Comic Strip, or Comic Page? A failed Experiment

Last week, I tried an experiment with my Webcomic. I split up the page that I’d yet to publish, into 3 strips, and published them on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I was going for more frequent updates, in a way that was more manageable within my time-constraints.

Comic strip 1, as extracted from a larger 'Between * Wars' comic page

One of the Comic Strips – as extracted from a larger comic page, ‘The Old Boy’

Realising it wasn’t working, on Friday, I quickly re-published them as one big page, ‘The Old Boy’ and got 30 Facebook ‘Likes’ within a few hours. That’s 30, instead of the 3 or 4 I was previously getting. People much preferred the old way!

 

I was all excited about the new comic strip format

I was actually really excited about doing this. One of the problems with my Between * Wars comic has been frequency and regularity of updates. because if there’s one thing that will lose you the readers that you’ve gained through your hard work and quality output, it’s going for indeterminate periods without giving more instalments. Your readers won’t know when or even if there’s another episode coming, and will get frustrated, lose interest and maybe even forget about you.

So I was excited. I published 3 ‘strips’ of 3 to 4 panels in the one week – instead of 1 page of 9-10 panels. It was much more manageable. I was looking forward to returning traffic and eventually, better Google ranking because I was putting out more pages, more regularly.

 

But each comic strip performed poorly:

I may have been judging very hastily, but it looked to me as if the comic strips were making less of an impact:

  • Not much traffic (Google Analytics)
  • No reader comments – except on the first one
  • only 3-4 Facebook ‘Likes’ per strip/update

 

Here are the comic strips, as published:

So here they are. They have a nice 1-2-3 or 1-2-3-4 rhythm, and they make sense in themselves with a reasonably good closer, and even a bit of a cliff-hanger. But see what you think the problems may have been:

Monday

Comic strip 1, as extracted from a larger 'Between * Wars' comic page

Wednesday

Comic strip 2, as extracted from a larger 'Between * Wars' comic page

Friday

Comic strip 3, as extracted from a larger 'Between * Wars' comic page

The Problems

Did you see the problems? As I said, they have a rhythm, pretty strong finishes and a cliff-hanger in each one. But I think the problems were as follows:

  • Each strip – on its own – didn’t really make any sense. You’d need to have seen the previous installment to know what was going on.
  • Each strip doesn’t really give enough of a pay-off for the enormous (!) effort it’s taken the visitor to click a link in Facebook or someplace, and read the  3 or 4 panels
  • They don’t finish with hilarious punchlines!

It feels a bit conservative, simplistic and narrow-minded of me to make these criticisms, but I think comic strips, especially in the old Newspaper comic strip sense, need to have strong cliff-hangers, and/or strong punchlines. The cliff-hanger brings the reader back for the next installment – keeps them loyal,  and the punchline makes it worth reading it in the first place.

I think there’s another element which can keep the readers happy too: solving a mystery. If you’ve stuck with a few strips, returning to see each new episode, it can also be satisfying to finally find the answer to one of the plot elements that’s been teasing you. Like the Hatch in LOST. An ‘ahh…’ moment. Though, I have to say that in LOST, I was taken in by the Hatch McGuffin and strung along for a whole series, only to be finally disappointed once the mystery was unlocked. I watched a few episodes of series 2 after that and gave up in irritation – and boredom. I was being treated like a fool by the writer and director!

So, back to Pages – instead of Strips

So, tomorrow, Wednesday 2nd of March, I’m going to publish a whole page again like I did for the first 31 pages of the comic. The challenge now will be to keep to a regular, reliable update schedule and try to grow the audience.

Oh, incidentally…

I never told you were the idea to switch to strips, instead of pages came from, did I?

I’d always thought that I was doing a huge amount of work for a single weekly episode. Each one takes about 1.5 – 2 days to write, illustrate and letter – and write an accompanying article for! So I’d wondered since early 2015 if I should reduce the number of panels. But doing that takes a different type of discipline and style. Concision, punchlines. Basically like a gag-strip.

When I first started Between * Wars, I did it suddenly, without lots of pre-thought. I just dived into doing standalone comic pages/episodes based on a single idea. I hadn’t intended to go longer form. I was making it easier on myself. I could do them when I had an idea, rather than writing 1 – 3 month’s worth of pages before starting to publish online.

But I needed more space than a 3 or 4 panel strip could provide, because they were sort of standalone mini-stories.

Gradually, I could resist the lure of longer-form no more. And I came up with 2 continuous-narrative pages – starting with Ep.9: Supersonic, and then 4 pages – starting with Ep.13: Premath.

And do you know another thing? My recent experiment involved talking the page,’The Old Boy‘ which I’d just finished, and chopping it into 3 strips. I thought, “This is great. I can do 3 updates with this and keep readers coming back more often, and… when I publish Between * Wars in print, readers will get to see the un-chopped-up versions as originally created.

And I think its pretty obvious what the problems with that are! You create something with a particular format in mind, and then chop and crowbar it into something else.

No surprise that it doesn’t work! Thanks for reading, please leave your own thoughts in the comments, below.

– John White

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