How to tell Epic Stories and Attract new readers

Order of the Stick is back. It was only gone for month while creator Rich Burlew took a break to “recharge his batteries” Since we’ve gotten two excellent installments from him in as many days, I’ll say the wait has been worth it.

I tweeted about this earlier but I felt it deserved it’s own post for several reasons. One is Order of the Stick was one of the first Web comics I ever started reading when I discovered the medium six years ago and has remained one of my favorites for the whole time.

The second reason I wanted to push Jason’s Midnight’s last post off the front page, so that all Internet will know what a lazy fartknocker weiner he is (I don’t know how long I’ve been wanted to use the word fartknocker in a post, but it sure feels good).

Finally, I mention it because today’s strip leads into something that I really want to talk about. One of the reason Burlew has had the success he has is that he truly knows how to walk the line between new and old fans. Let me paint the picture for you. Order of the Stick has been around a long time. A really long time be Web comics standards. It’s 674 (as of today) strips long. And these aren’t gag-a-day strips. These are full pages that tell one continuous story.

One.

Continuous.

Story.

A lot has happened in this strip. Pretty much all of it has been good. But that means nothing to the new comer. A archive coming up on 700 strips looks really intimidating to some one who hasn’t already read through it a dozen times.
OotS-Panel
Still just about every strip that he’s put up has been one that I could show to someone who doesn’t read it without fear of them not enjoying it. They may not understand who these people are and why they’re fighting green-skinned ninjas but they get at least one of the jokes in the page and that makes them willing to read another, and then another and then another until one day they have a goldfish named Belkar. And it works. I know of at least two people who have started reading OotS because of a random link that I sent them.

There are a lot of long form story comics that don’t do this. Granted they usually have a lot fewer panels per page and therefore has less of a chance to do this sort of thing. But still, all it takes is a clever bit of dialog and you’ll be fine.

In an ideal world every page would have something for the new reader. A funny line, a cool turn of phrase, a panty-shot. Something. Anything, really, that will make my reading you most recent page an enjoyable experience. If have fun reading a random page, there is a much, much higher chance that I’ll hit that all important first button, and give your comic the chance it deserves.

That’s my rant for today. If you have any other examples of comics that do this well, ones that fail at it miserable or anything else you feel like saying, please use the comments section below. That’s what it’s there for.

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4 thoughts on “How to tell Epic Stories and Attract new readers

  1. Here, here. I’ve been touting this line of thinking for a long time. I won’t say I’m always successful making sure there’s something for everyone in every update, but darn it–I sure do make it a point to try. This is webcomics. Anything you release on a given day should be its own entity at least in part. Nothing turns me off faster than a webcomic that reads like a comic meant for print (i.e. the pages or strips are entirely dependent on the before and after) that’s been split up for a release schedule. Great editorial.

  2. Brock: Glad to know that we see eye to eye on this one. Another reason for us to become blood brothers I guess. I’ll bring the pocket knife if you bring the bactine.

    Midnight: Sorry man. I fixed it.

  3. Somebody ought to use OOtS as the prime subject of a “How to do webcomics the right way” publication.

    Also, I approve of the use of the word “fartknocker”.

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