Have you ever noticed that among the dead webcomics, a preponderance of them have “Hiatus” on their tombstone? That tombstone being, of course, the final page posted years and years ago with a promise they will be “right back” after a “short break”. There are of course a number of comics that only managed 3 pages or so into the proceedings, spoke of great things to come, then mysteriously disappeared without another word, but what I'm talking about is something that had gone well past the threshold, established themselves, and gained an audience.
Many things can contribute to the “Gone Hiatus'n” sign being hung up on the comic. Life sometimes gets in the way of our projects. Maybe it's work, maybe it's family issues, whatever the cause, some people find it a burden to work on their comic instead of something they did because they enjoyed it. Heck, they may even still enjoy their comic work, but feel they need to set it aside for something “more important”. I would never begrudge a person who had to give up on their comic to tend to a sick relative or because their paying job has become too exhausting or demanding. When the project involves multiple hands, and one person has to withdraw, it leaves the wheels spinning on the project. Communication issues, lack of coordination, and one member of the team just not being as into the comic anymore will result in an indefinite hiatus as those that remain search for a new creative partner. Technical issues may even be a factor in a hiatus, and although they can often be worked around, not many are willing to change the look of their comic dramatically just for the sake of making an update.
As a comic reader, whenever I see the word “hiatus” mentioned, and it's not a planned hiatus (by that I mean a seasonal or between chapters hiatus with a definitive return date in the near future), my immediate response is “Well, this comic's dead.” See, the thing about a hiatus that's different from outright quitting is, a hiatus is a promise that you will be back because you're taking a break from social media distractions and withholding finished work because you are focusing that time on making new content in the background, building something that comic makers who've got their stuff together call a “buffer”; a backlog of pages you can update on schedule if you so choose. When a TV series goes on hiatus, it's because they have run out of content and are producing more– they are not making episodes and shoving them out the door the moment they wrap up on the set. You have episodes ready to air, and they are “in the can” until they can be released. When a mega-popular webcomic announces a hiatus, they set a return date and the audience knows the comic will be back on that date. Unfortunately, when most webcomic artists employ the word “hiatus” what they mean is they are on a“moratorium” and will not be making any new content in their absence. Yes, the word “hiatus” technically does mean a lapse in progress, but how it is used in entertainment is a bit different. It seems like “hiatus” is just another way to say “I give up” without looking like a quitter and feeling like an utter failure! It does not feel honest to keep the hopes of an audience up for a return, only to let years lapse.
One particularly frustrating thing I've also found in regards to hiatus is the amount of comics I was enjoying that are put on hold because the artist decided to do another project instead. It feels like a slap in the face when you've gotten invested in the characters and story, only for it to come to a halt with a detour sign pointing to the next thing the author is asking you to invest in. It's incredibly disappointing already to be told that the characters you liked are basically dead now because their fickle author has lost interest in them, but it feels like their corpses are further disrespected when the author uses them to prop up the advertisement for the hot new thing they're into now. Like many a sequel, it's rare that the follow up captures the same magic the original did. More often than not the new thing they dropped their other comic for is more in line with mainstream interests. I know you gotta appeal to an audience to get the hits, but what frustrates me is they already had an audience and took them for granted. Don't get me wrong here, there's a lot to be said for not toiling away on your first idea forever and using it to make your next project better. I get that! I'm talking less “This comic was a learning mistake, I'm going on to make something better” and more “Uh, I just give up, here's a new comic that I expect you to be immediately invested in because you liked this first one.” I also understand not quitting art completely and turning to commissions instead to pay the bills, but a part of me really dislikes seeing the audience that supported the artist to get to the point of high-paying commissions being left out. Particularly when notable artists have made an effort to give their fans closure, such as was the case with Rob Schrab of “Scud the Disposable Assassin” who returned years later to give a final chapter before leaving comics for good to pursue other career goals. And as much as I dislike seeing a comic end this way, I've seen a number of webcomics that quit just upload a written summary of where the story was headed on a Google docs before moving on to their next project. I rarely look into how it ended because it just ruins what experience I was having up until that point. I'd rather it all be up in the air than wrapped up in a dry, clinical abridgement.
So what is appropriate for “hiatus” anyway? Well, mental health breaks, taking care of family or friends in need, working overtime/work stress, and other major life issues are what most people cite for their reason for hiatus, and these are legitimate reasons to put a comic on hold or quit, but if you CANNOT tell your audience when your “hiatus” is over, it's not a hiatus. “I don't love this comic anymore but I feel bad about giving up” is not a hiatus. Have the guts to admit it! It's not fair to keep people on the edge when you know your heart is not in it, and I guarantee that taking a break from your own work will NOT inspire you to do better work. If you never use a muscle, it will atrophy, and your metaphorical creative muscle is the same. Nobody becomes a better artist giving up on art, nobody becomes a writer when they never write anything. If the magic has gone out of the relationship you have with your comic, you need to break off the relationship hard. And that relationship is with your audience as well, so you need to be honest and forthright with them. When you tell them you have no time to work on this comic and they find you working on a new one it feels like you cheated on them! I by no means intend to imply that you have to go through the motions on a comic you have lost the spark of interest for, but be clear to your audience that you are done with the work, and don't string them along with a promise of return by calling it a “hiatus”.
Personally, I've never gone on announced hiatus despite juggling multiple comics because I cannot keep to a consistent schedule to save my life. My dear audience has just come to expect a page to drop within a month or couple weeks of each other. My second comic ends up at the bottom of the priority line despite it being done in a style that can be produced fairly quickly, and it makes me feel incredibly guilty. So I am not innocent of this bad comic author behavior! But when I absolutely HAD to take a break to power through a bunch of pages, I let my audience know I was working hard and they would see results. I continue to assure my audience that despite lulls in updates, I am consistently working on things in the background for them. Use your social media to stay in touch with your audience and keep the embers burning even when you cannot post a page. You see, my problem with people who use the word “hiatus” only mean it in the sense of “I'm taking a break ENTIRELY from all of my comic work, and when I say I'll be back on this date, what I really mean is I'll try and produce some work on that date. And if I don't hate dredging up interest for my own work again if I even remember that I promised to return on that date, I'll post a page eventually. Then I'll be dispirited that nobody welcomed me back because precedent told them to write off comics that go on hiatus and miss their return as forsaken works, and give up trying to regain all that momentum I lost when readers checked back for 3 months to author silence and no updates.”
If you go on “hiatus” and what you really mean is a hiatus and not an extended break where you do nothing for weeks, I think it's better to just let your audience know that the future is uncertain and not make promises. If you love your work, taking a break from it at the same time as your audience is not going to engender a deeper love for it in its absence. You might miss it yes, but you are going to lose a LOT of momentum by letting it slip. Too many artists come back from hiatus to admit “I don't know where I was going with this.” That's because they didn't do one bit of work in that time to try and figure things out, and expected a short breather to magically inspire them. When it did not, they give up rather then exploring other options like seeking out a co-write or editor to help them over the slump. I for one, don't buy that an author who put 30+ pages up that audiences loved had no idea where they were going with the story. They could have figured out where by paying attention to audience theory or sitting down with a friend and talking it out. What they did instead was the equivalent of cutting ties with their best friend for years, then coming back expecting their friendship to be even tighter. Comics are a relationship, and you get out of it what you put into it. Hiatus that is a response to flagging affection, lack of inspiration, or an overburdened work schedule is not going to fix the problem. A hiatus that is planned to specifically tackle the issues you are dealing with and a promise to return, shows you are dedicated to keeping this comic relationship alive.
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Amelius at 9:57AM, Jan. 27, 2019
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