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Long Form Stories and Standalone Pages

Banes at 12:00AM, Aug. 27, 2015

Make sure you've read all the previous issues!

I'm at a nice place in my webcomic right now. Well, it's nice as the writer, at least.
The characters have a nice history now, with some adventures behind them, some established relationships, and a stable of supporting characters who can be brought back to create all sorts of havoc for my heroes.
In a way, it's right where I want to be. Enough history is in place, but there's not so much that it's confusing or oppressive.

Or at least it's not to ME. I wonder about the readers, though. A few commenters have photographic memories, I've found, and remember as many details as I do. That's pretty great (Call Me Tom, I'm lookin' at you, buddy!).
One of the goals for my series has been to make each page completely understandable to a newcomer, but to not be overloaded with exposition that would be annoying to people who are reading it regularly, or to those who read the 22-42 page stories all in one go.
I don't think I'm always successful at riding that line, but I do try.

To that end, I structured the series into pretty much standalone “issues”, with each plot complete unto itself. I also make an effort to have a setup and payoff, and hopefully a laugh, on each page. Or I guess more to the point, I try to have a conflict, and a cliffhanger or resolution on each page.

That's not always possible, and having a “standalone page” is the first thing I sacrifice when needed. It seems more important not to annoy regular readers with repetitive exposition.
I annoy them with puerile, hackneyed writing and awful, slapdash artwork instead!

The most important thing in my comic, I thought, was for readers to know who the main characters are, and what their basic relationships are. Well, explaining the relationships on every page was not possible, so I settled for having a top banner that shows (and names) all the main characters.
It's actually one of the things I'm most proud of in my comic; I think it's been structured exactly the way it needs to be as far as keeping a reasonable balance for ongoing readers and new readers.

Is your comic more geared to new readers or, ongoing readers? Do you try to keep it balanced between the two? Have you struggled with this? Do you find jumping into new webcomics challenging? Do you read webcomics backwards for dozens of pages on end sometimes (I know I do)?

Have a good Thursday!



Banes at 6:48AM, Aug. 31, 2015

Fantastic comments/thoughts, you guys, thanks! @CallMeTom - thanks, and thanks for all the support! @Gunwallace - that's another one you owe me, junior! @Kawaii - thanks! Good call on the nicknames, haha. I hear you on the backward reading thing. It's easy to fall into that. I rarely remember to duckmark every comic.

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:34AM, Aug. 31, 2015

There are definitely webcomics that I read backwards after I have missed a significant number of updates. Questionable Content is one of those comics because the archive is so humongous that it would be a shot in the dark to figure out the exact page I left off on, so it is just easier to get all the general plot points in reverse.

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:32AM, Aug. 31, 2015

I do admit that the Typical Strange top banner with all the character names was VERY helpful when I first started reading your comic. It does not account for nicknames, though. Sometimes I forget whether Abigail's referred to as Abby or Abbey, so I just type out the whole name. I started reading around the 2012 Halloween special when Penelope had that purse that looked like a green worm. Then I went back to the beginning of the archive.

Gunwallace at 1:18PM, Aug. 30, 2015

Thanks for this topic. It made me think about something I was writing, and showed me a solution to the problem I was having with it.

PaulEberhardt at 2:17AM, Aug. 30, 2015

I deliberately didn't put a lot of plot in my comic to give me more freedom to do standalone gags and different scenes, i.e. to enable me to draw whatever I feel like drawing at any given moment. It started as sort of a drawing exercise after all. That way it should be easy enough for new readers to get into it. In fact I try to always keep new readers in mind whenever I draw a new page (which I should really be doing instead of dawdling my time away on the internet, dammit ;) ). However, there's a solid body of backstory for each character that I could draw on if necessary to keep the whole thing consistent. I haven't scared off my regular readers so far, so in all probability it doesn't work out half bad.

ironhand at 8:36AM, Aug. 28, 2015

My comic (and future comics) hasn't actually got enough traction at the minute to properly demonstrate...but I'm definitely more of a long-form writer. I don't care about the casual reader, I want people that are invested. A lot of people talk about accessibility in that you can read a single page/issue and get everything you can just check in and check out. Which is fine, but I've never been interested in that (although, one day, I may push myself as a writer to try it.) I absolutely believe that people are looking for immersive, "deep dive" content. I believe Issue/Page 1 should be Issue/Page 1. I believe Issue/Page 23 should be Issue/Page 23.

Stellar at 4:47PM, Aug. 27, 2015

Everyone's touched on this, which is important; making webcomics takes more planning than most expect. Just like any story it's better practice to plan out who your characters are, what their motivations are, and how they effect the plot, if they even resolve the plot and if they do, what comes next! Figuring all of that out or properly editing your ideas can predefine it to fit in a long format or go page by page. My comics are planned to be episodic so people can jump in with new chapters and know what's happening in that arc, but I do have larger plots woven in for the readers who stick around.

usedbooks at 1:30PM, Aug. 27, 2015

Once, when I had trouble keeping my facts straight, I gave a character amnesia. (Probably not the best way to deal with that situation either.) I write far in advance, and out of order too. -_- I have to rewrite scripts to match rewrites of other scripts -- and I keep all my rewrites in case I change my mind. It is not a tidy process. It's like sifting through tornado wreckage of a puzzle factory to find all the pieces of one specific puzzle.

Gunwallace at 12:44PM, Aug. 27, 2015

I struggled keeping 'facts' straight with my long form comic, as it had no real overall plan and was written on the fly. As it was a 'silly' comic I mostly got away with it, but I cannot recommend using such a method. So for now I'm doing 'shorter' things, but there's another long form comic in me that just needs a good planning session or two before it comes out ... maybe a character bible or something to help keep things straight?

usedbooks at 11:57AM, Aug. 27, 2015

KimLuster, I feel terrible for new readers of Used Books too. There's too many little plot strands. But I feel way worse to assault their eyes with my old art. That's why I wrote summaries. I don't think anyone reads them but I feel less guilty about my terrible archives.

usedbooks at 11:54AM, Aug. 27, 2015

I try not to dwell to much (obvious reasons -_-). I'm sure Used Books is more for long-time readers, even though very few have been with me from the beginning. (Some more recent ones wanted something long to really binge on and read everything, which makes me feel like apologizing for everything again.) It's episodic, but all kind of continuous as well. I include reading/review resources since it can take over a year to get through an arc. I write up summaries occasionally, and I link to relevant previous scenes in comments. I also have full summaties broken into sections, thumbnailed links to chapters, and categorized character bios, which help me as much in my writing as anything. I find character bios super helpful when I start reading a new comic, whether from the beginning or jumping into the deep end.

Call Me Tom at 9:40AM, Aug. 27, 2015

I started reading Typical strange at the "Hill people" ark whilst going thru the archive at almost the same time so I do think the issues stand on there own. My own comic tho dosen't explain anything anyway so no one has any chance of knowing whats happening from one page to the next!

Banes at 6:27AM, Aug. 27, 2015

@KimLuster - Yours is definitely a graphic NOVEL. I've been reading for quite awhile and have gone through some of your archive - I do understand what's happening overall, but will have to go back to the beginning to get the full picture. The sections/chapters always make sense, and your individual action sequences always make sense, too. I wouldn't want to change anything about The Godstrain!

Banes at 4:47AM, Aug. 27, 2015

@Abt - Haha, I know! I remember ozoneocean's telling me he knew his painstakingly drawn artwork would be skimmed past in two seconds by most readers. Your stuff always seems to be easy to catch up on when I miss pages. The genius artwork serves well there!

KimLuster at 4:45AM, Aug. 27, 2015

Yes, you excel in this goal of yours... I've leafed thru most of your backlog, but it wasn't necessary. When I jumped in a couple years ago I picked up the vibe, personalities, and group dynamics of your little coterie instantly! My own story, I feel, is terrible for new readers... :( There's so much interwoven plot... I'm not really sure how far back a reader would have to go to sort of get it. In that light, I'm gonna created a 'Story So Far...' text page for my next page, for this exact reason, to help readers (new and old) keep it all straight without having to slog back thru all the backlog!

Banes at 4:41AM, Aug. 27, 2015

Thanks jerrie! Wow, that's great to hear! Your comments always make my day! I notice that Jays Internet Fight Club has a lot going on overall, but I can always follow the drama/action on each page. It never feels confusing.

Abt_Nihil at 2:48AM, Aug. 27, 2015

I love long form comics. I do also love some gag-strips (Calvin & Hobbes, *swoon*...), but I'm not funny enough to do them myself - my writing strengths (as far as I have any) are definitely to be found in longer narratives. And my comics are never *that* terribly long that you can't read up on the previous issues if you're interested... (On a a side note, it's a bit frustrating that even comics you spend years on making can be read in an afternoon.)

jerrie at 12:34AM, Aug. 27, 2015

You do a masterful job of making each of your issues stand alone stories, as well as not confusing to someone new...I remember when I first started reading your comic, I was drawn in right away....I didnt need to...but I'm a serious geek, I went back and read the back issues.. I was enjoying what I was reading so much, I HAD to go back some pages to read stories about the Typical Strange gang

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