One of the problems webcartoonists face in making a living from their work lies with the difficulty in getting readers to give money for the comic. Subscription services (like the webcomics publisher site Modern Tales) rarely work for webcomics as it’s the comic’s archives that draw in new readers, and by forcing readers to pay to read the archives, you cut off those readers unable to (or unwilling to) pay for the privilege of reading the comic. Likewise, donation requests seldom result in enough money for a cartoonist to live off of, even with the bribe of extra comics if certain donation levels are reached (such as with Isabel Marks’ Namir Deiter). Thus I’ve been most amused by the method that Ally Nuttall and Emily Brady of Footloose have come up with to drum up donations: for every £15 donated, they will put up a page of their sister comic Cherry… Origins of a Magical Boy.
Yes, you heard right: Nuttall and Brady so fell in love with their magical transvestite (who is perhaps the one decent magical gi– individual in Footloose) that they’ve created a full-color comic telling the story of his origin and his training at the Faerie Dojo where a young inept protagonist would eventually appear. And in doing so, Nuttall and Brady have created a character who may very well be more interesting and varied than the main heroine of their primary comic. Part of this lies with the very nature of Steve Lewis, aka Cherry, a young man who just so happens to enjoy dressing up in women’s clothing. And no, he’s not gay. (Though when confronted by attractive young teammates in their underclothes he’ll lie about it. Well, do you blame him?)
Mind you, Steve’s story isn’t all raindrops and roses (to borrow a favorite line of Jin’s). The first “book” concerning Steve being chosen as a magical… individual (who turned down the offer of a magical gender change – a choice I’m sure Yuuki from Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki wishes had been available upon “her” being chosen) starts with the bloody death of Steve’s predecessor. Nor is this the only dark moment in Cherry; fortunately, Nuttall and Brady are able to balance the darker moments with humor (the reaction of the magical girls’ nemeses to Steve being a boy, including one who is so annoyed she calls her agent to complain) (oh, and I do hope the magician girl in the bunny-outfit makes a comeback; she is entirely too amusing to be a one-shot villainess).
When Faerie Princess Flibbage arrives to offer Steve a place at the Dojo, the comic moves to a more familiar venue for Footloose fans. It is here where the comic truly begins to shine, and readers are shown more of the backstory behind Jin, Daniel, Sparkle, and other noteworthy characters from the parent comic. This also has allowed Nuttall and Brady to expand on a list of characters that were sadly underused back when Footloose was focusing on Keti and her immediate circle of friends. We also discover that we can’t exactly trust everything Jin had told Keti about when Daniel was dating Sparkle; indeed, in some ways Steve’s outsider status gives him the best opportunity to present readers an unbiased view of just what happened in the year before Keti’s arrival.
Back when Cherry started out, I wasn’t sure if it would become a hit. There was a bare minimum of archives initially available and the initial price for each new update dropped before finally updates started queuing up. Once Cherry’s archives achieved critical mass, the comic itself became popular enough to survive despite the tendency of the majority of webcomic readers toward tight-fistedness. Cherry’s success is partly due to the use of an established (and popular) character, along with the existing free archives for Footloose. Mostly, it succeeded because Nuttall and Brady excel at combining dramatic and humorous storytelling and creating characters that are well worth reading.