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Eric: Zen and the Art of the Filler Comic

From Something Positive, Sluggy Freelance, and RPGWorld,though not in that order. You'll have to figure out which is which yourself. Neener. Click thumbnails for full sized cheer.

For whatever reason, sometimes webcartoonists miss a day. Or a week. Or several years. Time really isn't the point here. Look, they're human. And while we as readers feel peculiarly possessive about our funny, they feel oddly empowered to have interests outside of entertaining us.

The question is, what do they do when it comes up? The answer, for the more responsible comic strips, is filler art.

Filler art is exactly what it sounds like. It fills in the space, giving the reader a happy taste of what they come to the strip for in the first place. It may not continue the story, and it may not have quite the same funny as the strip would have, but by God there's something there other than the last strip in the series. It's only one step up from not doing a strip at all, admittedly, but it is a step up, and shows some measure of concern for the reader.

The best filler art may be killer fast, but still fulfills the essential strip requirements. The Something Positive Filler Art, both for today (the deeply offensive and damn funny explanation of what happened to Monette's baby) and yesterday (the evolution of Pepito, the sex midget, which you'll have to go to his site to see, damn it!) hits the top mark. He just had to draw one panel's worth of stuff today, and that pretty simple stuff to boot, and fill the rest with expository text and things that would make the Baby Jesus cry. It's exactly what we go to Something Positive for, damn it, so we've hardly been cheated.

Next down the list is something that acknowledges the fans, gives them a taste of the goodness, but doesn't actually fulfill the "strip" void so much as apologize for it. The Sluggy filler art (Kiki dressed as a pirate) hits that. It's not really what we go to Sluggy for, and it's got no Sluggy funny to speak of (and certainly no story, but there's really no way to do 'story' in filler art. If there's story, then it's not filler art. it's just extremely brief for a webcomic strip. For long-time Sluggy fans, "Gwynn turned around" is the archetypical example of 'extremely fast to produce real strip' instead of 'filler art. And what the Hell. I'll put that strip at the bottom of this snark, so you can see the difference. Note that while this was no doubt faster than a regular strip, for Pete, "Gwynn Turned Around" had some amazing line work a la the Scream, so we can't very well call it slapdash, can we?

The bottom of the filler art barrel -- one step up from a three second typewritten "on hiatus" notice and two steps up from doing nothing at all (what we like to call the Hound's Home effect) is throwing up something incredibly basic, but still in the conceit of the strip. There's no funny at all, but it's still something of an in-strip explanation. Ian J. did this with his "RPGWorld" Hiatus notice. RPG World is supposedly all being played (by a guy named Jim) on his PS/2. The PS/2s are infamous for developing 'disc read errors' that need to be fixed before you can keep playing. Ian needed a hiatus, so Jim's PS/2 developed the glitch. See? Get it? Get it?

All right, it's kind of lame. But it's still trying. It counts. It's filler art. It's better than nothing.

I don't mind filler art, most of the time. Some effort's enough for me. I especially like the care Randy Millholland made with his. The one pet peeve I have is when someone officially makes his strip his job, completely devoting his professional life to said strip, and then still blows off updating. It's one of the (many) reasons I gave up on Megatokyo, and it's one of my deep pet peeves with PvP. This is what you do for a living. You are actually counting on the goodwill of your readers to keep food on your table. Stop yanking their fucking chains, you idiot. Putting up filler art like Randy's is an acknowledgement -- this is his job, and he needs to do things killer fast right now, because he's got an International Flight to catch, but here's something that will make his readers happy. I like this. This is cool.

Of course, the last trip he made, he screwed up the autoupdates. But hey, we'll see what happens tomorrow, right?

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 22, 2004 11:40 AM

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