(Note from Robin: This guest post is provided by Christina Major. Christina started her fantasy adventure webcomic in 2010 and loves reading, sharing, and connecting with the webcomic community. Her first comic is a Kickstarter Staff Pick, which you can check out at sombulus.com/kickstarter to help her reach her goal!)
If you make a webcomic for a few years, you (hopefully!) improve so much that it can be impossible to look at your archives the same way again. Lineart, understanding of flow and panel layout, speech bubble placements… sometimes your archives tells a more interesting story about how far you’ve come as an artist than the actual plot of the comic. It can be beautiful… but also stagnating to the future of your comic.
That’s the situation I found myself in with my fantasy adventure story, Sombulus. With over 350 pages under my belt and three completed story arcs, I was itching to run a Kickstarter to bring the first chapter to print. And even though my loyal readers appreciated my rough beginnings, their recommendations to others would often sound like this.
“You can hop in at any chapter and it still makes sense.”
“I tell people to skip the first 170 pages and start in the second story arc.”
“I was often confused as to what was going on and why.”
Reader feedback is important to me, so I took a close look at my archives when I heard these comments. Did I really want to take away time from my update schedule to fix things? What would I fix, and to what extent? Would long-time readers get mad or offended if I changed stuff that they liked? And what if I looked back in another 3 years and wanted to retcon everything again?
When you ask the question around the internet, “Should I redraw my archives?”, the answer is almost universally “No”, for these reasons:
Moving forward is more important than moving backward. Don’t take time away from your update schedule to fix things. Your readers got into your comic for a reason, so there must be something there that somebody liked. Tweaking the dials might change that experience. You’ll burn yourself out and possibly not finish updating your archives, which will look even worse than a natural progression of style. Comic readers have an understanding that when they’re following a long series, the art is going to change, and some folks actually appreciate seeing the artist is a human just like them and learning as they go.
They’re good reasons and should absolutely be considered. But in the end, you’re the one who has to live with your comic, and you’re the one raising thousands of (other people’s) dollars for a print run. So it’s a very personal question. And the answer I came up with is that I couldn’t justify printing with a confusing and lackluster beginning, and I couldn’t move forward with my plans to expand my comic to conventions without books.
I needed a retcon. But I also needed rules.
Change any part of the story that made it confusing who the reader should care about.
If the reader doesn’t care, the reader won’t keep reading, period. In my case, this meant adding more exposition about the main characters and their motives, and removing/reducing the roles of side characters.
Remove story segments that didn’t advance the main plot.
Because I had a few more years of writing practice and a little space away from the story arc to look at the whole thing with fresh eyes, I was able to tighten the jokes and nix the fluff.
Unless it affected how people understood the story, don’t touch the art.
This one was hard, because I knew I was capable of making some drastic changes for the better. But again, this is a personal question, and when I was honest with myself, I knew that redoing it all was beyond my abilities, would push back my timeframe to get things to print by a year or more, and probably going to burn me out midway through.
In all of these cases, you’ll notice that the focus is not on improving my technical rendering or cool new plot ideas so much as making the existing story easy to connect with, and this was not something I could do alone. Trusted beta readers gave me essential feedback along the way, and were able to help me pinpoint what they could understand and what was still too obscure. After a good six months of editing, my first comic was ready to go and was a whopping 31 pages shorter than the original.
This month, I relaunched Sombulus Act 1, as well as the Kickstarter campaign for the very first print run (it’s got a few days left, if you want to check it out!). And the feedback from new and current readers who are seeing it for the first time is painting a very different picture:
“Just started your comic last night, around midnight, to see if it was any good – I looked up at the clock.. 1:30AM. Good stuff!”
“I really love the changes you’ve made! The story is much simpler and easier to follow, I get a better feel for the characters, and it’s both smoother and has a faster pace. You’ve got a really stellar first chapter on your hands!”
“Wow! Much tighter!”
Have you ever read a webcomic that did a retcon? What did you think of it? For webcomic authors out there who change things after the fact, what was your experience? Let us know in the comments!