Angela Vaz is a Bengaluru-based illustrator who started her career as a website designer, but switched to drawing and doodling in 2017 to attract more clients. The move succeeded. Her Instagram page — Stray Curls — displaying comic strips about a girl with curly hair has close to 2 lakh followers today.
“It was something girls connected to. I started getting a lot more views and interactions. I also started getting more clients,” Vaz says. She now sells merchandise and gets orders on Instagram to create customized illustrations.
There are many comic artists and doodlers like Vaz who are leveraging social media to display their artwork and generate a business. In this, they are emulating international comic artist handles like Cyanide and Happiness, Adam Tots, and Catana Comics.
Praanesh Bhuvaneswar, co-founder of influencer marketing firm TeraReach, says people leverage Instagram to gain an audience, grow them to a sizable scale showcasing their concepts, and later explore business or merchandising opportunities. “It takes a while to go through that journey and create niches that can be monetized. Chumbak is a good example of using Facebook as their lead marketing channel,” he says.
The international handles, some of which have more than 1 million followers, cater to audiences that aren’t served by traditional media. Sailesh Gopalan’s Brown Paper Bag comics on Instagram have over 1.44 lakh followers.
The short comics are about everyday life. There’s one where a pregnant woman is in severe pain because the baby is coming. The husband goes out to get an autorickshaw, but when the driver asks for Rs 200, the man waves him away, to the horror of the wife standing by. Gopalan today takes orders for customized illustrations.
Illustrations are priced between $75 and $100
Gopalan, 21, an animation design student at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design, and Technology in Bengaluru, started posting cartoons on Facebook initially. He picked the name Kabir for one of his prominent characters because it was religiously ambiguous.
“I wanted to stay away from politics. Kabir is a young teenager full of angst,” he says. Gopalan now prefers Instagram because it gives him much greater reach, and he plans to explore merchandising opportunities as soon as he finishes college this year.
Alicia Souza is another Bengaluru-based illustrator who is popular on both Instagram and Facebook for her comic strips and doodles about her life. Now, she has started selling notebooks, coffee mugs, and apparel based on her characters.
“About six years ago, when I started freelancing, I posted my first illustration on Facebook. It’s been a slow and steadily growing happy community of the most wonderful people. The page has over 1.22 lakh followers on Facebook. My Instagram page grew way faster and has reached over 1lakh users,” says Souza.
While the art world usually has a lot of gatekeepers and curators, social media opens the artists to a huge audience in a democratic way, says Mumbai-based Jenny Bhatt, artist and creator of gag cartoon series MokshaShots. Bhatt used to put up physical art shows, but realized social media was much faster and easier to deal with.
“I have connected with a lot more people through my Instagram page. Usually, artists work in isolation. Here, I have sold some of my art pieces through my followers on Instagram. It’s a great platform for being discovered,” she says.
Vaz agrees. A majority of her customers are international. This wouldn’t have been possible without the medium. Most of her illustrations are priced between $75 and $100.
However, Bhuvaneswar says there is a limit to how much comic artists can leverage the platform to grow their businesses. “If the platform decides to reduce the organic play (like change the algorithm so that their work does not reach as many people), then these artists would require an alternative monetisation strategy,” he says.