Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Who Else Wants Awesome Readership Statstics? (Hint: It involves Google!)

My Dad influences me than I care to admit. Even when it comes to Last Resort, he ended up getting me to try out blogging on the comic, and so it's no surprise that I'm also trying out Google Analytics now (after much insistance) as well. Granted, I only did it after I decided the stats I was receiving from Xepher already weren't 'good enough', but...

What It Is: Stat tracking. Keeps up with visitors, pageviews, bounce rate (how many people only look at the first page), time spent on the site, where they come from (but not where they go), etc. Try different things on your page to tweak the numbers, and track stuff going on. Did I mention it's a free Google product?

Why You Care: Why DON'T you care? Starting a comic means finding some way to get readers, and this allows you to not only keep track of who visits, but where they go, what they see, how they get there, and (possibly most importantly) when they leave. Granted, certain 'goals' may not be as useful for someone doing comics as it is for a normal online business, but if and when you realize certain pages are bringing in the traffic over others, you take notice.

How It Works: Set up an Analytics account under your normal Google account. Add in a little javascript cookie to the bottom of all the pages on your site (if you're smart and coded in php like a good Lazy Hacker, this should only involve adding it to the footer file). Wait a day or two for your first results. Tweak accordingly.

My Attempts: Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to give a full analysis of the 'benefits' of this until I complete the first comic cycle in a week (in order to give the whole "70% new vistors" thing to calm down a bit) , so I can only glean out bits and pieces of information from working this so far.
  • I've got a frickin' high bounce rate. Granted, it's a comic on a page with very little other additional information, so either a lot of people are turning away from the comic on the first go, or there's a lot of people who just read it and then go on.
    • My exit rate on the first comic ain't that great either. Probably as time goes on, I'll need to include some more information on it, like commentary and stuff.
  • I have some . . . interesting results from being able to get more information from referrals than just who came from where. I'm not surprised that I had several other xepher.net sites referring to me; that's just the newsbox. That DeviantArt still brings in good traffic is surprising (considering that I thought nobody went to that account).
    • According to the pages-per-visit information, I seem to get 'better' traffic from it too (as opposed to the Belfry, which brings in a lot of traffic, but not much that sticks around for very long) The obvious drawback is that it's all from spots that don't bring in 'much' traffic individually.
  • A lot of the more 'interesting' search strings have disappeared now; I suspect it's from moving the blog to different hosting. I've started a secondary profile for it, so the results from that should come in soon.
  • Lots of people are still using lastresort.xepher.net instead of www.lastres0rt.com. And that includes direct traffic.
  • Whichever one of you came here using their Nintendo Wii: You cracked me up when I saw that stat. You rock!
I've not watched the tutorials, gone through the FAQ or anything else at this point, so there're probably a few more tricks up its sleeve, but so far I can already see that Google Analytics is a vast improvement over my previous statistics system; the bounce/exit rate data alone is enough to spur some change. It may seem silly to care 'this' much about your statistics, but if you're gonna try and make changes to your site anyway, why not have a reliable system that can provide tons of depth about your site?

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Do You Make These Common Mistakes in your Dialogue?

(It's worth note here that we're not talking about text bubble placement; though that's important too, there's a better tutorial for that and I don't feel like going into all the image-worthy details when this is mostly ending up in a teensy sidebar blog.)

As most critics will happily point out, most comic artists aren't the best when it comes to writing (or worse, have an inflated idea of what their writing skills actually are.) Since the majority of the writing in webcomics is located in the dialogue, it's the easiest part of a storyline which can be targeted. After all, without much else to do within a comic, the writing may very well be what saves your work.
  1. "Hm?" Short pepperings of dialogue are common in modern society, but unless you're writing in a modern setting, it could range from completely inappropriate to totally unrealistic. Since word bubbles take up a significant part of usable space on a comic page, you cannot and should not allow for these small 'grunts' of text within your conversations. Also, it provides a way for one character to dominate a conversation when perhaps they shouldn't be.
    • Exception: Nonverbal/Barely Verbal Characters. In a society that expects people to talk, a person who consciously refuses or is unable to will stand out. Use it as a character trait, but ONLY for that person; you may be able to justify it as a group trait if you're really clever with it.
  2. "As you know . . . [exposition here]" Well, okay, genius; if they already know it, why are you telling us again? This is commonly related to having the "new guy" in the group as a plot device to force more experienced characters to constantly have to explain their actions to others. Exposition in anything (let alone in comics) is a Bad Thing, but in comics it means the dreaded walls of text. The more manageable chunks you can break your work down into, the better.
  3. "[Insert Cliché Line of Dialogue here]" This is a gimme. The Villain's One-Liner as he escapes arrest, the 'witty' last line of dialogue at the end of a cartoon, anything that makes you groan as you've heard it so many times before. If you don't like it, neither do your fans. Spare everyone the drama.
  4. Everyone talking in the same tone of voice as everyone else. More forgivable in a high-school drama (barely), completely unforgivable everywhere else. If you have a series of diverse characters from diverse backgrounds, you damn well better give them diverse voices as well. This goes back to 'character traits', and mastering the voices of your characters will go a long way to cementing the way people pick up on the plot. Even when cursing or getting into adult dialogue, remember; there's a whole lot of ways to say "sex" but each one has its own implications and times when one form is appropriate over another. (Your doctor says "intercourse", your mother says "making love", your drunken best friend says "porking" . . . you get the idea.)
  5. "[Almost indecipherable wall of text here that's just so unbelievably long and located in a block of text so big that it crowds out the rest of the panel to the point that nothing else can get said . . .]" Get the picture?
Of course, the greatest thing (and the worst thing) about writing is that people undeniably can and will find new ways to make mistakes, and even the most clever lines run the risk of becoming a meme that'll be old hat in five years.

Then again, if that happens to your comic, consider yourself lucky.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

5 Reasons you need to Leave Free Webcomic Hosting.

We know the sites thatget thrown in our faces week after week: ComicGenesis, SmackJeeves, DrunkDuck, WebcomicsNation... and yes, they have a place in the webcomics world, to encourage new people to post comics.

But if you're here, you're probably doing this seriously to begin with. That means it's time to ditch the womb.
  1. It looks lame. Webcomics get knocked enough as is. If you want to be given any respect, you need your comic not to scream "Geocities Hosting". Sure, it's possible for your stuff to still look classy on free hosting, but not on those sites. Every tweenager is using those sites to impress the girl they're trying to get to second base with, and if you're not a tweenager, you don't need to be there. (And even if you are a tweenager, have a little class, okay?)
  2. The URLs are ugly. A domain name is 'only' $10 a year. If you have any talent or desire to make your comic awesome, you should get one for the ego boost. And even if it's just a hobby, $10 a year isn't that much to spend; if you're like me, you'll waste far more on "How to draw better" books. I speak from experience on this; you can't expect people to take "lastresort.xepher.net" as seriously as they do "lastres0rt.com". They've already been conditioned into .com worship, so take advantage of that.
  3. You should be doing this seriously. If you're not, just leave now. There's no reason to try and make your "I just draw on the weekends and post whatever looks good up" comic sound like it deserves the same respect Penny Arcade does. You want the respect, you put in the effort that deserves it, and that means finding hosting that doesn't suck. Deal?
  4. Real business requires risk. No pain, no gain, as they say. Besides, spending money forces you to work harder at it in order to justify the money spent — it's called "World of Warcraft Syndrome". For something you're supposed to be working on like your webcomic, it's not a bad idea.
  5. Don't, and you can kiss your Wikipedia notability goodbye. Comic conglomerates aren't powerful, let alone notable, and pretending that your comic will somehow 'elevate' the entire hosting system is ridiculous. I've seen it happen time and again where because the entire webcomic hosting site is only #X in the Alexa rankings, that your comic is also worse than #X (and thus worth deleting from Wikipedia), and quite frankly that's not going to get you respectability anytime soon.
Business has always required some type of expense involved in order to make profit; that's how business works. That your medium is the internet doesn't mean you can get away with 'no' expense; just significantly reduced expense. It's one thing to start on free hosting while you're just starting, but after a year (if not sooner), it's time to cut the cord.

Take some responsibility for your work, and it'll pay off later. Big time.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hooray! Print Comics realize the Internet exists!

So Marvel's finally decided to release a few archives of its comics online, finally giving people the ability to see all their old freaks and geeks in golden-age glory. It's good . . . except even with this huge bloom of press, it's doomed.

Not to say that anything that allows people to read old comic books shouldn't be lauded, but the model is flawed. The problems?
  • It's only 'older' comics; Newer comics won't appear for at least six months.
  • It's browser-dependant; no downloading allowed! (Yeah, RIGHT. Marvel, I know you're still trying to get the Internet back up to your bachelor pad, but let me introduce you to the Internet's annoying little sibling, ScreenShot. Good luck trying to get past him.)
  • It's subscription-based — apparently Marvel thinks that just because World of Warcraft can charge a monthly fee so people can pretend to be a wizard and City of Heroes can charge a monthly rate so people can pretend to be a superhero, they can charge a monthly rate so people can pretend to own a bunch of old comic books.
Marvel already charges $3 a pop for new comics; they could just as easily justify a $3 rate to download a given book through iTunes, make it available for new comics as well as older ones, and STILL make good money. Hell, let's crank down the resolution to something iPod-able, put it at $2 or (god forbid) $0.99, and call 'em "Low-Res Versions", making the print version still superior and 'worth it' to collectors and fans. Not only do you get more money, you can actually use iTunes to track which comics are doing better now that you've opened up your market a little more!

. . . and we're not even including the lower cost of entry for new comics. Imagine being able to offer iTunes-only Marvel Comics; you know, the things you'd love to do except you don't think they'll sell very well in print and you don't feel like wasting the paper, trucks, and shelf space on. If they sell well enough on iTunes, now you can justify print versions too!

'Course, knowing my cynicism, this subscription system will fail in two years (or less) and Marvel will erroneously think that nobody wants online comics after all, and thereafter offer nothing online. Shame.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

How to Decide if You Should Do a Webcomic

Let's face a few facts: Webcomics are new. A lot of people think webcomics suck. An enlightened subsection of those know better and assert that only the majority suck. This does not speak highly of the ones who actually want to get good at it. Granted, you could say the same things for a lot of internet groups, but let's assume you actually are looking to do something with webcomics, in spite of all this.

You SHOULD do a webcomic if:
  • You have a story to tell (with some visual nature to it). If you find yourself cooing endlessly about the moons of the planet Mazz'zel'ta and the way they shine in the darkness, or other striking visual effects, go ahead and start drawing it.
  • You want to expand your art portfolio. Know what's big in portfolios? Related Works. Pages in a story are as related as related works get, and are more likely to test your boundaries as an artist. As a bonus, it pretty much ensures that if someone on DeviantArt or elsewhere sees one page and likes it in the least, they'll probably read the other pages as well.
  • You don't feel 'ready' to pitch your idea to the "Big Boys" yet. You'll probably never feel ready, but at least you can start working on it now and gaining fanbase instead of waiting for letters from them (rejection or otherwise).
  • You want to start making money off of your art. It won't be much money, but if nothing else it should improve your work and expand your audience enough that you can eventually start taking commissions (and now people will actually want to buy them!).
  • You feel there's a gap in the webcomics already out there. If an anime about baking bread can get taken seriously, anything can. As a bonus, think of all the new fans you'll get for covering a topic they care about. In the meantime, I'm just going to say this outright: I would LOVE to see a webcomic about crochet, or possibly knitting.
  • People keep telling you to start a comic. Hey, you've already got a fanbase, why not? Motivated fans you can actually have a cup of coffee with are rare enough that even just one or two of them is reason enough to give it a try.
  • You ever plan on doing a comic 'eventually'. Just start now. Seriously. Worst case scenario, you ditch working on it to start a new one.
You should NOT do a webcomic if:
  • You expect to make LOTS of money off your art. It doesn't work that way. The only truly 'successful' comics I've seen have been at it for years, and when making just above the poverty line in donations alone is considered 'successful', that means you're probably not going to become a millionaire doing this.
  • You think "I don't need ____! So-and-so did this, I can too!" Whoever you're holding in high regard did it better because they know what they're doing and how whatever rule they're breaking is meant to be broken. You don't. Don't try it until you do.
    • This goes double for people trying to imitate stick-figure comics. Yes, good writing can eclipse bad art. This, however, assumes good writing.
  • The story you want to tell is fanfic. Come back when you have some originality and aren't a walking copyright violation. At the very least, tweak it until it passes the "I think _____ did it better" test.
  • You plan on using Sprites / Screenshots / Other Game-Originating Material in Lieu of Art. No publisher will EVER touch these types of comics with a ten-foot pole. Besides, it's pretty limiting as far as visualizations go. If you insist on doing it, fine, but don't expect it to go beyond being a webcomic unless you can find a way to make the rest of the comic shine in comparison.
  • You plan on hosting the comic at ComicGenesis, SmackJeeves, DrunkDuck, or any other "Webcomic Hosting Specialist" for the life of the comic. It screams "Ameteur wanted Free Space!" and is the webcomic equivalent of GeoCities. Starting out on free space isn't bad in and of itself, but the top Comic Repositories have bad enough reputations that you may be better off doing it yourself and avoiding the taint. For God's sake, if you're going to seriously start a comic, get a halfway decent webpage; if you have any readership at all, you can make the money from hosting back in ads alone. If you MUST be a cheapskate about it, go with ComicGenesis, as you have the most control there and the least-stupid name in the URL. Barring this, LiveJournal and Blogger work as well, provided you use an additional image host like Photobucket. DeviantArt and other Art repositories are also good.
  • You're only making the comic to impress people. Don't. They're not. You probably won't become famous for doing this, and if you do, it'll be so many years from now that if this is the only reason you're doing it, you'll kill yourself before you ever get that far.
  • You don't plan on drawing a comic for very long (and I mean in terms of updates, NOT time-per-page). Comics are a BIG time investment, and take years of updates and tons of strips to take off. If you don't have the time, do a short story, but starting a comic and then not being able to keep it up is terrible and pisses off whatever fans you've acquired.
There's other tutorials and tips for starting comics, but if you're still on the fence about this at all, look at this chart and figure out how many reasons from each list are your own reasons for wanting to do a comic, and decide if you lean more towards one list or the other. Having a few "Don't" reasons in your list isn't a bad thing, (delusions of grandeur can be useful for those rough spots) but if you're hitting all cylinders on the bad list and STILL think you should do a comic, you need to rethink your priorities.

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

In Defense of Giving your Work Away:

(a.k.a. "The edge Cartoonists have over the RIAA")

This post is a glorified response to an interview over at kottke with Cory Doctorow, who apparently has some fairly strong opinions about giving away your work. Naturally, there're a few hecklers in the comments who don't "get it". This would be a fine argument to sit on the fence of, except I know of at least one stable business model that basically thrives on 'Giving Work Away', and since I'm reposting my remarks (more or less), you can take a guess what I'm referring to: Comics, comics, and more comics.

For years, people only paid for their newspaper comics as an incidental part of the newspaper; to children and adults alike, such work was essentially 'free' for them, because newspapers were a given and the news content of the paper was what was truly 'paid for', and not the comics, except when they bought the books and merchandise. The system had hiccups, the way any general monopoly does, but for several decades this model worked out fairly well for cartoonists (at least the ones that "made it", anyway).

The internet equivalent is in webcomics, with several key differences; no editorial process, no risk of a risque strip being yanked, no pre-payment from newspapers to publish and carry the work. One would expect that, if comics worked the way books and music work, they would charge people just to see the pages.

Yet they don't. All their work is free to view, and in most cases, so are the archives, making it harder to justify book sales. And yet there are probably just as many (if not more) people profiting off of webcomics, even if these profits are not as big (yet) as the average person appearing in newspapers. These cartoonists are just as niche, just as specialized, have just as much to lose, and yet they thrive, even when the majority of their work is just 'given' away.

Why? Because cartoonists work constantly. There is always 'another day' to cover, another page in the story, another advancement of the tale, and thus each individual page is cheap and worthless without the rest of the story. That commitment to the work's creator (and NOT their work itself) is the most important vector for profit. Nobody 'cares' about DMFA; they like it, sure, maybe even love it, but they care about Amber far more. Schlock Mercenary is good, but Howard Tayler is better.

The comics are an elaborate lure designed to make you want more, and recognize the hand that feeds; the person behind the comics becomes center stage. And it's not just comics; the whole "2.0" revolution is based around this idea. Jonathan Coulton's songs and Hugh MacLeod's cartoons are proof that stable models can be built around people, and not just items. The work is worthless without the creator, and so giving away the work is exactly what they WANT to happen, because as long as people can follow the lure back to the hook, everyone gets what they want.

The way songs (and other media) are done now, though, there's no lure past the song itself; the song IS the hook, so to speak. So . . . perhaps the reason big, foreboding, faceless companies are afraid of giving away their work is because they know that there's no person behind the work, and so they're subconsciously afraid that once people have it, they won't want anything more from their 'creators'.

No wonder they're scared of file-sharing; it actually forces people to care about something other than material items for a change.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Apparently Google loves a Good Blog as much as the rest of us.

Yes, I watch my statistics obsessively sometimes. When Google starts finding the crazy things people type into search engines and find me by, I can't help but chuckle a little (and wonder which ones are worth the second thought)

A list of search terms people apparently used, in no particular order or significance besides the hell of it:
  • Full of Win. I knew my obsessiveness about buffers had to come back sooner or later, though I wonder what the people who found this page thought they were after.
  • Wikipedia Notability. Well, since I had been fighting like hell to get the Wikinews article published in the first place, I'm glad some of my karma came back to me. (In case anyone was wondering who "Jigsaw" is in the comments . . . Great disguise, I know :-p)
  • Kid Friendly Vampires. Okay, I know my article on Schlock Mercenary and Family-Friendly comics in general gets a little more press than the others, but this one threw me for a loop. Although I suppose a fuzzy, tiny vampire would have some kid's appeal.
  • Drawing Tips on Pin Ups. This and several variants (including apparently "Sexy how to use restraints") has been getting search engine life for a while now. Probably a sign I should do another article on that.
  • How to Make your Webcomic a Success, and variants thereof. Lots of variants. Tip #1, apparently, is looking like you have a clue.
All things considered... I should really put more energy into this blog than I currently do. Search still works, at least a little.

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