Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On tshirts

The difference between a tshirt selling and not selling is whether it makes a statement about the wearer. It doesn't matter how good the drawing on it is, or how clever the words you put on it, that won't make it sell. 


Over the years, I and many of my fellow creators have complained that we design something, readers are vocally enthusiastic about it, then no-one buys it. I can think of a dozen times where I laboured over a design and no one wanted it, and as many where 15 minutes work proved wildly popular - because the idea was fine, because it said something that the wearer wanted to say about themselves. There is a huge difference between an image someone likes and an image that fosters the desire to wear it. 


Below is a good example of something that makes people laugh but that I don't think says anything about the wearer that they could explain to anyone who asked. 






The rules are different for prints, posters and any other designed curio. They're not plastered onto a human body. After I got a button machine, I found that the easiest way to tell if wording worked on a tshirt was to try it on badges at shows. The stakes were low and experimentation was cheap.


Printed tshirts went way beyond saturation point a few years ago; they used to represent the greater part of my income and they certainly don't now. I've used all my easy ideas, so while I can design garments far more nicely than I could in 2003, I (personally) have nothing left to say that I, or someone else, hasn't said. But I try occasionally, because when it works, it feels great. And I've done some fun collaborations where I didn't have to marry my drawings up to some universal notion.


In conclusion: when lizard fights wizard, no one wins. Let that be a lesson to you.

23 comments:

Edmund Ward said...

I would agree with that important insight. The T-shirts of yours that I own are: Major Teacup and Major Teacup spaceforce - which really don't require explanation - they just put a smile on people's faces. I also own Dewey Decimal and +10 Charisma - but I wear these less often because the former tends to leave people confused and the latter advertises a penchant for D&D which isn't always something you want to broadcast.

MsMolly said...

Yep, I think this is exactly right. I LOVE the idea of your "Books Not Boys" tote, but, as a single lady librarian in her 30s, well, I don't want to make it any harder for cute guys to know that while I like ladies I don't *like* like ladies. If it had said "Books BEFORE Boys" I would have been all over it.

John A said...

Mr Ward: it's amazing how many people on Twitter, for example, define themselves as a "tea drinker" in their little bio. If you can find a new wrinkle in things people like, it's a really good start. Of course the problem is, this leads to just making things based off properties that people like. Imagine the looks on our faces when we realised we could do that and 9 times out of 10, get away with it. And look how horrible things got pretty quickly. It's hard to stay pure! But Major Teacup is one of my very favourites.

Ms Molly: maybe it's time for an "I wrecked my eyes reading" tshirt just for you.

elizabethraine said...

Am I the only one who would wear this? Possibly. I think this image at least makes the point that I enjoy possible death matches between rhyming entities, which to me is a valuable thing for others to know.

I do see your point, however. It takes a lot to get me to buy a shirt, even from artists I really like, because there are so few I feel say something about me.

On that note, though, an "I wrecked my Eyes Reading" shirt sounds like an excellent idea.

Ryan Martin said...

I'm sure you've thought of this before, but it might be worth trying to do more graphic-only shirts. Text often narrows the message of a shirt considerably, which in turn narrows the group of people that will actually purchase the shirt.

Also: I'd definitely buy this shirt - it's silly and fanciful and fun to look at. I'd be quite happy if the Bunny Surfboard graphic found its way to a tee, as well.

John A said...

Ryan: Graphic only, text, it doesn't matter. The idea is everything. If I had good graphic-only ideas, I'd make them. I'm no Olly Moss, alas, when it comes to super-clever graphics.

John A said...

(And needless to say, I've done plenty of graphic-only shirts in the last 10 years.)

Anna said...

I'm actually wearing one of your t-shirts now, the 'crochet! today' one. And I am indeed a keen needlecrafter (I have the 'crochet today' and 'knitting is zen' tote bags as well, and use them as crochet or knitting project bags). I also have the 'it is okay to be you' robot t-shirt. I'd never thought about it before but I think you have it right.

Joe Decie said...

but if you do an ultimate dinosaur one, i'll buy two.

Also, I sell a huge amount of badges of objects tea cup, gameboy, cassette tape. they're easy for people to relate to "oh I like gameboys" Never done a t-shirt though.

a l l y said...

I'd buy that one, because it's green.I like green. I like dark coloured t-shirts, in fact, and there have been several of your designs I'd have loved to buy, had they not been printed on pastel-shaded shirts. I never wear pastel shades. It's something to think about you know!

Unknown said...

I would totally wear that shirt - I am a big fan of both lizards AND wizards! Also potentially symbolic of the major dichotomy in my life: to study/work (I do biology) or read/play video games??

For me the big thing about buying shirts online (especially from comics) is that I live in Australia, so shipping is usually insane, such that a $20 shirt generally ends up being more like a $30 shirt...also the ladies' shirt styles that most comic authors use are often quite short, which I am not especially a fan of, so buying shirts tends to be a bit of an (expensive) gamble.

Actually, the more I look at it the more I want that shirt. :P

Bentley said...

I still really love the Google Is Ruining Everything shirt. Mine is on its last legs and I am kicking myself for not ordering five or six of them when I had the chance. I've got a half dozen of your other shirts, but that one is by far my favourite.

One thing that does stop me from buying shirts (not just your designs) is when they are printed on bright red. You've had a few brilliant designs, but I just can't wear that much red. I also seem to shy away from bright yellows and blues as well. The brightness of Books Rule is the exception; Working in a library in the summer, that shirt goes down a treat.

I think we need an Energy Crow shirt.

Bec said...

Hi Jon, I have a bunch of your t-shirts including books rule, major teacup, death has a bunny, etc. I found however, once you (and a lot of other comic artists I like) started using American Apparel as opposed to the bella baby doll shirts I stopped buying. For me I just found the cut of the american apparel unflattering and they were always much larger even in the small size. (I am quite a petite lady). Whereas the bella's fit perfectly. It's a real shame as it's the only thing putting me off buying any of your more recent designs.

miss nash said...

I think this is a really good bit of advice - essentially the individual is branding themselves with who-evers slogan matches their mood/style at the time. Brilliant idea about making pins first. I was amazed when I was selling mine about how popular certain ones were. Should make prints perhaps...

I love 'I wrecked these eyes reading' - I WOULD buy that t-shirt :)

(I own 'I have eated all the dinner' and your pre-coffee agitation mug)

Loving your comics at the moment - I can't do a days work unless I've read the update!

Hope you're alright, :)
xxxxx

miss nash said...
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Neil said...

I bought the 'Maths Is Easy' shirt and the '+10 Charisma' shirt; I like Maths and D&D, it made sense! Although I did buy the 'Charisma' shirt as soon as it was available, I cracked up when I saw that panel in the comic. I've also worn the 'Maths' shirt while doing GCSE maths tutoring, perfect ice-breaker.

The designs matched my interests, which I imagine is difficult to judge in a readership, but worked here.

Edmund Ward said...

I wonder if you're missing a trick by not selling any character(s) shirts? I have no problems with saying to the world that I like Bad Machinery. I would definitely buy one of just the bad machinery gang.

John A said...

I've written this many times before and do so again - character shirts, depicting realistically human figures, sell like hot dog tods.

John A said...

I should say by the way, this post isn't a cry for help! I'm starting to see helpful suggestions which really aren't necessary. This post is meant to help people designing things, not to bemoan my lot.

ead803aa-db6b-11e1-ac25-000f20980440 said...

I would definitely purchase a "I wrecked these eyes reading" t-shirt. I have actually longed for one ever since the print was made available.

(I've purchased the Robotania and Secret Scary Friend shirts in the past as well as some books.)

Michael Scott said...

Absolutely stunning, thanks for sharing. I had to share it myself!
tshirts on sale | fashion tshirts

Jody Macgregor said...

There is an Australian band named King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard who are as amazing as the name suggests. I think this design could live on with them, on posters and such. They are here: http://kinggizzardandthelizardwizard.com

Matt Goldsmith said...

Reprint the death bunny shirt and I will happily buy another. My original has been missing for several years, sadly.