Webtoon Walks Back ‘Side-Hustle’ Ad Campaign After Online Fury

Webtoon Walks Back ‘Side-Hustle’ Ad Campaign After Online Fury

Yesterday, Webtoon issued an apology after a New York City ad campaign went viral on Twitter. Kennedy Homan, a Webtoon author herself, took a photo of an ad on a subway platform that read “Comics are literature’s fun side-hustle” next to images from the Webtoon Lore Olympus, the most popular comic on Webtoon with over 1.1 billion views. The tweet, from the Andy Bass author, reads “‘Side-hustle’ my ARSE.”

When contacted via Twitter DMs for a comment, Homan was more than happy to explain why she was so upset with this particular ad campaign. Her comment has been edited for brevity. “I’ve been working with Webtoons since 2020, and I discovered the platform in 2019 during their ‘Find Yours’ campaign. A campaign that highlighted the stories they have and the platform they’re creating.”

After this tweet went viral, multiple authors spoke out against the demeaning message, using the hashtag #notasidehustle to promote their work and explain the kind of effort self publishing a serialized comic takes. Artists like Lysandra Vuong (explodikid on Twitter) noted in a tweet that they often spend 80+ hours a week working on their comic, which includes writing, drawing, colouring, uploading, and marketing.

After a few hours of outrage over the devaluation of comics and the work that people put into the very platform that Webtoon is promoting, the app posted an apology on Twitter. While it does state that there will be an adjustment to the ad campaign and copy, there’s no word on whether or not it will actually seek to funnel money from the original campaign back to the authors who felt maligned by it, either through individual marketing campaigns, additional support, or another means.

To underline the impact of Webtoon, and these comics, I’d like to point out that Lore Olympus specifically has won a Harvey Award, and received multiple nominations for Eisner Awards. In 2019, Deadline reported an animated television adaptation was in development. Heartstopper, a best-selling graphic novel that formed the basis for Netflix’s recent hit queer YA show, also started as a serialized comic, and is available to read (for free!) on Webtoon. The zombie horror show, All of Us are Dead also started as a Webtoon, and Webtoon’s recent collaboration with DC Comics has given us the wonderful Wayne Family Adventures, to boot. There are many, many examples of comics beyond these that speak to the strength of the work artists bring to Webtoon’s platform — and make it all the more clearer just why they’d be hurt by having that work dismissed by the platform so casually.

You can read other responses to this ad campaign below, or by searching the #notasidehustle hashtag, and see tons of examples of great comics on Webtoon. Maybe you’ll find your next favourite read (I recommend Covenant, by Vuong!).

Homan also said, “I’m glad that in response, countless creators came together to speak about how their work is more than a side hustle, and to express frustration about how the ad campaign pushed the idea that comics are a means to adaptation and are not just standalone works…. I hope this [online] reaction brings back the love and excitement previous Webtoon campaigns had towards their comics and creators, and it helps comic creators and readers alike to see just how hard all creators work to bring comics to life.”

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