According to the wikipedia definition, the t-shirt came to the United States initially by means of World War I soldiers who saw their European allies wearing cotton undershirts. It wasn’t until the 60’s that it became commonplace for manufacturers to design shirts with clever and sometimes offensive messages – and if you ever watch Showtime’s Queer as Folk, you know that this is ever more so the case today. In the last couple of weeks of not feeling well, something that has really cheered me up has been seeing a great number of extremely amusing t-shirts. I would like to highlight a number of shirts and Web Sites.
Ever the Entrepreneur
Ever since I was a young child, I have tried to find ways to be self-employed and to run my own company. This was initially, in all likelihood, because I was a child and could not be legally employed by just about anyone – though of course there were always door-to-door magazine subscription possibilities and the like. When I was in high school I wrote a daily column sent exclusively by e-mail.
At some point I thought I would try to make a little money from writing the column so I designed a t-shirt and had a few hundred printed up. Unfortunately I didn’t sell as many as I was hoping I would and ultimately only ended up getting saved through my parents selling them in Israel.
A few years later I wanted to give it another try and, having been enamored by the J. Peterman Catalog and the vivid descriptions therein. I was also a bit on the sad side, having had a relationship ended, and I was full of thoughts of romantic notions. I therefore asked a friend of mine to draw up some drawings of two rabbit characters I had designed. They were in love, of course, and there were a few t-shirts. I designed a catalog and printed up a few hundred of the shirts, and once again managed to fail to sell them.
It wasn’t until I came across cafepress that I was able to design shirts, sell them (or not) and not worry about how poorly they sold. There are many who prefer having them printed themselves but for those who are starting out and are uncertain as to whether they will be able to sell their shirts. Alternatively, it could be for people who know they are not going to be selling more than a dozen or so.
I am starting to think that it is obligatory for a comic strip that is published online to have, at a certain point in its existence, a web store which inevitably will contain some t-shirts. One of the oldest web comics (since April 1, 1997), being Goats, also has one of the best collection of t-shirts I have ever seen for a comic. Though their t-shirt collection initially contained simple graphics of characters from the comic, the humor one finds in the store now is exceptional. Every shirt is based on one or more strip, though not all are so obvious. For example, this t-shirt is based on a series of the comic in which an alien spaceship part was stolen – one which conveniently turned kittens into Pop Tarts, or so it would seem.
Another hilarious set of shirts comes to us from the brilliant mind of John Allison, the author and illustrator of comics Bobbins and Scary-Go-Round. I will admit with a bit of blushing that I have recently ordered two shirts from this site, as I was in a bit of a blue mood and the images really cheered me up. Kudos to anyone who can guess which two shirts I ordered. I find the shirts particularly funny because many of them don’t seem to make any sense whatsoever, and this is precisely what the appeal of the shirt is. The shirts are whimsical and eye-catching yet unoffensive.
Jeffrey Rowland, the author and artist of comics such as When I Grow Up, WIGU, and Overcompensating, has a nice selection of shirts that are also hilarious. The shirts are quite frequently limited in edition, so if you had wanted to get a “Bring ODB Back to Life” shirt the only way to get one would probably involve either time travel or eBay. Of course, sometimes a shirt will make a comeback, but there are no guarantees. I think that this is a superb way to promote a sense of urgency. A sense of urgency is almost impossible to create, naturally, when nobody knows about your product. I think that was one of the biggest problems I had with the shirts that I made in high school and in college.
Finally, the web comic known as Megatokyo. Megatokyo was one of the first comics I really fell in love with, as it were, when I was in college. Fred Gallagher has put together some of the most quirky t-shirts, some of them including just a bit of Japanese. I got a t-shirt a couple of years ago that basically said “Stupid Squared”. That’s not a perfect translation for it but it has raised a few eyebrows.
Okay, one more – but no t-shirts (at this point). I have to mention the comics Bruno and Little Dee, both of which are written by the brilliant Christopher Baldwin. He used to sell shirts through the aforementioned Cafepress but I suppose things didn’t work out. Though he presently doesn’t sell shirts through the site or at all, the two comics are so incredibly funny and clever that I had to mention them, since I had the other comics listed. If you aren’t presently reading these comics I suggest that you start immediately.
There are a lot of companies now that exclusively produce and make funny shirts that are most often controversial to someone, or at the very least somewhat offensive to some people. However, they do have great t-shirts – so long as you don’t mind the possibility of being offended. One of the most irreverent I have seen is T-Shirtsthatsuck.com. Some shirts are simple and don’t seem to make sense at first glance – in jokes, perhaps. Other shirts contain mild profanity. I would imagine that just about anyone could find a reasonably amusing shirt on the site. For more humorous and possibly offensive shirts, there is always funny t-shirts.com. The site has a number of links to similar t-shirt sites.
There are so many other t-shirt sites that I could write another article reviewing them, and perhaps even a third. I’m not promising anything. Something I have learned from the experience of seeing so many shirt sites is that having a good amusing message is not enough. There has to be some sort of audience, either one that is already there or one that is acquired in some manner – advertisement, perhaps, or building it up slowly in other ways (a free online comic, for example.) The bottom line is that you can have success with shirts so long as you put some thought into it and prepare properly.