Finding the right format
I think it’s one of the pervasive mistakes made by webcartoonists today — they’re doing strips when they ought to be doing longform comics. It’s an easy mistake to make, after all. Most of the webcomics that have caught our attention in the early part of webcomics history (2000-2010 or so) have been comic strips.
And that’s why webcartoonists have chosen the strip. And it’s a big reason they may be struggling.
A comic strip has a very prominent expectation for today’s reader: The strip has to be a free-standing — and satisfying — reading experience. More often than not, satisfying means “funny”. But that’s not always the case. Nonetheless, the reader comes to a strip expecting a plot to be delivered in three or four panels.
And if your writing doesn’t deliver that, you’re losing readers.
A few years back, I critiqued a webcomic called Fried Cheese Balls. It told a story of culture & identity from the creator’s life as a second generation Indian American who split time between India & the US. These include lost-in-translation moments, culture clashes, the dichotomy of being a single child living in a big, multi-family home in India, and celebrations of the absurd.
During the time I was critiquing the comic, it was telling the story of the arranged marriage between his mother and father. It was a fascinating story that shared a lot about the culture and history of India along the way.
There was only one problem — the creator, Arp Laszlo, has chosen to deliver the story in a newspaper comic-strip format. And the story was suffering.
When I reviewed it, I pointed out that the strip were not satisfying reading chunks, and I suggested that Mr. Laszlo consider re-imagining it as a longform comic.
That was several years ago.
This weekend, however, I was delighted to hear from Mr. Laszlo over Twitter.
— Arp Laszlo (@thisisarp) February 24, 2018
I clicked over to the site, and I was blown away.
First of all, the art had matured, but that’s to be expected. More importantly, however, the comic was interesting. It was a much more satisfying experience than the comic had been.
It’s very good.
But longform is harder to succeed at than strips
I really don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time than right now for longform webcomics. With such factors as the promotional power of social media and the readership’s increased savvy regarding eBooks, I think today’s longform-comics creator has an equal chance of success as a comparable strip creator.
Is the new Fried Cheese Balls perfect? Not really.
The creator is still publishing this comic as if it were 2005. And I would strongly encourage him to read some of the archive pieces I’ll link to below that outline my thoughts on an improved publishing strategy for longform-comics creators.
But that first step — changing from a strip to longform — was a doozy!