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The Fiasco

So about two months ago, I was thinking, well, hey, LIFE FROM THE CHEAP SEATS is on hiatus, but why not work on the web presence. A few people had shown an interest in my products, but really there wasn’t much at which to look. At the time I had a Lawren t-shirt, which I had made because Lawren wanted it for his class reunion, and I had a Nicole t-shirt in which one of her friends had expressed an interest. Being the cheap man that I am (see the title of my comic), I didn’t want to pay for the full café press store and I didn’t want to continue with the limit of one image per type of product that the free store offers. In my defense, I had only sold two products, and my comic was on hiatus so a paid store didn’t seem the best of options.

So I asked around and found that Zazzle offered a store with an unlimited number of images per product type. And for FREE! I was sold.

I quickly setup my Zazzle account and began adding to the store. I wanted a variety of products ready for my strips return. Is this putting the cart before the horse? Perhaps; but I also know that when I am in the midst of producing the comic I don’t have a ton of time for also producing product. This was my head start.

First I created a basic product for each character – A Brandon t-shirt, a Nicole ladies t with pink ringer, a polo for myself, the bright Lawren shirt, and a hat for John. With those basic products lined up, I decided to create some strip clothes and some prints. That way, if anyone was emotionally attached to any particular comic they could have their own print or wear the strip. This seemed like a great idea, or at least a marginally decent idea, to me.

With that in mind, I looked through my files and I found the four strips with which I had had the proper presence of mind to create in a high resolution format and I got to work setting up the product. I even pulled out a few panels for their own products – such as the Brandon String Trick shirt and the Brandon Cannon t-shirt. Things were going well.

I also set up a few products that you will not find in my stores.

You see, about a week after creating my new product line, I received an interesting email from Zazzle. Some of my products were to be removed for violating copyright. Now, I figured, I had copyright marks on some my strips, so perhaps they assumed I was not the owner of the copyright. With this in my mind, I wrote in to the customer support.

Lo and behold, I received a prompt reply (their customer service actually was quite excellent), which explained to me that some big media company (which I shall not name here), had written them requesting that my products be removed for copyright violation. Apparently pop culture references on products is a no-no. Who knew?

At first I was furious. All the art was mine. All the writing was mine. And the mention of this pop culture reference was entirely an homage. I adore this show/product/pop culture icon that shall not be named, created by this giant media company that shall not be named. And I watch TV. Pop culture references are made constantly in the creative world. Why was this one not acceptable?

In time, I settled into the idea that I would just have to say goodbye to that product line. But with that time, also came paranoia. How did they find my store? A store for a webcomic on hiatus. A webcomic, which at this point had a readership of roughly 100 people. It made no sense. And if they found the products, did they find the comic? Was I not allowed to reference the world at large in my own comic? What were the possible repercussions? Damage control mode began.

I promptly stopped making new products. I curbed an entire plot line from the upcoming strips. And I began to rethink the safety of the strip that already existed on my website.

Then something else donned on me. A big media company took notice of my comic… or at least my comic’s store. My little comic blog had gained attention. Sure it wasn’t the attention that I wanted, but there it was none-the-less. In many ways, this in itself slowly became the bulwark that bolstered my confidence – the needed kick in the ass that motivated me to continue with my work. I am creative person, and anyone who knows a creative person, knows that our self-confidence, at least when it comes to our own creative work, is shaky at best. But now I knew… I did have the power to be noticed.

And now I’m back. And the moral of the story? Specifically, be careful what you put in your webstores (if you have them), and generally, take the attention you can get and roll with it.

Thanks for banning my shirts… and reading my comic! I’m glad to be back.