I wrote the following on a message board in response to this article by Lore Sjoberg, but I think it is worth preserving here because I sound imperious and conceited as only I know how:
Webcomics’ dirty little secret is that most of the people who “make a living from their comic” don’t really make a living from their comic at all, they make it selling t-shirts that perhaps have some tenuous link to their strip (but not really). It’s not really something to feel guilty about, it’s just patronage in one way or another - a democratised, utilitarian form of “micropayment” far more acceptable to my mind than a Paypal begging bucket on your site.
That these tshirts have ceased to be so closely linked to their parent comics is a matter (I think) in part of natural selection - in a crowded field (and it gets more crowded every day) you need more options than your strip might provide. And if you’ve proved successful in an area, you want to develop it. The alternative is, after all, eating sawdust and drinking puddle water.
Personally, I would much rather make shirts that have nothing to do with the comic than attempt to shoehorn t-ready zingers into the strip or extract vest-centric mottos from complex source material.
As for Lore’s assertion that a backlash is on the way, I don’t think people will tire of owning short-run, attractive garments that their friends probably don’t have. I believe that’s the central tenet on which fashion is founded.
The only way to kill it stone dead would be to sell your designs to Hot Topic and have them printed in the thousands. And I believe that kind of suicide can only take place on an artist by artist basis.