When Instagram first broke on the scene in 2010, it was full of pictures showing people’s breakfasts, pets and selfies. Since the introduction of new features, the social media site has evolved to become just as much a news and entertainment portal as a place for oversharing.
The comic strip
One medium that has arisen on Instagram is the humble comic strip. Initially restricted to one photo per post, artists would upload comics one panel at a time. In some cases, a post would contain a four-panel split which meant showing a smaller comic, but getting the entire strip in one post.
Then, in 2017, Instagram introduced the carousel for regular users, and comic strips were able to thrive. The carousel is a function that enables people to post multiple images at a time. The first image is visible and then users can swipe to see further images.
Instagram’s carousel means that users can post up to ten pictures or videos at a time. Prior to 2017, the carousel had been restricted to advertisers only.
The chance to be noticed
Instagram has become a platform for people to launch themselves, regardless of whether they are professionals or amateurs. This has been a trend across all areas of social media, where beauty bloggers have millions of followers, and so-called influencers share sponsored posts of their seemingly perfect lives.
Prior to Instagram, a popular place for artists to share their work was the online art gallery DeviantArt. DeviantArt has not become any smaller, with 1.6 billion monthly page views. However, Instagram gives artists the opportunity to reach out to a wider follower base.
Louise Winblad, the Swedish blogger and illustrator behind Hej Hej Vardag (Hello Everyday), started an Instagram account with the aim of leading people to her blog. Instead, she found that the Instagram account became something of its own.
“It quite quickly began to live its own life and grew away from the blog considerably”, Winblad explained.
Winblad is positive about the accepted variety of posts on Instagram. Where sometimes it is enough to post something short and simple, there is also the option to publish longer, more ambitious posts.
Not everything is ideal, however. Instagram’s new algorithm has led to criticism from some users. “I miss loads, while seeing lots of pictures from the same account”, Winblad observed. “I liked the great amount of variation, but that has disappeared now”.
Swedish comic strip artist Ellen Ekman is also critical of the new Instagram algorithm. She noted how some posts simply disappear, while those that receive lots of comments and engagement are visible.
“The algorithm also leads to offensive or provocative accounts and posts can get a high amount of exposure, because everyone is rushing to the comments to discuss”, Ekman pointed out.
Building valuable contact
Ekman is the creator of the popular Swedish comic strip Lilla Berlin. She has been posting her work on Instagram since 2013. She thinks there is great value in the direct contact that Instagram gives her with her readers.
“You get a direct response to what you have drawn, which is a lot of fun when you, as a comic strip artist, publish new comics every week”, she explained.
Ekman describes the carousel function as “ultimate for the comic strip format”. She continued - “one can swipe their way forward to the punchline, so that it is not revealed all in one go”.
Instagram alone is not enough
Although she sees Instagram as a good way to reach out to her followers, and appreciates the marketing opportunities that her Instagram account provides, Ekman is very clear on one thing.
“I am still very dependent on publications in newspapers for my income”, she said. “It is newspapers that pay my rent, I get no money from having a large Instagram account”.
Whereas, once upon a time, most people would flip to the back of a newspaper in order to see the daily comics, these days an increasing number of papers are posting their comics on Instagram. This includes papers such as Metro, where Lilla Berlin appears, and The New Yorker. Both of these papers have dedicated Instagram accounts solely for their comic strips.
Everyone is a critic
Whether it is a cartoon or an oil painting, putting artwork online opens the artist up to a world of criticism, some of which is anonymous and harsh.
Winblad recalled how, in the beginning, she could feel unfairly criticised if someone made a negative comment. “I sometimes still do”, she said. “But I have taught myself that my pictures represent me and my drawings, and those that do not like it do not have to be there”.
For Ekman, angry messages and unkind comments can happen, but are rarely directed at her personally. She, as a person, is not as present on her account. Rather it is Lilla Berlin that stands under the spotlight.
On the other hand, she has had emails and comments that are directed at the comic strip’s characters. “As though they are real people”, she observed. “That is quite entertaining.”
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