Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ever Wonder What I Think? lol

This is the other half of my question exchange with artist William Hessian, which we are each printing on our blogs. Sometimes I think I make more sense answering a question than posting.

Here's the half featuring William. Below, he puts questions to me.

Q: You seem to have your hand in a lot of great webcomic sites, including writing and creating Lil' Nyet and Scratching Post, and keeping tabs on many more. What exactly have you done, do you do, and where can one see the work?

A: I do two comics in collaboration with my wife, "Pug." Scratchin Post is an old school, funny animal comic, featuring a community where the citizens are dogs, cats, pigs and other animals instead of people. The plot revolves around a daffy Labrador, two quarrelsome Russian cat sisters, a family of poodles and some cats who live in a vacant lot.

Li'l Nyet is a short form humorous satire about the futility of repressing the human spirit. It's set in Russia under the Soviets. Nyet is a demon in the Ministry of Security, and her form suggests a theological angle: that evil cannot prevail against hope. I'm Russian, so this is real fun for me.

Psychedelic Treehouse is a sprawling site full of resources, reference, art galleries, directories and commentary dedicated to web comics. It also has a sizable link list, and the only major directory of comics collectives on the web.

Floating Lightbulb is my web comics blog, updated daily. The name is from the lightbulb that appears over a character's head when he has an idea.

Flavorwhip is a web comics collective Pug and I co-founded with Nathan Castle, who does Seamonster. It's intended to specialize in long-form, color comics. Malachi Sharlow, who does Redmask, is our newest member.

I recently started an experiment: a forum focused on the discussion of web comic promotion. Interested people can contact me at any of my sites for info.

2. As far as promoting your two main webcomics, what methods do you take? Do you pay for advertising, if so, where? And what is the best method to find readers?

The best method for finding readers is to be irresistibly interesting and post updates seven days a week. Of course, that kind of update schedule is impossible for most people, so the next best thing is to have an update schedule and post reliably.

We spent a lot of time jiggering our sites; then, when it was time to promote, we joined EntreCard (a blog and web comic promotion site) to get a quick boost. EntreCard owner Graham Langdon had just asked me to help establish a web comic section on his service, so I put my sites there for ballast while I spent a couple of months recruiting others. We picked up some steady readers and got lots of mail and other signs of progress, but in the end I found management too easily manipulated by some trolls overrunning the site, and it was becoming a professional embarrassment. When it became apparent there would be endless dithering, I left. I sensed a sinking ship: the site needs a strategic partner and more members, but can't even control a few rotten apples, and built an ugly rant forum to accommodate them. This will dismay potential investors. Anyone who does come on is going to steamroller current management if they don't find some spine.

We've started pay ads through Project Wonderful, and we are trying ads on dozens of sites. I got some great advice about starting via Barb Jacobs, who does Xylia, so we won't be newbs for too long.

We also pursue trades. Since Scratchin Post features the cat breed Russian Blues, we contacted and they put our banner on their site. We promote them at every opportunity.

Free link sites like Belfry are important too. I imagine everyone will want to be on the new ComicSpace site due this summer, unless the design is a flop.

3. I notice you do not run paid advertising on your webcomics. May I ask why?

A few reasons. We were adjusting our site lay-out as we learned, and didn't want to be moving ads around like furniture. We're also wary of how the page will look with ads. We'll try ads on the other sites first, to learn, then maybe copy We the Robots' layout strategy. We want to build traffic enough to make ads worthwhile for people.

4. Some of my webcomics, if chosen, might include animated gifs, floatover animations, unusual panel size, to help enhance the story. Do you think gimmicks such as these add anything to a webcomic, assuming that they are used effectively?

They add page load time and browser SNAFUs! But that doesn't mean that done right, they aren't great. They are all tools of the imagination, but they are not substitutes for it. My personal favorite is a subtle one -- run a mouse over the title of We the Robots.

5. One of my goals, is to create a webcomic that can in the end of the run, if successful, be turned easily into a publishable print format. Do you feel that is something your webcomics may one day turn into?

We are older than many web comics people, and have a background in print books and zines. We've been very careful not to close the door on print by planning format and coloring to accommodate it. If we have a successful comic, we'll print it. The business model can't rely on print, but it must hope for it.

6. In the grand scheme that is the world of webcomics, what is the hardest thing to make your comic a success? And what tips would you give to me, being somebody that would be trying this for the first time?

We must all confront the fact that we will never get the appreciation and respect we deserve. Observers underestimate the work and over-estimate the positive reinforcement from readers.

Consequently, you have to do a comic that you love. You must enjoy doing it, and you must feel affection for the characters. We took several years to develop Scratchin Post -- although Li'l Nyet came together in less than a month.

Remember I'm trying to figure out how to make my own comics successful, and it's frightening, even for a seasoned entrepreneur like me. When I look at the top comics, the majority of them have no soul and are noticeably shallower than the top print indy comics. I can't name more than one or two web comics with 10,000+ readers I admire, though there are some I respect. There is no hard evidence that there is an big audience on the web for my work. I'm counting on finding readers around the globe, and contemplating releasing Li'l Nyet in Russian.

7. Besides your own, what are your favorite webcomics?

In no order: We the Robots, minus, Ugly Girl, Zip and Li'l Bit, Seamonster, Redmask. Probably the most famous one I read is Cyanide and Happiness, but the multiple writers means there are competing visions of the universe, and I see lost opportunities to develop some witty story arcs.

I'm intrigued by a new one called Weird Fishes.

All these comics, including mine, can be subscribed on Piperka.