Monday, June 8, 2009

Twelve Things that Hurt Your Webcomic

From the perspective of doing a serious webcomic, especially one aspiring to professionalism, these items hurt your image. Not all can be called bad; in fact, I can argue a case in favor of each one. Think of them as things to watch out for.

1. Clutter
Widgets, ads, and top list buttons are the main culprits, but anything that doesn't enhance your comic detracts.

2. Obvious WordPress/ComicPress Platforms
Hurray for ComicPress! It's made comics accessible to more people and broken the stranglehold of hosting sites. But certain items -- particularly the navigation bar and side columns -- tend to look alike on a lot of sites. You can do better. Having your platform showing is kind of like having your underwear showing: fashionable in certain circles, stigmatizing elsewhere.

3. Old Blog Dates
This one makes me nuts, and there is no excuse. When you have a blog below your comic, if you don't update the blog it looks like you haven't updated your comic since the same date, since it's in bold in the center of the page. It's an easy way to discourage readers.

4. Top List Buttons and Chatter
OK, this is a matter of opinion, and they do some good at generating traffic when you're new. But you should probably consider at what point you will have considered yourself to have graduated from the voting gimmick.
There's a saying about careers: dress like the person who has the job you want.

5. Jackass Bios
We've all seen cringe-worthy attempts to explain ourselves, and some of us have written them. If you're going to be colorful, or spout a truckload of credentials, run the draft by some friends. Some bios are informative, weird or hilarious and others are not. Don't be in the "not" group.

6. Spelling and Grammar
Regardless of your spelling and writing skills, not reviewing posts for dumb errors is lazy.

7. Lack of Unifying Theme
Your site is there to support your comic. Make every page work for that purpose, and any pages that don't should either be involved with your store or cut. I concede there are exceptions, but use judgment.

8. Apologies for Missed Deadlines
You're sorry, I'm sorry, we're all sorry, but occasionally you may miss a deadline. Don't berate yourself publicly. Just post a brief remark: "Due to circumstances, today's update will appear on Wednesday."
Here's a handy tip if you still feel guilty: make some art, wallpaper or other goodies to give away, and keep it set aside until the day you miss a deadline.

9. Sticking to Difficult Deadlines
There are comics out there that have no update schedule and sometimes vanish for weeks, yet they still retain readers. They are simply smart enough to know that they can't commit to an update schedule. Remember, it's better to under-commit than over-commit. If you start getting ahead, you can call it a buffer and take a week off if you need rest.

10. Talking Down to Readers
Don't you hate snobs? I know I do. So how come we slip up and act snobby ourselves? Let's take care not to do that any more. Avoid the us/them dichotomy of artists and fans. We don't live in a class-based society.

11. Slow Load Times
The tool you want is called WebWait . Don't torture your readers.

12. Unfinished Art
This is usually the result of a tired brain trying a compromise at 4 AM. I think it's better to miss an update than throw out a pencilled, half-finished page.

13. BONUS ITEM: Following Bad Advice
Were you able to find flaws in any of the items listed above? Have you seen some of them before? Do you have reasons for your methods, or do you just listen to whatever you are told?

There are blogs and sites that routinely dish out drooling praise of those who do not deserve it, and going-through-the-motions guidance of little merit.

Well, buck up. You have to be your own leader. Even listening to me can be perilous, as I make errors too. Worse, they are not always the errors readers think they spot.

What you must ask yourself, if you want to succeed in webcomics, is whether you understand the reasons for what you do and have a grip on the information needed for smart choices. Lists like this one are really just tools for measuring your progress on that question.