Webcomic Workshop #33

Solving Webcomic Issues We All Face. Now featuring a listener’s issue each podcast! Happy New Year! First Podcast of 2012!

This podcast we discuss:

Dawn:  Thoughts on using Tumblr to post your comics. In addition to your WordPress? INSTEAD of a WP site, like Ken has been testing out on G+? What kind of audience does Tumblr have, compared to twitter, G+, FB… and is it worth your time getting involved in yet another social medium?

Antoine:  Writing a script for a brand new comic. How do do it? Do you create your character first, then develop a plot? Do you have an idea for a plot, then develop your characters as you write the story?

Byron:  I’m starting to wonder if the conventional wisdom/success stories for digital comic publishing are geared for more toward humor strips than a long-form serial comic. For example – things like having your site land on the current page… does that even make sense for a long-form serial narrative?  (This is from Don Garvey of EchoRift.com but I share the same issue)

LISTENERS ISSUE: In the upcoming convention season, I’m considering offering a sign-up sheet for people to “hook” them into the comic. I’ll tie the sign-up to a raffle of a drawing to sweeten the pot. I’m also going to offer the sign-up on an iPad or laptop so I don’t have to deal with peoples’ sloppy-ass handwriting. A few questions:  Pretty much all of us are using WordPress. What plug-ins do you think would work best for allowing people to subscribe and automatically get emailed as you update?  I use Feedburner to currently subscribe people via email but Feedburner doesn’t seem to allow ME to enter additional email addresses to the feed. Am I missing something?  What are the pros/cons of doing this?
* From Brock Beauchamp  http://selfcentent.com

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12 Comments

  1. Great episode, folks! You got me thinking, particularly on the long-form discussion. Webcomics, ultimately, depend heavily on their communities. So I wonder…

    – If content is only provided once a month or once every few months, how does that impact the creator’s ability to form a connection with their readers?

    – What additional challenges to community-building might exist from such a release schedule?

    • If you (collective you) were to release content monthly or quarterly, that in of itself is not enough to garner fan interaction, unless you were an already established big-name artist.

      The key in what I was trying to say was, you’d have to put out something (probably weekly) so fans could stay interested. This could be sneak peeks at artwork, or just other things you’re doing.

      For me, 1977 will be returning to 2 small comics per week and then 1 blog post about the “big” story I’m doing and/or a rock & roll post. This way I can do a page a week, but not worry about having it ready for an exact post time, and still keep my fans interested.

      Then when I have the story ready, for me 12 to 16 pages, I’d push it out. So quarterly, a “big” comic form story will be released.

      The “daily” stuff will not be story form, but just general 1977 tom-foolery. This way I keep both sets of fans happy.

      Finally, as part of this, there are two times a year where I take a planned hiatus. So, 8 months of the year there is a steady stream of “daily” comics and then quarterly “big” stories.

      That’s my plan, and thus far it seems on track. :) We’ll see at the end of 2012.

      • I’ll be really interested to see how the season system turns out. I think it can work, but it has to fit the creator style. I don’t think I could do it — I’m addicted to my schedule!

        Another challenge I can see is the increased need for discipline to hold to the Big Deadlines instead of the regular smaller ones.

        Combining the strip and story formats that way is REALLY clever — definitely seems to be the best of both worlds!

  2. Thanks for the response to my question. You’ve given me things to think about on how to implement this system.

    FYI, I was leaning away from trying to maintain an internet connection at the convention, which would prevent me from actually having the customer register themselves. I would use some kind of notepad app to have them just enter the address and then I would enter the email later via cut and paste.

    To prevent customers from getting confused with the iPad, I thought I would use a wireless keyboard. All the person has to do is type. I may use a laptop running a localized virtual server (so it appears to them that they were online) instead to prevent confusion.

    Again, a lot to think about. Thanks for the advice!

    • Yeah, we get on a roll and all types of ideas just start flying. I’m glad we were able to give you something to think about! Let us know how it turns out and what you end up doing!

  3. Dawn: I… I do this, LOL really what you guys talked about putting up sketches I do it already >.> But to answer teh question, it’s just one more site to get followers for and to update.. It is fine for starting but not long term stay. But I use it to put up pictures, I used blogger but I have a review site their so moved my sketch one to Tumblr, so far not many followers but I have yet to really look.

    Antoine: Comes down to how you do things, everyone does it a bit different and all. I make up characters the basic character then add them to stories to develop them, make any changes needed then making more stories. Then over time the character changes and grows. That is what I do anyway.

    Byron: Actually, what you guys talked about I already do (I know funny) I draw up the chapter then make it to a PDF and CBR format and have it for download for a price. This download is not only the full story but “Extras” Pages I took out and things I edited from the free comic. Also a small back up story to sweeten the pot making it more worth getting. I still update the free comic 2 or so times a week takes around 6 weeks to update the full chapter but by that time the next chapter done and for sale. So if they are tired of waiting they can buy the FULL UNEDITED chapter.

    Atm I am reworking my site and I for a site to put up my comic (for a fee but the fee is basically a % of what gets sold) I doing that because I do not want to deal with paypal or a store. It is a digital download and paypal would refund people’s money without hearing your word so they get money and a few comic, I am not liking to much so a small % off the price is nothing.

    But over all that is what I do for my comic/comics. Any questions ask away I thought of this idea…. mmmm…. must of been 5 years ago, when I saw pay web comic sites and my ideas kinda mashed together. The pay sites had weekly updates on some comics I read one or two of them and then really did not have much else, it was like a normal web comic but you have to pay to get all the story it seemed like a good idea but not a great direction.

    LISTENERS ISSUE: MMMmmm keyboard be nice, really, just give them a bookmark or biz card with the site address if they want to sign up they will if not oh well, if you give them a biz card you have a chance of them throwing it out and someone else finding it. Really to get email addies odds are it will be a waste of time, your best bet is just to work on the comic and selling things. As long as your web address on everything in one way or another they will find you and so on. Besides that do not bother, I myself have an email I use just for junk mail, everything in it I click and delete I barely read any of it if I read any. Most times it’s check box delete.

    mmmmm…. I have nothing to say >.> pikachu?

  4. I just remembered their is an answer to that question, what came first chicken or egg, scientist say the chicken came first, the shell of the egg can not be created out of nowhere it needs things from the chicken to be made, so the answer is the Chicken. You can look it up I am sure =3

    But here is a link for it:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38238685/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/which-came-first-chicken-or-egg/#.TxqaY_lZeFI

    I want to say more but ranting is something I do waaaay tooo much off =3

  5. I keep wanting to comment and I keep forgetting, forgive this longass post. 😛
    Dawn: I’ve seen tumblr used primarily as a way of delivering extra content like sketches and past vote incentives and things like that. But I think I generally agree that its just ‘one more thing’ to update. There is a nice ‘resharing’ culture, but again, like any social media, you need watchers and friends, and such. I have seen a few comics use it, but as a reader I find it cumbersome to dreg through after more than a few comics. It might work in strip format to a point, but I do not think it would help long form comics in the long run. Maybe as like a ‘hey I’ve updated’ kind of thing if you had enough followers. Personally I don’t really agree with Ken in terms of moving away from a host I pay for and thus control, but the needs of a daily and a long form comic are very different, and I do long form so I’m going to stick with a central site. I’m with Antoine on this one.

    Antoine: When I’m looking at starting a story, I ask myself two questions. Is this a story about a character? Or a story about a world? Depending on the answer, it will drive my creative process. If I’m telling a story about characters, I focus on creating and fleshing out the protagonist, the top two supporting characters and the primary antagonist, their goals/aspirations/challenges, THEN devise the plot to serve to develop those characters. If its a world base story, I actually look at the plot and world first and then create characters that serve as devices for the plot. At that point I decide in the ending, so I know where to begin, and then fill in the blanks to to the destination. The world type of story is by far the hardest to write for IMO.

    I tend to create a story skeleton out the key events in the story, and then develop the exact course to get from point to point. It helps me to keep my story goals strong, clear, and not let myself meander to far away from the main plot. I don’t know if that helps you much, but I find sometimes if you are writing a long story, its easy to become distracted with minutia.
    Byron: I’ll preface this, with a ‘sorry this is REALLY FRIGGEN LONG’ but first off, I’m just tickled that you guys are tackling more long form issues in the podcast. I completely agree that the conventional wisdom of webcomicdom is 95% geared towards strip based comics. Like you pointed out, most resources, the vast majority are aimed towards strip comics. It’s very interesting to see you fumbling around into the long form world. Having more long-form related content makes me very happy, which is why I was so happy to see Drezz join the podcast, and it’s really too bad he wasn’t there for this one. Although baby is a good excuse.

    The bias towards strip comics is also reflected in a lot of the promotional tools, scripts, and sites available for the promotion and maintenance of webcomics and webcomic sites. I’ve struggled with this bias for the last 14 years of doing my long form comics. Both Brymstone (www.brymstone.net) and Shifters:Redux (www.shiftersonline.com) are long form comics. I started doing the first iteration of Shifters back in 1998. I’ve tried a LOT of different ways of releasing/doing long form comics as well as promoting them. I also know a lot of other long form comicers over the years.

    On the landing page issue, this has been I think a hotly debated topic amongst long form creators from way back in the day. There isn’t a perfect reason or solution or right or wrong about it I think as there are several sides to the argument. As a long form webcomic reader almost exclusively, I like to jump right onto a story page. I don’t mind that its in the middle of the story, because of a few reasons. 1) I can clearly see the artwork, lettering, and layout skill of the artist at a glance. I don’t have to dig. It lets me make a very quick value judgment as to if I want to check the comic out further. 2) Assuming that the navigation layout is standards, I have only one click to get to the first page if I want to go. This has been a standard for at least 10 years now, people are pretty well trained on where to find the beginning. 3) the comic gets a change to hook me right away without me fumbling around for the beginning. If you are doing your pacing on your long form correctly, this works very well.

    As a reader with splash pages, it kind of annoys me, particularly if I’m a regular reader to have to navigate a main page, particularly if it has no content value. An example would be Drezz’s site, in that all it has is a black, text based page pointing me to the archive. No artwork, nothing to engage me beyond ‘read the comic’. The problem with long form is that they do require an investment of time to read and appreciate. You need to get that reader to buy in asap. Readers buy in on the basis of ART and stay on the basis of STORY. There is NO comic art on the front of Dezz’s site. There is also a lot of repetitiveness. I don’t need to see the logo twice, I need to see some art dammit. Give me at least a cover or a teaser, or something I can get excited about. Nothing on Drezz’s initial site excites me enough to want to buy in.

    Off-White (http://off-white.eu/) on the other hand, uses a blog on the front page that shows when the comic updates with a thumbnail from the page and includes stuff like process videos, product announcements, news or other goodies. I can see the art quality and style immediately from the updates, even though the front page is a blog, which is enough to get me to click to the archive. I can see the artist’s work, and that they engage with their community as well.

    I WISH I could get my archives to look like Off-White’s, but I haven’t figured out how to do that with wordpress. But I have the same crappy dated archive as Drezz has. 😛 But that sort of chapter –page numbers rather than a date.

    As a creator, I’ve tried having the landing page/blog and the method of having the comic on the front page. This particular concern revolves it seems, primarily around new readers. I asked my readers what they preferred, and overwhelmingly they prefer the newest comic on the front page. This is significant as my readership is 80% returning readers. Also, as was mentioned, the bias towards strip/daily type comics means most of the promotional tools assume you have your comic on the first page. Removing it is sometimes problematic in getting these services to work properly to help promote your comic and inform people of updates. It’s a little better these days, but back even five years ago it was a super duper pain in the rear if your comic did not show up on the first page of the site. It can still be a pain in the arse for some services. I also happen to prefer my comics this way, so that’s the way I do it.

    The CHALLENGE to a long form creator is then to make EVERY SINGLE PAGE engaging enough to intrigue someone who’s never seen the comic and still pull the story along. There is an artform to writing and pacing specifically long form online comics.

    I know Antoine commented about bringing a punchline to every comic. While humor is often present in the long form, most serious long form comics do not rely on the joke-a-day formula. It’s actually another tool completely in the form of suspense, which is the most useful on a page by page basis. You have to write it like a cliffhanger, or at least strive to make every page a cliffhanger so people will be excited and salivating to answer the question, “What’s going to happen next?”. If you can make it such a dramatic cliffhanger the fans are angry, you’re doing it right. It is a VERY different form of writing from a strip, because essentially it would be like writing the lead up to the punchline, and then the punchline being on the NEXT page, with another lead up, and so on. It might seem counter-intuitive to a person who’s more familiar with strip writing, but this kind of creates a ‘page turner’ effect, and keeps people on their toes for an entire week. As long as they get their answers in a timely fashion, they keep coming back, which is why long form comics can survive and even thrive on one update a week if they’ve got the right pacing. Obviously, like any webcomic, more updates are better, but one update a week, properly paced, can pull along readers without too much trouble. I do it and my readership is growing at a slow, but steady pace. And because they become invested in the story, they display a much higher loyalty than strip readers, at least in my experience. Even after an extended hiatus, they come back reasonably readily, because they want to know what happens.

    Antoine also talked about how it’s hard to follow a lot of the slow updates in storyline comics, and it’s true, that is a common complaint, and we long-forms can’t take much advantage of some of the common strip venues, like Stumbleupon (although I have had traffic from that….) and reddit, and many of those things that are sort of a one page quick share, but conversely that’s also NOT generally the audience you’re going for with long form. The people on those sorts of sites aren’t generally looking to put in the time investment needed for long form comics, particularly those that are telling a more dramatic/less humor focused story. We tend to have to market ourselves more based on genre/niche than general spit-balling to the masses, or to the part of the populace who buys into long-form comics in your particular genre. I think that for long-form information like demographics and target audiences become KEY in successfully marketing your work. You need to surgically strike out at the people absolutely most likely to buy into what you do, and forget the general masses. It’s a totally different strategy I think than most strips, which often try to have the broadest appeal possible.
    I know it was suggested to do a WHOLE long-form comic and then release it after it was completed. I do know some people who work this way. Normally it’s by chapter, not by book or entire series. They will wait till they have a whole chapter and either a) release it piecemeal over a schedule, or b) post a whole chapter at a time. There are some issues with this however, just I think because of the online culture.

    Generally I’ve found if you don’t keep your comic in front of people, at least once a week, they forget you, even with long form, even if you have the best paced story ever. If you just update say, even once a month, they tend to forget you exist, even if you give them 30 pages at a time. I did know a few comics that tried that approach, and eventually went to a weekly/bi weekly release schedule because they just couldn’t build the readership with only a once a month or less presence in the audience’s attention pool. It’s just how readers are. Once a week is the bare minimum I’d say if you want to see any significant growth of your audience on a regular basis. And if you want to make any significant use of any of the aggregation tools like inkoutbreak or thewebcomicslist you have to update weekly at the least because they rely on frequency of updates to get exposure. One of those bias towards the daily strip problems.

    That being said, I do think there is merit to working in advance, and having an entire chapter available for download, either before or after. I can see the merit in offering people the ability to read at a chapter at a time as long as you continue at least updating once a week. That way you satisfy the casual readers and you provide incentive for financial support from those who don’t want to wait. I really like the idea of providing past chapters as paid entire chapter downloads for people who want to read it on a book or have a crappy internet connection though, didn’t think of that, going to look into doing that. Although I think that, like most artists, long-form comic makers find it hard to work significantly in advance without hiatuses. And even with story comics, while the audience will come back, it takes a while to gather them all back up again after you’ve lost them on a hiatus, even a scheduled one.

    I know you were struggling, Byron, with the transition to long form and how your readers took it. I can tell you from experience any change to a format of a webcomic will affect the audience. Sometimes its like totally starting over. The audience for any comic is fickle and changing the formula affects the type of person it attracts. Even in long form, just changing the story direction or getting too serious or not serious enough can affect the reader flux. I think that was natural, and perhaps would have changed over, but gaining a long-form audience is, IMO, a more daunting task than a strip due to the buy-in required and the generally more serious and deep nature of the stories told than the gag-a-day type format. Your concept of going back to the daily and doing a periodic long form for download I think is a great compromise to recover your previous audience, and still dabble in the long form. However I think if you are serious about trying the long form, and you are working on another project, it would be best to start it in that form rather than try to change an existing product over.

    Holy crap that was long. XD Well take it as you will, I’ve got a lot to say about long form comics.

    To the Listener issue, You know, the first thing that popped into my head was “what’s stopping someone from walking away with your ipad while you are distracted with other people at the table?” But I don’t trust people. I still haven’t really got the email thing going on, but I would potentially worry about someone running off with a digital tablet.

    • Wow, that was a very long reply!

      But a very good one tho.

      You brought a really good insight to this podcast, and while it is giving us more stuff to think about when doing long form comics, I think we will still agree that it will always be a challenge to get recognized on the internet when doing long form comics only.

  6. I can’t remember where it was brought up in the conversation but the wireless keyboards that Apple sells are $69 and they can totally sync up with the iPad (for me it came free with my iMac). BUT, they definitely make typing easier on the iPad if you are going to have people input their own information (everybody except your dead great grandma has probably used a keyboard).

    Also, Facebook for me has been my comic’s lifeblood in a way. I think it is somewhere around 85% of my traffic comes from Facebook. The point being (as you guys stated) that if you use it properly it can work VERY well for you. The key is being active on it (which is why Facebook is great for me, while Twitter fails- because I don’t take the time to do that properly).

    Thanks!

    • Just to followup on John, I’ve been very impressed with what he’s done with Facebook. Inspired by his efforts, I’ve been really pushing my Facebook page and have added over 500 new subscribers in the last week. And I’m definitely already seeing an effect on my site’s traffic.

      There are a lot of different social media avenues. But my view is that Facebook had by far the greatest reach, and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

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