Thursday, October 16, 2008

What Makes a Comic Successful?

I've been looking for words and terms that describe successful comics better than they describe unsuccessful ones. I've done this by studying successful comics, and looking for features they tend to share which are less frequently shared by less successful comics.

These are my picks for qualities that enhance a webcomic's chances of being a success:

  • distinctiveness - I feel the most confidence in this one. A huge percentage of successful comics stand out. They're unique. Example: Dinosaur Comics. Distinctiveness is a more advanced version of originality.
  • excellence - This is about attention to detail. It doesn't mean the artist is a genius, but it does mean they are reliable. The site is well-designed and pleasing to the eye.
  • top two in genre - Reach this rank, and you are close to the big time, if not in it. Of course, the big time in comics is pretty little, but if you write the best fantasy or science fiction or furry story, there's usually a seat for you.
  • funny - A huge number of comics consider themselves funny, even if only occasionally, and the ability to make the reader laugh helps seal the contract. Comics that are exclusively funny have the most competition, and while a lot of it is not that great, the others near the top are tough. Perry Bible Fellowship and Cyanide and Happiness have cracked this level. xkcd may be too distinctive to qualify as a purely funny play.
  • frequency - The more you come out, the better your odds. This forces many artists into attempting black and white strip gags, which do only a little worse than color, but the competition is fierce to distinguish yourself. Many artists can't do B&W well, including some successful ones, but that's no excuse.
  • bells and whistles - this is for stuff like the blogs in Achewood and the Easter Eggs in Dinosaur Comics. My feeling is they don't count for much unless other things are big. Copying the ideas of other innovators just makes you look bad; you have to invent your own.

I've given each entry lots of thought, and considered many others. They are based on careful survey and observation, but that doesn't mean a reader won't come up with a good suggestion immediately. Debate and discussion is welcome.

Keep in mind, from an attributes list like this, we might decide to develop mechanisms for scoring, so focusing on the most important attributes is essential.