Self Made man: Jeff Rowland
As we know from previous Self Made Man articles about online cartoonists and other artists whose work lives on the Internet, a lot of them stay afloat through merchandise sales; t-shirts, messenger bags, coffee mugs, etc.
Retail management is its own business though, and it’s safe to say that a lot of professional artists either don’t know how to do it or have no interest in learning, or they don’t have the time. And as more webcomics start up and become at least moderately successful, there are a lot more bass-ackwards webcomic retail structures that no one wants to deal with.
Enter this week’s Self Made Man, Jeff Rowland. A webcomic artist himself, Rowland is the founder of TopatoCo, a powerhouse online retailer of webcomic and related merchandise that handles all the swag for Questionable Content, Wondermark, Dr. McNinja, and many others.
Rowland, whose webcomic projects include Overcompensating and Wigu, started TopatoCo (named after a character in Wigu) in 2004, when he lost his job and decided to try and monetize his comic as much as possible through merchandise. He also offered his services as a shipping hub to his webcomic friends, which got confusing very quickly because everyone’s stores were all on different websites, but everything was getting shipped from the same place.
To simplify things, Rowland consolidated his clients’ various wares onto one website where people could shop for everything. Not only did this probably keep him from tearing his hair out, it allowed TopatoCo to grow into basically the default option for webcomic merch retail. It’s not a huge field, granted, but every king needs a kingdom and all that.
Rowland has actually had to turn down clients in recent years, just to keep his company’s growth at sustainable levels. Not a bad problem to have, really.
As TopatoCo’s brand strengthens, the associated warehouse drudgery occupies more and more of Rowland’s time, which he lamented in a 2009 interview with Comics Alliance. “I’ve always made comics at night, and done mundane work in the daytime,” he told them, adding that “that’s basically what TopatoCo is — something kinda mundane to do in the daytime that I’m okay at…the thing with TopatoCo work is that it has become most of my life.”
Still TopatoCo carries on, having stepped into a great role at the perfect time, with the right person in charge; a hard-working, level-headed entrepreneur with realistic goals. Jeff Rowland is also an active part of the community he’s serving, which is a vital part of his success, I’d wager.
Also, Wigu was/is hilarious.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.