Bonus Content! or Making Something Out Of Absolutely Nothing

Before we start, go take a look at these three webcomics: Penny Arcade, VG Cats, and PvP. Ok, now, to borrow from the classic Sesame Street guessing game, one of these things is not like the other one; can you guess which one?

Give up? While all these sites are host to very successful, critically acclaimed webcomics, only one of them opens with the strip itself. Now with strips like these, this can work; all 3 have been around long enough to survive regardless of what appears on the home page. In the case of Penny Arcade, Jerry and Mike could run with the first photographic evidence of Michael Jackson actually touching a young boy for the rest of their tenure on the Internet and their traffic would not only remain the highest of any webcomic ever, it would probably double.

So these strips, along with many others, prove that the blog first, strip last approach can work. But do you really think that’s the smartest play when your work is largely (or completely) untested and unproven? Can you really expect someone to go to your site and check out your awesome drawing style or amazing writing chops when they can’t even find the freakin thing?

I may be old school in my thinking, but the strip should speak for itself. You want to put a blog on the site to explain your process and give that little bit of insight into why you chose to go with the fart joke over the slightly smarter pun? Then please do; the most fascinating aspect of a piece of art to me is the process behind it and the circumstance and strife that brought it into being. But make sure you’ve got something to back it up first. If I have to click a LINK to get to the strip and find the strip isn’t worth the effort, that’s it. I’m done. Finished. Your strip is nothing but a stain on my brain that may resurface in a conversation about how NOT to make a webcomic.

So please, artists and writers alike, tell us how you did it! Give us your secrets and let us know the tricks of your trade. Just make it a trick worth knowing.

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19 thoughts on “Bonus Content! or Making Something Out Of Absolutely Nothing

  1. The reason that VGCats does this is simply for bandwith reasons. Each VGCats comic clocks in at about 250-300k, which means every four visitors is potentially eating a meg of bandwith just on the comic file.

    Penny Arcade strips are over 100k, so I can only assume that they do it for the same reason.

    PvP can actually survive with it\’s comic on the front page because it\’s run as a GIF (clocking in at around 30k per strip). Also since it\’s a daily, having it on the front page is almost necessary.

  2. Shawn Handyside\’s got it.

    I know that each Hellbound comic clocks in at about 500k and can be 2301px in height.

    Even when cached it eats up alot of time and space to display it on the front page. Whereas the nice little box, easily seen at the top,is loaded quickly and painlessly and allows people to see if the comic has been updated with ease.

    Of course…that\’s just mah little ol\’ opinion.

    Also, I\’ve sworn off talking about the reasoning/process of the comic,in the rant except for rare occasions. The comic should speak for itself ya know?

  3. I\’d totally shut out the bandwidth possibility, thanks for pointing that out. But my point still stands.

    When I first was introduced to webcomics in college, I was referred to so many that opened with something other than the strip that I soon just shut them out and stuck with pages that featured a strip and nothing more. I agree with Maniac that the strip should speak for itself and unless the artist/writer is tested in any other medium, opening the home page with anything less than a provocative, visually appealing comic strip is suicide.

    While I\’d rather see blogs go away completely and instead use Blogger and LiveJournal for their natural purpose, I understand that some sites are too big to let announcements about books, other merchandise, and updates go unread. It\’s just one of those hopes that I know are much too broad and preferential to ever be listened to. All I can do is apply these ideals to my own strip and be content with that. But you know us humans; never content to be happy.

  4. I don\’t think that\’s right, guys. What does the bandwidth have to do with anything?

    The bandwidth is eaten up whether that 500k strip is read on the first page or the second page.

    If anything, having a second page would eat up MORE bandwidth because by clicking on a seperate page for the strip the user is loading up all the graphics that make up the page again, right.

    I think it\’s simply a matter of design. It\’s hard to fit a comic strip, blog, ads, and links to important things like your own merchandise and convention schedule all on one page.

    My new site design actually has a paragrpah of my latest blog and recent blog headlines on the main page with the strip. And then the blog itself is on a seperate page.

  5. Don\’t know about anyone else, but for complete bums like myself who don\’t update often, it can save a lot of bandwidth to just put a thumbnail on the frontpage to indicate if the comic\’s been updated, rather than transferring a huge image file on every visit.

    Granted, this is a bit of a moot point as the incosistent updates usually keeps readers in the single digits, but there are fairly notable exceptions. (SGVY comes to mind.)

  6. Scott\’s got a point if we\’re talking about a daily or even MWF updating comic.

    But for weekly comic (like myself) The people will only be clicking that second page once a week. With a daily comic it doesn\’t make sense to have a separate page, and size of the comic is hardly going to be a factor as they are usually quite small.

    It is a matter of functionality and yes, design. Even larger comics with standard heights like Machall, Rob and Elliot etc… can pull off having it on the mainpage because it will always be the same size. However I\’ve been known to fluxtuate between 4500-900 pixels in height. So for people like me it might break the front page layout.

    Plus, if people really have a problem with the comic being one click away they can always bookmark the page the comic is displayed on and skip the front page.

    So…there\’s that.

  7. Speaking of bandwidth: I get one terrabyte a month using Dreamhost\’s basic package. These days I don\’t think it matters as much as it used to.

    I\’d also prefer to see the blog posts under (or before or wherever) the comic being more about the process of creation, rather than what the artist saw on TV last night.

    Then again, I suppose it wouldn\’t help the \”I\’m jussa regula Joe like youse guys\” public persona.

  8. You make a good point, William. If the blog has to be on the same page as the strip, at least make it about the creative process. Leave the daily minutia to your LiveJournal, where your fans can choose to either keep up with your day-to-day life or stick solely to your body of work.

  9. Let me encourage all webcomic authors to please share personal anecdotes and opinions on their websites. Doing so has brought me much closer to my readers.

    I remember the first cartoon I became obsessed about was Garfield and I wanted so desperately to learn about the author, how he made the strip, etc.

    My uncle was a career counselor at a local college and he had a filecabinet full of xeroxed interviews with famous people from all different careers to use as resources to guide his students.

    One day, he got one in for Jim Davis and made a copy for me. I devoured those xeroxed pages over and over. I learned all about Jim growing up and having athesma which kept him indoors to draw. All that personal information brought me closer to this artist I admired. It was just awesome.

    So please, beyond the process of making your art (which is great, share that stuff too), I encourage you to share your as much of your personal life and opinions as possible with your readers.

    They want to hear about it.

  10. On the other hand, this encourages the sense of entitlement that blights a lot of fandom.

    I suppose it really depends how much a creator needs to win some sort of high-school type of popularity contest.

    But I figure there\’s a balance that can be found between allowing people a peek into the mind and life of their favorite creator and shameless self-exposure, as there is with everything.

  11. I don\’t think it has anything to do with self-entitlement or popularity contests.

    It\’s about connecting with your readers.

    Whether that be through the work itself, through sharing your thoughts on your blog (no matter how trivial) or being present at signings and conventions.

    This is fan-service, William. The work should speak for itself, but there\’s a lot to be said about being accessible.

  12. That\’s a very political response, and it\’s obviously something you feel comfortable with. That\’s alright.

    But I\’m far too well aware of the negatives that the practice draws out of fandom (I wish I could say it\’s an isolated minority who fuck everything up, but it\’s not), and I simply don\’t see the positives as outweighing them. You give folks an inch, they take a mile, every time.

    Speaking as a reader, I dont care what someone saw on TV last night. I\’m there to see the comic. If it\’s there, I\’ll happily read something useful or insighful the creator has to say. Other than that, blog entries are a skip.

    And when it comes down to it, your business is your business, and no one else\’s. I do share, or else I wouldn\’t blog. But if I aint telling, then no one needs to know.

  13. You know what, I\’ve been thinking about this conversation all night. Since it\’s the only time we\’ve ever been near civil towards each other, I\’m going to take your advice and detail the minutia of my life in my blog, starting today.

    Wish me luck

  14. Yeah, it\’s kind of unfair that we\’ve derailed the thread here, but…

    I get your point about contributing to the fan\’s sense of self entitlement. But I guess that just comes with the territory.

    My goal is to create passionate visitors, so anything I can do to hook people into my world, the better. I guess I\’m willing to take the good with the bad.

    I\’m sure that there are many who share your disinterest in what I watched on TV last night, but there are a shit-ton of others who feel differently.

    Take my email last week. Number one subject was my new character Shecky. Guess what the number two subject was?

    Readers asking me for my review of X-men 3.

    Once I posted my review, I must have gotten 150+ emails in response.

    I\’m not sure what phenomenon that describes. And certainly, after the 3rd email explaining how the plotholes I found in the movie were incorrect, I got sick of reading them. But I got them. That\’s a response. And that response is a good indication and reminder to me that the fans care about that stuff and enjoy the discourse with me about it.

    I just kind of take it as part of the job.

  15. I know my readers really appreciate me sharing a little of my personal life and tastes with them– I also make sure to answer every e-mail, and every single package I send out to people in the mail, I try to have something special or personalized about it. The people really appreciate that.

    Scott McCloud covered this \”Creator-Reader\” relationship in his Reinventing Comics book. For me, it\’s turned out to be one of the greatest pleasures interacting with the readers. I even hate to call them \”fans\”. In my club section at the site, everyone looks out for one another– one girl knew one fellow was having a hard time with money, but really wanted that month\’s book, so she bought it for him. Now this month, she\’s short on cash, and I had like three other readers ask if they could buy her a copy or send her something she needs. It really is a unique bond with the audience that you don\’t see many more places… well, except maybe the blogosphere.

  16. I think it\’s important to realize that, on the web, a lot of what your readers buy into is the creators themselves.

    Take Penny Arcade as the ultimate example. I love this comic, but it\’s definitely neither the funniest nor the best drawn comic on the Internet. However, through their general attitude, they\’ve created personae that people really genuinely buy into.

    I think that\’s why PA will continue to be the biggest strip on the Internet for a long time – they don\’t just make a quality comic, they go out and do things to make the world better.

    That said, I would say I\’ve probably had direct contact with, at best, one per cent of my readers. As a person trying to make a little money at comics, I think it\’s important to value that small percentage, because they\’re probably the people out talking about you, and who will by your junk.

    My guess is most people, like The William G, just come for the comic, and don\’t give a crap about anything else. However, not all readers are created equally. If you\’re actively trying to cultivate an audience, I think it\’s important to reach out to all the different types of readers, whether they are embittered and evil like William or friendly and precious like Daku.

  17. I can see that I, at least, am at the critical \”agree to disagree\” impasse, so I shall turn this topic over to you, the loyal Digital Strips fans (readers?).

    While I can\’t agree more with Scott about connecting with the audience through behind-the-scenes talk and thus creating a stronger, nearly unbreakable bond with them, I still see other sites and/or venues being better places for such information.

    Of course, he\’s earned the right over the last few years to have more than his say in this, or any other webcomic-related matter, as have many of you, so keep squawkin\’ everybody. That\’s what this space is here for.

  18. A big advantage for VG Cats and Penny Arcade is that they both have RSS feeds which link directly to the latest comic, allowing the user to bypass the index page anyway. PvP\’s main advantage is that the strips are small fit fit snugly into the index page.

    Story-driven webcomics may well benefit from loading the blog/news first, as it will protect readers from unwittingly seeing spoilers – though this is only worthwhile if the site also has decent archive navigation.

    Personally, I\’m interested in whatever the creator feels like posting about – whether it is specific to the latest strip, or just an amusing anecdote, they all add to my enjoyment of the webcomic itself.

  19. Like many people have said, more often than not, it\’s an issue of bandwidth. While yes, it can eat up even more bandwidth when the person clicks on the link to the strip, the fact of the matter is that a huge bulk of the traffic to the site is from people who have set these comics as their home pages, and maybe only click to read the comic one out of twenty times they load the page.

    While I don\’t get anywhere near the traffic these sites do, my strips run about the same size as Scott\’s on VGCats, and knocking off a 300k strip every reload is going to hurt, especially when you\’re breaking 100k hits per day.

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