Friday, October 31, 2008

How People Bond with Humor Comics

The number of comics who use the self-descriptive words humor, comedy or funny is much higher than the number using any other adjective.
Take our strip Li'l Nyet. I though that readers would consist of people who have been reading the newspaper for years, and remember key world events, combined with history buffs, people with some connection to Russia, fans of Russian writers, other Russians, and the like.


Especially about "other Russians." It's the countries that border Russia -- Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Finland -- where we have a lot of readers, but few in Russia herself. Read into that what you will. I can tell you that comics in Russia are considered very low brow, and haven't achieved the same status as in other countries. They do know who Baba Yaga is, and on nights like tonight, she gives them a shudder.

So who are our readers? For the answer, I am relying heavily on readers who have written detailed or repeat letters to us, expressing what they like about the strip.

They are people who share our sense of humor, and find the setting appealing for whatever reason. Generally, they know a little about it at least. They may like that the setting -- old Russia --is unusual for a webcomic.

It's not unusual for readership to be different from what you'd expect. Country Living readers are city-dwellers for the most part, and the magazine is a fantasy escape for them. (Note to self: launch comic featuring rustic furniture and Graniteware kitchen decor.)
Some episodes of Li'l Nyet don't have punch lines. Usually, it is because they need to offer suspense instead. Sometimes I can work in nervous humor, but other times it distracts from the drama, and since Nyet is a story and not simply a gag-a-day strip, I let the punch line go. Still, I can't help but think of an example cited by humor writer Jim Foreman, of a reader who picks up a book and after a few seconds of browsing, knows whether they want to set it back down. On days when there is no punch line, or familiarity with the story arc is required for it to be funny, I resign myself to the fate that people visiting us for the first time that day may be less likely to return. For this reason, I try to follow long arcs with short, even single-day stories, so that those who give us another chance may find a place to become hooked.
There are few things lonelier than telling a funny story to a group of strangers, and falling flat. Alcohol seems to smooth differences in what we find funny, and I remember sitting in groups over a pitcher of beer with everyone seeming to laugh easily at every remark. On occasions when we all awoke in the same hotel or camp site, I was always unnerved by how that easy comeraderie had dissipated with sobriety. I think this is the role of the warm-up act in a comedian triple-bill: get out there and survive while the audience becomes lubricated.
As much as some readers might enjoy a shot of vodka with their Li'l Nyet, it's not something I can provide. Instead, Pug and I have to reliably produce an atmosphere that provides a sanctuary from the feelings of loneliness and alienation we all encounter. The ritual of the strip's appearance, of seeing a new episode posted and of having a high degree of confidence that the story will matter and the jokes will share our common funny bone is the warm-up. Reading the episode itself is the finale.

I believe nothing bonds readers and writers more than a shared sense of humor, and if the artist can consistently make the strip funny while telling a good tale, readers will find it and become committed.

Senses of humor are incredibly varied and hard to describe. This makes it challenging to reach people, but it also means they will appreciate your work more if they like it.
Happy Halloween to all, and a special thank you to readers who also follow Li'l Nyet. We finally blew through the 25,000 visitor/month mark today, and that happening so soon can only be from a lot of word of mouth and link sharing by people who enjoy the strip. Thanks to everyone who has participated in this experience. We're having a blast, meeting great people and drawing two strips close to our hearts. We are grateful for your support. We are optimistic our current Halloween story line will conclude before Thanksgiving.

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