Comics Curmudgeon: Filthy Rich Blogger Divulges Secrets to Wealth!
Do you remember when you were a kid, and you thought Garfield was funny? Maybe you shared his fear of spiders or intense love of lasagna? And then, as you got older, Garfield became increasingly less funny? And then one day, you realized that virtually none of the comic strips on the funny pages were funny at all?
Then you need to pay a visit to the Comics Curmudgeon. If you've never blown coffee through your nostrils while reading the Comics Curmudgeon's daily take on the funny pages, then you've never lived. I have very few web sites bookmarked on my browser, but Comics Curmudgeon is one of the few sites that I make a point of visiting every day. The Comics Curmudgeon has a loyal and fiercely intelligent group of readers, whose input can be found on any of the comments sections below blog posts.
Does that sound obsessive? It is. Comics Curmudgeon fans are an obsessive bunch.
Anyway, Josh Fruhlinger is the considerable brains and rippling brawn behind Comics Curmudgeon, and he graciously agreed to discuss his successful blogging career and financial philosophy with readers of Wise Bread. Enjoy!
When did you start the Comics Curmudgeon website, and what on Earth possessed you to do so?
I've been doing this blog since August of 2004. The short answer of why I started is that I used to sit at the breakfast table and make
snarky comments about the comics to my wife, and then say "I should start a blog where I do this." Eventually, she got sick of hearing me say it and forced me to actually do it.
I also wanted to have a venue that would force me to write a little something every day. I like writing but when I don't have a focus; it's hard to get motivated. I think the laser-beam focus of the blog, plus the daily nature of the comics, was a good combination for me.
How long did it take for the site to pick up steam?
Can you offer us any insight into your website's metrics? How many visitors do you have to the site on a daily basis?
I'll answer these two questions together. When I first started up, I sent a link out to a bunch of my friends, and I assumed pretty much that they would be the only ones reading it. I also sent out a link to an email humor list I used to write for, and posted a link in a comics newsgroup -- to this day, that's the only real publicity work I've ever initiated.
Pretty soon my traffic got a lot higher than I ever thought it would. By the end of 2004, I was getting hundreds of visitors a day, which even then struck me as kind of ludicrous. Traffic afterwards built steadily: my December 2005 visitors were nearly double my number of January 2005 visitors, and my December 2006 visitors were nearly double my January 2006 visitors.
Today I get on around 14,000 to 16,000 unique visitors on a typical weekday, and 10,000 to 12,000 on a typical Saturday or Sunday; of those, a little less than half are returning visitors. I'm still constantly bowled over by how by how many people read the site. I definitely feel like there's a dynamic in which I feel more responsibility for entertaining my readership the more readers I have, in some ways. At the beginning of 2006, I generally only commented on one comic a day; now I usually tackle four or five.
How much time do you spend working on the website every day?
More than I'd care to admit! It's hard to quantify because, in addition to the hour or so a day I spend actually writing (that's an average – occasionally it's a lot less, sometimes it's quite a bit more), you have to factor in the time I spend obsessively checking my stats and reading the hundreds of comments that come thundering into my e-mail client (every comment that goes up on the site gets e-mailed to me).
Do you love most of the comics that you read and analyze, or hate them? Or is it a love-hate thing?
Well, a while back there was this Simpsons episode where Homer is part of the Lollapalooza freak show, and one disaffected teen in the audience says to another "Yeah, that guy's cool," and the second disaffected teen says "Are you being sarcastic?" and the first one says "Oh, I don't even know anymore."
That's kind of how I feel some of the time. I love the comics, as an art form. I love the ritual of reading all of the comics, good and bad. There are a few comics that I genuinely love without irony; there are a few that I feel are only worthwhile because they provide fodder for my blog. And then there's a vast middle ground of comics that I wouldn't call myself a "fan" of but I enjoy reading them sometimes and making fun of them sometimes, and that I wouldn't want to stop reading.
The soap opera strips are a different category. I sort of assume that NOBODY takes these seriously, and I enjoy them for their overblown drama and oddness as I assume I'm supposed to. Not even the stereotypical old lady that we might imagine these soaps are written for can really engage them without any irony to speak of, right? I mean, one of the greatest jokes about Apartment 3-G of all time was made on the "Golden Girls" 20 years ago, for Pete's sake.
You're aware that many comic artists read your web site. Does that put any pressure on you to be kinder in your commentary, or do you care?
Honestly, sometimes it does, in my head, anyway, because everything I've read about comics artists seems to indicate that they're incredibly funny and gracious people, and I don't want to go out of my way to be mean to them. And in fact, in all my interactions with them, that's been borne out by my experience. That's why (and this distinction really only exists in my mind, I think) I almost never call out artists by name, except Jeff Keane, and he has his huge piles of money to console himself with. Speaking of which...
In addition to advertising revenue, you offer merchandise (based on previous Comics Curmudgeon posts and reader conversations), as well as beg for tips. Surely you must be rolling in the dough by now. I mean, like, naked. In big piles of cash. While laughing maniacally.
Ha ha ha (that was a rueful, rather than a maniacal, laugh), I wish. I don't think that even if I turned the money in my savings account into pennies I could swim in them, Scrooge McDuck style, even if the pool was pretty small.
For the first two years or so that I ran the blog, any ad or merch income I got was pretty much just a little bonus -- it certainly didn't match up with the amount of time I spent on it. In the last six months or so, I got a little more serious about figuring out how much my ad space is worth, and in that span of time I would say the blog has been supplying about 20 percent of my income.
I have no clear idea if that's something that can grow, or even if it's something sustainable. I'd love to make a living off of blogging, rather than doing my day job, which involves editing articles written by and for computer programmers, but I think that only happens to a select few people. Still, I never thought I'd even be making the amount I'm making now, so who knows.
Do you want to expand the site to include other snarky writers and lovers of all things funny-page, or do you prefer to have ultimate creative control? Or could you do both, where you hire a sweatshop full of snarky writers that ultimately bend to your will? As in, "More snark, mule!"?
Well, when I went on vacation at the end of January, for the first time I got a pinch hitter rather than just let the blog sit without updates for a week. It went pretty well -- Uncle Lumpy, a commentator I got to fill in for me, did a GREAT job -- but I'm enough of a control freak that I wouldn't want to make a habit out of it. I think I will for now stick with the idea of keeping it a one-man show for the most part, with guest bloggers when I go on vacation. And -- why lie? -- I'm a freelancer, my wife gets four week's paid vacation a year, and we don't have any kids, so we go on vacation a lot. There should be plenty of opportunities for guests to step up.
Do you consider yourself a savvy and frugal kind of guy (I have to ask this on a frugal blog), and if so, what's your most efficient way to save money?
Ha, I'm glad you asked! I don't know if I'd consider myself frugal, but I definitely have elaborate money management systems in place. I've been a real grown-up and in charge of my own finances for about ten years now but I've only had a regular job with a steady paycheck for two of those, so I've sort of had to figure out how to manage irregular cash flow. Basically, I advise that you keep your savings separate from your day-to-day spending money.
Put all the money you earn into a savings account; figure out, based on your budget and your expected income, what you need to live on, then give yourself an "allowance" of that amount at a set interval (I do it twice a month) out of your savings into your checking, and really try to live off of what's in your checking. That way you do pile up a little savings that you can use for bigger-ticket items, rather than just seeing what you have in your bank account and spending it.