films I disliked.) So I think that if I was able to do those, I should be able to write stories I LIKE with less difficulty.

        Plowing through nanowrimo last November was a great exercise, too. Didn’t finish, but I think that’s the nature of the beast when you write sans outline; I was approaching my conclusion and was only at 25k words, and the character was going to have to do some very un-his-character type things if I wanted to stretch the story to the 50k word goal.

  7. …and many more

    Well done sir, I told you it was a hard but worthwhile road to travel 😉

    At a crucial junction myself, let you know where it leads later.

    All the best friend

  8. I’ve been reading Schlock Mercenary for at least 5 years now. It never fails to at the very least get some sort of a chuckle (unless it’s a recoiling gasp of horror like Pronto’s death).

    My life gets… Well, it gets a lil rough from time to time, and sometimes SM is the only laugh in my day (no pressure, Howard…).

    Howard and his wife are both great folks to talk to, and if you get the chance to meet them and you pass it up, you just messed up, man.

    Keep up the good work Howard, and thanks for all the laughs that have come, and all those yet to come.

  9. Congratulations on your anniversary! I’ve only been reading the strip since February and I met you at LTUE, but I started at the beginning and read all the way through until I caught up. You’ve provided me many hours of laughter, and for that I thank you.

    And I also thank you for the shiny icon. 🙂

  10. Congrats on 7

    I concurr with the other folks who have oozed lots of plaudits over our most esteemed author.

    I also agree that if you have a chance to meet Howard DO IT!!! Great guy in person, I met him @ a con in Manchester, New Hampster about a year ago.

    And while I have contributed to the care and feeding of Howard’s brood, I’d like to do more….so Howard, Sanrda PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do another run of the SGT Schlock shirts. Mine is getting worn out around the neck………..

  11. And thank you for writing and drawing your strip for the last seven years. It’s been my favorite strip for many years now and I’ve enjoyed every major plot you’ve had (though a few confused be here or there). There’s a lot of fun ideas in your universe, and I would love to work with you on something someday (I’m serious about that).

    Wait till you get the ten year anniversary, that’s a really good one. 🙂

  12. Howard, I’ve been reading you for just about all of those seven years. You haven’t just provided me with daily entertainment, you’ve provided me with another little piece to my daily routine. Schlock is an enjoyable bite out of pretty much every day.

    Thanks for making my life a little bit more interesting (3 panels or so) every day.

  13. Another thankful reader here. I started reading back in, oh 2003 or so (when I first discovered webcomics in general) and I’ve been awestruck by your commitment to delivering the strip every day for seven years. Your closest contemporary, Jeff Darlington, who also tried to deliver a comic a day and succeeded for years, was recently so derailed by life events that he went on hiatus for a couple of months and when he started posting again, he had to cut back to once a week.

    Either you’re really lucky (or blessed), or really good, to have avoided a similar fate.

    You continue to inspire me in my own similar endeavors. Rock on, Howard, and congratulations!

  14. Thank you, Howard.

    Found your comic about six years ago. Been reading it ever since.

    Oh, and speaking of Pronto. Is this going to start a tradition where the demolitions guy has the life expectancy of Spinal Tap’s drummer? 😉

  15. Congratulations, Oh Father of Schlock!

    When you finish that Giant Robot, can I borrow it? There’s a few places out here that need some stompin’.

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