Doctor Who handled this by not doing a damn thing except selling videos. Honestly, I'm okay with that.

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Compare-20

(From Least I Could Do! Used by permission.)

We have mentioned, long ago in a distant past that perhaps you may not remember, and perhaps you do, assuming I haven't made it up myself in my delerious Monday Morning Haze, that one of the downsides of Webcomics as they're generally implemented is the inability to revise.

Wow, does that sentence look ugly. Let me try it again.

As we've said before, Webcomics -- unlike most traditional publishing -- can't easily be revised as you go along. If you're writing a story or drawing a comic book, and you get three quarters into it and realize that you really should have had one less character and done things differently and maybe made the wisecracking sidekick a girl and perhaps set your tale in Hoboken instead of Mordor, you can always go back and do just that. In webcomics, however, you're essentially posting your rough draft as you go along, and that's it. It's released. Major revisions aren't in the cards, unless you do significant surgery.

This is especially true when you have a shift in style or tone. It's one of the things that leads to the Cerebus Syndrome attempt, and it's one of the leading causes of First and Ten: you get several months (or years) into your comic and you realize this isn't what you wanted to do at all -- less light gag-a-day, more deep storylines and character development.

Or... and this is actually really common... your style may simply change over time.

We've seen this a lot. If you look at the early days of almost any long running webcomic, the early days will have a much different, often rougher style. This makes sense. If a person draws a strip day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year they eventually find better ways to do things. Their renders get tighter. Their techniques get broader. They get more stuff in their toolbox.

Or, in the case of a strip like Least I Could Do, they just hire another artist.

So, you can have someone who is proud of his webcomic throughout -- he loves it, he thinks it's wonderful, he's excited every time he posts... and then one day he looks back to the beginning of his strip and he suddenly becomes horrified at what he sees. "Oh my God," he says. "I was such crap! If only I could go back and revise all that!"

And that's problematic, because people don't like change.

It's a truth in life. People like the past to stay the past. They want the strip to match up with their half-forgotten memories. If they need to go back and look at it, and it's not the same... well, they get uncomfortable. They want to see the old strips. They liked the old strips. And why would you ever change the old strips?

Some artists go ahead and do it anyway -- I know that David Willis has revised a bunch of his old stuff to bring a consistency of style, for example. Others just sort of shrug and laugh about it. After all, it's no big deal, right?

Until it is. And that brings us back to Least I Could Do.

There have been three different artists on Least I Could Do. The strip was started by Ryan Sohmer as the writer -- of course -- and a man name of Trevor Adams. Then Trevor Adams left and Chad Wm. (For William, I assume) Porter came in. Then Porter left and Lar de Souza came in, and here we are today.

Now, Sohmer has gone on the record that he wasn't proud of the writing in those early strips -- fair enough. It's not just art style that evolves over time, after all. But what's unspoken is... well....

Look, I'm a terrible artist. I'm the worst artist in the world. I'm Antidextrous -- I can't write (or especially draw) with either hand. I have no basis to cast aspersions on another person's art. And Trevor Adams is a significantly better artist than I am.

But being significantly better than me isn't anywhere near enough to be good. And Trevor Adams just wasn't very good.

I mean, it's not horrible art by any stretch. It's kind of a fun anarchic style. And there are those who like it quite a bit -- and, like many webcartoonists, Adams improved by leaps and bounds. By the time color came into the strip, he was solid and getting moreso. But when Trevor Adams left and Chad Porter came in, the strip improved by an order of magnitude, and it all came back to art.

But, this was part of the history of the strip. This was part of the past. Events in those early strips still have impact today. And people like the past.

The problem is, Sohmer and Blind Ferret wanted to do a print collection. And regardless of one's opinions of the art as art, as graphics files they were simply unprintable. We're talking low resolution gifs in black and white here. Sohmer's print collections are top notch in quality, on good paper and with great production values. Putting a 72 d.p.i. GIF in that... would not be a kindness to the strip, the consumers, or Ryan Sohmer.

It is, in one real sense, the same issue that the owners of the original Star Trek had to deal with when Blu-Ray came out.... and the same issue that George Lucas had to confront when DVD came out before that. In both cases, Star Wars and Star Trek: The Original Series, the writing was excellent but the state of special effects had advanced so much both projects looked cheesy, dated and fake.

Lucas chose a broad revisionist course. The Special Editions, he announced, would be what he had always envisioned Star Wars to be, now that special effects had improved to the point that "his vision" could be created. The problem is, he didn't simply revise the look of things, he revised the substance. He made editorial decisions. He added whole sections. He changed sequences to match what he thought was appropriate in the 90's, even when they conflicted with what he decided in the 70's.

It was a monumental success, but it also made a lot of people angry. Han did shoot first, damn it. Just because Lucas decided that Han as a bastard who became a lovable rogue didn't match up with his current vision of Han as a lovable rogue who just became more lovable didn't take away peoples' memories, and the change meant they focused less on the movie as an improvement and more on how it "desecrated" the movie.

Never mess with a geek's childhood, man. He will cut you.

Star Trek, on the other hand, tried very hard when they did all-new special effects to seat those effects into the original story, rather than revising the original story. Sure, the grey backdrops became digital matte paintings and the Gorn blinked -- but the Gorn did the same stuff he did before and the backdrops did nothing more than add more eye candy. Kirk stayed the same. Sure, they put in new music, but the new music was based on the original compositions, so the musical cues remained the same. It was far less an attempt to update the original series of Star Trek, and more an attempt to make the original series look acceptable in Blu-Ray.

And it was the right choice to make. To be honest, if I look at the originals of Star Wars and the Special Editions of Star Wars today, they both look pretty cheesy. We've come so far since the Special Editions came out that now they look just as bad and dated as they did before, which means all that's left is comparing the two cuts of the movie -- and the 70's version of Star Wars is a better cut than the 90's version. (Return of the Jedi's 90's version is, admittedly, a better cut than the 80's version, but that may have to do with Ewoks singing). And Family Guy's shot-by-shot parodies are fantastic, but I digress.

So, enter Lar de Souza, and LICD: Black and White. This is a new print collection of strips, all of which are being redrawn by current artist de Souza, in the current style of the strip, but working hard to reflect the characters as they were then. And the question is, did they go with Star Wars and George Lucas, or did they go with Star Trek and the remasters.

Sort of neither, sort of both.

The strips -- as you can see by the comparison above (you can't click to a larger version because that's the size of the original -- M. Sohmer was kind enough to let me reproduce it full size for these purposes) -- are radically different. They are not higher resolution retraces of Adams's version of the characters. They are not the old strips with increased details. They are Lar de Souza drawing these strips, using his interpretation of the characters, albeit with echoes of the original hairstyles and other things.

At the same time, the writing is (apparently) not changing. The same things are happening. The same choices are being made. Even where the characters don't ring necessarily true to who they become (Rayne, for example, failed sometimes. And didn't know everything. Or is that catty of me?) they're not changing them.

And, more to the point, the original Trevor Adams versions are staying up on the web. Right now, they haven't decided whether or not to put de Souza's art up alongside it, but I suspect this will be a print-only thing for at least a good long while. Which makes good economic sense... and even better sense in terms of keeping people happy by not radically changing the past.

It's an exciting way to do things, and I hope it is successful for them. I'm curious enough that I plan to buy a copy, and I suspect I'm not the only one.

Now, if I could just talk Wednesday into redrawing Unfettered By Talent for me...

21 Comments

Yeah, it's a big can of worms. Sounds like the right tactic for them though.

I looked at a similar situation about two years back when I was considering publishing a collection of Help Desk comics. At the time my decision was "this is too complicated to solve at this time" since putting anything of mine in a book would require a) redrawing (because my comic is not, ahem, pleasing to the eyes) b) reformatting (because the vertical format works great for web pages and significantly less so for the confines of the printed page) c) figuring out what to do with the recreated comics after they were printed (replace originals in archives? never use them again?) and d) context (so many references to events that have faded into the past of the computer industry -- no point in publishing a history lesson in a book of comics). So yeah, if I remember correctly I decided to immerse myself in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion instead.

Interestingly enough, the webcomic Alpha-Shade has implemented alterations of past art up until the artwork is printed. Such things as the markings on biplanes and the like underwent several changes from what I understand until it was finally ironed out.

So. Um... are you going to review anything new? I'd love to hear about something you've not examined several times before. ^^;;

Rob H.

I dunno. Maybe? :)

One of the keys to actually finding and keeping momentum on posting -- and making those posts hopefully entertaining to read -- is not forcing myself to write something, even if it's perhaps a better thing to write. So, when I write stuff this time around, it's because it's what my brain's letting out onto the page.

I suspect newer materials/non-webcomics/et cetera will come with time.

Hate to break it to you, Sabre, but your headline is not entirely correct.

Doctor Who has not been entirely immune to Lucas-style re-imagination revisionism, either.

When "The Five Doctors" was released to "special edition" DVD, the Beeb took the opportunity to make a number of changes from the original version, such as adding or changing some footage and making considerable revisions to the special effects. I have the DVD in question. :)

Re: Something new

Did you ever get around to Breakfast of the Gods? I remember you mentioning planning to at some point but then going into one of the breaks from posting...

Re: Revisions

I've seen a few webcomics where the artist has gone back and redone older stuff. Sometimes for print collections, sometimes just because of a change in style. A Girl & Her Fed comes immeaditely to mind. Of course, as far as I can recall, in all cases its the creator redoing their own art...

If you had Wednesday draw UbT, would you want her to make the art worse?

But on the main topic, "A Girl and Her Fed" (http://www.agirlandherfed.com/) is also doing this, and so I'm now wondering what you think about that author's version of revision.

Judging my his twitter, it looks like Jeph Jacques is going through similar issues at the moment. He plans on showing the old strips next to the newly-drawn ones to show how he's improved...

I'm just curious as to how well they'll fit on the page- QC strips are actually pretty huge, in retrospect

Woot. When it works, OpenID can be so helpful...

Just a quick response to Robotech master about Doctor Who, general it's not the BBC, because the Beeb had a somewhat deletionist opinion of archives back in the seventies.

It is a seperate team, mostly fans of doctor who that work in the television industry, and in their spare time too. The biggest reason they have to do anything like adding effects is because for what ever reason, the original tapes are damaged.

http://www.restoration-team.co.uk/ Website for those interested.

The BBC have made some truly "outstanding" decisions in their history.

Oh and... wouldn't having someone with talent redraw a comic called "unfettered by talent" be somehow completely missing the point ;)

Hm. I've been thinking about this myself lately.

It started when I read Terry Pratchett's The Carpet People. It was his first book, and went out of print pretty quick. Years later, after he'd become famous, there was naturally a great demand for it to come back in. But, equally naturally, he was kind of embarrassed by it. So he did a rewritten version, self-described as a collaboration between Terry Pratchett, aged seventeen, and Terry Pratchett, aged forty-three.

And, well... honestly, I'd rather have read the original. The current version just felt like not-quite-as-good current-day Pratchett. (Not that I didn't enjoy it; mediocre Pratchett is better than good most writers.) I'd rather have read the raw early stuff, see what's different, how his writing evolved.

That said... not everybody's an incredibly-famous super-selling author, and if someone stumbles on your series and wants to read it from the beginning, they could be turned off by amateurish early stuff. So it's an ongoing debate inside my head. Right now, I'm leaning towards "have both versions available" as a compromise, but...

(As an aside, I think changing special effects in old stuff is pointless. I literally don't understand why you would do it. Seems like people who care primarily about shiny would rather just watch something all-new, and for everyone else, it won't matter.)

Robotech_Master:

Yes, but I think they've learned from the reaction they got - that edition of 'The Five Doctors' has been superseded by a new edition that includes both versions, and lets the viewer choose which to see. I have the DVD in question. :)

(On a less George-Lucas-y note, many of the more recent Doctor Who Classic releases have had Star-Trek-style enhancements-not-changes, always as an optional extra that the viewer must explicitly switch on; the original unenhanced version is the default.)

Jeph's doing something similar now with QC, and posted a side by side comparison over on LJ here.

Hmm, I'm not sure if how much I like this LJ ID thing, I'll have to see how it works. Interesting idea, at least.

I remember thinking Issa was black with the original artwork.

Personally, I think this is a brilliant way to be handling the switch, and possibly the best thing they could have done. I haven't yet shelled out for any of the LICD print collections, but I may buy this one to satisfy my curiosity.

Honestly, what matters to me is how they sell it. If they sell it as "The Beginning of Least I Could Do, With Updated Art" I think I'm okay with that. If they sell it as just "The Beginning of Least I Could Do," I think that's more problematic... because it's not true.

As you've said before, one of the rules of blogging is that you don't change anything you've posted unless you make it real clear exactly what you've changed, and are up-front about it. I think something similar ought to apply here.

Anyway, Doctor Who can get away with not doing a damn thing except selling videos because their special effects look dumb now, too, and they are - and their audience is - okay with that.

I know this isn't an exact parallel, but for me, this calls to mind Turner Classic Movies doing colorized versions of classic black and white movies.

It's a bit different because at least part of the original team is still involved, I know. But I still look at this as tweaking the visuals without the original crew, and that always leaves a funny taste in my mouth.

Of course, I personally don't see the problem with the visuals looking a little grungy if that's how they were in the first place. This could be because I've got worse visual acuity than a newborn (this is, based on all available scientific evidence, not hyperbole), and I've been left behind in this world of pushing towards crisper visuals.

As you've said before, one of the rules of blogging is that you don't change anything you've posted unless you make it real clear exactly what you've changed, and are up-front about it. I think something similar ought to apply here.

Hmmm. I generally agree with the blogging rule, but I don't think I agree here. It's like telling a musician they can't go back and re-record and re-release a track when they get access to better studio equipment.

Except that now that I've posted the above, I'm thinking to myself "hey, Mr. Lucas, please don't keep 'fixing' the original Star Wars movies" and I'm not sure I want to agree with myself.

On the other hand, webcomics can revise a LOT more easily than print in the short term if errors are found after "publication". For instance, in yesterday's Girls With Slingshots, a character said he worked as part of the "Nerd Herd" at fictional store Tech Buy. By the end of the day it had been changed to say "Geek Fleet" since Corsetto found out that Nerd Herd was already in use as a Geek Squad parody.

I agree with those above that the author should, in most cases, just update the art without changing the actual writing. In actuality, of course, there will always be some changes since you'll be adding background detail, refining character image, etc.

As a side note, I think that strips like Least I Could Do, Questionable Content, and A Girl and Her Fed don't need to update their art since the art is adequate and conveys what is needed. Now something like early CRFH!!!! definitely needs updating because new readers attempting to do archive trawls will be turned off trying to read the shaky hand-lettering and indistinct backgrounds. I've done the reread a few times, but it's more of a pain each time.

And agreed with dvandom on the ability for quick changes. ^_^ It can lead to fun with "stamp mistake" situations where people have the old version saved and post it up to the forum so that people can compare the joke. I remember a SomethingPositive strip which did that as well as a QC one where the joke changed entirely because Jeph thought up of a better song to riff on.

I think it's interesting that there's a pretty apparent change in DeSouza's art from his first strip to the current.

I've got no problem with artist changing up their strips with better art. I don't think its necessary except in cases like LICDs where they really need to redraw.

And LICD's original art was pretty tired when it hit.

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