Today’s volunteer is Bearman of ‘Bearman Cartoons‘.
With each Comic Brand-Aid article, we try to offer a practical look at branding and how it relates to comics. Rather than give you a broad explanation of the rationale and vaguely relatable examples, we take a volunteer and offer a critical but honest and constructive look at various components of their comic, site and creative that encompass “the brand”. Hopefully, you can incorporate these real world critiques into improving your brand.
Aspects we’ll review and make recommendations on are: Logo (name/design), Site (design/usability), Banners (design/congruency/probabilities) and Brand Recognition (differentials/memorables). I’d like to point out that I look at these critiques from the viewpoint of trying to BUILD a brand – not maintain it. We’ve got a lot of work to do, so let’s get started!
The site describes itself as ‘Editorial/Pop Culture Cartoons & Other BS – A Hack Cartoonist’s View of The World’. I get the self-deprecating aspect of calling yourself a hack – and I like it. It’s a fine line to walk though as I’ve gotten plenty of cautious feedback using that tactic myself. Right off the bat, the strength of Bearman’s comics is his writing, so I like the reference because it sets the expectations for the site. That being said – some of what I might recommend may seem like I am expecting too much from Bearman, but I don’t want to shortchange the review by pulling any punches and I think it’s important that I present the highest possible standard for everyone who reads the article. After all, these recommendations may be specific to Bearman’s brand, but applicable to anyone. It’s also up to the artist to interpret how they can best implement the information shared here.
Pros: Bearman Cartoons is in a bright-ish color on a black background so it stands out. I also like how the first and last letter in BEARMAN bookend the word CARTOONS. The treatment gives the logo a custom font look.
Cons: The same treatment that gives the logo the custom font look – also makes it look murky. I have some reservations about the name, but I’ll reference that in the Brand Recognition section below.
…I don’t want to shortchange the review by pulling any punches and I think it’s important that I present the highest possible standard for everyone who reads the article. After all, these recommendations may be specific to Bearman’s brand, but applicable to anyone.
Pros: Most of the current content is right on the home page. Bearman is smart about cross promoting his site and offers value for frequent commenters. He is very interactive with the comments and has built up a social network.
Cons: Since I’ve pointed out that Bearman’s writing is his strength, I need to point out that reading reverse type (light colored type on a dark background) is hard on the viewer’s eyes. In my opinion, the site (which is mostly black) is counteracting that strength. Part of the Bearman Cartoon appeal is the commentary that accompanies the cartoon, so the ideal situation would make reading that commentary easy.
The navigation at the top of the page is intuitive, but I have a problem with using different sized type to fit a word. One thing I think is important is consistency. Not only for how you use your logo, but for how you’ve integrated elements into your website – and comic. For instance, sticking with navigation, SHOP is nowhere near the same size as BEARMANIA and to put it bluntly, this boils down to poor planning and execution. Ultimately you have a limited width area and if you plan accordingly, you can identify how you’ll need to space your navigation and whether stacking text on two lines is necessary or appropriate. In Bearman’s case, it looks like he was trying to fit the section names into the cartoon word bubble. The site has the width – and at first glance I don’t think the word bubbles have to be the same size in order to be effective and still have a consistent feel. Also, I would be careful about keeping an eye on kerning (the spaces between individual letters*). Please look at the CONTACT link – notice anything? If you look closely, you’ll see it almost looks like CONT ACT. This may be nitpicking, but it’s not as professional as it could be.
Finally, using a font which may be right in line behind Comic Sans in regards to making my stomach queasy, some of the graphics feature ‘GillSans Ultra Bold’. To add insult to injury the font is condensed – immediately compelling me to jump out of my first story window. I’m kidding about both the ire and jumping out the window, but I do think GillSans is a poor font choice*.
*NOTE: If you’d like to know more about fonts, Webcomic Alliance is featuring a series of articles ‘Font Factor’
Pros: I like that the banners feature reverse text. The reason is that most other websites likely will not feature as much of a dark background so these have a good chance at standing out. And seeing how Bearman’s website is mostly black, they fit within the brand – part of setting the expectations. I’m not a huge fan of animate gifs, but the 200×40 is probably the best.
Cons: There’s a bit of inconsistency throughout the banner set. The messaging is different and may be on purpose, but I don’t think any of them really drive home the strength of the cartoon, site or Bearman’s writing. So it’s hard to break out an overall critique. What I will do is make suggestions that I think would improve the layout and hopefully click through rate in the Conclusion section below.
Brand Recognition (differentials/memorables)
Pros: Bearman’s perspective, writing, art style and community all fit within his brand. That is to say if you were to look at any of them individually, you could easily see how they work together and would help identify his brand.
Cons: I’ve mentioned this before and I’m not a fan of using a different URL from the title of the comic – but in this instance it has the potential to be exponentially confusing. The title is Bearman Cartoons. The URL is beartoons.com. Bearman has built his brand as…well…Bearman. Now looking at it in a linear fashion like the last few sentences, it’s easy to see the relation – but we seldom get that opportunity. I’m not going to go into great detail about that again, but if you’re interested – here’s the link (see the Brand Recognition section).
Is the cartoon Beartoons? Is it Bearman Cartoons? Decide on one – remember consistency is king – make it so (I realize BearmanCartoons.com is not available). A suggestion might be to incorporate Beartoons into the logo like “Bearman Cartoons at Beartoons.com”. It’s up to you.
Additionally, who is Bearman? There is no information on the site as to who he is. Obviously that’s on purpose, but I wrote previously about building your own personal brand and how that’s important as well.
- Decide on the brand
- Is it Bearman Cartoons?
- Clean up the logo
- Changes for the Banners:
- Pick Bearman Cartoons or Beartoons.com as your identity in these. You don’t need both
- Try not to condense the fonts. Easier to read, easier to recall
- Tell the viewer what it is you’re offering
- Changes for the Site:
- Kill Gill – GillSans that is
- Incorporate a lighter color for at least the blog area
- Fix the navigation
I also hope this helps a lot more people with their brand. Did I come down too hard on Bearman? Tell me your thoughts comment below!
Next up is ‘HolidayWars‘. If you’d like to volunteer your comic, send an email to rtswebmail [at] gmail [dot] com – make sure you put Comic Brand-Aid as the subject. Not all comics will be reviewed, but I will try to get to everyone.
Ken Drab (me) of RicktheStick.com has a small brain but a savant-like interest in branding, marketing and design. He better, that’s what he gets paid to do in real life. In make believe – he’s a webcomicker with a mediocre comic but a solid brand. Regardless, this is an ongoing series where we take a look at the concept of branding and how it applies to your comic. We’ll highlight do’s and don’ts as well as look at fixes. We’ll also be taking requests and take a critical but constructive approach to help real comic artists nail down their brand.