25 August 2010

Thinking Out Loud: Table Location at Conventions.

The London Comic and Small Press Expo is on my list of comic shows to do next year, and table bookings opened on August 21st. So now I am poring over the floorplan and trying to work out which table to go for.

The venue seems similar to that of the now-defunct UK Web & Mini Comix Thing that I attended earlier in the year (in that it's a big hall with a stage at the far end), though the table layout is a little different. When I tabled at the Thing I noticed that my choice of location was not entirely excellent - it directly faced the entrance, and my assumption was that people would come in, see my awesome stuff first, bear straight ahead to check it out and then circulate around the hall thereafter. This was mistaken.Instead it seemed that people came in and immediately turned right or left, circulating around the hall's edges rather than forging straight on. The general procedure seemed to be an initial reconnaissance lap to scope out the various tables (in the course of which no purchases were made), followed by an acquisition lap once they'd sussed out which vendors had things they'd be interested in buying with their finite funds.

This meant that my table was halfway around the circuit, which was non-optimal as it meant that by the time they'd completed the lap and were ready to make their purchases my table was clear on the other side of the hall from them. Way too easy for them to forget about my stuff or get distracted on the way or spend all their money or whatever.

So! I need to work out how to mentally model the crowd flow in order to gauge the best pitch for my wares. Somewhere around the outside edge of the hall is probably good, as it means I have a wall behind me (reducing the risk of display stuff falling over) and will be on the primary loop of traffic. Somewhere that's not in a concave corner would be good too, as it runs the risk of not being noticed. A convex corner/end spot might be a good pitch, though that has the disadvantage of lacking a wall at my back.

I might just be overthinking this whole thing, but it seems like one of those things for which there are definite tactics and techniques. I'd like to work them out, if I can.

23 August 2010

Thinking Out Loud: Create Once, Sell Repeatedly.

Recently I've been doing some further thinking about business plan stuff, specifically the golden question of "How Do I Make Money From This?". It's a good plan to diversify as much as you can, as that way you have alternatives available if a given source of income dries up.

To break it down, my current revenue streams are:

  • Comics - Decent sales when there's a new issue out in print, but tails off pretty quickly in between.
  • Freelance illustration - Pleasantly remunerative when it's available, but not a steady source of income until I've built up lots more contacts who want to procure my services on a regular basis.
  • Character sketches - Popular when I've done them at the FLGS, and hopefully this will continue when I start offering them on the site.
  • T-shirts and related paraphernalia - Somewhat time-intensive in terms of coming up with polished designs, and a bit of a gamble when it comes to success or failure. Also not hugely lucrative at present - I don't have the funds (or audience) to sink a bunch of cash into inventory that may or may not sell, and print-on-demand gives pretty minimal per-unit profits.
  • Advertising space on the site - Negligible at present. Need more site traffic.

Apparently one of the keys to this "making money from art" thing is to get paid as many times as possible for each piece I create. Comics are stupendously time-intensive, but once they're drawn I can print and sell as many copies as people will buy. Likewise t-shirts, posters, that kind of thing - and a design that's good for a t-shirt can also be good for a mug. All these things are slightly impersonal, however, and could be said to lack the artist's touch - and that's a good part of the appeal of buying from an independent creator.

Sketch commissions do have the artist's touch and aren't as time-intensive as making an entire comic or coming up with a refined t-shirt design, but are more of a one-shot deal in terms of revenue - I still only get paid once for each sketch. More elaborate paintings likewise - even more time-consuming, still only get paid once unless I decide to sell prints as well as the original. This could be considered an argument for charging more for my work - if I'm only getting paid for it once, I should make sure I get paid properly.

Ideally, though, I'd be able to create something once and get paid for it multiple times. Something that has that hand-crafted feel, but which doesn't eat up all of my time to produce new instances of it. Something like... printing. Not the copy-shop variety, the art-and-craft variety.

I listen to the Art & Story podcast a lot, and among other things they do a fair bit of printmaking - mainly silkscreen, I think - which gives their stuff a much more personal touch. Bookmarks, minicomic covers, posters, that sort of thing. Designing the original stencil takes time, but once that's done you can, with relative ease, make as many copies as you like before the screen wears out. Now, silkscreening is a bit too costly for me in terms of space and equipment required, but I've been mulling over an alternative:

Lino printing.

Investigating further, it seems kind of ideal. Not a huge space investment, setup and materials aren't too expensive, and the high-contrast style I use for my comic would translate pretty well to this printing technique. And I really like the look of the end result, too - kind of reminiscent of old-fashioned woodcuts (unsurprisingly).

It's also pretty flexible - you can get different effects by varying the combinations of ink and paper colour (dark ink on light paper, light ink on dark paper), you can even do stuff like painting in extra colours by hand to make each print more unique, if you feel like it.

I shall investigate further. And let you know how it turns out.

9 August 2010

How not to hire artists.

NOTE: This entry contains a certain amount of strong language. Reader discretion is advised.

Christopher Gregorio (aka Kaitol) has stirred up something of a fuss on Twitter thanks to this article on his blog, in which he gave a bunch of do-and-don't advice on how to find and hire artists for your flash game projects.

Some of this advice was, shall we say, ill-considered and possibly somewhat unethical. He has earned a massive firestorm of opprobrium as a result.

I don't know him personally. He might be a nice guy, but from that blog entry his attitude towards the people he works with really stinks. In short, he advocates the following measures:

  • Cruise deviantArt for technically-proficient amateur artists, as they're likely to be ignorant of industry rates and will thus accept lower pay than professsionals.
  • Get them to name their price, as their inexperience usually means they'll underestimate how much their skills are worth.
  • Don't look for professional or experienced games industry artists - they know how much their skills are worth and how much flash games can earn, so they'll want a bigger cut of the profit. That's your profit.
  • Refuse to pay them until they've delivered the work, to standard and by the deadline, otherwise their crappy amateur work-ethic means they might work slowly or even flake out on you entirely.
  • Don't tell them how much their artwork will increase the value of the game, otherwise they'll want correspondingly more pay.
  • Set strict deadlines, and hold your underpaid amateur artist to stringent professional standards. Dock their (already below-market-rate) pay if they don't meet these standards.

This is all brutally pragmatic advice, and unfortunately quite likely to work. Creative workers are a notoriously insecure breed and creativity in general is horribly undervalued, to the point where creatives will habitually undersell their skills for fear of an ego-crushing "Pff, it's not worth that much! I'll give you half." response. So if you're a businessman who has no compunction about callously taking advantage of others to line your own pockets, this advice might well get you results.

It's the kind of ruthless outlook that makes some people rich, allowing them to crush their competitors, see the markets driven before them and hear the jubilation of their accountants. It works in TV, Hollywood, the music industry, the comic industry, and pretty much anywhere else Creative Types produce work for Corporate Suits, accepting their mediocre paycheck and lack of recognition with piteous gratitude. After all, it's not like creative work is actually worth much, right? They can just pull that stuff out of thin air.

Sorry, that's a rant for another day.

Anyway, I think Gregorio's fatal mistake was in trying to apply this ruthless dog-eat-dog Golden Rule big-corporation exploit-the-little-guy dickery to the independent games industry.

Prominent games developers (like the people who make Gears of War or Prince of Persia or HALO or any of the other blockbuster console titles) are serious business, and their games are played by thousands, millions of people around the world. Creative types queue up to work for them because there's a hell of a lot of prestige associated with helping to produce an AAA-grade game. These companies have a lot of leverage when choosing who they employ, and can dictate the terms under which their employees are hired and fired.

This can, however, lead to badness; however many of their creative workers become overworked or burned out there'll always be more lining up to take their place. The creatives become like any other resource to be acquired, used and discarded. This is vile and reprehensible, yes, but also an unfortunate reality of the job marketplace for creative types. Or in fact anyone, really. The bigger the company, the more likely it is to foster a dehumanising environment with policies that prioritise the bottom line over the welfare of employees. You've read Dilbert cartoons, you know the score.

From that point of view Gregorio's article, while full of douchebaggery, also has some pretty effective advice. By preying on the inexperienced artists who haven't yet developed the self-confidence required to say "Actually I am worth more than that!" you can get more bang for your buck, lining your pockets with the toil of creatives who don't realise they're being underpaid. So his article tells developers how to find cheap, reliable, easily-exploitable creatives who'll make your game look good for minimal outlay on your part, thus maximising your profits and confirming your position as a soulless jerk. It might as well be titled "How to make inexperienced artists' insecurities work for YOU!", because that's really what it boils down to.

Is this just Capitalism In Action, an inescapable trait of supply-demand market functions as Gregorio claims in his defence? Maybe. But it's the Unethical Fuckery variety of capitalism as taught at the Sleazebag School of Douche Economics. It's the kind of brokenness that arises in a near-monopoly market in which a few big companies call most of the shots. It is not a particularly desirable way for a market to operate, particularly if you are an employee rather than an employer or shareholder.

The situation advocated by Gregorio uses information inequality (the employer knowing how much a creative's work is worth, whereas the creative does not) to shift funds from the Payment pot to the Profit pot, under-rewarding the creative in order to over-reward the employer. It's generally how companies tend to operate once they reach a certain scale and can get away with that kind of shit. It's why unions and regulatory bodies exist. It's also part of the reason I am not personally very keen on working for such companies.

When Gregorio tries to apply this approach to the independent games industry, however, it blows up in his face. This is because he has totally failed to realise that indie game development is fundamentally different from the big-corporation model.

Basically, thanks to the magic of THE INTERNET and the vastly increased mobiity of information and labour it provides, the relationship is no longer a hierarchical ME AM WAGE-PAYER, YOU AM PEON boss/employee situation. There are a lot of indie developers out there looking for artists to bring their vision to life, and it's much easier for creatives to find them. This seriously undercuts the developer's leverage when dealing with the artists, and turns the relationship into more of a collaboration between equals. This requires a much more equitable distribution of the rewards - you can't go around endlessly exploiting the trust of inexperienced creatives because they'll (a) go find someone else who's more reasonable, and (b) warn their peers about you. Word will get around and you'll find it increasingly hard to get people to work with you in future - particularly the people with the level of skill you're looking for.

It also means that if you brag about it on your professional blog a lot of people will get to hear about it, who will then tell you exactly how much of a slimebag you are.

1 July 2010

On the demise of Zuda Comics.

It's been a while since I updated this blog. A long while. Sorry about that.

Today saw the news that Zuda Comics, DC Comics' online imprint, is to close down - or rather, is to be "folded into DC Comics’ exciting, new Digital Publishing initiative".

I will confess, in the interests of full disclosure, that I've not really paid much attention to Zuda in the past - what I saw of strips like High Moon was undeniably of excellent quality, but the godawful Flash-based navigation system meant I never really returned once I'd caught up with the archives.

From my understanding of it (mainly culled from the Wikipedia page), Zuda was a talent-scouting operation in the style of The X Factor - independent creators submit an eight-page comic, ten are selected by the editorial board and then readers vote to select a winner from those ten. The winner gets offered a contract to continue making their comic.

This serves to reduce the risk of a new title turning out to be a flop, on the theory that readers will vote with their wallets the same way they vote with their, uh, votes.

And in quite a few regards it worked - it gave a massive boost to the careers of several online comic creators, it exposed some new voices to a much wider audience than might otherwise have been the case, it garnered a number awards and nominations for some thoroughly deserving titles, and it let a few fortunate (and talented) creators get remunerated for doing what they loved - and isn't that the holy grail of many webcomic creators?

But the thing to bear in mind is that this was never an altruistic gesture on Zuda's part (or by extension DC's). Ultimately the objective of the Zuda imprint was thus:

  1. Pick out the best new talent from the up-and-coming generation of comic creators.
  2. Find the ones that best appeal to the modern comic-reading audience. 
  3. Bring them into the DC Comics fold.
  4. Make money for DC Comics. 

It's had some positive results - there are a lot of 8-page comics that would never have been created if not for the incentive of a lucrative contract up for grabs, and that's excellent. There is a handful of exceptionally talented creators who now have the recognition they deserve, and I'm vicariously delighted for them.

But it was never going to be a viable path for the vast majority of webcomic creators, simply because the vast majority of webcomic creators don't meet the high standards of Zuda's editorial board. Harsh, perhaps, but there you are. The good news is that you don't have to adhere to DC/Marvel standards of What Is A Good Comic in order to make it as a webcomic creator.

Overall, I don't think the Zuda experiment has had all that much of an impact on the wider webcomic scene, because it was never really interested in the wider webcomic scene - or in exploring the potential for interesting and novel business models that it presents. It's my (admittedly cynical) suspicion that only the lack of a digital distribution system kept the Zuda imprint alive for this long. The release of the DC Comics iPhone App makes it pretty clear that they're returning to the traditional business model - paper or pixels, if you want to read their comics you pay for them up front. Now that there's a means by which DC can easily charge people to access their comics, there's no longer any need to paddle in the "let people read your stuff for free on the internet" pool.

I don't entirely blame them, as they're a large company with costs to meet and staff to pay, and they can't afford to take the risk on an exploratory and experimental business model. That means it's down to the smaller independent creators. That's us.

That said, I am by no means proposing a stubborn adherence to the "let people read your stuff for free on the internet" model. It's not a matter of principle. If it turns out that the iPhone/iPod/iPad is a viable distribution system for webcomic content then I'll be joining the line to get my comic on an app. But until then I'm going to put more faith in hard work and perseverance than winning a contest.

4 January 2010

Webcomics.com goes subscription-only.

First of all, many apologies for the radio silence over the past... good grief, months. I made a fundamental error of piling too much stuff on my plate at once, and got pretty burned out as a result - withdrew from the webcomic community for a while, just kept my head down and focused on making my own comic, didn't have much interaction with others. Now, though, it's a new year (Happy New Year by the way), and I'm starting afresh. I'm optimistic about 2010.

Now, on to the news of the day: as you might've heard from Twitter or other webcomics blogs, Webcomics.com is moving to a subscription model - a move that's surprised quite a few people, it seems. For $30 per year, subscribers will be able to access the articles and forums that have, until this point, been available for free.

On the one hand I can understand why the Halfpixel crew have taken this step - they're small-businessmen, and if they're going to spend time on something they need to ensure that it will be worth their while. Writing articles takes time that they could be spending on stuff that'd actually make money. If they're going to continue writing articles, they need to find a way to make those articles earn money. Charging a subscription to access those articles is one way to do it.

However, I'm not sure it's the right way to do it.

Before I go further I should probably issue a few caveats:

I've not been a regular visitor of Webcomics.com for a while now - I initially signed up based on the forums, as I found the opportunity to network and talk shop with other webcomic creators to be valuable. The front-page articles didn't really catch my interest. Then the site had hosting issues, fell over for a while, and when it relaunched on new hosting the forums were MIA. This removed my main reason to visit the site, so I stopped. After a while, hankering for that sense of community, I set up We Make Webcomics as an alternative venue for the webcomic community. As luck would have it the Webcomics.com forums returned very soon after that, thus rendering my own efforts somewhat redundant. The format of the rebooted Webcomics.com forums didn't appeal to me - it seemed pretty impersonal and sterile compared to other forums - so I didn't return, and shifted my attention to Twitter instead.

Also: I understand that the manner in which Halfpixel run their business is totally their prerogative. I'll be interested to see how the subscription model works out, and I'm sure many other people are as well. Monetising online content is a hot topic at the moment, especially with print media striving to find a way to survive and prosper into the 21st century. As soon as someone finds a tactic that works you can be sure that there'll be an avalanche of people looking to emulate their success. May the best business model win.

That disclaimer out of the way, here's why I'm not convinced that Webcomics.com's new approach will work:

First of all, a subscription wall is a barrier to newcomers. Prospective subscribers are being asked to pay money on the assurance that the content provided will be worth the price. It might be easier to convince long-time readers of Webcomics.com to pay for the content as they know more-or-less what to expect, but for those who're new to the site it's likely to be a lot harder - especially since the site's archives are behind the wall too, so it's not even possible to peruse past content to get an idea of what they're buying.

"Here is a box with Good Stuff inside. You can buy this box, but you can't see what's inside it until you've paid. Trust me, though, you'll like it."

Not very convincing regardless of who's saying it. In fact, the subject is touched on briefly in the sidebar on micropayments on p.122 of How To Make Webcomics: "They [the readers] can't access the archives without a subscription, but won't want a subscription until they've accessed the archives."

Admittedly that's talking about the webcomic business model, but I believe it applies to a lot of (if not most) online content.

It doesn't matter how amazing your content is or how reasonable the subscription fee - if potential subscribers can't see how amazing it is before paying, they're not going to risk their money.

No one's going to hand over their hard-earned cash for something sight-unseen, especially if comparable content is available elsewhere for free.

And that's also part of the problem - comparable content is available elsewhere. Halfpixel were certainly trailblazers a couple of years ago, sharing their advice and experience with the aspiring novices and building a sense of community among webcomic creators. But as 2010 dawns there are many more resources for webcomic creators than there were when Webcomics.com (or the Webcomics Weekly podcast) started up - and this erodes the Halfpixel crew's position as authoritative voices on the subject. The community to which they’re catering has come alive and started generated its own content as people connect with one another to share tips and compare notes. There are now plenty of articles, blogs, books and podcasts by webcomic creators for webcomic creators which can be accessed without having to pay a subscription fee.

If the subscription model is going to work, Webcomics.com needs to offer content of a standard that isn't available for free elsewhere, and provide a way for potential subscribers to sample this content before paying for it. There needs to be visible assurance that it will be worth their money.

As long as Webcomics.com keep all of their content behind the subscription wall, that assurance is not available.

15 August 2009

Challenges: The Lonely.

I've been thinking about how making comics is a pretty solitary occupation, and how easy it is for a creator to work in almost complete isolation a lot of the time. It's not much fun, and it's probably not very healthy - being alone in this way it's especially easy to fall prey to doubts and insecurities, lacking anyone nearby who can offer support or sympathy or just an understanding of whatever challenge you're wrestling with at the time.

In most other jobs you'll have colleagues around who you can ask for advice or appeal for support or validation, a point of view from outside your own head that can help put things in the proper perspective, or just a background presence of other human beings which can be comforting, even if they're over there doing their own thing and not interacting with you directly. For creative types to work without this support network, though... it gets tricky.

Twitter has helped with this to some extent, because it's easy to just throw something out there and have others respond with 140-character messages of support or solidarity. Broadcasting on Livestream or Ustream while I draw has also been good, as I can be drawing the comic in one window and glancing over to the chat every now and then, and using the microphone so I don't need to stop drawing to type my replies. I appreciate the company.

Still, there are times when these things don't quite hit the button. Twitter is limited to text, streaming video is a bit one-way (you can only talk at the people who come to watch you, they have to type in reply), and podcasts are good to listen to (like listening in on a conversation between peers), but lack the interactive aspect.

Really I'd just like a kind of virtual studio experience, a means to capture the feeling of sharing a workspace with other artists in a way that doesn't disrupt that work. It'd be nice to be able to call over to check on how a colleague's doing, or to ask for a quick glance-over of a piece you're not sure about because you've been up close to it for so long and can't tell any more. Or even just engage in conversational banter to break up the quiet.

I guess the nearest approximation would be some kind of voice chat like Ventrilo or TeamSpeak, with a channel where artists go to hang out while they work. If you didn't fancy talking you wouldn't have to, you could just leave it running in the background while others talk shop and chip in when you felt like it.

Given the wide disparity of working hours and timezones, though, I suspect it's likely to remain a pipe dream for now. Which is a shame.

14 August 2009

Ingredients of a successful webcomic.

If this seems kind of patronising or "well, duh" then I apologise, and request your patience. Also, this is intended to serve as a jumping-off point for subsequent posts, which will explore the issues raised here in considerably more detail. I don't mean to be a tease with all these promises of future posts to come, honestly - it's just that I think it makes the most sense to move from broad strokes to detailed examination, to start with the very basics and build up from there. Thank you for bearing with me in the meantime.

Right then. Let's get down to the basics. First principles.

So, I want to have a successful webcomic according to the definition of success I outlined previously. There are three things I need in order for this to happen:
  1. A webcomic I enjoy creating.
  2. Readers who enjoy my webcomic.
  3. A way to turn readers into revenue.
Let's break those down.

Item 1: A webcomic I enjoy creating.

It's all very well making a webcomic that's well-drawn and well-written, but if the process of creating this webcomic is comparable to, say, pulling teeth, then it's extremely unlikely that I'm going to want to keep creating it - especially considering that I'm unlikely to see much of a return on it for quite some time. I don't think I'm alone in finding it extremely easy to come up with reasons not to do something I find tiresome or tedious, and can, if pushed, procrastinate such things almost indefinitely. Sometimes this procrastination can be turned to productive ends - for example, having paperwork that needs filling out often results in my living space becoming a whole lot tidier - but that still doesn't get the odious task done.

A webcomic that isn't enjoyable to create swiftly becomes a chore. Motivation fades away, time and effort put into each page diminishes, and the webcomic first becomes half-assed, then irregular in its updates, then stops updating altogether. This is obviously no use at all if my intent is to make a living from my webcomic, so it's a situation to be avoided if at all possible.

I have to be enthusiastic. The easiest solution to the motivation problem is to make a webcomic I'm going to enjoy creating - and the easiest way to do that is to create the kind of webcomic that I'd enjoy reading. If I'm making a webcomic in which I'm not 100% invested, that'll show - it'll likely seem lacklustre or mechanical, missing that spark of passion, and this will be a turn-off for readers. After all, if the webcomic's creator can't find reason to be enthusiastic about their work, why should a reader?

Item 2: Readers who enjoy my webcomic.

Attracting an appreciative audience is a two-step process.

Step 1: Make a good webcomic.
It sounds trite, but it's something that really does need to be reinforced. No amount of advertising, networking or self-promotion can substitute for having a good product that my customers will enjoy. No amount of charm, marketing savvy or other less savoury techniques will earn me a dedicated audience if my core product sucks.

As such, I must strive to make my webcomic the best it can be in all regards - in art, in writing, in site design, all of it. The internet and the local library can be an invaluable resource here. If I think my writing's weak then I need to read up on how to assemble a plot, write believable dialogue, or construct compelling characters. If my art needs work then I should study perspective, anatomy, composition and colour theory. If my website looks janky or generic there are plenty of resources out there which can teach me enough about HTML and CSS coding to make it look distinctive and interesting. And so on and so forth.

The point of making a good webcomic (with pleasing art and engaging writing) is that if I do so, people will like it. They'll keep reading it. They might recommend it to their friends, word will spread, and more readers will come along. If I'm making the kind of webcomic that I'd want to read then there's a very good chance that it's also the kind of webcomic that other people want to read. Tastes vary and some topics are more popular than others, but unless a comic is incredibly niche there's probably an audience out there for it. It's just a matter of connecting with that audience, and making them aware that my comic exists. Which leads to...

Step 2: Tell people about it.
So far I've mostly been promoting my own comic on Twitter - it's free, and it's a very straightforward way to connect with people. There are lots of other webcomic creators on there already, many of whom are happy to pass on word about your webcomic if you do the same for them.

I've also submitted my webcomic to a number of online directories (OnlineComics.net has been a pretty good source of traffic, f'rinstance), and have stumped up some cash for a Project Wonderful ad campaign (which is good at generating traffic as long as you can keep funding ad campaigns). These are just a couple of examples of how to promote your work. There are various channels, each with different advantages and disadvantages which I'll examine in future blog posts.

Item 3: A way to turn readers into revenue.

Ah yes, the business model. The thing that turns a webcomic from a hobby to an occupation. This... this is the tricky part, and one which I will admit I'm only just beginning to explore. Even those who're well-experienced in making a living from their webcomics are constantly looking for new ways to refine the business model, searching for new revenue-streams to supplement those they're already using, so the only rule is to find what works for you, and then use it. Better yet, find several things that work for you. Diversify.

The main obstacle to monetising my webcomic is that not everyone who reads it is going to like it enough to just throw money at me as a gesture of appreciation. I mean, it'd be nice, but it's not very likely. So I need to find a way to encourage readers to throw money at me, and among webcomic creators the prevalent method used to incide money-throwing is to offer merchandise in return. There are other approaches - charging subscription fees to allow readers to access the webcomic, or the archives, or additional content, getting enough traffic to make ad-revenue a viable source of income, and so on. This will also be examined in future blog posts.

For now, I'll just say that while this might seem grubby and grabby and mercenary and materialistic, that's only the case if you let it become so. I'd like to avoid the situation whereby my overriding motivation shifts too far from making an awesome comic towards making as much money as possible, because at that point one becomes a sell-out and the work suffers. Making money does need to be a consideration, but it's a matter of finding a balance between the creative and the commercial.

My ideal situation would be one in which I have honed my craft to the point that readers are so astounded and amazed and enthralled and delighted by my work that they insistently thrust fistfuls of banknotes into my pockets whenever we meet. Failing that, I'd like to get proficient enough at making comics that those who enjoy reading them are willing to support me in this endeavour by buying enough books, t-shirts or whatever for me to live a fairly comfortable life.

I think that's a pretty reasonable goal.