You don’t get ahead by being lost in the crowd, as some business person or lifestyle coach has inevitably said at some time. It’s as true in the vacuous world of “lifestyle gurus” as it is in comics.
At the time of writing there are so many comics out there that you could not possibly count them all, never mind read them all. Your comic is going to be one of many in the genre and even in the artistic style you have chosen. If you want to be noticed, you have to do something different.
There is a lot of luck involved in getting your comic noticed and making it a success but luck is not something you just have to wait for. The phrase “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it” is attributed to many people, from US President Thomas Jefferson to professional golfer Gary Player but regardless of who said it first, it remains true. It’s a little like playing the lottery: there may be luck involved in picking the right numbers on your ticket but the more you work at it, the more tickets you have.
Standing out from the crowd is one of the best ways of making your tickets more lucky. There are many people who would say the best way to make a webcomic a success was to start before 1997 and that really comes down to the fact that back then there were fewer comics, so it was easier to get noticed in the huddle. Since we don’t all have time machines (and those that do are keeping them secret), we’ll have to forego starting before 1997 and instead work on being different to the other comics in our field.
What makes your comic different from every other comic in your genre? If you don’t know, it’s time to take a long, hard look at your comic. There has to be something you’re doing differently, or what’s the point? Maybe you’re doing a gamer comic but all your characters are fruit. Maybe you’re doing a supernatural comic where everyone thinks your main character is a vampire detective but actually they’re a human suffering from erythropoietic porphyrias (which no doubt causes all kinds of problems when real vampires come knocking).
If so, your comic stands out. Now it’s time to make the most of this difference.
It’s not enough to have your comic’s quirks as background detail. Your fruit gamers need to be fruits who game, rather than gamers who happen to look like a low-brow pineapple, an elitist grapefruit and a wisecracking pomegranate in an on-again, off-again relationship with one of the others (probably the pineapple, if most gamer comics are to be believed). Make fruit-based jokes. Create situations that are only dangerous to fruit, to increase the tension and provoke drama. Do comics and stories that no other comic could do because their characters are not game-playing fruit.
In short, make sure your comic delivers something other comics could not deliver in a million years.
I’ve taken some odd examples here but that was simply to make the point in an easy-to-spot manner. The differences in your comic may not be that extreme but they can still be enough to work with if you are willing to put in the time. Perhaps your comic is a slice-of-life comic produced in an impressionist style; be it hand-painted or digital art. If you do that well, you have a chance of being noticed by a different crowd to what would normally flock to a slice-of-life comic.
Similarly, if you normally produce a gag-a-day comic in the style of The Far Side (difference to other gag comics: high-brow but funny biology jokes and non-sequiturs) or xkcd (difference to other gag comics: high-brow but funny maths/computing/physics jokes), try throwing in references to farming, or making jokes that pigeon breeders will love. Expand your readership by being that genre’s comic which people who don’t normally read comics will read.
In short, the more you do to make your comic unique, the more chances it has of becoming a success. If you look at it from the point of view of the reader rather than the writer and really get to grips with what is different (or what could become different) about your comic, you can run with that to produce something that critics (and there will be many) can’t say just rips off Successful Comic X.
The further you get from the crowd, the bigger your chance of making it.