First things first. Don't be under any illusion that a web comic is going to make money immediately!
"A webcomic costs next to nothing, a print anthology costs a bomb," feels Smallzone publisher and distributor Shane Chebsey, tallking about web comics on a thread for the Smalzone forum.
"A web comic is on a screen (and it sometimes hurts my head to read them), however, they can reach lots of people, a print comic is an object to treasure, but will only reach a few folks. Neither are likely to make you any money," he added cynically, "so unless you love comics don't do it!
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, a comic creator and new media lecturer based out of St Albans, England and one of the real web comic experts on the panel reckoned you needed about 10,000 unique users before you could start to make money from associated merchandise (t-shirts, print comic sales collecting the strip etc.) That doesn't, of course, mean you shouldn't start making merchandise available from Day One. If you want to see samples of his work, check out the impressive web site e-merl.com.
"Brand Awareness"The most important thing about web and mobile comic formats is that you are raising the profile of your creation, what companies call "raising brand awareness". Several good strips have been picked up for print collection as a result of web publication.
Cost wise, the only real expense to creating a webcomic is your time and materials. There are several places you could run a web comic. Most of these do not charge for storage space.
You can also run comics on blogs and in other places for free without the expense of setting up and paying for web space.
When it comes to promotion, there's nothing more effective initially than telling your friends about your strip by good old e-mail. Consider including a sample of the strip in your email (just make sure the file size isn't too large) as well as links to where your webcomic can be found online. Michael Jantze, who publishes The Norm, mails out his strip daily to subscribers, as do many other webcomic creators.
If you're clever with HTML and stuff, one way of promoting your strip is to create a way for people to add an 'embed' to their own sites which displays the latest episode of the strip and links through to your site(just how Amazon ads work). That way, other web site owners get 'free content' on their site they don't have to worry about updating and you get a higher profile and, hopefully, trackback for your creation.
There are several people out there who have got promotion down to a fine art. Thomas Cochrane, who creates the strip Fat Man, tells me he has a slew of places he regularly updates to push the strip, including a Flickr account. All of this helps to raise the strip in terms of search engine profile, which, for Thomas, should pay off in terms of PR when the book is launched.
There are also several comic aggregator sites such as Online Comics where you can also promote your strip, as well as via a MySpace page, a Facebook page -- the possibilities are pretty endless and growing all the time. Just bear in mind that the more you set up, the more you have to work on when it comes to keeping them updated!
And keeping them updated is VERY important, the most important thing being the strip itself. I don't know how often most creators update their strips but Nick Miller over at Team Sputnik manages to add an image or cartoon every day to that site's associated blog but I think that as long as you can add something once a week, possibly more (and the big web comic sites manage a daily or bi-weekly publication schedule!) then that will ensure more 'hits' and a bigger audience... providing the strip is a good one in the first place of course!
Making MoneyAs mentioned above, there's no guarantee that creating a webcomic will make you any money but if you get an audience, the chances of just that increase. Most web comic creators will tell you, however, that they make money from related merchandise (t-shirts, for example) rather than the strip itself. That said, if someone likes your work it can bring you work in terms of commissions, as I've found with editing downthetubes for almsot ten years. The tipping point, as mentioned, would seem to be around 10,000 unique readers.
Other ways to make money would be to include affiliate ads on your site - check out Commission Junction for a range of these, or just sign up for an online book stroe's referral scheme. You can also make money selling banner ads, using services such as Project Wonderful or Google AdSense.