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Eric: The Long, Dark Night of Steve Troop

Melonpool

(From Melonpool.)

There reaches a point where the question becomes "how long is too long?" How long should a cartoonist keep writing and drawing his strip? How long should he keep plugging away? How many times does he keep grabbing for the brass ring before he kind of gives up?

As of this morning, Steve Troop is the latest big name cartoonist out of the Daily Grind. He had been doing a "phoning it in" riff where the images were static, and making a relatively snarky commentary about static image comics in the process, but the last one was last Friday, and today is Tuesday, which means we missed Monday, and that's the Grind.

More to the point, however, we're beginning to see a pattern.

Troop did an amazingly gutsy thing this year. Recognizing that his strip is choked with backstory and archives and all the rest, he decided to reboot the strip as a whole (eliminating his online archives in the process). He also went to a full page format, which means he was also increasing his workload. The whole design was meant to make it easy for people to leap right in, while maintaining the fun for long time readers.

(As both a long time reader and a follower of the new strip, I've enjoyed this greatly, though he may have been just slightly too In Media Res about how he did things. Since we lack backstory on who everyone is with the reboot, there's at least some sense of "who are these people and what are they doing?" that might be a touch difficult for folks. But I digress.)

Here's the thing. In a lot of ways, Melonpool's starting over. And Steve Troop's going for new readers, hard.

And that means that in a lot of ways, we have to treat Melonpool like a whole new strip. And that includes finding an audience.

Audiences take time, it's sad to say. Very few people get to launch with sizable numbers. In a way, Troop has an advantage -- he has rabid fans and the respect of many of his fellow creators. Both of those help. But, there's also the disadvantage that those folks who aren't reading still need to be brought in, and the situation is just odd enough that it takes time.

There's also some folks who simply don't like change -- even in a strip as anarchic as Melonpool, there are going to be some folks who don't want the multiple timelines and futurecasts and time travel and....

Yeah.

It reaches a point where a person feels pretty dark. And Troop -- who's coming off of illness -- is feeling that way now. In fact, in a recent forum post, he said that if he didn't get his readership to 5,000 daily unique IP numbers by the end of March, he would punch out entirely. (There was at least some feeling that he was pressing a gun to Mayberry's head and saying 'one wrong move and the Melotian gets it!') He then revised that statement to just be "growth by March," which seems healthier, but still....

And then we had Christmas, and several strips done in a parody of static art style a la Dinosaur Comics. Clearly, meant to keep Troop in the Grind while he took a break. Except we saw a real darkness underneath those sentiments... and a real sense of bitterness at Dinosaur Comics's success. They were put into Ralph's mouth, where bitterness is in character, but because they were breaking the fourth wall so firmly, they came across as... well, meaning every word of it. "He can't just plug in dialogue to stay in the Grind -- he has standards." "Too bad people ignore his work most of the time. When he tries, it's worth it!"

And in the accompanying newspost, he talks about how he's feeling, and what impact it's having on him:

It's starting to feel like I'm investing a lot of time into something that isn't really what I want to be doing. I've made no secret that I get no real joy from cartooning ... I haven't for years. The only real joy I get is from crafting stories and the comic always felt like the best way for me to tell the stories I wanted to tell. Maybe it still is, but I'm so jaded right now, it's hard to really think straight.

I don't know, man.

I like Melonpool. I always have. If I can help push people over to it, so much the better. But I don't know that this is the way to go about "saving it." Ryan North's comic is innovative not because the art is static, but because his writing is strong enough to transcend the art's limitation. And people talk it up because it's good.

But then, the question is -- is Troop truly angry at Dinosaur Comics? I don't think so.

I think he sees a comic strip he's been working on, in various formats, since the early nineties. I think he sees years and years and years of investment, of reinvention, of effort, of work. I think he sees tremendous risks taken this year to shake it up, to give people a route in, to reinvigorate everything. And I think seeing the slow process he now has to go through, slogging along, doing the daily strip drawing and working without "gimmicks" or "shortcuts" is exhausting.

I think Melonpool is on an ascent right now. Creatively and artistically, I think it's stronger than it's been in a long time. I think it's interesting and exciting, and I'm looking forward to where Troop takes it.

However, I also think that we need to get a solid storyline or two behind us before the new fans are going to jump on board, and I think it's going to be a slog getting there, and I think that has Troop feeling morbid. If Melonpool is ascending, Steve Troop himself is at nadir. He sees flashes in the pan and wonders what more he can do.

He seems, more than anything else, tired.

Well, I hope things pick up. I hope he gets his legs underneath him. I hope he gets some traction and some readership. From a selfish standpoint, I hope he gets whatever he needs to keep drawing Melonpool, because I enjoy it.

But most of all, I hope he swings up in mood. I hope he gets some hope back.

I hope he starts liking it again.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at December 27, 2005 11:42 PM

Comments

Comment from: Dragonmuncher posted at December 28, 2005 12:34 AM

Honestly? I LIKE big archives when I start a new comic. I can see how a ten-year archive might seem daunting, but I'd rather start reading something while it has a full and rich mythology then see it gradually develop day by day. It doesn't matter that it's a little old - if I haven't read it, it's new to me.

Examples? Starting Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series back at book one. I would have had to wait over 15 years to get the same amount of character development, excitment, therorizing, etc. than I did when I started it in 2000.

QC's art changing, and deepening plot. Narbonic's fleshing out of its plot. I'll admit that it might be cool to see a comic in its Golden Age (I can't really think of examples, but you know what I mean), but that Golden Age will always be readily accessible, thanks to the Internet.

I haven't started reading Melonpool, partly because I just haven't gotten around to it, but also partly because I want a few "solid storylines" so I don't just read a few comics, get confused, and then get info day by day.

There are a few webcomics I read without much in the way of archives, and it drives me NUTS. Not their fault- I can hardly expect 3 years worth of archives when a comic has only been up for a year, updating a few times a week.

I guess I just can't understand someone who wouldn't want to start at the beginning of the story, even if the story is long. And that's why I was kind of dismayed when I heard about the archives poofing away.

And yes- a comic with a tired/discouraged author isn't fun for anyone. Not fun to read, and I bet it's not fun for the creator. Remember when Greg Dean basically just said "Guys, the comics haven't been fun lately. I need to recharge." And he did, and came back, the strips were funnier, and he seemed happier too (judging by his posts, maybe he was LYING)

Maybe a brief vacation is all Tropp needs- get a guest week or two going, and relax.

Comment from: William_G posted at December 28, 2005 12:54 AM

He should quit if he's disatisfied with the process and labours of making webcomics. And there's no law, aside from the law of the dollar, that says someone MUST continue to make webcomics just to make readers happy.

Though I'd be willing to bet, given the comments highlighted above, and a number of comments by various webcomic vets over the last year, that the real problem is that webcomics have evolved beyond the cozy little world these guys made for themselves and he's another one who's not happy about it.

So no, he's not angry at Dinosaur Comics. He (and others) is angry at these uppity kids benefiting from the results of his (and others) labours. Let's face it, Dinosaur Comics is relevent to the newer reading audience now in a way that Melonpool and most of the old stand-bys arent. And it makes the gag format look foolish while doing so.

Comment from: Maximillian posted at December 28, 2005 12:59 AM

When someone says they're tired of cartooning, but really, really into the idea of "crafting stories," isn't there somewhere else to go? Prose? Filmmaking? A really good tabletop RPG group? I think that troop might be just a little bit fed up that he sees a webcomic (even *this* webcomic) as his only avenue to have people around him actually read the stories he's crafting. I can empathise. Finding an audience is the hardest thing, even when you're prolific and loving what you're writing every day.

Comment from: bobulus posted at December 28, 2005 1:01 AM

I've been finding the new storyline really interesting, so I have a bias in wanting Mr. Troop to continue, but I honestly hope he is able to recharge his batteries a little with a break. Too nice a guy to just trash it after so many years.

Comment from: Adrean posted at December 28, 2005 1:01 AM

I don't read Melonpool as it doesn't appeal to me. I look at it occassionally, but there are comics that just don't mesh with individual taste.

We've gone through a similar situation in one of our publications. Our quarterly literary journal changed to an annual one, but money has been so tight that we had to do a subscription drive with the threat of closing the journal. But Melonpool and The Tactile Mind Annual are different in that the former is a individual's creation and the latter a collective creation. I don't quite agree with Troop's 'threat' for that reason, as the comic is his own creation, and ultimately his to publicize.

He has a right to express his frustration. But the final decision is his alone, as Steve has to examine what exactly bothers him about his comic and see what he wants to do.

...I've been told that half the work of making art is marketing it. It's easy to think that the work is done when you set finished art down or post it up, but if you want to 'make it,' you'll have to 'sell' it too. Take Namir Deiter for example -- the Marks work together both in the business and the artistic side. Studio Foglio is another great example.

Dragonmuncher -- you're right, he needs a vacation. Or a new comic with a new premise. Or a business partner. :)

Comment from: John Lynch posted at December 28, 2005 1:32 AM

I don't see this as a threat to readers or anything, but as an ultimatum for himself. He's been plugging away at it for nearly years now with little audience growth. He's decided if he doesn't get a bit of growth, he's going to give up. He decided (for whatever reason, I don't think it's a good one though, publicity wise) to warn his readers. It isn't really like the Milholland Drive where the readers were actively responsible. Readers can't do THAT much more then read it, I don't think he's expecting them to go force their friends to read it, or to put up flyers at their school campus.

As for the hiatus strips, I can definitely sympathise. I've disliked Dinosaur Comics since I first saw it. I think the writings bad and the "artwork" pointless. Sure at first I was prejudiced against it because it reused the same clip-art forever. But after reading a few strips I was willing to give it a go, but after reading a few weeks worth of the archives, I found it pointless. I didn't find it funny, the writing hardly ever (if at all) sync'd up with the art. I didn't get why it's so popular. I still don't get why it's so popular (I'm guessing it's the whole marketing thing, but I've only seen word-of-mouth). So I can definitely understand Steve taking a few potshots at Dinosaur Comics in a hiatus strip.

Comment from: SFaulken posted at December 28, 2005 1:35 AM

Yeah, I'm with you on that one, I just don't *get* the appeal of DDC, it just doesn't resonate with me. It's not even that it's clipart, hell, I love Partially Clips, and a couple other strips in the same vein as DDC.

I guess it's just not *for* me.

Comment from: twistmeyer posted at December 28, 2005 1:42 AM

I hate to say it, because I like Steve's work a lot in general, but he seems to have a point. I actually read those 3 or 4 static strips without realizing they had the same artwork. Strangely enough, I thought they were funnier than most of the reboot strips, too.

It may just be time for Steve to approach the Gordian knot of Melonpool backstory with a big-ass sword, and come up with a new strip.

It's sad in some ways, because Melonpool is one of the few webcomics that could just as easily been on the newspaper comics page -- he's always approached the strip with a high level of craft and consistancy-- but it also illustrates the perils of keeping that format fresh. Ask Watterson, Larsen, and Breathed about that one.

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides posted at December 28, 2005 2:07 AM

It doesn't long for me to see whether a strip I'm reading has a big readership or not. It's a pretty simple question(s): Is it geared towards the 15-30 demographic? Is it intelligent and at the same time quirky and catch-phrasey and simple? (I'm not dissing anyone, and I love mah T-Rex) Comics that are not tend to get left out, no matter how long they've been around, and no matter how great the story and/or art is. Ian McDonald of "Bruno the Bandit" was drawing the Sluggy Saturdays for years, without the dramatic increase in readership he was hoping for; then Clay Yount took over and I, though I don't have the numbers, I'm pretty sure Rob and Elliot's UIPs went out the roof (as far as you can tell from the linkage they get around).

Adrian Ramos is stuck with the same "problem" Troop's having, and he blogged about it in his last couple posts. Now he says he has a plan, which is, more or less, to target his target demographic efficiently. (He described it as "single parents who get the blues", which kinda lefts me out, but anyway). I don't know how he will do it, but it'll be interesting to watch.

Most "indie" webcomics (QC ironically not included) must either settle with a small readership (which is not an important factor for many) or aggresively promote their comic in non-standard channels. If done right, they too can find success, limited only by the size of their niche.

Long story short, I don't think it was the huge archive that was holding Melonpool back.

Comment from: Eytan Zweig posted at December 28, 2005 2:21 AM

I am one person who started reading Melonpool after the archive purge, and I found it good enough to continue reading but not quite "eagerly antcipate the next update" level. So I read it regularly, even though the plot progressed with a snail's pace and there was a ton of stuff I didn't understand. And I was getting worried even before the hiatus business, because honestly, I wasn't sure that Troop was handling the juggling between old and new readers too well - there was too much stuff which I felt I needed backstory to understand. Maybe that's just the strip's style, or maybe that's because it's really an old strip in new clothing - I don't know, because there are no archives for me to reference.

Then, when the strip went on hiatus, I was left dangling, with all the questions and none of the answers likely to come any time soon. And it made me question "was the strip purge really a new beginning, or was it a sign of the end?" and I'm not sure.

Of course, I'll resume reading if and when Melonpool resumes, if I hear about it. But if Troop is seeking to make a new avid reader out of me, I'm not sure why.

Comment from: Dan Severn posted at December 28, 2005 2:30 AM

Oh wow. I've been on dialup for the past couple weeks, so I've cut back severely on my webcomic trawl for the time being. One of the comics I haven't been reading is Melonpool. Not because it isn't one of my favorites (it is) but because the file sizes were much larger than they used to be. And now, man. I like Melonpool. I like Steve Troop. I really hope he starts feeling better about the comic and just better in general.

Not that I wouldn't be interested in more Melonpool puppet movies.

Comment from: Escushion posted at December 28, 2005 2:33 AM

I never got into Melonpool, unfortunately. I tried reading it for a little while, but it dropped off again. It just never clicked with me. It was funny and weird and likable, but for some reason I just couldn't really get into reading it.

The purge of the archives disgusted me though. I understand Troop's reasons for it, but archives are a precious thing to me. If David Willis ever did that, I'd have to pull an Annie Wilkes on him. I couldn't imagine being a Melonpool-reader.

I think every webcomicer goes through a slump now and then, when they just don't feel like doing it any more. The trick is to make it a habit to get it done every day. It's when real life interferes that there's a problem, and even a day's break can make it very hard to pick up again. I don't know if that's what happened to Troop with his illness, but I do know that 10 years is a long time to keep a habit like this going when it feels unrewarding.

Comment from: MarvinAndroid posted at December 28, 2005 4:04 AM

From the quote, it sounds like he cares more about the storyline than actually drawing a cartoon: "The only joy I got was from crafting stories..."

If he likes the comic format, though, he might try publishing multi-part short stories (serials). I doubt he reads this, and I've never read the comic, and this isn't really the place for the suggestion, but it's a thought.

I wonder how many other cartoonists are sick of their comic, and are only doing it in order to make a living or please the fans?

Comment from: Sam Logan posted at December 28, 2005 4:07 AM

I'm not sure that purging your archive and starting over is the best way to get new readers. If you want to reboot for artistic reasons then sure, go for it! But readership-wise, I don't think it helps you any more than it hinders you.

Some people are intimidated by big archives, no doubt. But other people are addicted by them. When you can blast through hundreds of comics without having to wait a day or two between them, it eliminates one of the biggest turn-offs of serialized stories: the wait-time between episodes. If a reader likes the first few strips in your archive, they don't need to wait to feed the hunger for more material. And the more they read, the more they're likely to get attached to what you're doing, right? I know that's often how webcartoonists sink their creative meathooks into me, at least.

As for setting a timeline for desired readership growth, I think it's probably best not to think about it. If you worry about how much faster other comics have gotten popular, you're going to drive yourself crazy. I've seen comics hit 15,000 readers in under a year. It took me over 3 times as long to hit the same number, and it'll take someone else longer than that. Fortunately, it's not a race! (I hope!)

Comment from: William_G posted at December 28, 2005 4:14 AM

Most "indie" webcomics (QC ironically not included) must either settle with a small readership (which is not an important factor for many) or aggresively promote their comic in non-standard channels. If done right, they too can find success, limited only by the size of their niche.

Ah, the problem arises...

Webcomics, for all of it's fannishness, is still a realm where people do help spread recognition for each other around. Even if they don't like the comic or the creator, awareness is still made to potential readers. The problem is that out "DIY / help the community/ focus on me and my own" attitudes have also effectively ghettoized webcomics.

But to reach outside of the usual cliques, one needs to spend money to do it. Generally speaking, those who can afford to advertise, tend not to need to.

Comment from: Connor Moran posted at December 28, 2005 4:51 AM

William: I don't think that it's quite true that the only way to reach outside the standard webcomic audience is to spend money. As was mentioned in the CAD debate, there are comics that are tied to particular subcultures and not to the rest of webcomics. The best counter-example I can think of is Unshelved which, though it got a huge bump lately within the comics community thanks to a link from Penny Arcade, has been plugging along happily for years with readers among librarians and booksellers. I discovered it a few years ago not from a link online but becasue of a strip posted in a bookstore. I read it not just because I like to read comics, but because I worked in a library and I have been known to make dorky library jokes. I doubt that this is the only comic of it's kind, appealing to a subculture totally separate from comics, it just happens to be one I read because I happen to belong to that subculture.

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at December 28, 2005 5:09 AM

Actually, the strip will resume on the 2nd like I said they would. I've been having to drive from LA to SD to see my grandmother the last few weeks because she was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer just after Thanksgiving. She was the one that made the original Melonpool puppets in 1994 and is one of the last relatives I have that I feel understands my weird artistic ways (her late husband -- my grandfather -- was an architect, and we were a lot alike).

Anyway, time management was the real issue. Helping to take care of her and figure out how to continue updating the strip was something I just couldn't muster over the holiday stretch. I had hoped that the cop-out strips would hold me over in the Daily Grind until the 26th, when I would have started up the strip for real again, but they disqualified me on the 22nd (saying that reusing artwork wasn't valid for their criteria, even though it never says that anywhere in their rules), so I figured I might as well build up a small buffer in the meantime before I come back on Jan. 2.

On a side note,I really wish that some of you commentators would grow a little journalistic integrity and actually ask me to clarify things. I see a real problem with all the assumptions made about how I'm ending the strip because the readership isn't there. The thread referenced on my forums did everything I wanted it to do -- it gave me a lot of ideas for things I haven't tried to market the strip. It also vented some initial frustrations I have.

I fully intend to keep the strip going until I die. It sucks the life out of me sometimes. It ruins relationships. It makes it difficult for me to relate to the real world. But it's the one consistency in my life. The ecstasy and the agony, as it were. If the webstrip were to end entirely you'd know it, because I'd write some kind of real (non cop-out) conclusion. And you'll see what I have in store for the archives. Trust me. It's going to be cool.

One last thing -- if Melonpool were to end as a webstrip, I doubt I'd start up another strip. I just have no desire to do a different cartoon. I'd much rather take the characters into a different medium like puppetry or animation. I think I've done everything I can do with the newspaper format strip (pre-reboot) and I look forward to seeing what I can do with the comic book format I'm doing right now (post reboot) ... but like I said, cartooning has never really been my passion. Telling stories is.

Comment from: GiannaM posted at December 28, 2005 5:16 AM

William G. wrote:
"Webcomics, for all of it's fannishness, is still a realm where people do help spread recognition for each other around. [...] But to reach outside of the usual cliques, one needs to spend money to do it. Generally speaking, those who can afford to advertise, tend not to need to."

Not in my experience. I could as well not exist where the webcomics community is concerned, but I get plenty of readers and readership growth by word of mouth among online gamers. I actually doubt that it's worth spending on advertising. I only took a paid ad out once, at comixpedia, and I think that it gave me a dozen hits, if at all. At the same time some guy posted a link to my comic on the World of Warcraft forums and I got a couple of thousand hits in one day, for free, out of that post. Of course I realise that I'm lucky to address an audience of gamers rather than, say, chemists - because they spend a lot of time online and on forums. However, I doubt that advertising works for anyone.

Which brings me to another thing: why want 5000 readers? There could be two reasons, finances or ego-boosting.
Financially, it makes no sense. What are you going to get out of a 5k readership, 1-2 hundred bucks a month worth of ads and merch? There's an infinite number of ways that you can make that money with less effort if that's your aim. I could understand a guy who said "All I wanted was to live off this comic but after many years I see that I'll never reach tens of thousands of readers, which would enable me to make enough money to give up my day job, so I give up." But 5000? Why?!? That's pocket money.


If the reason is ego-boosting, then what's so bad about, say 1000 readers, instead of 5000? It's still ONE THOUSAND people. If you picture in your mind how one thousand people standing next to each other would look like, it's quite a crowd reading your stuff.

Of all the webcomics community, my favorite people are the Keenspacers. There are a lot of strips there, some crap but some really good, which will probably never get past the few hundred (or dozen) readers. Yet it's almost the only place where I get a feeling that people actually HAVE FUN doing what they do, without getting so hung up on popularity.

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at December 28, 2005 5:28 AM

The strip has been stuck at 3500-4500 readers for years. Basically, it topped off at about 3500 in 2001 with the It's Walky crossover and stayed there until the reboot. then popped up to about 4500 after the reboot and has started creeping back down to the 3500 mark ever since.

It's not about money. It's not about an ego boost. It's about seeing some growth. So many strips benefit from word of mouth. I've never really had that. Some of the Melonpool fans love the strip and obsess over the little details, but sometimes it seems rather pointless because either no one's talking about it or I'm unable to attract any new readers.

Comment from: djcoffman posted at December 28, 2005 6:13 AM

"I fully intend to keep the strip going until I die. It sucks the life out of me sometimes. It ruins relationships. It makes it difficult for me to relate to the real world. But it's the one consistency in my life. The ecstasy and the agony, as it were."

Now THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is a CARTOONIST. That is the quote of the year in webcomics. A lot of you guys out there, who can't get something going and just up and quit when you're tired or "not feeling it" -- then take note, because you'll never really accomplish something unless you poor your heart and soul into it.

I think one day, maybe soon, we're going to see a MelonPool cartoon on tv or bigger. And it's because of that quote... the dedication this man has to this thing... this thing that torments him, calls to him... I admire that greatly.

As for growing an audience. I've been preaching to my close friends who have webcomics to get out of the friggin WEBCOMIC BOX. Man, it's SOOOO small. ANd going over to COMIC BOOKS, is NOT a big leap either. For me, it's reaching the Howard Stern type crowd, my comic is in the poop gutter--- for MelonPool, I don't know who it would be, it's a much more intelligent comic than mine. But Steve, I know if you focused like a tyrant on BUSINESS, you have an awesome vehicle to ride you to some success.

Off the top of my head, and not that anyone asked, but my advice for Steve, even though he doesn't fucking need it, and he's probably thought about most of this stuff himself already but maybe something will kickstart an idea for him...
If I were you, I'd be shipping my work out to Hollywood agents, which isn't as hard as people think. I'd also do a BIG push of that new format to be fed into maybe kid friendly websites, or the sites for kids who play those flash games online. I can get into Melonpool because of the cool cartooning, but it's hard for me to follow because I'm a jaded prick adult-- BUT if I sat my 8 year old down in front of it, he'd eat it up. Maybe the existing webcomic audience is just too old-- I think it's generally 16-35 in it's CORE, you might be needing to hit late elementary to Jr High kids.. If you hit that target audience over the head with Melonpool, I think your readership would grow exponentially.

But, don't take it from me. I just had to look up exponentially on websters.com to make sure I had it spelled right. ;)

Comment from: GiannaM posted at December 28, 2005 6:23 AM

Well, I've now read through the archive and it's a really nice comic. I do get the feeling of watching the sixth season of Red Dwarf without having seen the first five, because despite the Cast page and the new story there's a strong feeling of how established the characters and their relations are - even so, it's great for a new reader.

Except for one big thing:
Why would you post that angsty stuff on the main page? Are your readers (especially new ones who just found the site) the right people to address about your feelings of burnout and doubt about the strip? It's the worst sales pitch ever.
The weakest thing about webcomics compared to print comics is that you as a reader start reading a story and you don't know if you'll be able to read it until the end. For all you know, it may stop halfway through because the author won't update it anymore. The worst thing that you could see on a webcomic that you just found out about is a news update that makes you think that you just spent 30 minutes reading the beginning of a story that will never be concluded.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't talk with your readers, but talk about it in the forums, don't post it on the first page where everyone's going to see it and possibly think, if new to your site, "to shame, it seemed a nice comic", and never come back.

Also, what's up with the cheap shot at Dinosaur Comics? OK, so you don't like it and you obviously think that the guy's got an easy life of cutting and pasting, but to make a bitter strip about it makes you come across as a bit of a jerk. I'm sure that you aren't, but I'm giving you the point of view of someone who's just seen your site for the first time and who doesn't know you, especially if they happen to like Dinosaur Comics. I quite like it and I thought that you were being pointlessly petty and bitter, there.

Anyway, I'd be very happy to link you from the main page of my comic because I really enjoyed reading through your archives, but I'll wait until there's a less depressing strip and news item on the front page :)

Comment from: benlehman posted at December 28, 2005 6:38 AM

About the "problem" of no-money marketing to non-geek demographics: Maybe it's just me, but this seems really, really simple, as long as you don't get hung up on the "mainstream."


Drawing on my own experience trying to sell a new game to a very entrenched and distrustful group of RP-gamers (Amber/Everway players -- it doesn't sound hard unless you know them, in which case you are probably writing me off as a mad-man right now), the process is quite simple.


1) You show your art-thing, whatever it is you're selling, to friends of yours that are in the group.


2) Ask them, very politely, if they like it, to spread word about it amongst their friends and, if they don't like it, to tell you exactly why.


3) Take their feedback as seriously as you can, given your own lines-in-the-sand about the integrity of your creator's vision. Better yet, get feedback from their friends, who don't actually know you, because that shit is gold.


4) (not very useful for webcomics, but do consider forums and chat) When selling in person, make an extra-special attempt to seek out people in your target group, and talk with them about their thoughts on your art-thing. Discuss, don't preach. If you don't sell, that's a valuable lesson, even more valuable (in some ways) than a sale, especially if you know why.


5) Watch word-of-mouth kick butt for you.


Of course, if you don't have any friends in your target demographic, if you don't even know where those people congregate, you will have trouble with this process. But, frankly, if you have no friends within your targetted demographic, you have absolutely no business selling to them, and to consider that you can give them the art that they want, in better quality than they themselves can, is frankly arrogant and condescending.


The reason things like Unshelved are a success, while attempts to reach a nebulous "mainstream" are abject failures, is that Unshelved is made from within the community of librarians, for the community of librarians. It's exactly the same thing as geek comics and hip-youngster comics.


You don't get new readers by watering down your geekiness enough that they come to you. You get new readers by learning to love new things, and then making things for your new love.


yrs--

--Ben

Comment from: alschroeder posted at December 28, 2005 6:47 AM

Steve, I'll make you the featured link of the day on my Friday update, okay? Maybe I can send a few readers who never read you your way.


I'll be glad though, when you remember this isn't a competition, and that bit about the "one consistency in my life" scares me a little. It's beginning to sound less like a pleasure and more like a compulsion.


I do what I do because I like it. It is, however, secondary to my family, my wife, my sons, my job. It's the equivelent of painting landscapes for pleasure, or making an Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks. It's a creative outlet. I'm not getting paid for this (save for the occasional donation) and although I have a certain number of stories I want to write, I'd drop it tomorrow---


If it's no longer fun. (And this is from someone who's been doing regular updates for coming up on four years now.)

Go take care of your grandmother. Holidays can be a depressing time. But try to find a way to reconnect with your comic. Because you know what?


If you don't enjoy doing it---if it's a chore or a competition---we won't enjoy reading it.


---Al

Comment from: William_G posted at December 28, 2005 7:18 AM

On a side note,I really wish that some of you commentators would grow a little journalistic integrity and actually ask me to clarify things

I'm certain that if any journalists happen to stop by, they'll apologise.

I fully intend to keep the strip going until I die. It sucks the life out of me sometimes. It ruins relationships. It makes it difficult for me to relate to the real world. But it's the one consistency in my life. The ecstasy and the agony, as it were.

Now THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is a CARTOONIST.


No, that is someone with an unhealthy habit. When your passtimes/ pleasures are interfering with your ability to live a normal life, it's time to try and seek an alternative.

Steve Troop, you have alternate ideas for you characters that arent webcomics? Do them. You'll be happier in the long run.

Comment from: Joe Zabel posted at December 28, 2005 7:31 AM

I identify with what William G. said, "...the real problem is that webcomics have evolved beyond the cozy little world these guys made for themselves..."

DJ has a point about focusing on business like a tyrant; that is the ruling passion of today's webcomics. The only problem is, that's not necessarily fun, spontaneous, or personally fulfilling. When the goal changes from "producing an entertaining webcomic" to "exceeding 5000 uniques a day," something is lost in the process.

My personal mantra is to try to make your work as good as it can possibly be. Pretty simple advice, and hardly original. But it may be the difference between the Derek Kirk Kims and Kazu Kibuishis of this world and everybody else.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 28, 2005 8:21 AM

M. Troop -- for the record, I based my assumption on:

You know how some cartoonists say "If I don't get x amount of dollars by the end of the month, I'm quitting the strip?" I'm about this close to saying "If I don't get more than 4500 uniques in a month, I'm going to quit."

Actually, on second thought, I'll say this: If I don't see some readership growth by the end of March, I'm going to do something else with my free time.

I believe you when you say you've been reinvigorated by the discussion. I hope that continues -- reinvigorated is an excellent thing. However, I stand by the essay as writ.

I sincerely, deeply hope your Grandmother's condition improves. All my hopes and thoughts for you and your family in what can't be any kind of fun time.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at December 28, 2005 8:29 AM

What "cozy little world" are you guys talking about?

Seriously. I am not familiar with this world.

When I finally moved from publication format (e-Zine) to my own website in '98 or so, it wasn't so much "cozy" as "stark" and "empty." The only web comics I was aware of *at all* were Kevin & Kell and User Friendly. Web Cartoonists started hanging out at rec.arts.comics.whatever just to have other people to talk to. It wasn't some kind of country club with valets and drinks with little umbrellas in it, it was just a bunch of people hanging out and talking about Boondocks and Luann (I'm not kidding -- most of the conversation on that newsgroup was focused on how Boondocks either was or was not funny, how Cathy sucked, and whatever was happening in Luann that week.)

It wasn't *cozy*, it was freaking HUGE, and we didn't know how to fill it. It's cozy *now*. We've got people who will tell us what we're doing and what we *should* be doing and what we're doing wrong and what we should and shouldn't be talking about and what we should and shouldn't be aspiring toward, we've got all the cliques you could ever want, and we've got people who are, you know, disgusted with the tragedy of the commons and who are trying desperately to make it go away. That's not, in my opinion, evolving beyond anything -- that's settling in.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 28, 2005 10:37 AM

To me, there's more than a bit of irony that I missed out on the first day of this debate because I was busy doing an archive trawl of a blog. By the way, no matter how great the blog is, reading every word of 350 web pages (not scroll pages... web pages) in one shot is one of the most soul-deadening things I've ever done.

Also, in a slightly more polite version of what William_G said, you can't expect or demand journalistic integrity from a community of non-journalists congregating around a personal blog. Not even from people who are journalists elsewhere - they have other sites for that purpose.

IF I'm reading the gist of DJ's post above... maybe a sci-fi magazine would be the place to shop Melonpool to. Some place that isn't overly serious about its subject, and could appreciate Melonpool as it comes along.

Though as for its target audience... I've wondered that a bit myself, and I am a reader. Is it supposed to be for fans of old TV? Science fiction? Classic-style newspaper comics? Original Star Trek? That could be a reason why you're not getting a wider audience, Steve - I've been reading Melonpool for years, and I can't tell you who it's for. Maybe that needs to be more defined.

Comment from: djcoffman posted at December 28, 2005 10:50 AM

You can totally be focused on business like a tyrant and still have fun. After all, your webcomic IS your product you are producing. If it's bad, you won't sell. So it's in your first best interest to make it good, GREAT even.

The biggest mistake I've seen with people who are really talented and should have a better thing going on is, they're not business minded AT ALL. Or, they try to be, but they don't know exactly WHO their audience is.. where it might be located. Those factors are what will determine the growth of readership AND monetary gain.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 28, 2005 11:06 AM

The controversial newspost was brought to my attention about ten days ago on the Snarkoleptics LJ community, where I wrote, reacting to the same two paragraphs Eric's quoted in his comment just above (on a thread I know Steve's seen cuz he's responded on it), "Atempting to shuffle off the responsibilty for your visitor stats onto your readers is unattractive." If that isn't what Steve meant to express he phrased himself poorly.

That said, I'm not unsympathetic. In the twenty-eight years I drew a cartoon a day before I started my webcomic, I suffered several burnout periods (that's why I always say I've been doing it "since 1976, with the occasional hiatus"). I fall on D.J.'s rather than Bill and Al's side of this question: when your daily cartoon is all the outlet your creative energies have, then certainly it's less important than your family and friends ... until you're not doing it. My wife once said to me, "You're happiest when you're drawing cartoons that everyone reads," and that's what Steve said above. Since I started Arthur, King of Time and Space I've dreaded the day I'll hit a burnout phase and start missing days (or, worse, use the same joke twice in a week without realizing - I've done that). I'm certain those days will come; I may be wrong, but I'm certain.

Also, Steve, I'd like to know whether it was actual reader feedback, or what, which led you to arrive at the conclusion that the size of your archive was having a negative impact on your ability to get new readership. ...since I mean to have twenty-five years' archive at AKOTAS when I'm done.

Bill's other point about getting out of the webcomics community if you want to expand your readership is one I've contemplated all along, but King Arthur interest webpages are generally on university websites which don't, in my observation, take advertising. I have been gestating the idea for a few days that I should crosspost the cartoons to the King Arthur interest LJ communities (that is, the two such communities I've found that aren't for icon generation or slash fanfiction of the 2004 movie), so I'll probably make an introductory post this week.

Comment from: Guigar posted at December 28, 2005 11:24 AM

I've told Steve this privately and I have no problem saying it publicly: He's one of the best. Period.

In an age of posturing and posing, he catches us off-guard by being completely honest in his self-examination. But if you read his words closely, you'll see a real artist perfecting his Craft. While the world around him takes the "fake it 'til you make it" route, he's really all about the "make it" part.

And he will.

Comment from: Dorkboy posted at December 28, 2005 11:27 AM

I haven't waded through the comics, but I do have this to say.

The snarky comics that are nothing like the current archives aren't going to get people to read.

I started checking out his "new" archives and they're AWESOME, they're all the things I didn't like about old Melonpool comics I had read. They're large enough so the characters don't look like jumbles of lines and they're pretty and awesome.

Keep that up and i'm a reader for life.

\/\/

Comment from: Denyer posted at December 28, 2005 11:28 AM

Having a thousand people (or even just a big group of random strangers) hanging on what you say... eh, it'd be gratifying and humbling enough for me. It's certainly not financial success, but it's no minor achievement.

Comment from: Clint H posted at December 28, 2005 11:33 AM

My karate Teacher once said to me "If Karate is not fun anymore, why are you doing it?"

Steve, it sounds to me like nine years is enough. Maybe you ought to take a long break, doodle in a sketch book (if you feel like it) and come back with something new, that might appeal to a wider audience. I'm sure Blank Label will hold your place.


If you even feel you even want to continue throwing yourself against cartooning and breaking on the rocks.

As you're probably aware, Wandering Ones is in the "low Rent' District of Keenspot, especially now that I've cut back to once a week. But, updating once a week, I still enjoy doing it.

To paraphrase Billy Bob Thornton, "You may love cartooning, but it may not love you back. It's like dating a German chick".

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 28, 2005 11:37 AM

"I had hoped that the cop-out strips would hold me over in the Daily Grind until the 26th, when I would have started up the strip for real again, but they disqualified me on the 22nd (saying that reusing artwork wasn't valid for their criteria, even though it never says that anywhere in their rules)"

Also, I checked up on this, thanks to archive.org. The rules have said all along that you need to use "new work" in the words of the Grind, which means reusing old artwork for any reason would be out.

Though I wonder if that would mean that reusing an old script with new art would be out, too. It's recycling just as much as what Steve has done.

Comment from: Darrin_Bright posted at December 28, 2005 12:09 PM

> No, that is someone with an unhealthy habit.
> When your passtimes/ pleasures are interfering
> with your ability to live a normal life, it's
> time to try and seek an alternative.

Geez, William G... do you enjoy running over puppies in your spare time?

Gary Larson had a similar "unhealthy habit", and on the advice of his therapist, went into retirement. When NOT drawing a comic turned out to be more unhealthy, he got a new therapist and went back to cartooning.

There is no such thing as a "normal life". It's been my experience that someone's life, "normal" or otherwise, is full of unhealthy habits - some functional, some dysfunctional. If the functional stuff keeps just a little bit ahead of the dysfunctional stuff, then most folks find a way to scrape by.

Just because the creative aspects of your life come into conflict with balancing relationships, emotional needs, professional goals... that's no reason to call it quits. That conflict... that's "normal life" in a nutshell.

Comment from: pablowapsi posted at December 28, 2005 12:22 PM

I've told Steve this privately and I have no problem saying it publicly: He's one of the best. Period.

In an age of posturing and posing, he catches us off-guard by being completely honest in his self-examination. But if you read his words closely, you'll see a real artist perfecting his Craft. While the world around him takes the "fake it 'til you make it" route, he's really all about the "make it" part.

And he will.

I'm in agreement with Brad here. While Steve has been doing Melonpool for ten years, it's still refreshing to see a comic that is crafted and not pumped out just to see how much can be gotten away with and still be called a comic.

Comment from: Bill posted at December 28, 2005 12:24 PM

First of all, all props to Steve Troop. You go, girl.

Since someone used our name in vain I thought I'd respond. Unshelved is actually aimed at a mainstream audience. We're writing a sitcom, and we thought a library was the perfect sit. That such a setting naturally attracted a large audience of library workers and booksellers was not unexpected, but nor was the eventual expansion into what I call the "civilian" (mainstream) market.

Should you write a niche comic?

Using Scott Adam's rule, to be funny you have to be a minimum of two of the following six things:

  • Cute
  • Clever
  • Cruel
  • Bizarre
  • Naughty
  • Recognizable

He says that comic strips start all pretty much start off cute, so we've got that. If you have any relationship with libraries then our situations are instantly recognizable. So there, we're funny to a narrow audience. It's a good place to start.

But crossing over into a larger audience, and do it well, means having the other components of funny too. It's actually a lot of work to avoid falling into the "in-group" pitfall, and sometimes we fail.

Our niche has been profoundly valuable for us. It keeps a core group of loyal readers. It means we can sell stuff at the places where those readers gather (library conferences) without competing with a million other comics (comic con). And this particular core group has a habit, nay, a vocation of recommending books to people. So our readership has a natural referral factor.

All of this is by way of saying, if you can write to a specific group, go for it. But if you can, keep it general enough to be funny to everyone. Because unless your group is big enough, you need that larger audience to make a living. The universe of library workers and booksellers (or more specifically, the fraction of that audience that is willing to read comics and thinks ours is funny) is probably not big enough to support my spendy ways, let along those of my co-author Gene, who chews through graphic novels like a moth through wool.

And none of this relates to Steve of Melonpool. Because he's just funny, at least to this geeky guy. And the audience of geeks is truly huge. Of course, he also has a lot of competition for said audience. But he's up to it.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 28, 2005 12:25 PM

This is an emotionally fraught topic -- we're discussing some of the core issues that all creators have to wrestle with.

As such, it's sometimes hard to keep it from getting personal. We've had one or two people tend in that direction. So, let's just watch that, shall we? There's plenty of grist in the mill without it.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 28, 2005 12:31 PM

"No, that is someone with an unhealthy habit. When your passtimes/ pleasures are interfering with your ability to live a normal life, it's time to try and seek an alternative."

"Geez, William G... do you enjoy running over puppies in your spare time?"

You know, whether he does or not, I don't think William G is trying to be nasty at all here.

If anything, he sounds like he's issuing concern in his own way. I mean, it does sound like Melonpool is messing around with Troop's life, like it interferes with the things Troop wants to do. Now, you can go on about how William expresses his concern. But still, he does have a point - if Melonpool is a weight around Steve's neck, then maybe he should talk to a professional and sort out what's best for him. Maybe that's continuing Melonpool, maybe not.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at December 28, 2005 12:41 PM

Though I wonder if that would mean that reusing an old script with new art would be out, too. It's recycling just as much as what Steve has done.

No, because the Grind is about teh drawing, not teh writing. There've been more'n one Grinder to redraw an old gag without being ruled out by the judges. You don't even have to write your gags, just draw them.

But it does confound me that Steve thought reusing art was within the rules. That it's not has been discussed on the Grind message board, and I thought Steve read the message board. I would think it was obvious; the whole point of the contest is to provide the contestants with motivation to draw every day (which is why those of us who already do that thought it'd be easy money).

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at December 28, 2005 12:43 PM

Of *course* Melonpool interferes with Steves life. He's been doing it for near 10 years! Do anything long enough and you will have bouts where you feel it is taking up all your time, and eventually you'll have at least one moment where you want to pack it all in. There have been more than a few occasions where Help Desk felt like a millstone around my neck, and hell, I'm one of those static image people Steve was railing against! It takes me all of 45 minutes to create a damn comic from start to finish on average!

I don't particularly see how that's relevant to the big picture -- which is whether Steve will feel like that all the time.

Comment from: Maritza Campos posted at December 28, 2005 1:22 PM

I see two points of view here. I see lot of people going "uh?" in their heads, at many of the things Steve is saying. I think you have to be in his shoes for a little while to understand where he's coming from.

The people who have been doing a single feature for I'd say more than five years have a different experience from the rest of the comic authors. Some apparently think that you can NOT have most of your brain juices around and around the same thing. Not everyone is so fortunate. It becomes an habit to write, to draw, to BE the strip. For YEARS. We're talking ten years here. Most of the years where you're young, and it's INEVITABLE to wonder, sometimes, if you haven't (are not) wasting your life somehow. Especially when you see all the sacrifices you have had to make, day in and year out. Especially when people you're close to dies or gets sick or your life is ruined somehow and you're not in the mood to be funny... sometimes for years.

But... this is what life is all about. Do something everyday for years, then retire. We are *fortunate* that we have found something we really like to do and we can do it, when all a helluva big percentage of the population has to look forward to is the next soap opera/reality show/saga book or movie.

Interpersonal relationships are already complicated, with or without hobbies or jobs or art or whatever the hell you want to call it.

It's not about the 5000 readers. It's about *stagnation*. It's about feeling you're past your prime and you can only decline now. It's about feeling you wasted your life in something that it is not really that succesful, when others do it apparently effortlessly.

And yet... I think Steve DOES get enjoyment from cartooning, or he'd simply stop. Many of the webcartoonists one day decide they're simply fed up. And they leave, and they never give another thought to their abandoned sites.

I think that's all that counts.

How long should one go on? Until you have to stop. And that's it. A feature can last 10 years or 50, and still be loved by author and readers. Perhaps it will not always remain the same, but what does?

Maritza
CRFH.net

Comment from: Scott Kurtz posted at December 28, 2005 1:49 PM

God, I can't believe some of you guys. Not everyone is motivated by the same insecurities that keep YOU from making YOUR webcomics. Point your bitter fingers back and yourself and try some self-examination instead of trying to recruit others into your circle of hate.

Steve is frustrated. He's tired. He's not sure what more he can do to achieve his goals. He doesn't have a problem with anyone else.

He was venting on his site. He was not inviting the lot of you to tear his life apart.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 28, 2005 2:48 PM

I'm going to go a different approach here, Eric. I actually was going to tangent the hiatus of Melonpool... but well, you know me, I don't like being harsh toward my cartoonists, because really it's like kicking a guy when he's down, and I like encouraging people, not making them say "why do I bother?"

Melonpool is suffering from over eight years of back history. It doesn't matter that that back history is now hidden and inaccessable unless you've got an old link of some sort. It's still there, lurking in the background, a millstone around Troop's neck, and even with his "reboot" new fans will wonder what's going on, some old fans will complain about the reboot and the locking of the archives, and some people will just drift away from the comic entirely.

And that's possibly the problem with Melonpool as it currently exists. Steve has gotten into a level of stasis. He tends to gain new readers as quickly as he loses old, though from his words above he's currently losing more than he's gaining, once the "new cartoon smell" wears off of Melonpool mk. 2

The problem isn't the archives. The problem is in the format. Let's look at Panel2Panel's own Gun Street Girl. Each story is a self-contained organism. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes the stories even have a minimal amount to do with the cast. To understand GSG, you don't need to read years of archives to understand. You just need to read the latest story and you've a basic understanding of what's going on.

Comics such as Sluggy Freelance, CRFH, and El Goonish Shive tend to require people to read years of backstory to understand some of the fundamental basics behind it. For instance, why are Torg and Zoe in the non-relationship they're in? (Okay, maybe a bad example as I'm not sure Pete himself could answer that.) Hmm... what's the big deal about Margaret, and why does she feel the Devil is out to get her (CRFH)? Or who is Ellen, and what's so special about her (EGS)?

It's possible to create a comic based on a serial nature. Reading the archives of GSG will help a reader gain a richer, fuller understanding of these characters, and what makes them tick. But it's not necessary for the reader to do so. The stories are self-contained. The archives are fun... but not essential.

Perhaps Steve should look into making Melonpool into more of a serial storytelling format. Each storyline helps enrich the characters further... but are not essential for the current story. (To be honest, I never really saw the archives of Melonpool as a necessity to understand his characters. Instead, he's a gifted storyteller who tends to make the characters understandable on a fundamental level. Still, a serial format may prove useful for him.)

That said... sometimes years of archives can be an anchor. Look at Carson Fire... who put aside Elf Life in order to work on something else... and he's caught the spark again, and his work is truly excelling. The reboot sounds like a good idea... but the truth is, Melonpool *still* has an anchor of years of back strips, despite the reboot. It might have been better to just "restart" from the beginning... and showing Melonpool meeting the others for the first time... and restarting his adventures, going "this is strange, I *know* what we did before... and we're not doing it this time. What gives?"

Or maybe despite the comfort level that comes drawing Melonpool... it's time to put it aside, and work on something new. Cartooning should be fun. If all you're doing is working for the storyline now... and not getting any real enjoyment out of it... then perhaps despite the ease of working old characters on this level, doing something different may be called for.

Heck, look at David Wright, who's doing Todd and Penguin... *and* another strip, Taking Up Space. Or Adis, who does Count Your Sheep... and No Room for Magic. Cut back on Melonpool, continue it... and start working on something new, something to help reignite the passion you've got for your craft.

But in the end, my advice, Eric's... none of it matters. What matters is what you want, and what you feel. Take care, my friend.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews
http://www.tangents.us

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at December 28, 2005 2:52 PM

Sure I was.

At one point, I was talking to Kris Straub about putting two thermometers on my site. One would show my readership and the other would be a donation level that would allow me to buy various instruments to kill myself... start out with a teaspoon of water and work my way up to a guillotine or something. I never thought it out too much, because I may be insane, but I'm not suicidal.

The point of it was that I was willing to bet that the suicide tally would grow much faster than the readership tally. Why? Because webcomic readers are sick bastards. Maybe that's why I've never really gone anywhere with the comic ... I don't have it in me to appeal to that demographic.

I just think there is a place for the strip out there someplace... and it;s really frustrating that I haven;t been able to tap into it.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 28, 2005 3:05 PM

I just think there is a place for the strip out there someplace... and it;s really frustrating that I haven;t been able to tap into it.

Hm.

And that underscores a deeper problem, I think. Not one specific to Troop, but to a lot of webcomics out there. Namely -- how do we get the word out about webcomics that'll appear to different fan groups.

I mean, I've been reading Melonpool for years. The things I like most about it correspond to some of the things I like about Narbonic, and some of the things I like about Shortpacked, for example. All three of those strips really draw off the tradition of the four panel setup-execution (and yes, I know they're not all "four panels." I don't mean it literally), and I think they'd typically appeal to fans of the others.

The question is, how do we do that?

Comment from: William_G posted at December 28, 2005 3:08 PM

Geez, William G... do you enjoy running over puppies in your spare time?
Perish the thought!

They'd get crap al over my spinning rims.

But as I said, if it's ruining his life as he, well, said... then it's simply not worth it. A habit that is damaging you is generally considered unhealthy, right?

God, I can't believe some of you guys. Not everyone is motivated by the same insecurities that keep YOU from making YOUR webcomics. Point your bitter fingers back and yourself and try some self-examination instead of trying to recruit others into your circle of hate.

...He was not inviting the lot of you to tear his life apart.


Ladies and gentlemen, contradictory glory that is Scott Kurtz.

Comment from: Doctor Setebos posted at December 28, 2005 3:12 PM

I mean, I've been reading Melonpool for years. The things I like most about it correspond to some of the things I like about Narbonic, and some of the things I like about Shortpacked, for example. All three of those strips really draw off the tradition of the four panel setup-execution (and yes, I know they're not all "four panels." I don't mean it literally), and I think they'd typically appeal to fans of the others.

The question is, how do we do that?

That's supposedly part of the benefit of belonging to a webcomics collective like Blank Label, isn't it? Cross-promotion? The handy little Flash menu in the corner that allows a fan of Starslip Crisis or Ugly Hill to easily discover new webcomics like Sheldon and Melonpool? How has that functionality been working for BLC? Is the benefit noticeable? Is that what got Steve up to hovering around 4500, and now he's looking for ways to help boost his noticeability?

Comment from: Doctor Setebos posted at December 28, 2005 3:22 PM

God, I can't believe some of you guys. Not everyone is motivated by the same insecurities that keep YOU from making YOUR webcomics. Point your bitter fingers back and yourself and try some self-examination instead of trying to recruit others into your circle of hate.

Steve is frustrated. He's tired. He's not sure what more he can do to achieve his goals. He doesn't have a problem with anyone else.

He was venting on his site. He was not inviting the lot of you to tear his life apart.

No, Scott - I can't believe YOU. Why do you feel the need to come here and defend Steve, railing against the rest of us for allegedly "tearing into his life." We understand he's tired and frustrated. That's exactly why this discussion is occuring. We've discovered that it's a common sentiment amongst webcomics creators and we're all partaking in a serious discussion on the topic. Don't you think that if Steve felt we were thrashing the man's life he would say something like "hey guys, please stop tearing into my personal life" instead of actually participating in a meaningful discussion like he is?

We care about Steve, just like we care about all webcomics creators. This discussion is taking place not because we enjoy piecing apart the nuances of a person's personal life, but because we want to help come up with a solution to common problems that plague webcomics creators.

Comment from: Sam Logan posted at December 28, 2005 3:27 PM

Eric, you asked: "How do we get the word out about webcomics that'll appear to different fan groups?" (Sorry, I don't know how to do block quotes!)

Personally, I've found that university papers are a huge boon to getting some wider exposure. Lots of universities and colleges, particularly smaller ones, are quite desperate for original, free comic material. In a sense, this works the same way as Scott Kurtz's free syndication offer, except that student newspapers will actually accept it. And it gives you a chance to show your work to a large group of people who probably don't know about webcomics. If they really like it, they might even get dragged online.

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at December 28, 2005 3:27 PM

Don't trash Scott. Sometimes I need to feel like people are in my court.

Most of the posts have been insightful, but there have been a few that focus more on the personal problems I might have... though at times, it's hard for me to figure out where the comic ends and I begin, so maybe that's applicable as well.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 28, 2005 3:41 PM

Don't trash Scott. Sometimes I need to feel like people are in my court.

Or anyone else, because, well, duh.

Anyhow -- if I've tended too far into the personal myself, I apologize. And empathize. You seem to be having a Miserable Year, and I hope it gets better in every conceivable way.

If I can ask -- how well/not well did the Jalea Bates single work, in terms of drumming up attention or readership or the like. I always felt that was an interesting tack -- one step beyond the later "Here Comes a Special Boy" by Freezepop, which was inspired by and about Achewood, but wasn't done within the context of Achewood, the way "Don't Hate Me (Because I'm Beautiful)" was.

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at December 28, 2005 3:46 PM

Jalea has her own set of fans. I keep talking to Erik (the guy that did all the music) about kickstarting jaleabates.com, but who knows if either of our schedules will ever allow for that.

The one thing about Jalea is that she really didn't jibe with the core Melonpool audience, but attracted her own set of fans. She was supposed to be written out of the strip several times, but I kept bringing her back because I liked writing for her and I didn't want to lose those other readers.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 28, 2005 3:51 PM

But... but... it's fun to trash Scott! It's tradition, in fact! ;)

I am of course joking. I only trash Scott Kurtz because I'm a link-whore and am trying to anger him to the point that he actually links Tangents in one of his rants, at which point my hits will go through the roof and my forum will be filled with rants from his fanbase. (Please note, the above is sardonic tongue-in-cheek humor and is in fact not the reason he and I disagree on so many occasions. (Nor do I need a link from him because we're disagreeing on something. If he ever did link me, I'd hope it would be because of a review I wrote, not an argument.) I just have some philosophical differences with him. Besides, it's honestly fun debating with him. Sure, neither of us ever change our minds on what we're arguing about... but that's half the fun.)

I state this in the next thread, but really the best way to get word out is to spread word of the critical review sites out there to new people. I've met people who've read Sluggy Freelance or PvP and yet don't know of the vast webcomic community or of Websnark and other such critical review sites out there. And I've had some of my own readers tell me that they had to stop reading Tangents because I addicted them to too many new web comics (which brings a warm fuzzy feeling to my chest, even if it means I lost a reader... because that means that somehow, somewhere, I'm succeeding in spreading the word).

So go to your local bookstores. Go to coffee shops and the like. Tell people about your favorite web comics, and how they're better than what's on the newspapers or put out by Marvel and DC. And tell them about Websnark, about Fleem, about Talk About Comics and Tangents and Comixpedia and the other review/critic sites out there. It's the true way we'll have the webcomic community grow... and gain new readers.

Rob H.

Comment from: Doctor Setebos posted at December 28, 2005 4:19 PM

Don't trash Scott. Sometimes I need to feel like people are in my court.

But we're ALL in your court, Steve! I guess it may be hard to see that because some of this topic gets so personal. But I'm seeing a lot of positive comments in this thread about your work. A lot.

But where most people will come in here and defend you by talking about how great your work is and supporting what you're going through and discussing ways to increase your readership, Scott will come in and "defend" you by telling the REST of us that we're monsters by talking about your life.

But I'll stop trashing people because, like Eric has said, that's where things tend to break down in the discerning levels of discourse. That, and I don't want to upset Steve, since he's one person I would like to see lifted up in this experience.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 28, 2005 4:22 PM

To clarify a statement from the Doctor here, I know several of us are in the same court. It's just a big court, and we see alot of different things as we're on different spots in the court. Not everyone sees that, though.

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at December 28, 2005 4:22 PM

Well, to put everyone's mind at ease. I never was particularly upset. I vented out most of my frustrations in earlier forum posts and whatnot and just feel generally blah... but nothing too horrible.

It'll pick up. It always does.

Comment from: Scott Kurtz posted at December 28, 2005 4:23 PM

He should quit if he's disatisfied with the process and labours of making webcomics. And there's no law, aside from the law of the dollar, that says someone MUST continue to make webcomics just to make readers happy.

He shouldn't quit. Just because you quit everytime you're faced with any kind of opposition doesn't mean that Steve has to join you.

Though I'd be willing to bet, given the comments highlighted above, and a number of comments by various webcomic vets over the last year, that the real problem is that webcomics have evolved beyond the cozy little world these guys made for themselves and he's another one who's not happy about it.

No, you're wrong, William. And once again, you can't observe anything beyond how YOU view the world. Webcomics have not evolved beyond Melonpool. Steve just has.

So no, he's not angry at Dinosaur Comics. He (and others) is angry at these uppity kids benefiting from the results of his (and others) labours. Let's face it, Dinosaur Comics is relevent to the newer reading audience now in a way that Melonpool and most of the old stand-bys arent. And it makes the gag format look foolish while doing so.

Yeah? What about Garfield? Garfield is so old school that it makes Melonpool seem like a cutting edge flash comic about people who have to cut themselves to feel any kind of sexual satisfaction. Garfield isn't even a WEBcomic. It's still an old dated NEWSPAPER comic and guess what? Jim Davis isn't feeling foolish about himself because of all the avant guard shit Dinosaur comics is coming at the world with.

It's so sad and revealing to see you take something like this and try to twist it into some sort of evidence to support your embittered battle against the "old guard" of webcomics.

I think it's pretty obvious what problem Steve is having right now and rather than publically dissect him, I think I'll give him a call and talk to him personally about it.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at December 28, 2005 4:25 PM

Well not all of us have his phone number, Scott. :)

Comment from: Scott Kurtz posted at December 28, 2005 4:27 PM

You all have is email address though.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 28, 2005 4:28 PM

Um... Scott? *glances at the most recent post* I'm not quite sure you meant that post the way it sounds... at least, I hope you didn't.

I've been around for quite a few years as a reader... not as long as PvP and Sluggy Freelance, but for almost half of the currently-updating webcomic history, and definitely for the half where things really started picking up in terms of content and the amount of creators out there.

I don't think there *is* any real "old guard" of web comics, let alone anyone being bitter about how things are changing or the like.

But hey, I'll freely admit to being the Pollyanna of the webcomic critical community...

Rob H.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 28, 2005 4:29 PM

Okay, the post BEFORE the most recent post. *shiftyeyes*

Comment from: Sahsha posted at December 28, 2005 4:33 PM

"And that underscores a deeper problem, I think. Not one specific to Troop, but to a lot of web comics out there. Namely -- how do we get the word out about web comics that'll appear to different fan groups."




Off the top of my head:


There's always formatting, printing out and stapling select strips (or perhaps the first few pages of a long form comic) and creating an ashcan to be distributed to local comic stores, coffee shops and other friendly establishments near you.


Also, spending some cash to print out postcards (If you don't want to go through the trouble of putting together mini-comics) for distribution in these same locales would work.


Local newspapers (while not as illustrious as the NYT) offer cheaper ad rates in comparison to larger-scale newspaper operations.


In addition to actual newspapers, most metropolitan areas have free alternative news/lifestyle/culture papers (often produced by the local paper) that focus on the local scene. They also offer ad space, but more importantly, must of them have gallery sections, where they feature the work of local artists. I've actually had some luck (and managed to get shows!) for my fine art this way.


Art, whatever form it takes, is a hard business. You are your own boss/salesman (or saleswoman), agent, and promoter.

Comment from: Maritza Campos posted at December 28, 2005 4:34 PM

Strips with recycled art are not new. Take Red Meat, for example. Or Professor Ashfield. Or the buckload of sprite comics. No matter the overall quality of a particular comic, it is NOT new and original. Perhaps Dinosaur Comics is taking it to the extreme, but it's no different from Penny Arcade's "The Bench" comics. Complaining about other people using shortcuts is not new either, when it's not clipart it's tracing or using fonts instead of hand-lettering or sprite comics or cut-and-paste or gradients over cross-hatching. It's always there. And I think we all have done that, either in private or in public.

I'm more concerned about Steve. Personal problems aside, perhaps it's a simple case of burning out. I mean, those huge strips look like they take a LOT of time and effort to make.

Tangent: when you look at Megatokyo, which has one of the MOST complicated, slow-moving, and long storylines in webcomics, and you see it's succesful, that whole theory falls apart.

I don't know what else I can tell Steve, except that he's one of the cartoonists I look up to, that he's doing an ever better job since the restart, and that yeah, sometimes I also feel like quitting CRFH entirely. And then my vacation comes and my fingers itch to draw new stories, even if my wrist is killing me and I feel sick.

In a lot of senses... yeah, it's a curse.

In any case, Steve, any day you need to talk or something, you can email me and I'll gladly listen.

Maritza
CRFH.net

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 28, 2005 4:35 PM

A brief note. Most of Scott's last comment is fine, for those of you playing along at home. But the first paragraph after the first blockquote hits the line, so I'll put up the flag. Which doubles as the bar being open, so drink up, lads and lasses.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 28, 2005 4:41 PM

By the way, Eric... are we allowed to make nasty comments about ourselves in these posts, or is that also over the line and we're only allowed to be snarky toward you? ;)

Teasing ya. I'll have an alcohol-free eggnog. (Hey, it's still a touch early for the hard stuff...)

Rob H., who still thinks a serial format might be a cool way to tell Melonpool stories... having self-contained stories with beginnings, middles, and endings... might be worth a try!

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 28, 2005 4:44 PM

BTW, Steve, Maritza's serious about that. I used to chat with her all the time when I was writing fanfics of her comics, asking if such and such would be in character or the like. She's an absolutely wonderful person, probably close to the Patron Saint of Webcomic Cartoonists. ;)

Even if she keeps dipping her cartoonist quill into the angst ink for those deeper darker shades... ;) (teasing ya, Maritza! *grin*)

Rob H. (aka Tangent)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 28, 2005 4:50 PM

Tangent -- if you want to trash yourself, please, feel free. ;)

If there's one thing I think is typical of (at least most) of the commentary above, it's this:

1. We all want Steve Troop to be as happy and successful as possible.

2. We like Melonpool, which he does very well, and want to see it continue.

3. Where 1 and 2 come into conflict, we err on the side of 1. Because we like Steve Troop more than we like Melonpool, even though we like both.

And finally, Maritza Campos should receive a large grant of cash. But then, so should we all.

Comment from: monkeyangst posted at December 28, 2005 4:56 PM

I don't know what Steve's going through, obviously I haven't been doing webcomics as long as he has (few people have, really)... but I do know how frustrating it seems to be to seem to be stagnating.

I will say that from an outsider's perspective, what's been going on in Melonpool is the opposite of stagnation. The art since the reboot has been top-notch. Previously it was tehnically proficient but bland, not unlike a newspaper strip. Troop has busted out of that box big time. His art now jumps off the page, and is a real joy to look at. It's wonderful when an artist gets a bug up his ass to try something different and pulls it off. We should all shake it up from time to time. Lord knows the "pros" don't.

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at December 28, 2005 5:05 PM

Most of Scott's last comment is fine, for those of you playing along at home. But the first paragraph after the first blockquote hits the line (...) which doubles as the bar being open

(rereads)

(rerereads)

(comment going to e-mail)

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at December 28, 2005 5:09 PM

Melonpool has actually been around a lot longer than 9 years. It's existed in one form or another since 1978, and has had an ongoing storyline since about 1988. But, there is more to this story than just the length of time. I hesitate to go into it, but I might as well get it off my chest.

My eyes are starting to get worse. A few years ago, I started receiving treatment for diabetic retinopathy -- both laser and injection ... and while the condition is improving, my eyesight -- particularly muscle control -- is getting worse.

A big concern that keeps cropping up is that I feel like there is a finite amount of time I can do this strip. Will it take off before I can no longer draw it? Will it take off just as I my eyesight gets so bad that I can't finally cash in on it? Will it never take off?

If I start delving into this too much, I get really bummed out. Or I get really motivated to get noticed. Unfortunately, I also tend to throw everything that I'm feeling either into the comic in some way or into the forum posts. I guess to the outside world not knowing the whole story, it can come off like I'm a massive-depressive freak.

But I feel more like I'm working against the clock.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 28, 2005 5:29 PM

Damn, man... that hurts.

I had a brother who went blind because of diabetic retinopathy. Of course, it didn't help when they did the laser surgery, they played the Star Wars theme music in the background (literally, it was excessive laser therapy to deal with bleeding capillaries that resulted in permanent blindness).

There is an alternative, and one that while you might not like it too much, will work. And that's, when you think you're at the point where your work is suffering because of your eyesight... turn to full-time scripting and take on an artist. I suspect you'd be able to find someone to help with the artistic duties. Especially with the help of Websnark, PvP, and Blank Label. (I'd add Tangents to that mix but I am pretty sure my audience already reads Websnark, so any benefit from my proselytizing would be minimal.)

And who knows... maybe there will be a breakthrough in medical technology before it comes to that. Either they'll learn a way to cure the problem... or you could get cyber-eyes! Steve Troop, the Million Dollar Cartoonist. *grin*

Good luck, man... and take care.

Rob H.

Comment from: larksilver posted at December 28, 2005 6:19 PM

Gah. Eye trouble, worrying about your future, man, that's a hell of a lot different than burnout. Or even just the blahs.

I do hope it works out. Melonpool is a seriously fun strip. I hope it sticks around, and blooms for ya. And, of course, I hope that sticky health thing.. well, y'know. Gets better/responds to treatment.

Comment from: Adrean posted at December 28, 2005 8:52 PM

I work with a cartoonist who has Usher's syndrome and my husband is DeafBlind. Sometimes they feel like they're racing against time with their creative endeavours as their eyesight declines but they keep going all they can.

My husband is a writer rather than an artist so he was able to transition to braille easily. He still has some sight but started the process early so that it's much easier for him over time. I'd suggest making preparations early and at least get some Orientation and Mobility training with a cane early, so you're empowered towards making whatever decision you want in the future regarding your projects. It's not the end of the world if your eyesight lets go on you, you just switch to a different mode of doing things.

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at December 28, 2005 9:15 PM

I'm told I won't go blind. I'll just lose the ability to do close-up work.

Comment from: djcoffman posted at December 28, 2005 9:37 PM

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.... DRAMA..... YESSSS ... I can feellll the HATRED.... ULTIMATE.. POWAHHHH!!!!

I wish someone could blast Willy G. Mace Windu style with Force lightning sometimes... sorry. UH OH, I made a Star Wars reference! Surely that will not please the landlords of the artsy fartsy! ;)

Steve, you're a hell of a cartoonist, I've said it before-- and I can't wait to see what you do next. I admit to not really following Melonpool-- but I was REALLY digging the new format. I hope whatever you're going through personally, you can rise above it. Hell man, maybe you just need a break! Take one!

PS. I'm stealing your meter idea.

Comment from: Joshua posted at December 28, 2005 10:40 PM

The barrier for me as a new reader to Melonpool isn't the archives, or lack of them, but the glacial pace.

Comment from: quiller posted at December 28, 2005 11:01 PM

Fred at Megatokyo had an interesting thing to say about pacing in regards to his comment in his rant the other day.

"That's kinda why I really hesitate to call Megatokyo a webcomic anymore. I think it has been determined that webcomics really should be built more like sportscars than motorhomes. The instantaneous nature of the net and the speed with which things move online really means that a good webcomic should be able to move quickly to adapt to the changing landscape.

Looking at it that way, Megatokyo really is a lousy webcomic... but that's ok, it doesn't bother me too much. It just means that i can stop worrying about the fact that Megatokyo really won't ever meet the 'expectations' of what a 'good' webcomic should be, and simply allows me to be some sort anomaly that entertains the people who like it just because they like it. :) I can't make Megatokyo a better 'webcomic', but i can make it better for those who like the kinds of things i like to do."

Comment from: Steve Troop posted at December 28, 2005 11:12 PM

"The barrier for me as a new reader to Melonpool isn't the archives, or lack of them, but the glacial pace."

Could someone please point me at a comic that doesn't have a glacial pace? I really don;t see that mine is any slower than any other strip of this type.

Comment from: Doctor Setebos posted at December 28, 2005 11:42 PM

Could someone please point me at a comic that doesn't have a glacial pace? I really don;t see that mine is any slower than any other strip of this type.

Hmm. That's a tough one. Glacial pace from whose perspective? Pacing is a very subjective concept. In the lifetime of an average webcomic, just how much plot development should occur within the span of 5 days? A month?

Personally, I feel like Melonpool is moving at a fantastic pace. It's easy going. I feel motivated for the next strip, not like I'm wading through mud.

You want to talk glacial pace? Let's talk Monica Furious. And there's times when I feel like there is absolutely nothing happening in Nukees worth reading, but then Darren throws you feet first into a huge depth charge of plot points, and you feel like everything's rushing by at lightspeed.

So, yeah. Highly subjective, pacing.

Comment from: Joshua posted at December 29, 2005 12:36 AM

"Could someone please point me at a comic that doesn't have a glacial pace? I really don;t see that mine is any slower than any other strip of this type."

Sure. Girl Genius. Schlock Mercenary. Compare the sheer amount of stuff that's happened in them since Nov 7th to Melonpool. Shlock Mercenary devoted approximately the same number of pages to the introducing, threatening and deposing of a planetary government that Melonpool devoted to sitting around in a darkened hold. In the same space in Girl Genius, one villain murders another, captures Agatha, the circus is run out of town, the Jagermonsters begin to plot to rescue her, the villainess explains her plan, a new potential ally is revealed, the villainess's plan hits a hitch, and Agatha is thrown in the dungeon.

Steve, you may be entirely happy with the pace in Melonpool, but it's just not correct to suggest that it's going at the same pace as any other strip of this type. (I'm assuming that the type is adventure/humor with SF elements.) Five pages walking through the desert, or six pages in a darkened hold is pretty leisurely, any way you slice it.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 29, 2005 1:09 AM

Mmm.

I don't think I agree.

It's not the events, in a strip like this. It's the journey. It's the humor. And most of the pages are in some way revelatory.

And from November 7 until December 21, the new setting has been established, six different characters have been reintroduced, we've had a flashback sequence of the attack and crash, a mystery has been established, we've traveled the desert, we've found the ship, we've investigated, and three of the characters got stuck in the hull.

Quite frankly, that's almost a breakneck speed for six weeks work, in my opinion.

Comment from: William_G posted at December 29, 2005 1:15 AM

Well, it seems the "Dont trash others" rule doesnt apply to me... Thanks, Eric.

Scott: Troop mentioned that him making his comic was impacting negatively upon his life. Thus he should quit in order to keep things better. Perhaps you and a few others see making webcomics as the only reason to live, I have no idea. But they're simply not important enough to ruin your life over.

Now, nobody here attacked or tore into Troop. Everyone was replying, in a concerned manner, to his publicly made statements about making webcomics. But you came in here laying out accusations and personal attacks while claiming others were.

I guess being Scott Kurtz excuses you from your responsibilities in matters of drama, huh?

Nothing else you said is relvent.

Steve Troop: But I feel more like I'm working against the clock.
Seriously man, life is short and there are better ways to be spending your time if you feel you have a limited amount of it. You said you have other creative avenues to persue with your characters, then do them.

Cuz you know what? In ten years, no one is going to know about or even care that Steve Troop sacrificed his health and happiness to make a webcomic. And even if they do, the Van Gogh method towards noteriety is pretty dumb.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at December 29, 2005 1:34 AM

(Rereads Eric's comment from 4:35)

Bartender, give me a skim milk. In a dirty glass.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 29, 2005 1:41 AM

William G., Scott Kurtz was warned. Heck, not only was he warned by Eric, he even had *me* scolding him (mildly) which must gall. ;) I mean, I'm almost like one of those little yappity dogs that you really want to punt across the field, but Eric then told Scott to "be good" so he couldn't take a kick at me. *grin*

So relax. Have something to drink. The mudslides here are delicious...

Rob H., who actually thinks of himself more of a meowing cat than a yappity dog, but still...

Comment from: William_G posted at December 29, 2005 2:01 AM

Well, so he did.

Sorry, Eric.

Comment from: Eytan Zweig posted at December 29, 2005 3:38 AM

Regarding pacing:

As I mentioned above (in comement #12 or so), I'm a new, post-purge reader who has a trouble with Melonpool's pacing. Now, I read a lot of webcomics, and I rarely have the same pacing problem that I do with Melonpool, so I can list some strips to satisfy Steve's request: Dominic Deegan, Misfile, Wigu, Something positive, questionable content, Order of the Strick - and heck, even Errant Story, which also is quite slow. Now, this is a very disperate amount of strips but they share the properties of being story strips that I read regularly so I can answer with confidence.

Now, I think I should try to explain why I find the pacing of Melonpool so slow, especially since Eric is right in listing a bunch of stuff that happened. The reasons are:

A - No exposition. Now, this may be counter-intuitive, because normally exposition seems to slow the pace, but total lack of it is also very problematic. Basically, I have *no* idea who these people are, what this place is, why there are there. Worse, Eric says that "a mystery has been established". Has it? I haven't noticed. I don't understand *anything*. How can I tell apart what is a genuine mystery from parts of the plot I have missed?

Part of the reason the plot feels so slow is because I can't tell apart what's actually plot from what is just banter and side details. Another part is that the things happening aren't the things I'm expecting, plot-wise. I feel like I'm in act 2, not act 1, and since I'm expecting act 1 elements, I feel I'm stuck waiting.

Also - A flashback? That was a flashback? Not a totally random hallucination? But other than Melonpool himself, the characters were totally different. How was I to figure that out?

B - The strip transitions are in weird places. This is a big part of it. Basically, there are a lot of minor cliffhangers. Cliffhangers are great for producing tension, but they slow the plot down, because something happens and then I need to wait for it to be resolved. Even if it is resolved the next day, it feels like I had to wait.

C - There were too many false scares. Too many times when it seemed like something menacing or strange is around the corner only to end up being a friend. I know this isn't a dark story, but even so, so far all tension has been diffused. Which also means that basically, the plot so far involved the same event (a crew memeber is found) repeating 5 times. Until something *different* is going to happen, there's little excitement there.

I don't want to sound overly negative here. I really *like* Melonpool. I think it's funny, and interesting, and the art is great. The problem is that it doesn't act like a strip trying to get new readers, it acts like an old, pre-established strip. So, as a new reader, I'm a bit lost. Normally, I'd try to read the archives, but I can't. So in a sense it seems like I haven't gotten the benefit of a pre-established archive but I've got all the downsides of a pre-established world. I'll still keep reading, because what's there is clearly good, but I can easily see why this is less than ideal for new readers.

Comment from: Mark Mekkes posted at December 29, 2005 9:40 AM

While I haven't been on the Internet quite as long as Steve, I definitely fit into Maritza's "over 5 years" club. And unfortunately I also have also started the "what the hell am I doing here?" questions. In fact, before his overhaul, I wrote to Steve asking many of the same questions he's asking now (I hope I didn't start it ;D ).

But the point isn't just about "does Melonpool suck or not?" or "what should Steve do", but "what can we all do to help make this more rewarding for all of us?" Because I guarantee that those of you who have only been doing this for a couple of years will go through this eventually.

I realize that this is going to be a very personal journey and each of us will require a different answer. I know Steve's cries are for self-pity, they're to help all of us look forwards and think about this thing that we're devoting a healthy percentage of our lives to.

Is "gallivanting around the cosmos a game for the young"?

Comment from: Joshua posted at December 29, 2005 11:17 AM

But Eric, the events I listed for Girl Genius were over the course of 6 pages, not 6 weeks's worth of pages. I'm just not seeing this breakneck pace thing in Melonpool. A spaceship is shot down by an unknown foe and crash-lands; the four surviving crew members and their two pets reassemble and hike to where another part of the ship landed and find a fifth crew member who had been encased in carbonite for some reason(or maybe that was just a gag). It's true that pacing isn't just events, but can also be information, but over the course of this we've learned nothing about the ship, where it's from, where it was going, or about any of the crew except that one is a nasty jerk, and another is giant hamster who powers the ship and the jerk's survival is tied into the hamster's (or was that just a threat/gag from The Court Jester?). Maybe this is compelling stuff for people who already know who's who and what's what, but I feel like information about the characters, their personalities, motivations and situations is being doled out with an eye-dropper, which contributes to my feeling of "will something other than scary noises just *happen* already?"

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at December 29, 2005 1:36 PM

Joshua--

In the end, you're comparing apples and oranges. Girl Genius is a plot-driven comic. It goes through a block of exposition followed by jackhammer plot points.

Melonpool is a character driven comic. The interactions between characters are the point.

However, yes. I will concede that events happened in the course of roughly three weeks instead of six.

That doesn't change the fact that in the last six weeks of Melonpool, there's been eight revelations or changes of venue. Which means we're averaging one and a third a week.

You might prefer Girl Genius's style and pace. I know folks who don't care for character driven comics. However, that doesn't make Melonpool's pace glacial. It just means it's not your cup of tea.

Comment from: Tangent posted at December 29, 2005 2:25 PM

Everytime Steve Anderson claims that CRFH moves too slowly I point out Freefall to him. And he then glares at me, concedes the point that it's not as slow as SOME comics (for time-line advancement), but that his problem is with the *pacing* of the comic.

Melonpool is on the list of "I read it because it's on my bookmarks" comics. However, it's not yet reached the category of "I'm about ready to delete this from my bookmarks" like a couple of the comics I read.....

Rob H.

Comment from: Inev posted at January 3, 2006 5:51 PM

...Darn it. Darn it, darn it, darn it.

This whole darn thing is making me want to hit myself over and over.

A few months ago, I decided to read through the Melonpool archives, along with a few other larger strips as a "test of endurance" (Sluggy Freelance, PvP, and Casey and Andy. I was bored at the time). Melonpool in particular had some freakin' hilarious stuff, and I got a decent headway before switching over to the next one on my list, confident that I'd return. Then my computer collapsed into itself, removing all of my bookmarks and forcing me to start over my trawl from scratch. I've since rebuilt it, and then some, but I never got back those links to where I was in various archives. But I moved on, and I forgot.

Guess what this post reminded me? That I never finished. Oh, sure, going through this new (smaller) archive reminded me of who the characters were again, and it's certainly as amusing as it was at its "true" beginning; pacing is not a concern of mine, only humor, and it's funny so far (Seriously, I'm no English major, but if something makes me laugh every day, I'm not inclined to whine about "where it's going". I like it where it is, thank you, and will calmly wait for it to move when it's ready).

But it's like I'm missing out on something now, something about the strip's roots. It's like catching a quick glimpse of Mike Nelson without ever laughing with Joel Hodgeson, or getting a Beatle's CD from your friend without ever hearing the original vinyl. Sure, it's just as good, and captures the spirit, but there's just something MISSING from it. Reboots are good. They can be cathartic, they can help clear the air and introduce something new. And make no mistake, this new stuff has cemented your place onto my new trawl.

And I may be hijacking the conversation, twisting it away for my own ends and opening up a terrible can of worms by posting this, but... is there any way we could see a return of the old archives? And I don't mean front-and-center on your website, or tacked on to the end of your comic retroactively; if you think that particular ship has already sailed, I don't want anyone to force you to change your mind. But for the people who want it, and there are a lot who do, I'd like to ask that the archives of the original Melonpool be available in some way to those who want it. I'll pay for it, I don't mind: I've got the ten bucks if you've got the CD burner, if you catch my drift.

Now, could someone help me down from this soapbox? I'm getting a little acrophobic up here. Thanks. Whew.

I suppose the second thing on the agenda is the magical disappearance of the "filler" strips. I'm a fan of snarky humor, but I can't find them anywhere! Stupid internet. I get the impression that Steve "wrote over" them with actual strips, as there's been talk of "a week of filler strips" and a missed Monday, which corresponds with the scedule of the strips that are already there. Anyone have them saved and wants to photobucket them, or am I just a moron and haven't found them yet?

Please please please feel better, Steve. I'm still a bit put off by the above bickering about whether or not cartooning is healthy, but in my mind, if you're happy, then we're happy. I love the old stuff, but I love the new stuff too. And whatever you plan to do, I'm sure I'll love it too.

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