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Eric: At least once in this essay, I wrote 'Weir" as "Weird." I'm certain no one has ever done that before in Andy Weir's life.

Cheshire Crossing

(From Cheshire Crossing!)

"I'm sorry... did you say you killed someone?"

"She was trying to kill me!"

"Why?"

"Um... I kind of killed her sister."

"It's inappropriate for a young lady to kill people."

"They were accidents!"

"Accidentally killing one person is misfortune. Accidentally killing two is just sheer carelessness!"

The thing about Cheshire Crossing's current update schedule is a new update is an event.

We're a little spoiled, over in the world of Webcomics. Most of the time, we see new comics posted on a daily or weekly basis, getting small dribbles and droplets of the story at a time (in story based comics, anyhow). This is one reason some of the most successful (at least, in an aesthetic and artistic sense) webcomics are those that master the art of execution. The pacing of a series of strips is vitally important, of course, but the strips that encapsulate their purpose in one day's strip can be picked up and run with with little or no difficulty.

So, the question is, how does one deal with a comic they want to produce against the idea of longform, not short form? What if the single strip or the single page just isn't how the story should be told.

It's a significant issue, really. Of my original block of "They had me and you lost me" essays, two out of three partially involved a failure of the daily strips to sufficiently invest or engage me. They only solidly worked (when they did) when you read a whole block of strips at a time. Even Goats, which is nowhere near losing me and which does bring a solid daily strip to the table, simply works better when you read thirty strips in a sitting instead of one strip a day.

With a comic like Megatokyo, the answer is (supposedly) simple: the comics are being optimized for book publication. The "webcomic" is more of a slow preview of the finished book. And so far it's worked out for Gallagher, so who are we to say he's not doing it right? But what interests me is how different creators manage the feat on the web.

Which makes Cheshire Crossing of particular interest to me.

"Even Alice came to help. I'm shocked!"

"You saved my life earlier. I owed you."

"I never knew you were so honor-driven."

"I may be bitchy, but I'm still English."

As we've mentioned before, Cheshire Crossing is the new webcomic of Andy Weir, late of Casey and Andy. It's entirely web only, with entirely new character models (the characters are almost puppetlike, but with Weir's typical expressiveness and anarchic movements -- the Mad Hatter's glee in charging into battle at one point highlighting the latter as well as anything I've seen. And, like others before him, Weir has decided that since he wants to produce full comic book sized comics, he would release the entire issue only when it was entirely finished. Otherwise, he does teaser images and keeps updating as to his progress.

Like I said, that means that the release of Cheshire Crossing #2 an event. It's been some time since we last saw the adventures of Wendy, Alice and Dorothy, and as Casey and Andy went on hiatus during the production of issue 2, that also means it's been some time since we've seen Weir's offbeat sense of humor. As with issue one, that humor is leavened with much more of a sense of adventure than Weir's earlier strip -- Casey and Andy had forays into daily story and continuity, but for the most part it was gag-a-day. Cheshire Crossing is chock full of funny, but it's an accent note to the overall story. And so far, that story's fascinating.

The first issue of Cheshire Crossing was fun, but a hint jarring, as I mentioned when issue one came out. My brain expected more Casey and Andy style art and humor, but instead it got something wholly new. And, as generally happens with issue one of any series, much of the issue was devoted to context: who are our protagonists? Where are they? Why are they here? What's the basic conflict? And so on and so forth. Issue two, on the other hand, has established all of this, and as a result it's meaty and robust: we see moments in Cheshire Crossing, Oz, Wonderland and Neverland alike. There's several fight sequences. There are alliances across worlds. We break the concepts of the stories and cross-pollinate them. And far from jarring, Weir's execution of the issue seems confident and smooth, the humor accenting the action and the action causing the plot to evolve.

Had this been a page a day webcomic coming out three times a week, we wouldn't be as far along as we already are -- and the whole thing would have come across as glacial. Released as an issue at a time, the pace is breakneck -- things happen and happen fast. It's absolutely clear that Weir's instinct was right: this is a webcomic that is meant to be read an issue at a time.

"Tsk. Such drama."

"A talking cat!?"

"Yes. Focus on the talking cat. It's not like there's anything else odd in the room."

The question that rises out of all this, of course, is how successful (or unsuccessful) Cheshire Crossing is as a result. Weir has a mailing list that lets people know when new issues come out. He should also have an RSS feed that will throw the existence of new issues in the faces of the readers -- and perhaps something like a blog for teaser images and other ways of keeping people engaged in the material over the long months between issues (the first issue came out in midsummer, which suggests Cheshire Crossing is going to be quarterly at the fastest). We know Weir cares about the success (or failure) of Cheshire Crossing... well, because he's told us he is. And for Weir, success and failure has nothing to do with quitting his day job, merchandising or publishing his work. He doesn't even run Google Ads on it. This is all about creating a good comic and finding an audience for it.

Though it's worth noting that as Modern Tales gets Longplay back up and running fully, Cheshire Crossing should be on their radar. And other webcartoonists should be paying attention to what Weir tries to do to find and keep an audience with this model -- since he's not trying to make money off the comic, the comic becomes an interesting experiment in its own right -- can someone with a popular webcomic make a longform comic, irregularly published as specific, complete units and retain that audience (or even grow a new one?) If the answer becomes "yes," it's possible that other webcartoonists -- the ones that do want to make money at this -- can adapt the technique for their purposes.

Regardless, Cheshire Crossing #2 is an event for me, because I like Cheshire Crossing. And that's good enough reason for me.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at December 5, 2006 10:18 AM

Comments

Comment from: Jon Lapak [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 12:21 PM

For my part, I don't mind the wait. I enjoy it very much when it comes, and he's got me hooked. There are plenty of other things (webcomics and otherwise) to keep me entertained between updates. I agree with you, though; it really wouldn't have worked as well posted one page at a time.

Comment from: larksilver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 12:28 PM

I agree with what's been said before: this comic would truly not be well served by the daily (or thrice weekly) format. As for its success.. well, if it continues to be as completely awesome as it is now, I can't imagine that Weir's audience will lose interest (I know that I certainly couldn't click the link fast enough when the new issue showed up in my e-mail, anyway).

Many of the webcomic readers out there have purchased and/or continue to purchase monthly or quarterly "Dead tree" comics, after all, so it's not that unusual for them. Heck, with the webcomic publication method, you don't even have to wait for a trade or play "hunt the back issue" if you come to the party late - it's right there! whee!

Comment from: Daven [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 12:44 PM

Thank you very much for reminding me that this series exists. I enjoyed it last time you mentioned it and I enjoy it now.

Comment from: Akilika [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 12:50 PM

There's also a middling update structure I've seen--Demonology 101, before it ended, posted batch updates weekly. That seemed to work pretty well, too . . .

It's kind of nifty to see people trying different things. And, come to think of it, why do most comics follow the newspaper strip update model, anyway? Curious to think about.

Comment from: Elizabeth McCoy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 1:23 PM

Hmmm. I think the pacing of Cheshire Crossing is still a bit close to web-comic "must have action every day" -- there were bits which I would really have loved to have spent 2 panels instead of 1, or even 2 pages instead of 1. It was just that interesting, and the scene-cuts were a little abrupt somehow. It felt like it could be deeper, somehow.

It's still interesting, though! (And yes, an RSS feed is a good idea. I'm on the one for No Rest For The Wicked ( http://www.forthewicked.net/ ) so that I can get it despite irregular updates and a recent announced hiatus.)

Comment from: John Troutman [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 1:38 PM

Whoa, how have I NOT read this before? It's wicked awesome!

Given, the Victorian lit nerd in me hates that Oz is apparently based on the movie and NOT the books. RUBY slippers? Monkeys still under control of the Witch? Pah, I say - PAH! And really, we all know that Dorothy can return to Oz by using the magic mirror and giving a certain sign at the right time, so that...

Okay, I'll shut up now. It's a funny comic. Let's leave it at that.

Comment from: Aerin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 1:46 PM

Wait, Issue #2 is out? I didn't get the e-mail. And I thought I'd white-listed it through Postini, but Postini doesn't seem to have eaten it. Oh dear.

Comment from: Tim Tylor [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 1:53 PM

Absolutely frabjous.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 3:04 PM

And, come to think of it, why do most comics follow the newspaper strip update model, anyway? Curious to think about.

The audience - especially the theoretical mainstream, outside-webcomic-culture audience - maintains certain expectations of the presentations in any given media, and you can't flout many of them at once and hope to attract it. Look at Aaron Sorkin.

As for me, updating daily is one of the audience expectations I've chosen to meet since before the internet because that's what my heroes have always done. Cartoonists who prefer working in other formats, more power to'em; cartoonists who eschew updating daily solely on the grounds that it's conventional are, I can't help but suspect, afraid of the challenge.

Weir (to get back to the topic) can do both, and that's inspiring. Weir makes me say to myself, "I wanna do something like that too."

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 3:51 PM

Hmm... to comment about the format and style, or the actual content... eh, let's try both.

So far, I'm torn on the comic's content so far. I can't stand it when I'm presented with a "protagonist" that completely grates on my nerves, and Alice does that a great deal. I know why she's an utter shrew, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch panels focused on her. Even when she goes to help Wendy out, she does it out of a sense of Rich Girl's Burden.

Wendy, on the other hand, I get a kick out of her. She's a character that's fascinating and just the right mix of Problem and Solution in the scenarios thus far. I enjoy that.

For the way he's releasing it... to me, in some ways it feels like there's no difference between, say, Megatokyo's method of releasing pages of the book and Cheshire Crossing's release of the whole book at once. Until the end, I'm left with just as much of a cliffhanger when I end each one - it doesn't matter whether it be two days or three months until it's resolved and the new one appears. I just want it to be good, and regardless of how long it will be there will be ways to keep myself occupied until that happens.

Of course, I might be alone on this one.

Comment from: elvedril [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 4:37 PM

For the record: Fred has said on the record a while back that, once Megatokyo is done, Warmth, and any potential future works, would be issue long releases kind of akin to this. So the idea is definately good in theory, lets see how well it'll work in practice.

Comment from: Tim Tylor [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 7:45 PM

Myself, I like Alice. I don't think a character has to be nice to be attractive. And her vinegary attitude fits with the opening images of her as a traumatised little child, and her dark remarks about Wonderland: they've all had it tough, but it sounds as if she's had it the hardest. And Lewis Carrol's original Alice was a bit spiky too.

Take some more tea,' the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

`I've had nothing yet,' Alice replied in an offended tone, `so I can't take more.'

`You mean you can't take less,' said the Hatter: `it's very easy to take more than nothing.'

`Nobody asked your opinion,' said Alice.

`Who's making personal remarks now?' the Hatter asked triumphantly.

Comment from: Ford Dent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 7:56 PM

I'm also a fan of Alice, if only because of my love for the Carrol books. It also makes sense--as someone who didn't wish to go among mad people in the first place, being sent from asylum to asylum was probably quite vexing.

I agree with the comments about Wendy though--she seems the strongest of the heroines to me.

Comment from: Danalog [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 9:06 PM

Is it just me, or is the Mad Hatter Scott McCloud?

Comment from: Doug Wykstra [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 10:18 PM

Finally, we get another issue of this. The first issue charmed me with its cross-pollination and literary references, so much that I almost think the action in the second issue slows the book down too much. Also, I'd like it if Miss Poppins used her telekinesis in more creative ways than throwing people around- I'm also not sure about calling it telekinesis. But these are minor quibbles. I loved this issue, and look forward to reading the next one.

Oh, and speaking of graphic novels that are updated on a daily basis, has anyone else noticed that Rich Burlew let another comic into Giant in the Playground? It's called Erfworld, is written and drawn by Jaime Naguchi, and is supposedly going to be in graphic novel format with a disregard for the "joke-a-strip" mentality of Order of the Stick. It's set to update on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the days when Order of the Stick doesn't update. Whether it will succeed on a day-to-day update schedule, I don't know. It sounds like something that would benefit from being released long-form, especially with only two pages being released per week. But since it's on the same website as Order of the Stick, I'll probably start following it. You know, as long as it's on the way, might as well stop by.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2006 10:47 PM

Ah, thank you Eric. Somehow this had fallen off my list. I'm glad to have it back.

As for the girls, well, I'd expect any of them to be vinegary after all they'd been through... if they were well-adjusted, I'd be disappointed.

Comment from: Krissy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2006 4:40 AM

I know of another comic with a similar updating schedule. It's of a decidedly more adult nature, so kids be warned. Though it's more sexual like sexylosers is, lots for humor, with just a hint of "Ooh, boobs". Or.. ok, maybe a bit more than that. You may have heard of it, maybe not. It's called "PAWN", and is about a scholarly girl who finds out a bunch of info about demons and goes to an ancient ruins site, goes deep into them, finds a demon named Ballah and manages to get her under her control. Story is amusing, and the art is pretty (and depicts a naked demoness girl rather constantly). It updates in the same manner. Randomly and in large installments of about 20 pages each. If you have an open mind, I've always found the comic amusing. URL: http://www.pawn.se/index.html

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2006 11:13 AM

People have obviously misunderstood me.

I don't want to see Alice be well-adjusted. I just want her to not be a completely unlikeable bitch. I'm looking for something that makes me not hate the character in every way, and so far Weir isn't offering that. The closest she's come is trying to rescue Wendy, and she does it not out of some sort of inner honor but because she feels compelled by nationality.

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2006 11:25 AM

Personally, I see Alice, Wendy and Dorothy as a well-balanced team, along the spectrum of "sense of wonder". Wendy just loves the adventure, throws herself into it wholeheartedly and thinks happy thoughts. Alice has seen it all, it's rubbish, and she'd just as soon stay home. Dorothy is between them, neither champing at the bit nor being mulish. She recognizes the dangers ("There's only about a hundred of them, but they have a full-time coroner, so you tell me."), but isn't jaded by her experiences. It's apt that Dorothy's nemesis is the driving force behind the plot complications (with the Red Queen and Captain Hook merely along for the ride for now), since Dorothy is the center of the team, neither extremely nice nor extremely spiky. She's the easiest for readers to identify with. :)

Comment from: Pooga [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2006 11:38 AM

With respect to updating, this makes an interesting counterpoint to Girl Genius. Even if it hadn't started as a paper comic, it is readily apparent that Girl Genius is designed to be eventually collected into book form. There are many days where the update in no way stands on it's own, either plot-wise or humor-wise. There've been a handful of updates that had to be double-sized, because they were designed as a two-page spread. It is unquestionably a comic designed to be read in batches.

Despite that, I still prefer having M-W-F updates over getting an entire issue once every three months. While I suppose it's a personal preference issue, I think the nice thing about most webcomics is that you have the choice of reading daily, weekly, monthly or on whatever schedule you choose, regardless of the actual frequency of updates (up to the actual frequency, of course).

It probably makes more sense to read a comic like Girl Genius about once a month or so, because the pacing is that of a comic book, as opposed to a comic strip. But I like having my fix satisfied every other day, and I can always go back and reread strips if I lose the plot. I've had to do that with CRFH a few times, especially after it was cut back from the 5-day a week schedule. As long as the archive is there, you've got the ability to hold off as long as you like between readings.

I loved the first issue of Cheshire Crossing. Recently I've managed to hook my brother on a growing number of webcomics. It was convenient that issue 2 came out when it did, and that Eric snarked on it. Why? Because I wanted to recommend it to my brother, but I couldn't remember the name anymore. I read issue 1 months ago, and while I could describe it, I knew I was going to have to do some digging to find it again. Even comics I loved have fallen off my radar when the interval of updates gets beyond a month or so. Some of them I manage to remember to check from time to time, but there are plenty that I've just stopped following.

I appreciate a writer wanting to control the presentation of their creation. I'm sure there are days where strip-a-day authors would rather wait to post strip A until strip B is also up, because they just know that they're going to get a lot of negative reactions from people who don't have the proper context to understand strip A until strip B is up. For example, compare the forum reactions to Monday's Sluggy Freelances to those from today.

At this point, I am inclined to believe that frequent updates, even if incremental in nature, can be more valuable in building and keeping an audience than regular, widely-spaced updates that can stand alone. I'm going to think on this hypothesis more (partially because this is getting too long, and partially because I'm not 100% convinced myself, and it's my own argument), but I felt it was definitely something I wanted to bring up with regards to the choice of publishing Cheshire Crossing this way.

Comment from: Robotech_Master [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2006 1:27 PM

Well, another point to bring up with respect to not publishing the strip until you have a whole issue's worth ready: it lets you redo an earlier part of the current issue if it's not working properly. Once something's been published, there's "no takebacks." If you later find you've written yourself into a corner, you can't just go back to the wrong turn and start over without anybody noticing. You have to push on as best you can from where you are. (Pete Abrams has found this out on Sluggy plotlines numerous times.)

But if you're publishing an issue at a time rather than a page at a time, you don't have that problem as much. You can go back to an earlier page and rip it out by the roots and redo it if you need to, and nobody will be the wiser.

Of course, you can do this if you're just careful to build up a lengthy backlog, too...but if you should have to go back and slash and burn, you'll then have to work like a maniac to build that backlog back up again...

Comment from: GG [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2006 3:04 PM

Thanks for letting us know about the second issue. I got a big charge out of the first one, so this came as a very pleasant surprise.

Comment from: MasonK [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2006 3:08 PM

He should also have an RSS feed that will throw the existence of new issues in the faces of the readers -- and perhaps something like a blog for teaser images and other ways of keeping people engaged in the material over the long months between issues (the first issue came out in midsummer, which suggests Cheshire Crossing is going to be quarterly at the fastest).
Well, it's not a blog, but he does have a forum where the issues get discussed, as well as side issues. And requests for nekkid Alice piccies, but this is the Internet, so what can you do? The forum also has a sticky post that he updates whenever he updates the progress page with a teaser image. And you can find the forum at [ http://www.galactanet.com/forum/index.php?c=4 ].

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2006 8:59 PM

Once something's been published, there's "no takebacks." If you later find you've written yourself into a corner, you can't just go back to the wrong turn and start over without anybody noticing.

You know, most of us webcartoonists choose to operate this way, but there's no one holding a gun or authority over our heads forcing us. It's the reflex, because in five centuries of print distribution another way hasn't been possible, but someday someone's going to realize that. (Hell, you can do it in print - remember Ian Malcolm?) The first of us to break the reflex in a major way (Gallagher's done minor tweaking; I wish I could remember where I have the link to the newspost when he discussed it) will undoubtedly get a lot of flak for it, but once the ice is broken it'll happen all the time.

It may be me. I keep realizing I don't pay enough attention to whether my characters are right-handed or left-handed. It wasn't so much a big deal till one of them lost a hand last month ...

Comment from: Brendan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 7, 2006 2:24 AM

Is it bad that I forgot where that joke came from? (For a moment, I thought it was Terry Pratchett...)

Comment from: Pooga [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 7, 2006 11:06 AM

Once something's been published, there's "no takebacks." If you later find you've written yourself into a corner, you can't just go back to the wrong turn and start over without anybody noticing.
You know, most of us webcartoonists choose to operate this way, but there's no one holding a gun or authority over our heads forcing us. It's the reflex, because in five centuries of print distribution another way hasn't been possible, but someday someone's going to realize that.
One "high concept" idea for a webcomic I thought of a while back was a strip with a time travel element where after going back in time and altering the past, the archives would be changed to reflect that past. Of course, that would that require a massive amount of forward planning and extra work on something that was essentially going to be vanish from the finished work (not to mention an actual plot to go with what is essentially a gimmick at this point). But it's the kind of thing that can be done with the web as a medium.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 7, 2006 11:18 AM

Pooga -- what if your plan were executed as a 'branching archive.' Represent your archive visually. Then, when the cast goes back in time, fork the archive path, and add a link to the strip before the original divergance that can either let you follow the old reality or the new one.

Man, now I need a collaborator. And I have too much damn stuff I haven't touched in too long as it is.

Comment from: divergence [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 7, 2006 2:35 PM

I don't want to see Alice be well-adjusted. I just want her to not be a completely unlikeable bitch. I'm looking for something that makes me not hate the character in every way, and so far Weir isn't offering that. The closest she's come is trying to rescue Wendy, and she does it not out of some sort of inner honor but because she feels compelled by nationality.
The moment when Alice impressed me most wasn't her decision to rescue Wendy, but her actions at the end of the second-to-last page.

Alice dislikes and distrusts Mary Poppins, but immediately steps forward to take charge of restoring her. She dislikes and distrusts Dr. Rutherford, but doesn't hesitate to acknowledge him as "the greatest chemist in the world", and to recognize that they need his skills. And she doesn't make a melodramatic production of the idea that "I shouldn't really help these people, but here I am bravely setting aside my mistrust"...she just sees clearly what needs to be done, and does it.

I was left with the impression that for Alice, bitchiness is a hobby to help pass the time when nothing really important (by her own demanding standards) is going on. Each time someone has really needed her help -- Wendy, the Wonderland rebels, and now Miss Poppins -- she's come through for them with a levelly pragmatic attitude and a well-thought-out plan.

If I had to work alongside someone like Alice, most days I'd find her a royal pain. But in an emergency I'd trust her implicitly, and be glad she was there. And fortunately for the cast and readers of Chesire Crossing, this story will probably serve up more emergencies than quiet days.

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