This article focuses on some general thoughts about publishing a comic on the web. I plan to add to it over time by posting additional thoughts in future linked articles.
I laughed at a recent comment from a friend about the short attention span of most readers. That is never truer than on the Internet. You have to constantly work on eliminating anything that can possibly get in the way of communicating quickly. It’s a constant battle. Readers are hard to attract and they can be gone in a “click”. I regularly have to remind myself that visual is the fastest method of communicating, and speed and clarity is paramount. You have to boil it down as clearly as possible, being as concise as possible. Repetition is important and useful but also it is your enemy. There is a fine balance between using repetition for reinforcement and repetition that causes reader’s eyes to glaze over causing them to get bored and “click off”.
Using the Internet as a publication medium is a real challenge. It is very different from print media. I have spent a lot of time studying classical comic strips and one of the first differences I noticed between the newspaper world and the Internet world is the instant access a reader has to the cartoon archives. In the newspaper, you read a comic and if you want to refer back to a previous comic it is very difficult and time consuming. On a web comic it’s a “click” or two at most. So the web cartoonist has to have the confidence that new readers or even existing readers will scan the archives to refresh their recollections of what came before. I even go a step further and “tag” every comic post with key terms so that a reader can just click on a “tag” and get an archive page with visual links to every comic tied to that “tag” in chronological order. A couple of important lessons learned are (1) recaps and repetition should be minimal because interested readers can and will backtrack to update and refresh their knowledge of the strip and (2) archives are not an afterthought but an integrally important feature of web comic publication. Easy location of material and easy archive navigation should be critical aspects of your publication strategy.
Last week, I attended an Anime convention with my daughter to help her promote her own web comic Last Res0rt. It was the third time I have gone to a convention to help her. Each time, I learn new ways to communicate and improve on the results. It also reminds me of the nature of the attention span of an audience. When talking with people at a convention, you can just watch their eyes to see what’s going through their mind as you try to communicate. You have no way to get that kind of visual reinforcement with web comic visitors, but you do get some interesting and revealing statistics. I track trends like number of repeat visits, frequency of visits, time on site per visit, number of pages (comic strips) viewed per visit etc. It becomes a statistical way to follow the reader’s eyes. For example, most visitors to a comic site will not only look at and read the current comic; they also will click back to previous comics. So this reinforces the confidence that repetition in the individual strips can be held to a minimum and the reader will supply their own level of needed repetition. Reader comments are also strong sources of feedback. It isn’t so much what they say in their comment as it is the focus of the comment. There are some people who want to add to the humor with their own take on the subject, others want to comment on the layout or the style of the art and others want to discuss or amend the actual content. Listening to your audience is super important because it can tell you a great deal about what they are receiving and not just what you think they are getting from your work.
I am a big fan of action based visual humor. So I am trying to find a way to balance the word play and the visuals in my strips. I am constantly trying to improve my comic, so I have been doing a lot of thinking about it. I’m actually trying to do three things at the same time in Bug Pudding. First and foremost I’m trying to entertain my readers. So that is the role of the humor both verbal and visual. Second, I’m trying to be satirical, to provoke some level of thought by the reader. That is the role of the situations and interactions between the characters. And thirdly, I’m trying to tell stories. And that becomes the role of plot lines and casts of characters. So far I don’t feel I’m being totally successful on all these fronts. The satire is certainly there. And there is humor too. The story telling is not really crisp yet. I just have to keep looking for the right combination of elements and I’ve set very high standards for myself.
I have been pleased with reader responses to my art work and to the artistic production values of the strip. That is both personally rewarding and important to attracting and retaining readers. Personally, nothing turns me off to a comic faster than ugly artwork. I find it almost impossible to focus on reading a comic if the drawings repel me. So the fact that I am getting good reviews for my art, unsolicited from readers, is a big plus. Now I have to really focus on improving the content itself.
Just some basic thoughts, I’ll be writing more on this topic later.