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Eric: The thing about Blank Labels? You can scribble over them however you like!

So, let's check in with scrappy young comics collective Blank Label Comics, shall we? Anything going on there? No? Right! Let's move on--

Oh.

For those who haven't been paying attention, the original members of Blank Label Comics have been the epicenter of a remarkable sea change that now hits... well, all their comics. Except Wapsi Square. Though many correspondents have noticed a higher incidence of supernaturally informed strips as opposed to slice of life strips, but I digress.

Let's look at the other five, shall we?

Krazy Larry relaunched right from the beginning as Krazy Larry: Sanitarium, a prequel series to the Krazy Larry we remember from the old days. This was obviously both a labor of love on Southworth's part and a hook for Krazy Larry fans to come over and sample Southworth's new strip, Ugly Hill. Both strips are good, but one gets the feeling Southworth's passion right now is Ugly Hill, and that's okay with me, because I'm liking it.

Greystone Inn today announced... well, a migration, more or less. Since the closing of Creative Contract Studios, the balance of strips have taken place at Lightning Lady's new place of work, Evil, Incorporated. Well, as of today the strip's new name and website have launched. Evil Inc. will run both on the Evil Inc. website and over at Greystone Inn. As of the first of December, new strips will only appear on the Evil Inc. site, and Greystone Inn will be an archive and repository of the old strip. This was a smooth transition -- by now, the fans who might have eschewed Evil Inc. had Guigar simply ended the old strip and launched the new have had a chance to get invested with the new situations and characters. One wonders if this might have been a successful strategy for WIGU-TV back at the beginning of the year.

It's Walky had, admittedly, completed and been nothing but archives at the time the strip ended. (Willis's ongoing title at launch was Shortpacked, which hasn't substantially changed. But remains fun.) However, David Willis relaunched it as a special "donation incentive" weekend strip for a while. And now he's renamed and relaunched the strip again (that makes three, kids!) as Joyce and Walky. This (to date) eschews adventure for cheerful fun, with some free posts alongside some special strips only donators receive. (This also served to rehook certain well known essayists who had rather publicly left Walky behind. Damn Willis and his sweet sweet crack cocaine.) And even more shocking, Willis has begun historical revisionism on the old strips. Starting with the original transition from Roomies to It's Walky, Willis is going through and redoing the art and (I believe) making the scripts a bit tighter. It's a cool process to watch, though it also means that the original strips themselves are going away. Which leads us to....

Melonpool, which shocked the webcomics world by rebooting the universe (rather specifically) and then taking down years worth of archives. In effect, Melonpool is an entirely new series, though it's being launched in media res. (You'd better know who Melonpool is and who the ship's animals are to start with. Though I expect the other characters are going to be introduced as... well, new characters.) Troop had begun to see many years of archives as a detriment for new readers coming on board -- a controversial position in ways, since it goes against Internet Wisdom, but he has a solid point. At the same time, rather than end his strip and then launch a new one (or a reboot) with the archives separate from the whole, he literally purged them all. The archives of the original eight and a half year run are available in book form (though my understanding is they won't be reprinted after the stocks run out), which means Troop has... well, eliminated nearly a decade's worth of strips from the internet. That just isn't done. Not to this scale, anyway. Time will tell if this really will be a fresh start for him.

And finally, Checkerboard Nightmare has ended. Kris Straub brought Chex along with him when he came over, but as with Paul Southworth, his passions and energies were clearly oriented towards his new strip, Starslip Crisis. The latter strip is far more traditional -- no wild fourth wall breaking, no metahumor, a far tighter sense of continuity... and, well, it's been more consistently funny recently, too. (Though I was a fan of Chex, and was sorry to see it go.) Now, Straub has left the girl he came to the dance with entirely, and picked up this new chick he met at the punch bowl, and I'm feeling a little wistful.

The thing of it is, all of these changes are evolutionary more than anything else. Krazy Larry's backstory is being filled out -- there's no reason to think Southworth couldn't decide to pick his original characters and timeline back up down the line, but there's no reason to think he will, either. Likewise, Chex and the gang could reappear in some other form (in fact, that seems likely), but clearly Straub has trod the metahumor ground and now he wants to try something he finds fresher and more invigorating. We might not have access to the Melonpool archives any more, but they still exist on Troop's hard drive. And while Willis is redoing the old days of It's Walky (probably at least until the artistic change, but possibly until he gets all the way through the original run), editing, tightening and giving the benefit of his artistic maturity as he goes, sooner or later you know he's going to pick up the It's Walky themes and darkness in some form.

So yeah, it's not like any of these are irreversible or show a complete abrogation of the old -- but all of them are hallmarks of something new. Of a hunger to grow -- to explore new storytelling venues and genres. To explore new artistic styles and stretch skills. To solicit for new readers and make the strips more accessible. To reformat the artwork to better be suited to publication.

Okay, the last is cynical, but still.

And in a way, isn't all of the above exactly what the Blank Label Comics folks were trying to do when they struck out on their own? That was a leap of professional maturity -- a desire to take control of all the aspects of the business and professional end of their comics. Why wouldn't that also be reflected in a desire to let their comic strips evolve and grow and change.

Change is scary, though. Change means the characters the fans like, the situations the fans are in, and the comics the fans love are going away. That's a big risk. I mentioned Wigu up above, and it's a case in point. Jeffrey Rowland's WIGU-TV was, in my estimation, a worthy successor to Wigu. It was indeed more sophisticated, and let Rowland's short story style come out completely, with a built in hook for him to jump to something else at will.

But, this is what Rowland does for a living, and he just couldn't afford the sudden and drastic shift in readership. As it works out, he has a potato on his back and a little boy shackled to his leg.

The slower, more measured transitions the Blank Label Comics crew have made might mitigate the shock and help preserve their readership. But, one gets the sense that all of them are making these decisions for artistic decisions more than anything else. (Yes, even Melonpool's transition, while clearly motivated by the desire to let new people jump on board without being intimidated, also shows a strong desire to start over with the lessons Troop has learned over the past eight and a half years.) The BLC crew is ready, it seems, for something more.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens next.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at November 14, 2005 11:17 AM

Comments

Comment from: Crashlander posted at November 14, 2005 12:11 PM

It's great what's going on over at Blank Label. Steve Troop in particular has balls of steel, and I think he's made the correct decision. He's picked up one reader right here.

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at November 14, 2005 12:25 PM

\Actually, the Melonpool books will remain in print. I'm just switching them over to lulu.com so I don;t have to handle the mailings, which recently have been taking up a lot of my time. The second book sold out yesterday and will remain off the market until I finish production of the sixth book. The original edition was made in Pagemaker and in the last six years, the program has gone by the wayside, so I have to export it to something a little more modern.

It'll be back, though.

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank posted at November 14, 2005 12:26 PM

While I respect what all of the creators are doing, I'm not thrilled by the idea of messing with the archives. Maybe it's just me, but...well, I don't like the thought that since I was late to the party I'm missing out on how it was. I didn't discover It's Walky! until some time in its last year, and I went back and read all the archives; but if someone were to do that now, he'd get a different experience than I would, I feel.

I don't know...maybe I'm just being reactionary.

Comment from: Crashlander posted at November 14, 2005 12:32 PM

Hey! Penny Arcade got re-designed too! When did that happen?

Comment from: Alkari posted at November 14, 2005 1:07 PM

Over the weekend, it would seem. It wasn't like this on Saturday.

Comment from: Denyer posted at November 14, 2005 1:10 PM

if someone were to do that now, he'd get a different experience than I would, I feel.

Fortunately Willis has improved, whereas Lucas is the opposite...

I only read the last month or two, and read back a bit, but strips changed during that time too. (eg, a strip where J&W are going at it, and boardies said it looked as if they were asleep.)

On the other hand, wiping out an archive... I'd be bothered if it were a comic I read and recommended. It certainly doesn't make me inclined to start, because I'd dislike recommending something only to have it disappear.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at November 14, 2005 1:15 PM

Steve -- oh cool. Yeah, I think Lulu fits perfectly for books that otherwise would go out of print. Obviously, after a while book orders slow down to a trickle. Being able to sell one or two books a month without warehousing is a very cool thing.

I'm glad to see the old days aren't disappearing entirely.

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at November 14, 2005 1:43 PM

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. There's a method to my madness... and I never throw anything away.

In recent years, I've felt like Melonpool may have come along too early as a webcomic. It was already four years old when Sluggy and PVP and Penny Arcade came on the scene... and the webcomic audience at large started reading comics online. Even at that point, diving into my archives was a daunting task...

This reboot is intended as a way for new readers to come on board, as well as a way for me to expand the scope of the strip.

Comment from: Darrin_Bright posted at November 14, 2005 2:33 PM

Hah. Sounds to me like you just wanted an 8-year backlog of filler strips.

Ouch. That sounds more critical than I meant it to... add a smiley in there somewhere. Still... think of all the conventions you could hit with that kind of backlog...

Comment from: John posted at November 14, 2005 2:36 PM

Re-polished It's Walky archives? It's like Christmas in November!

That comic hit me hard the first time around, and so far I'm loving the "special edition." Just wish it was easier to "isolate" that section from the archives general.

Comment from: Non-entity posted at November 14, 2005 2:37 PM

I've got to say, as someone who just recently got into Melonpool.. the loss of the archives was rather disorienting. Thank goodness I'd managed to skim them before it happened, I don't know whether I would have kept up with things at all otherwise.

The change DID come just as I was wanting to look up an old portion to try getting my S.O. hooked, which has caused a bit of a problem. There's not quite enough history I can use as a hook now.

On the other hand, I really liked the method used. That's the first time since the Farscape ending that I've tried to say "that is awesome!" and "no, tell me they *didn't*!" at the exact same time.

Comment from: Denyer posted at November 14, 2005 3:12 PM

I never throw anything away.

Crossover material?

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at November 14, 2005 3:36 PM

Would it really constitute a crossover when it'd just be with an alternate timeline/treatment of the same title? I wouldn't think so.

(On the other hand, I'm the guy who calls Andromeda a crossover with no more grounds than that the lead is a typical cambellian/roddenberrian lantern-jawed hero while the supporting cast are all typical post-Matrix black-leather-clad punk-grundge rebels-without-a-cause.)

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at November 14, 2005 4:56 PM

The switch on Melonpool threw me; I missed being able to reread my favorite storylines (like the time on the asteroid). Part of me wishes that Troop did a soft reset, like Howard Tayler did on Schlock Mercenary after 1000 strips (it's pretty easy to jump in at strip #1001).

On the other hand, I wish that Guigar had done the switch to Evil, Inc. months ago. I was starting to get antsy, wanting to see all the old crew (especially Angus) again. I'm fine with a spinoff and I like Lightning Lady. But it felt like a huge tease, waiting for strips concerning other Greystone Inn characters that, as it turns out, aren't coming back. I would have enjoyed it more if Guigar made a cleaner break (or at least an earlier one).

Comment from: John Lynch posted at November 14, 2005 5:35 PM

Eric said "I'm glad to see the old days aren't disappearing entirely."
I just bought 3 books from Steve, and once the rest are available on Lulu I'll be buying them all from there. And I've started reading Melonpool since the reset. So not only has he gained a regular reader of the current strips, he's gained a fan of the old strips (I'd read enough of the old archives before the reset to know I eventually wanted to read them all). I'd say this has been a good move on his part (at least in my case).

I also don't think it's necessary to know who the old characters are. Yeah, I knew who the duck and cat were, but I've been reading it with a critical eye, seeing if it were possible to pick up from where it currently is, and I'd say that yes, it is possible.

32 Footsteps said "I wish that Guigar had done the switch to Evil, Inc. months ago."
In all honesty, he did. While you're casual reader wouldn't have realised, I've been waiting for a few months now for him to officially launch the Evil Inc. comic, and I've known just as long that Evil Inc. had been the comic I was reading, not Greystone Inn. In all honesty, I think it was more a case of time to build a new website for Evil Inc. then a ploy to suck his old readers into the new comic ;)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at November 14, 2005 5:40 PM

Ploy isn't the word I would use. The simple truth is, most people who like Greystone Inn are going to like Evil, Inc. The styles of humor are very similar, after all (for good reason, no less.)

However, there are folks out there who don't like the unknown and don't like change. By easing into the new setting, Guigar has minimized the trauma they feel. This to me is smart.

Comment from: Danalog posted at November 14, 2005 5:44 PM

I'm just waiting for Wapsi Square to become a historical fiction comic about the Aztecs, now....

Comment from: Kneefers posted at November 14, 2005 5:54 PM

Dangit, I've been meaning to dive into Melonpool's archives for quite some time now, and it looks like I won't really get a chance unless I dig up the books.
Question: Would I need to do some character research or some other such thing, or can I just jump into the start of this reset as I would a new comic?

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at November 14, 2005 6:04 PM

Yoy should be able to jump right into the reset. That's the whole point of this.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at November 14, 2005 6:36 PM

John, that's a bit of a cop-out. Guigar shouldn't just keep that thing to himself and his big fans/forum population. He should lay that out for everyone, and he should have laid it out alot smoother. I'm not saying the transition per se is bad; just that I think it was too drawn-out and slow.

Comment from: Aerin posted at November 14, 2005 9:10 PM

I'm a little depressed about Chex. It was one of the first webcomics I started reading, and I've been a regular reader for a couple of years now. As I started delving further into this community, the metahumor became more accessible, and it got much, much funnier. It's just sad to see something disappear from my bookmarks. (I felt equally sad about Queen of Wands ending, but I've been happily in denial about that, since it still updates every day.)

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at November 14, 2005 10:26 PM

I'm a little depressed about Chex too, but since he never really had a story, there was never a real need to resolve. The resolution I did was to tie up his canon, not to tie him up. Checkerboard Nightmare, as it existed, will not continue, but there is more than enough reason to deploy Chex now and again.

Comment from: Chris Daily posted at November 14, 2005 10:49 PM

I loved how Chex ended. Seemed especially fitting. Can't wait to see what kind of existance Chex might re-emerge himself in.

Comment from: Montykins posted at November 14, 2005 11:43 PM

I'm just going to start reading Checkerboard Nightmare from the beginning again. It'll still work.

Comment from: Tice with a J posted at November 15, 2005 1:02 AM

On the other hand, I really liked the method used. That's the first time since the Farscape ending that I've tried to say "that is awesome!" and "no, tell me they *didn't*!" at the exact same time.

When I read that, the first thing I thought was "Serenity!"
Whedon is a cruel master.

Comment from: Bo Lindbergh posted at November 15, 2005 1:55 AM

Is that the guy you're talking about?

Comment from: PO8 posted at November 15, 2005 2:18 AM

Eric: You wrote "The simple truth is, most people who like Greystone Inn are going to like Evil, Inc. The styles of humor are very similar, after all (for good reason, no less.)"

You may be right. But I have to say, so far it isn't working for me. I'll give it another month or two---after all, an ultra-reliable daily strip with this quality of art and gag-writing is a rarity. But in the long run, I'm not sure I'll be there.

IMHO, Angus was the life and soul of Greystone Inn. I thought, actually, that he bore a notable resemblance to Fairy Godfather J.J. O'Malley from Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, one of my all-time favorite characters. I read the strip avidly when he was there, less so when he was not.

Lightning Lady might be a fan favorite, and Evil Inc is a cute idea. But the appeal of Greystone Inn for me was about a webcomic that in style and characters was in some ways a throwback or a reference to an earlier time and style of cartooning. That uniqueness is gone now, and I miss it. Yet another office humor strip, even if it's an Evil Office, is something of a pale substitute for me.

Comment from: John Lynch posted at November 15, 2005 2:25 AM

PO8 said "IMHO, Angus was the life and soul of Greystone Inn."

Wow, I'd hate to see how badly you misspell a character's name who isn't the life and soul of a comic :P Sorry, second time I'd seen this (it's Argus, with an R) so I had to say something.

Comment from: PO8 posted at November 15, 2005 2:35 AM

John: Arrrgus. Yow. Sorry, late night no sleep thinko. Thanks much for the correction!

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides posted at November 15, 2005 2:41 AM

I'm still depressed about Chex because I know of nothing that can take his place. Starslip Crisis is a fine comic but not metahumor, and it's only in the last few comics that the character interaction humour started to actually work there (granted, there's always a lot of background to be explained/illustrated at the beginning of science-fiction stories).

And now, picture this: Starslip Crisis becomes extremely popular in a few years, and in the middle of an epic action sequence, the comic zooms out (Cerebus/Reads style) , revealing that the artist is none other than Chex. Destiny fulfilled!

Also, Ugly Hill rocks. I don't know how I never even heard of Krazy Larry before, but I guess now's a great time to start reading.

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at November 15, 2005 3:57 AM

I'm just waiting for Wapsi Square to become a historical fiction comic about the Aztecs, now....

But the Aztecs didn't have wheeled carts! In a comic with time-travelling gods and intelligent dogs, mere words cannot express how much that one detail has bugged me. Of course, they also didn't ride horses, either, leaving me very puzzled about this whole flashback vision.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at November 15, 2005 8:24 AM

The Aztecs also didn't have a large supply of blondes available. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that maybe, just maybe, that flashback took place somewhere else. Everyone just assumes it's the Aztecs because that's all the mystical shit Wapsi Square has looked at thus far.

Comment from: pablowapsi posted at November 15, 2005 9:00 AM

In regards to the Aztecs having wheeled carts and horses and such, you are totally going on the one assumption that those are Aztecs and that this is taking place in the New World. Take a closer look at that pyramid. ;)

Comment from: Danalog posted at November 15, 2005 9:02 AM

Ray: Extreeeeeeme historical fiction!

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at November 15, 2005 9:58 AM

The notion that perhaps this flashback wasn't in Central America (and yes, I thought about the blonde thing, too) was actually the only thing that stopped me from using the email link at Wapsi Square.

(And I thought about the pyramid, too; it's clearly not the classical New World step pyramid design, but it was just close enough, with the front steps and all, to sneak by)

Comment from: Guigar posted at November 15, 2005 11:10 AM

Thanks for all the nice comments about both Greystone Inn and Evil Inc. I'm really excited about the new project and it's great to hear from people who are excited about it, too.

I've said it on my site, on my blog, and in several podcast interviews: Argus is not gone forever. He's one of my favorite characters and I love him too much to let him disappear. However, I need to let the new strip develop its own identity before I reintroduce any more characters from Greystone. (Lightning Lady, Keagan, Samantha, Mac, and Baby Oz have all appeared in "Evil Inc" strips... and that's plenty for now.)

I've re-written this next part six times now and I keep erasing it because it sounds bitter and I'm anything but bitter about the time I spent on Greystone or the decision to move to Evil Inc. You'll just have to believe me when I say that this next part (a) is in no way meant in a mean or disappointed way and (b) I feel it needs to be said...

If you're sad to see Greystone go, you have to ask yourself: Did I ever support the strip? Did I buy a book? Did I buy a T-shirt? Did I make a donation?

I enjoyed a significant level of support from fans of Greystone Inn -- don't misunderstand me. But the plain truth is this: If I had been receiving a higher level of support, I wouldn't have been *able* to end it -- even if I *really* wanted to -- because it would have been economically foolish to do so.

My switch to "Evil Inc" is not an attempt to find a better comic. It's an attempt to find better readers.

That sounds bitter, but it's not. It just means I need to do a project that attracts readers who will be willing to fund the next five years of my webcomic-producing life.

That may move some people to wax indignant. After all, they'll say, they're just poor college students... or they're saving money for Christmas... or they don't trust Internet transactions... or... or... or...

Heck, I've been doing this for almost six years and I've heard every single excuse to *not* support a webcomic there is. Of course, they have enough expendable income for a computer with an Internet connection, but after that, it's straight to the Dollar Store for stale bread and canned soup to get them through another week. :)

ThatĖs all well and good. That's over eighty percent of *any* webcartoonist's readership. It's the nature of the business. We all know that. Heck, I considered selling stale bread on my site, just to tap into the market... but I digress....

It's something to consider. Go through your bookmarks and think about the comics you read every day. Think about the ones that you just couldn't do without. You'd really grieve them if they were gone. Now, go to those sites and BUY something. Make it that much harder for the creators to move on to another project that you might not enjoy as much. Make it that much harder for the creator to get discouraged and disappear. You have the power -- and let's face it, you have the money. In most cases, we're talking about an investment of under $20. If you can afford an Internet connection, you can afford $20.

If you don't want the comics you enjoy to disappear tomorrow, you've got to support them today.

Comment from: Rakishi posted at November 15, 2005 11:19 AM

If I had to guess I'd say that temple was a ziggurat, mostly from the two stairs coming in from the sides. So that puts it in mesopotamia around one or two millennia BC. Given the horses and assuming itĖs historically accurate IĖd say 1500 BC or so.

On further thought and reading of some older strips, IĖd say itĖs a Sumerian temple.

Comment from: PO8 posted at November 15, 2005 11:30 AM

Guigar: OK, I feel plenty guilty. I could give you a million excuses why I didn't support Greystone Inn financially, but as you say you've heard them all. I'm not sure it helps to say that I have financially supported several of my favorite webcomics through a reasonable level of merchandise purchase; that makes it sound like I just didn't like Greystone Inn enough to extend it the same courtesy, and I really really did.

The one excuse I will make publicly is that as a regular reader, I really somehow failed to get the message that the strip's future depended on my support. When that's the case, you need to communicate it to idiots like me clearly, so we understand it. There seem to be many webcartoonists out there (although few of your caliber) who are happy enough to have a hobby and a fanbase, and to enjoy whatever money they happen to make from it. It's hard to know how to prioritize my limited webcomic money in that environment.

(To digress: this is why I don't pay for any subscription webcomics, although I've strongly considered a couple. I have a hard time with the idea that the glorious work made freely available on the web deserves my financial support less than those who hide their stuff. Paying subscription seems to me almost like an insult to my favorite strips; I'd rather give them that money. Darned if Digger doesn't tempt me, though.)

I'm glad to hear Argus is not forgotten. I hope the switch to Evil Inc. is the trigger you need to make the financials work. As I've said repeatedly, I think your drawing and gag-writing skills are among the very top of the web. I apologize for helping to put you in the position of feeling the need to change strips. Thanks much for the gentle reminder to support my favorite strips better in the future.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at November 15, 2005 12:07 PM

If you're sad to see Greystone go, you have to ask yourself: Did I ever support the strip? Did I buy a book? Did I buy a T-shirt? Did I make a donation?

Now we're getting to a juicy part of the argument! This is also part of the reason why CxN has ended. I gave it five years and it plain old didn't do enough to justify me continuing it.

It is a shame that there has to be a balance between art and commerce. I wish I was independently wealthy so I could deliver both CxN and Starslip five days a week, but I'm not, and I can't.

Comment from: John McMullen posted at November 15, 2005 12:33 PM

But Brad did notify the Greystone Inn readership that the strip's continued existence depended on their support. I distinctly recall the notice, though I don't recall where it was posted--possibly over the strip iself.

I remember because I seriously considered it. However, both of the alternatives sounded good to me--I liked Mac and Sam best of the characters, but I really enjoyed the Lightning Lady strips. So it seemed to me like it was a chance to have my cake and eat it, too: don't spend money and get a strip that had more of what I liked.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. I find the focus on Evil Inc. too limited, and it leaves out the soap opera aspects of the Greystone Inn that I enjoyed. So I'm not Brad's better class of reader. (For what it's worth, I have yet to support a webcomic, so I'm not one of the Good Folks.)

Comment from: Guigar posted at November 15, 2005 12:49 PM

Stay tuned, John... I've got some surprises planned (some of which have been hinted at... all of which have clues that can be found in early "Evil Inc" strips) that will make you feel right at home.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at November 15, 2005 2:02 PM

See, my problem isn't with the switch to Evil, Inc. I just wish it had been faster (like having the strips run concurrently a couple months ago). But then, I'm the kind of guy who likes clean breaks when possible.

Okay, so I also don't like Dr. Muskiday. Just not enough there to appeal to me. But that's another issue entirely.

Also, for Wapsi Square... there was the hint from Tepoztecal that the three ladies were Greek (unless there was some Aztec chimera I hadn't heard of).

Comment from: Howard Tayler posted at November 15, 2005 2:11 PM

I may have to take at least partial credit (e.g. "blame") for the Evil Inc. switch and the Melonpool Reboot. The discussion of webcomic economics is one that we've had at length (at PAINFUL length) over in the Blank Label Comics Fortress of Solitude, and we kind of egged each other on.

My own site redesign -- a paltry change, compared to what Brad, Kris, and Steve have done -- wouldn't have happened without those guys poking me and saying things like "content above the fold" and "increased ad awareness" and "quit peeing in the revenue stream."

I applaud Brad's move. I'm enjoying Evil Inc. much more than I enjoyed Greystone Inn, and I suspect his wider target market to feel the same way.

Steve's change is even more daring, and it's gotten me to check up every day. I never did make it through the Melonpool archives (I tried once or twice, years ago) but I'm a regular reader now, and not just because I'm under the Blank Label Comics banner.

CxN only got me to read it when it was topical and someone linked me to it (aggro the drama). So esoteric! It was like caviar on water-crackers. I could eat a few, but then I wanted a real meal. Starslip Crisis is like that real meal -- I can read and read and read and never once feel like he's ripping of Schlock Mercen... errr... that came out wrong. Go Kris! Yay Starslip!

--Howard

Comment from: Wednesday White posted at November 15, 2005 2:39 PM

But...but... water crackers *do* constitute a meal. o_O;

Comment from: quiller posted at November 15, 2005 3:02 PM

I can kind of see the merchandising aspect of Evil Inc. It works well on a T-shirt for one thing.

In many ways it is hard enough to figure out why I read some comics over others, I'm not always sure why I financially support some comics over others. I know I have bought 1 limited edition Sluggy Freelance T-Shirt, 1 Art Print of Kestrel from Queen of Wands as a gift, 3 MegaTokyo books, nearly all the books put out by Isabel and Terrence Marks and given some donations to them as well. Oh, and I picked up one of Girl Genius collections, after they were up on the web, though, that is really a collection of print comics. I recognize a personal connection that got me supporting the Marks, the usefulness of having my Megatokyo in books and that the T-shirt and print were products that struck a chord with me. What it doesn't tell me is why some of my favorite comics on the web, like Something Positive or Schlock Mercenary have never moved me to donate or buy products. (Though I did click on your Google/Firefox download thing Howard)

Hmm, here's an idea I may just try. Pick 5 comics out of your list that you greatly appreciate but don't feel you support to the extent that you should. Now give them each a Christmas present of a donation and a note of thanks. Somehow a Christmas present feels easier to me than a tip. (Should it be TIPU, To Insure Prompt Updates?)

Comment from: Howard Tayler posted at November 15, 2005 3:32 PM

(Should it be TIPU, To Insure Prompt Updates?)

Heavens no! I wouldn't get a DIME, because my fans set their clocks by my updates, no insurance required. I'd have to go back to living off of water crackers and caviar.

Comment from: HydrogenGuy posted at November 15, 2005 3:36 PM

TIFF - To Insure Future Fun(ny).

Or maybe that's too close to "yiff".

Comment from: Danalog posted at November 15, 2005 3:43 PM

I usually buy stuff from webcomics to give out as christmas presents to people, two birds with one stone, ya know?

Comment from: Dan Severn posted at November 15, 2005 5:02 PM

Nay, "TIFF" is a really asinine file format that my mother sends pictures to me over e-mail with.

I mean, honestly, I don't need a nine gigabyte picture of the dachshunds.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at November 15, 2005 5:13 PM

I'm relatively sure you could encode an entire dachshund into a nine gigabyte file.

Comment from: Scarybug posted at November 15, 2005 5:39 PM

See that's why TIFFs are good. You want to make sure to use lossless compression when sending living animals over the internet.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at November 15, 2005 5:57 PM

I dunno, Eric - Nintendogs is much larger than that, and dachsunds are in that.

Comment from: Clint H posted at November 15, 2005 6:19 PM

I feel your pain, Brad as probably every cartoonist doing webcomics does.

I guess the secret is to not do what I do, and give away the entire show. I'm currently working on a story for Wandering Ones that won't appear on the site, only in print.

Then we'll see just how many fans are willing to forgo a trip or two to Starbucks.

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at November 15, 2005 6:27 PM

The real problem is that the book buying audience and the websurfing audience aren't the same audience most of the time. It's nearly impossible for someone without a publisher to get his book into a store, but it's fairly easy to get the book made. On the other hand, it's pretty easy to get your comic on the Internet, but it's fairly difficult to get people to pay for it.

You'd think this could work as a symbiotic relationship of sorts ... the books would be bought from the people that read it on the Internet, or the people would cut out the middle-man and help the artists out with donations and such while they churned out their comics.

I think that's what's so disheartening about this medium ... well, comics in general. You can do quality work that people enjoy, but the vast majority of us can't live off it.

It'll be interesting to see if the new revenue streams that keep opening up to us starts making few more of us self-sufficient.

Comment from: Egarwaen posted at November 15, 2005 6:27 PM

Starslip Crisis is a fine comic but not metahumor

Hm. I'm not sure I'd agree with that. It's not blatant metahumor. But a comic strip set in an artificial future where most human cultures are composed entirely of art critics seems to me to be, if not metahumor, then meta-meta-humor.

As for Greystone Inn... While Mac, Sam, and Argus were the core of the strip, Mac and Sam's story is really done. What more could be done with them? They're happily married. Mac is a bit of a goof, but is committed. They have a kid. I'm not digging Evil Inc as much, but I didn't dig the early Greystone Inn strips either.

And some of the Evil Inc stuff is side-splittingly funny. I think it would be better if the original cast were more involved, but it's still good.

The Melonpool reboot gets a hearty thumbs-up. I never did read the whole archives, and almost didn't start reading the comic because of their size. I'm not sure how good the new archives are for a jumping-in point, but I'm willing to wait and see.

Comment from: SeanH posted at November 15, 2005 6:51 PM

Sayeth Egarwaen:

if not metahumor, then meta-meta-humor

That sounds like the start of a Checkerboard Nightmare plot arc...

Comment from: Clint H posted at November 15, 2005 7:12 PM

[quote]You'd think this could work as a symbiotic relationship of sorts ... the books would be bought from the people that read it on the Internet, or the people would cut out the middle-man and help the artists out with donations and such while they churned out their comics.[/quote]

Yor'd think,...

But part of the problem is that the strips on the web have already been seen and only the die-hard fans are going to buy them.

I think I mentioned while you were at Keenspot that the Wandering Ones book (web reprints) had only just gotten into the black after two years.

Maybe that's just the nature of our fans, but if I'm not mistaken, Maritza does all NEW (not seen on the web) stories in comic form for her fans to buy. Of course, her fans are quite a bit more fanatic than mine or yours...

Comment from: ysen posted at November 15, 2005 8:29 PM

the main reason i haven't made alot of purchases from the comic creaters i like is postage for the most part. this may sound odd but living in australia multiple purchases from america (or anywhere international) really add up.

when i look to purchase something i would much rather do it in bulk to try and save myself on postage. while i'm not a stale bread and soup student (sbss) i don't have the kind of cash to make 5 or 6 purchases from different stores and get hit up 5 or 6 times for postage. if i could buy 10 items (or more) in one place i would much rather do that than buy those 10 items from 6 different stores. i think this way on all purchases i make particularly from overseas but also domestically. [when an anime i like comes out i don't buy each dvd as it's released regardless of how much i want to, i'll wait for it to be collected in a box set and take advantage of the discount (and if i can get a further discount from a special offer, then awesome) because i try to make my dollar go as far as it can.]

i guess what i'm going for here is that it would be cool if the webcomic creators devised some sort of collective online store, a sort of webcomic centric b&n (with t-shirts and posters, etc.) rather than the 50 specialty boutiques we've got at the moment, as strange as it might be i would much rather lay out a large one off sum at one store than small sums drawn out over time at 10 stores because with postage the bulk buy will save me money in the long term, which is something i've been taught to seek out. also using feats of twisted math if i calculate i can buy 6 items from a handful of stores for $x.00 or i could buy 7 items from one store for $x.00 or less i see that 7th item as free and that's a purchase i can easily justify in my head.

as far as products that webcomics release, if it's just the one item, i'm willing to wait for the deal to spicen (word?) and i'm patient to a fault. what this essentially means is giving me more items i want to buy in one location because with bulk the more you buy the less it costs (then load it up 'til it's free) in postage and i would make far more purchases than i do now if that was the case.

Comment from: Bookworm posted at November 15, 2005 11:13 PM

Blank Label Comics is somewhat moving into a common merchandising format. They haven't gotten there yet, but by pooling into the same sources - like Lulu - you probably WILL be able to buy 3 books from 3 different strips, two N-Toonz maquettes, and a Checkerboard Nightmare plushie with the Kung-Fu waistband grip.

Comment from: Eric the .5b posted at November 16, 2005 12:07 AM

I've been doing this for almost six years and I've heard every single excuse to *not* support a webcomic there is.

Well, there's the honest one - "I don't want to give $20 to the creators of each of the 30-odd webcomics I read. Your comic isn't one of the rare ones I think might be worth a completely optional payment, if their creators asked nicely."

Nothing personal meant by that - I haven't read your work before, and a quick glance tells me it's well done. I'm speaking generally.

The problem is that the "Please hit the tip jar" business model isn't much of one. Aside from some famous outliers, it reduces down to the creator guilt-tripping and pleading with his or her "customers" to get money out of them - which is just dysfunctional business. On top of that, every professional creator is competing with a horde of amateurs for the degree of favor necessary to make a reader willing to donate money - some of whom are just as entertaining to many readers.

it's an attempt to find better readers...readers who will be willing to fund the next five years of my webcomic-producing life.

In all sincerity, good luck with that. I'm just skeptical.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at November 16, 2005 1:18 AM

I don't know that webcomics are big enough to escape the tip jar thing yet. It requires a little faith. A number of webcartoonists with some ambition and devotion to their work have printed books. I don't buy them online, but I go out of my way to buy from them at cons. But maybe you say to yourself, "man, I could get a Garfield collection twice as long for $2 less than what this guy is asking."

So it really is in support of a product as much as it is a purchase in the common reference, if that makes sense. We have to see that the readers are on our side, that they don't want us to quit, that they give a damn. But, the audiences are still too small for everyone to be supported fully.

Comment from: Shadowydreamer posted at November 16, 2005 1:18 AM

*Crawls out of retirement*

I am probably the world's biggest Lightning Lady fan. I adore her. Brad's comic (whichever it is ;)) is the first on my web comic crawl. But the sad fact is - I am broke. Heck, I've been teetering on bankruptcy for three months. To say because I can afford $20 for my internet a month means I have another $20 to support a web comic artist doesn't make sense to me.

If I give my $20 to a webcomic artist, then I don't have an internet connection to read their work with. Or, I could give up $20 and a week's groceries. Or.. The sad fact is, some of us really are living on the edge and half the reason we read webcomics is because it is a cheap form of entertainment. It doesn't mean we don't WANT to show appreciation to our favourite artists in the form of green, it's just not feasible.

I don't think Brad knows this - but when I got a chance at signed books offered (and encouraged) I gave up my painkillers for a month to purchase them. (My internet at the time was being paid for by my brother) But that was a sacrifice *I* chose to make. Being expected to kinda grates. If you're in it for the money, you're probably in the wrong business.

*Goes back into websnark retirement*

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at November 16, 2005 2:08 AM

I get more out of people telling their friends about the strip than I do out of people buying stuff or giving me money. If you can't buy our wares, do us a favor and tell your friends about the comics you like.

Comment from: gwalla posted at November 16, 2005 2:10 AM

You're all missing the real point, which is that former UFC and NWA World Heavyweight Champion Dan "The Beast" Severn posts in Websnark! Holy crap!

Comment from: Danalog posted at November 16, 2005 8:08 AM

One problem I have with merchandising for a comic is that most artists tend to make shirts and other paraphanalia that only appeal to hardcore fans, and make everyone else ask "wtf is that?". Maybe this only applies to me because I tend to buy them to give away.

Three examples of people that have gotten past this are the Penny Arcase guys, Randy Milholland., and of course Goats PA's punctuation people shirt, for example, needs no explanation to be cool looking, and every S*P shirt except for the cast pic and maybe the choo-coo bear heart is instatly gettable by the general public. And Goats... what can I say about them. The shirts are zen buddhism of weirdness.

Granted, you have to have a larger audience to get away with that. If you've got a smaller audience, the most you can probably get away with is a single cast pic shirt, but I, for one, have never been interested in the least by cast pic shirts.

One comic that has put out shirts of the cast that I actually like is Dominic Deegan. Mookie's "Death from Above" shirt and "Great Conductor" shirt look cool, without knowing what DD is or what it's all about.

Maritza Campos recently discontinued her t-shirt, concentrating on prints, comic books, and CDs, which were her strength from the start (I own some comics, yes I do). I'm not privvy to the details, of course, but I'm willing to bet it's because people weren't really interested in a cast pic shirt.

Comment from: Danalog posted at November 16, 2005 8:09 AM

hooray for typing a post when I just woke up, doh. I lose at punctuation and typos

Comment from: Guigar posted at November 16, 2005 10:45 AM

I have to admit, I'm stunned by the amount of people who have taken offense at my comments. Not because they disagree -- I expected that -- but because almost to a person, the people expressing disagreement are people who have supported their favorite webcomic. In other words, they're the people I'm *not* talking about.

If you support your favorite webcomic(s), don't get upset about what's being said here. As I've said on my Livejournal, you're wasting valuable time that could be put into cloning yourself! :)

Aside from that, I said it and I'm glad I said it. I think a little discussion like this is good for webcomics in general -- whether you agree with me or disagree.

Comment from: Danalog posted at November 16, 2005 10:47 AM

The type of disagreement you're getting, from people who actually support the webcomics they like, is most likely just because this is the Websnark forum =)

Comment from: siwangmu posted at November 16, 2005 12:12 PM

Shadowydreamer: "I don't think Brad knows this - but when I got a chance at signed books offered (and encouraged) I gave up my painkillers for a month to purchase them."

Holy shit. You are some kind of saint. I am not being sarcastic, but dear Christ, there are very, very, very, very few creative works I would voluntarily endure a month of physical pain for. And most of them are by Joss Whedon, and falling in love with anything of his is asking for pain in the first place (note: I am not attempting to trivialize the kind of pain one gets a month of painkillers to deal with).
I think there are probably very, very few people like you--I think that the people to whom Guigar is referring are actually people like me--I have hundreds of dollars of theoretically disposable income every month--there's food and some bills, but I am fundamentally supported by my Dad until I finish college. I can afford to go to the movies, and when I do, I generally get popcorn. Yet there's a T-shirt at QC I've been lusting after for months, and everytime I look at it, I go, "Aw, man, 20 dollars? Maybe next month would be a better time..."

Of course, I also don't bitch about any choices the creators make and am not really at a point where my life depends on the works. I'd say the only thing whose disappearance would detroy me in the webcomics world is, well, this site, and, uh, I own an I Aggro Drama shirt.

But your post, Mr. Guigar, does (1) make me wanna read your strip and (2) make me feel like switching my splurge-money over to webcomics.

Other things:
"I'm stunned by the amount of people who have taken offense at my comments." For the record, only on Websnark would this amount of rancor count as offended, because in general we're so damn peaceable about everything (except our occasional psycho-flipout-intensity threads). And I do get that the stunned didn't go with the offended, just in case you would've felt the need to clarify.

"As I've said on my Livejournal, you're wasting valuable time that could be put into cloning yourself!"
Hahahaha!

Also, about the subject itself: Er, I know I'm weird, but this transition... sort of makes me feel like now I can probably never read Melonpool, which makes me sad 'cuz I was planning to give all the BLC people a try sooner or later. However, it's likely that most people are not obsessive about archives the way I am (I cannot, will not, at least so far, read any webcomic that has story without going from the beginning). This probably means I need to try and make it a point to meet someone who has the books, steal them, and then come read. Also, the idea of redoing existing archives makes perfect sense from the creator's standpoint, but... it bothers me! Now I can never know the actual story, really! What if the facial expressions give me a different impression than they would've? What if a character's responses make the most sense if the other person originally said this to them, and not that, exactly?

Why am I so psycho about backstory? I don't know. I don't even like the idea of someone watching Buffy without showing them every episode of the first season first, because they'll be missing flavorful character interaction! My friends have gotten me to compromise on that one, though, with the First ep-"Angel"-Finale version of Season 1.

Anyway, the point is that I'm a freak, but, hey, my freakish viewpoint isn't so much represented yet here, so even though it's outnumbered by the "great, now I can read!" answers, I figured I'd add it.

Now to go check my bank balance and see about the QC T-shirt (Music plus science totally equals sexy!).

Comment from: siwangmu posted at November 16, 2005 12:33 PM

Update: Funds were available; shirt has been purchased!

From your lips to the pocketbooks of the world.

(I hope it is taken as a good thing and not bad that you, er, inspired me to spend money on someone else? I think that was sort of the point)

Comment from: Guigar posted at November 16, 2005 1:53 PM

That was absolutely the point! Bravo! :)

Comment from: Dan Severn posted at November 17, 2005 1:12 AM

Shirts I would think are mostly only going to be worth the trouble if they require no prior knowledge of the webcomic. A Garfield shirt could make a lasagne joke, and enough people would get it that the shirt could still be desirable to a large number of people.

But webcomics just don't have that kind of exposure. I remember puzzling over the Megatokyo shirts I saw back before I had ever heard of webcomics. I remember deciding that whatever this megatokyo was, it must be extremely nerdy (based on the people wearing them) and not worth looking at.

The only shirt I've bought off a webcomic was Straub's recent "Lincoln Shot First." The artwork on the shirt was good, and I enjoy Checkerboard Nightmare and Starslip Crisis. But there are plenty of strips with good art and writing that sell T-shirts. The Lincoln shirt had next to nothing to do with the comic. I bought it because it's disturbingly hilarious. It's accessible to anyone who knows who Lincoln was, and that he was assassinated. That's all it takes. Knowing about the PVP "Han Shot First" shirts, or who Kris Straub is, or familiarity with anything on the internet is merely a sufficient cause for merriment, not a necessary one.


Yes, Gwalla, Dan Severn posts here. He even has a rarely-updated webcomic and lives in Texas.

"Michael . . . Bolton? Is that your real name?"

Comment from: http://larksilver.blogspot.com posted at November 19, 2005 12:18 AM

"The Lincoln shirt had next to nothing to do with the comic. I bought it because it's disturbingly hilarious. It's accessible to anyone who knows who Lincoln was, and that he was assassinated. That's all it takes."

I bought two shirts that are, I think, originally Penny Arcade shirts for my nephews for their birthday. One is 20 this year, and tells his (equally 20-obnoxious) friends "you suck" all the time, thus "It's not my fault you suck" was perfect for him. the other was for the 17-year-old who thinks he's a l33t haxxor, and I figured "LMAO" wouldn't get him in too much trouble at school. Neither of these guys had heard of Penny Arcade, although both at least have a passing knowledge of Megatokyo (mutual friend=major fan).

The best shirts for anything are ones you don't have to explain, in my humble opinion. Wild cherries from Catharsis would be great, as they're obvious puns (I just don't like the designs she's chosen to put on the shirts). Or just Rremly - I wouldn't have to explain he's a dragon. duh. And the same goes for many other strip-related shirts.

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