Shareware Comics was a concept of distribution for small press pioneered by Paul J. Holden and developed at first by comics creators in Belfast, and then beyond Northern Ireland, between 1999-2002.
An early form of Creative Commons, Shareware Comics allowed content creators access to free distribution via the internet.
Holden defined the process as follows:
- "A writer/artist makes their work available as a download which is then taken by a small press publisher (or, in fact another creator) and then included as part of a larger work. You can include something old, something new or an ashcan of a new piece of work, as long as the copyright belongs to you and the work is available as b&w tif files you can be part of Shareware Comics!"
The intention was to share .TIFF files via DTP, and supply publishers with a store of work whereby they could highlight artists and share strips they liked, taking the labour from individual comixers and promote their work. Part of the agreement was that strips were to be included without editing, and that creators were to be notified when and where strips were reprinted. The agreement incorporated flexibility for reformatting based on size, as long as accompanied by artist/publisher communication.
"They're not webcomics, or downloadable comics or ecomics or comics stored as PDF files, or anything like that - each of those are created with the sole purpose of being downloaded by a reader and either printed and kept or read on screen"
Creators being part of the scheme would upload their work to be hosted at Sharewarecomics.com where it would be listed. Additionally, creators were also free to include the Holden-designed logo in print or online to encourage distributors.
A constitution for Shareware Comics was drafted by Holden.
"This constitution is provided as a framework agreement for creators who wish to make work available as shareware comics, and as such it is not definitive - you may want something simpler or something more complex.
"The Work" refers to any piece of work released as a "Shareware Comic". This definition is not limited to comic strips and can cover pin up artwork, cover artwork, illustrations, text stories, text opinion pieces and text based articles.
The Creator's Agreement:
1. All work is original and does not infringe on the copyright of any other company or individual.
2. Agreement has been given from all creators to make this work available as "shareware".
The Publisher's Agreement:
1. All work remains the copyright of the individual creator(s).
2. Permission is granted to print the work on a per-project basis.
3. The publisher will reproduce the material as it was intended to be reproduced.
4. Use of the material does not imply "exclusive" use.
5. Any publication which uses shareware material must both credit the creators (including contact information, if available) and include the following declaration: This material is copyright -insert creator's name here-
6. Payment for use is at the discretion of the publisher or dependent on agreement between publisher and creator(s) but it is expected that the publisher will send a copy of the completed publication to each creator.
7. The publisher is allowed to distribute in any way they see fit.
8. After distribution, the publisher must inform the creator(s) of the following: The magazine's title, print run, completed sales (if possible) and general distribution area."
Origin and DevelopmentEdit
Holden's proposal was given impetus, discussed and developed from conversations of the Belfast comics pub meets in 1999. Outside of this, the idea was carried by the networks developed through the creators involved: Holden's own website and Luke's part in the Bugpowder.com network.
The idea was expanded in discussion with Patrick Brown , Andrew Luke, Stuart Luke and Malachy Coney and over a related Yahoo group. This included Emmett Taylor and non-Irish creators David and Arthur Goodman, Stian Andreassen, Tony Scanlon and Zoe Robinson.
Although a large range of material was available, the concept was slow to be taken up by the underground press.
The greatest exposure came through TRS2 , a regular comics review sheet published by Andrew Luke which included the logo. TRS2 was reprinted as an insert in Shane Chebsey and Dek Baker's The Imagineers and Chebsey's follow up, CAOF (Comic Artists of The Future) Presents.
A Shareware Comics anthology was published by Liverpool creator of Favourite Crayon Stories Arthur Goodman around May 2001 and distributed via mail order and the Comics 2001 convention in Bristol This included a copy of the Constitution.
The constitution was also included as a free insert with an edition of TRS2.
Many of the works published under the Shareware agreement remain in print and online.
Over a hundred pages were made available for free reprint. The online repository lists seventy-four pages, but does not include print-only works of the time, such as Andrew Luke's Comic Book #1 (8pp) and TRS2 #1-14 (4-8pp)
 Online list of Shareware Comics , via Wayback Machine
 The contents of the planned Bristol 2001 anthology , Wayback Machine
Zoe Robinson on Shareware Comics , ZoeRobinson.com (March 7th, 2011)
Tamara Knight and Shareware Comics , ThrillingDetective.com