Friday, May 1, 2009

Webcomic Hooks

"Life is what you focus on."
Winifred Gallagher
A hook is something that encourages focus. A focused reader is a quality reader, so we find ourselves inclined to use hooks to attract people.

A hook is simply anything that makes a visitor more likely to become a reader.

Some hooks work instantly and others are gradual. Consumers of all sorts, including comic readers, have learned to be skeptical of fast hooks that don't deliver the goods. Obvious attempts look desperate. Some hooks will draw in a lot of people but not necessarily a high value audience.

Below are my ideas of fast and slow hooks. They are hardly final, in fact, more like works in progress. I welcome reader ideas.

I think the exercise is important because comics vary in the type of relationship they want with their reader. Fast hooks are "how we met" stories. Slow hooks are "how we fell in love." Understanding where your comic fits in will probably help you find your audience.

Fast Hooks

Most of these need little or no explanation:

Single panel
Short form
Always a punch line
Cartooniness - pulling from the implied realism of classic cartooning instead of actual realism, which is more complex and less "fun"
Deftness - the creator makes everything look easy, not labored
High readability - no tiny, wacky fonts or difficult handwriting
Trending minimalist/nothing overwrought
Hedonistic icons: cleavage, drugs, games
Catchy title
Evocative logo
Slogan - Immediate declaration of intent in few words
Pop culture references or themes
Writing for a mass audience
Well-presented site that indicates staying power
Impressive landing pages
Possibly color - Opinions vary on this. I enjoy black and white, but many people who work in black and white don't know how to use it. (I don't claim to myself, but I know good black and white when I see it.) People who can't do good black and white might be wise to learn color, as ironic as that sounds.

Slow Hooks

For the reader who is willing to explore, these are the hooks that may persuade them to stay:

Compelling story
Absorbing characters
Convincing and original setting
Subtle aspects that emerge on re-reading or contemplation
Philosophical depth
Detailed art
Easter eggs - small surprises awaiting readers who happen to mouse over certain spots
Plot twists
Sublime writing*
Writing for a sophisticated audience
Interesting site that enhances the reader's involvement with the comic
Threads are details of plot that enrich the narrative, and probably serve to turn the regular reader into a dedicated one
Match to ritual - Reading one's favorite comics over tea before others are awake is a ritual. Comics that dovetail with the rituals of readers will retain them more easily. Since this is difficult to achieve, we must rely on courtesies such as the update alert feed to help the reader fit the comic into their life.

*Here is an example. In eleven words, a character inflicts devastation on Lipa at her most vulnerable moment. From "In the Ravine," by Anton Chekhov:

Russia, circa 1900.
After her husband is imprisoned, Lipa lives with his family, where her only joy is caring for their infant son. Distracted by the child, she ignores her deteriorating status within the family. She is unprepared for the wrath of her sister-in-law, who, in a rage, splashes the child with boiling water.
Lipa takes the child to a distant hospital, where he dies in agony.
She begins the long trek home, carrying the boy's body in a blanket and sloshing through mud. She catches a ride part way from cynical types who undermine her notions of heaven and the soul.
Then she reaches the house. The patriarch is on the porch, staring, silently regarding the lump in the blanket.
"Eh, Lipa," he says at last. "You did not take good care of my grandson."