Web comics like Girl Geniusand Questionable Contentmust take a lot of time and effort. What do the creators get other than selling some panels on eBay to fans and a bit of web advertising on their site?
Well, eventually they get book deals (thinking about GG and Penny Arcade specifically)…and lots of notoriety, but I kind of wondered myself.
Advertising can pay for a lot if you’re widely enough read, & they don’t have printing costs. Some webcartoonists do merchandise.
Girl Genius STARTED as a dead tree comic - the moved to the web after the third volume (IIRC, may have been the fourth). They still collect the newer stories, too.
And the Foglios aren’t hurting for notoriety - Girl Genius is far from their first project.
Any half-way popular web comic will put out dead tree collections, eventually. Until Platinum Studios bought them and screwed up their business model, a lot were able to make some pretty good money through Wowio, too. And most sell merch other than the collections - prints, mugs, shirts…some of them even do toys, mostly plush dolls of the characters, IME. And the money from advertising on a popular strip isn’t anything to sneeze at.
Jeph Jacques (the guy who draws Questionable Content) actually supports himself and his wife on the proceeds from the comic: between t-shirt sales and advertising, he makes enough to get by and travel to comic conventions all over the country. You can definitely see the increase in quality of the drawing around the time when he quit his day job and started working on it full time.
I’d like to see some live tree collections. That would be unique.
Though shipping would be problematic.
The average newspaper-syndicated comic artist isn’t making that much. So, if a creator with a good quality webcomic can generate a decent audience, they’ll probably be seeing comparable money.
Plus they get to make it on their own terms, without syndicate intervention or panicky newspaper editors or worries about being dropped from a paper and losing income. They’re not muzzled or constricted by format. Their only concern (besides making the strip, of course) is conducting the business side. Which is what scares a lot of traditional artists from the web. They lack the either the aptitude or the desire to conduct business. They just want to draw.
Which also answers the OP’s question, actually. Because behind even the webcomics that don’t make any money, there’s somebody who just wants to draw.
It could work as a piece of installation art.