Sunday, October 26, 2008

Some Comics Shouldn't Sweat "Buffers"

I think many cartoonists can safely forget buffers, and the implication that you're not professional if you don't have them. Here's why.
If you need a buffer, it's because you expect to miss posting deadlines. Reasons include everything from illness to travel.
If you have these things in your life, then your buffer will gradually get used up and eventually you will have none.
Of course, you can draw fewer episodes each week so that you have time to replenish the buffer, but you are sacrificing one of the most vital elements of success -- frequency -- to guard against occasional interruption.
As you get ahead of your readers, you begin to lose touch with what they're reading and writing to you about.
I don't think cutting frequency is worth a buffer -- not based on how important frequency is.
Some people proud themselves on their buffer, and if it works for them, that's great. But the buffer formula is not working for the majority. 
I think the only buffer that makes sense is something similar to the cartoons and newsreels they used to show before movies. Something appealing to your audience, but presented as entertaining filler pending your recovery or return.
I don't mean sketches and scribbles. Well composed blog entries, short cartoons, brief one shots featuring a younger version of a major character, light hearted parodies of other comics, a snapshot of when you wore braces -- that's the kind of stuff I mean. Promote your favorite comic or blog or web site, or set up a goofy poll. Build up a portfolio of items of different lengths during those times when you can't or don't want to draw your main comic. It's filler, but you can make it rise above junk filler and make it interesting filler.
Guest material is a common choice. I don't like it myself, as it introduces distortion into the comic strip, and I'd rather have the guest do a short one shot of their own imagining.
If you're good, your readers will enjoy the occasional break enough that they'll be glad to send you off periodically.
Writing, "I know, I suck" is the mark of an amateur. Freely announce that life occasionally requires you to step away, but that you have prepared something different for readers as a treat. (By the way, I know of no one who minds being called a reader, but some who mind being called fans. They associate the latter with sitting in a snowy football stadium with a block of cheese on their head.) People do want to know when you'll be back so make an announcement you can keep.
If your life is so chaotic that you're burning up filler, you're either young and can be excused or your update schedule is beyond your means. For the rest, who occasionally get in a jam, having a folder full of options covering various durations allows you to mix things up if you have to be gone for a while.
Buffers are fine if they suit you. But often buffer discussions are fake professionalism, with too much awareness of pressure, pressure, pressure. Too much competition, and posturing.
It doesn't have to be like that. Being prepared for interruptions can be a creative adventure as rewarding as your regular comic. Dump your junk drawer on the scanner, label everything, and post it with a note telling what you're up to and when the next episode can be expected.
Your readers will be waiting when you come back, and if you're lucky, your favorite dinner will be warming in the oven.
Thank you, everyone who linked to Psychedelic Treehouse when I changed to the new URL and asked you to support it a few weeks ago. It's made all the difference: mail has revived, including an excellent suggestion from someone called "ming," people are using the site and new additions are promptly noticed. You didn't have to do it; you did anyway; and that's very cool. I'll be singing "You Are the Sunshine of my Life" on YouTube in platform shoes and a vest.
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