Monday, November 24, 2008

Naming a Comic

Maintaining the comic link list at Psychedelic Treehouse has given me insight into comic naming. Don't feel bad if it comes long after it would have been useful; it does for me, too, in some ways. Maybe you'll find yourself advising a beginner, or starting another project, and these ideas will come in handy. Or maybe you're a beginner with a comic that's been going no place, and a new name should be part of your overhaul:

  • Google the name to see if it's been used, or similar words; otherwise you end up with awkward situations like Marooned and Maroon;
  • Check comic lists, and avoid starting with overused phrases like "The Adventures of..." or "Everyday..." or "The Legend of..."
  • Few look at X-Y and Z. If you go there, have a name that rules, like Xylia , or go elsewhere. Same with Q, though not as much.
  • There are now enough comics that there is probably some merit in being at the beginning of an alphabetical letter list, aardvark-style. This window has opened and will close quickly, so if you're reading this a year from now, forget it. I don't endorse the practice, but it is bound to have some positive effect.
  • I personally rarely glance at comics with cliches for titles, such as "You'll Have That" or "Least I Could Do." But most people aren't like me and might even warm to familiar phrases. To me, they are empty and say nothing. Who is your audience? If your comic is at all intellectual, avoid cliches. Not that a smart person would pick a cliche as a title, but I know some who have. You may have your reasons, but be forewarned, it's a turn-off for some of us and implies a lack of imagination. They are also oddly forgettable.
  • Check the initials before you commit, or you get a howler like B.S. Comics;
  • If you have a common last name or unusual first name, check to see if other creators share it, then pick a title far from theirs;
  • Aspiring cool cats like to give comics cutesy, insider abbreviations. Anticipate their mangling by avoiding susceptible titles. Clunky titles, like "Questionable Content," aren't awful, but beg to be turned into QC, which my brain always wants to resurrect as "Quintessential Combat." Overcompensating becomes OC, an abbreviation it shares with at least three other webcomics. Personal example: Scratchin Post and Something Positive, but at least Scratchin Post is only three syllables, and not begging for shortening.
  • Watch out for apostrophes, hyphens and asterisks, which will confuse searchers and result in your realizing how poorly most people spell, when you check your search reports. Officially, our other comic is Li'l Nyet, but seeing as there were already a number of comics floating around with names starting with L'il, which is just so wrong, we knew we'd have to let the apostrophe go in most uses. (Younger readers: Li'l had a big run in the 60s and early 70s in comics, and our title is a tribute to those, like Little Lulu, and Li'l Jinx , which influenced so many more artists than super hero titles did at the time.)
  • Check what else on the web uses your title. Nobody competes for Li'l Nyet, but Scratchin Post has to fight with a blog of the same name and some pet shelters for search engine position. Lousy pet shelters!
  • Does your name have any special, bad web connotations? You don't want to be linked by accident with fake pharmaceutical rackets or raw adult material, but those are unlikely. You might not know, however, that the word "directory" has been pretty much hijacked by link farms, and is best not used. I admit it's hard to think of a good title containing the word directory, but you get the point. xkcdirectory? Thorough Googling for web matches means looking at the top ten pages of results, for items like someone with a matching forum name that could move up just as you hit your stride and try to build your brand.
  • Genre errors are when your name suggests one genre, like science fiction, when it's really about something much different.
  • If you have a subtitle, people will use it to Google you. You wouldn't believe how many people use "The Red Menace" to get to "Li'l Nyet." Perhaps because it's easier to spell. Subtitles have their uses, but you should optimize your site for subtitle searches as well as title searches if you use a subtitle. (And here you thought title searches for real estate were just some legal detail. They're making sure your house and neighborhood don't have a regrettable name, like "Hell's Kitchen" or "Bronx Mowgli .")
  • Different comic list sites handle numerals in names differently. Some exile them to a special list that probably doesn't get as much traffic. Others, like mine, work them in alphabetically as if they were spelled out, but this can make them hard to find. Numerals also create search confusion opportunities. I'd avoid them or at least isolate them on the end of a title, like Fahrenheit 451. That's not a comic, by the way -- it's a science fiction novel by the late Ray Bradbury about book burning. 451 degrees F is the temperature at which paper spontaneously combusts. 
This is one of those columns that comes too late. But sometimes it's fun to think about what might have been, if we were older and wiser when we were young and foolish.