Canned Riff


by

Tuesday, October 5, 2010



I found this list written in my notebook. It was a cheat sheet for an interview on Inkstuds. We ran out of time before I could get to these riffs, so I am posting them here before they become too stale.

-Webcomics are good for gags only/contained stories for that screen, that day. They work like one pagers essentially; serialized stuff does work in theory but I’ve only read a few I actually like.

-Jim Rugg discussion about imaginary audiences. Jim’s always talking about finding the audience who would read zombie comics or something popular and trying to devise schemes to get them to be his readers “How do you tap into these people cuz you know they would love this kind of story I’m doing” – Ed Piskor does same and finds that real/imaginary audience.

-Jesse Moynihan did the most amazing comic online but no one talks about it – if it was a book and laying around in the store, maybe people would write/talk about it more?

-Bodyworld the book not talked about much – (sorry Dash, just trying to make a point) This was a webcomic which was followed closely but lots of folks told me they didn’t want to read it online and wanted to wait for book – book seemed to not generate that much discussion at first and maybe still – review by Wolk in the Times looked at formal play – but it’s interesting because I wonder if the format/price point (28 bux) just discouraged quick easy sales. Meaning it wasn’t taken home and then blogged about. It was blogged about while it was happening sort of but everyone was “waiting for the trade”.

-Interesting to think about how regular series still builds excitement differently than even webcomics: people wrote/talked about Moynihan and Shaw’s webcomics but it’s just different than the build up around series like Night Business, King City, Prison Pit or Powr Mastrs. It’s obvious that the graphic-novel-length squarebound issue is about the equivalent of a 24-page comic book pamphlet – Prison Pit has a episodic but contained feel is just like most contained but continuing serialized comics – yet it’s way different in feel than Bodyworld being serialized every week and then coming out as a book. So, there are all these little ways that say the more we march towards digital comics the more we still lean on the print serial to set the pace.

-Would comparing another webcomic success story to a print serial like Prison Pit make a difference? Is it just an apples and oranges thing? How many successful print cartoonists do you know that gave it up and are mostly just successful webcartoonists now? Meaning the more I watch my friends try to adapt to really doing webcomics full time I just wonder if that is the solution to finding that imaginary audience that is out there.

-Stand alone graphic novels suffer the instant thumbs up/thumbs down review. With so many comics news blogs now some schmuck always needs to be first out of the gate with a review. Before I even see it in the store! Used to be you’d wait months for a review to pop up in the Journal or something. So opinion would form around the book in the store, amongst friends. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just parroted something some dolt wrote on a blog when I finally do see it in the store. My opinion is already formed and usually it’s one I have to actively ignore just to give the book a chance.

-When a good monthly series is going, it’s fun to watch the fan base swell and hop on board – but when a graphic novel comes out, it’s like “Oh, I read that. Yeah. It’s ok.” or even if it’s awesome the reading experience is over in two hours or so. I read Asterios Polyp in two hours. Two hours! But Clyde Fans I’ve been reading for like ten years, haha. It’s weird, no? A series can build for years and the experience can mirror that. Remember Moebius’s Airtight Garage was serialized. So was Jimmy Corrigan.

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31 Responses to “Canned Riff”
  1. Ian Harker says:

    I talked to Jesse about Forming before he launched it and I really tried to twist his arm into doing the single-scroll format from Bodyworld. I understand why he ultimately didn’t based on the narrative structure of Forming, but I still think Bodyworld is the only webcomic that really works. I’m pretty sure Jesse always intended Forming to be in print though. He just wanted an outlet to do full color comics. The original art for Forming is spectacular btw.

    I still haven’t picked up the print edition of Bodyworld, I have a hard time getting jonesed about the format. The online format was just so perfect for me. I’ll get it eventually though.

    I think a big factor in what your getting at Frank is open-endedness. It’s the difference between graphic novels and comic books. Graphic novels are novels, they have a begining, middle and end. It’s implicate to the reader. Love & Rockets isn’t a graphic novel, it’s open ended. The characters go on and on, it’s alive. I think alt-cartoonists are having a hard time finding a good format for open-ended narratives, so they end up avoiding them. I agree that the Powr Mastrs/Prison Pit format is a welcome sign but not everyone gets to work like that. You have to have a publisher with a lot of faith in you. BTW, is any publisher picking up The Mouringstar?

  2. Ian Harker says:

    Ignore all my shitty spelling btw…

  3. I don’t have any data to back myself up, but I think that, eventually, long-form serial webcomics will find a way to work – look at Freakangels, according to Warren Ellis that seems to do pretty well. I think that as time goes on and more people do serial, long-form webcomics (because for a lot of creators what other practical option do they have to get their work out there?) it’ll become more of a regular, talked-about thing.

    • Ian harker says:

      With Bodyworld I read about 80% chapter by chapter because I caught on late. Then I got caught up and read the last 20% weekly. It wasn’t as enjoyable of an experience as when I had whole chapters at a time to read. I’m not sure what my perception of it would be if I had read the whole thing week to week. It’s a hard balance to get right I guess.

  4. Box Brown says:

    I recently started publishing my series of shorter comics called Everything Dies online in kind of a different way. Basically, every two weeks I publish a complete story (10-20 pages) on the web. Quarterly (hopefully) I publish a new print issue of Everything Dies in print which contains stories specifically made for print that have never been published on the site.

    So, the business model, basically, is to have the web be an advertisement for the print work. It’s been going good so far.

  5. kevinczap says:

    What sticks out first to me as being a big difference between a serialized, long-form webcomic and something like Prison Pit are marketing and resources. I mean, Johnny’s got Fantagraphics behind him, and as good as the work is on its own, that’s a powerful machine. They’ve got press releases, book-signings, Diamond, preview images, etc. It’s a product and they’re marketing it as such.

    More often than not, with a webcomic, it’s really just self-distribution. You set up the website, you try to tell people about it, generate word of mouth. In some ways it’s easier (and cheaper) than making a mini, but in some ways it’s a lot more difficult. I think Dash did a trailer for Bodyworld, right? Even in that case, getting his name out there was given a big push from Bottomless (I’m pretty sure I first heard of him through everyone raving about that book). So again, a lot of it comes from the resources available to print publishers.

    If there’s a new installment of webcomic, it can kind of slip past the radar without some system of really trumpeting it, you know? I think an advantage that webcomics have is they can kind of hang around. If a series doesn’t get noticed right away, or pick up enough readers, the economics are a lot more forgiving. However, in that case, you kind of run into the problem you mention with Asterios and graphic novels.

    I feel like as people grow more accustomed to reading things on a screen, in big chunks, we’ll begin to see longer webcomics catch on. Hopefully. But I’m kind of a purist. I was a bit disappointed when Bodyworld went to print. I don’t begrudge Dash at all and I completely understand any and all reasons for doing so. Maybe my disappointment is really that webcomics haven’t “made it” yet.

  6. oliver east says:

    serializing my work online, for me, is quite satisfying in that any audience i have can see what i’ve done last, quicker. all the books i’ve done (all! Ha!, sorry three) have had at least an 8-10 month gap from completion to print, in which time i’m half way through the next book, buzzing of that and bored of the one still to come out. but that’s me; i’m impatient.

    i need to know there’s people out there as well. with books i’ll get two or three bits of fan mail a year but since posting stuff online it’s been that a week. but that’s me; i’m needy

  7. BVS says:

    kind of weird to think of cartoonists struggling to find an outlet for serialized narratives. there is something special about the serialization of a story but timing and duration between installments is key. these days my computer time is oft spend downloading and watching episodes of madmen, sons of anarchy, east bound and down, bored to death and board walk empire. keeping on top of these serialized TV shows is starting to feel they way I did when there were several monthly comics books that actually came out monthly that read. it feels hyper engaged but a bit overwhelming. but the overwhelming part is probably more my tendency to biting off more than my spare time can chew.
    in Seth’s latest new format Palookaville he points out that perhaps serialized comics work best when they come out more than once a year. it’s true that when this summer new issues of big questions, grotesque, sammy the mouse,and interiorae came out I pretty much had to dig out the old issues and re read just to remember exactly whose who and where the story was thus far. same thing with the new clyde fans story.(not so with prison pit though, who could ever forget that classic final page of book 1). for alternative comics it’s always been this way, I remember doing the same thing back when Black Hole was coming out once a year for a decade. but somehow these days with such a resurgence in tightly serialized TV narratives. the seemingly unpredictable and random space between issues seems more jarring.

  8. It didn’t occur to me until reading this post, Frank, that I wish Bodyworld had been released in a serialized format, in large installments. And I also wish that it had been printed in the traditional book format, turning pages left to right rather than it’s top-to-bottom, vertical format. I loved reading it online over the course of a few days after it had concluded. It’s probably the only webcomic I’ve read start to finish with interest. I think the on-screen scrolling format worked in the story’s favor as a web comic, but trying to simulate that experience in the printed form strikes me now as a misstep, but an interesting experiment. I think I would’ve bought manga-sized installments of Bodyworld with new covers by Dash, with left-to-right reading.

  9. ned says:

    the point you make about Jesse Moynihan’s online comics is interesting, printed books automatically get some kind of credit, you go into the reading experience knowing that someone believes in this enough to print it nicely, “o wow, fanta printed this, so it must be good,” i just read prison pit 2 and it didn’t impress. When i was reading it i kept thinking “why do people like this so much?” The book is a mix of all the easy surface thrills from fort-thunder and japanese violence comics, but lacking the complexity that make those works worthwhile. People see prison pit and think, this is some real rough shit, but i think the reality is that Johnny has just plugged himself into the surface of some “underground style.” It’s a parody of something really good.

    anyway, i was going to say that Jesse’s book seems to be of the quality of a book that should’ve been published by now, but won’t because he isn’t a stable name, he’s a gamble and times are rough.

  10. I’m about to start up a webcomic that was written with no intention of being serialized as a webcomic. I’m pretty much fucked, huh.

  11. I think there is something to seeing a book in a store or on a friend’s shelf – and even if you don’t look at it for awhile you sort of are aware of it – but online stuff, at least for me, just drops off my radar. But then Renee French’s one panel a day kept me interested and lots of linkbloggers would hype it up so it was in the mix.
    Just to use Jesse and Dash as examples again – they did a stellar comic in the Believer but that didn’t register at all on the blogs. If it was a mini-comic it probably would have been reviewed by now…

  12. Ian Harker says:

    For the life of me I don’t know why I haven’t seen a square-bound newsprint digest for alt-comics since Coober Skeber 2. Stuff like Paper Rodeo and Night Business prove that newsprint works aesthetically. Especially considering how influential manga is to young cartoonists, why is nobody riffing on the format?

    We need a manga Coober Skeber. I want it filled with Mickey Z “Sailor Moon” comics and Zach Hazard “Dragonball Z” comics.

  13. I learned this working at Copacetic – cheap books sell alot of copies early but then look bad sitting on the shelf – I notice people will pay full price for a new MOME or Black Blizzard but once they sit on the shelf they just die – 18 bux is too much for an anthology or a “cheap” newsprint squarebound book BUT people will pay 40 bux for a nice hardback book anytime. It sits in the store and stays fresh on the shelf. Same reason why mainstream deluxe reprints do better than cheap reprints – the publisher makes more money in the long run.
    Newsprint is death if you are trying to sell through distributors – even stores don’t want them because there’s no shelf space for them and they wither so fast. I know people like the throwaway aspect of it but for publishers and stores it’s just an appetizer.

  14. Dan Nadel says:

    What Frank said, more or less. Also, I dunno, do we need more anthologies? I’d like to see less publishing, not more. And I include myself in that.

  15. Dan Nadel says:

    Oh, and Frank I think we talked about this in Pittsburgh, but the coolest part about the serialization of Airtight Garage in Heavy Metal is that it was like 2-4 pages at a time. Must’ve been the same way in French. They’re seem intentionally tied to short-films and some have the pacing of a gag strip. It loses a lot of it’s heavy hippy-ness and retains a more absurd, light-hearted vibe. Awesome. Also, total aside: That weird spin-off The Elsewhere Prince has some very nice Moebius back-ups that, if I’m not mistaken (and Jog will surely correct me if I am) have not appeared anywhere else. Oh shit, I’m nerding out. I’m outta here.

  16. zack soto says:

    I like the what things do model, Bodyworld, and Sam Hiti’s Death Day for longform/serial webcomics. Sam posts chapters on a more or less monthly basis and then puts out books with 4 or so chapters. I have been avidly reading the webcomic and pre-ordered the book, which is really lovely. The interesting thing is how the reading experience is very different in each format. He breaks the pages apart for the web and presents them in a stream of panels of similar dimensions, where as the book has them assembles into their (no doubt original) configuration as pages. It actually took me a second try to get into the book because I had read the same material differently before and absorbed it that way.

  17. phil says:

    I can’t quite understand this rush to usher in webcomics for the most part (at least at this moment in time). I’m know I’m totally old school, but whatever, you’re just never going to stumble across a hyperlink in a longbox. I can’t count the number of times I’ve clicked a bookmark/site to recheck something and found it gone 404. What is going to happen to someone who exclusively does stuff for the web & his or her system crashes? Or life takes them in another direction? The comic won’t be up on eBay, no one will have it for trade or borrow, it will just be lost to time unless someone, maybe, bothered to save it to rapidshare.

    Bands are still putting out vinyl & CD’s when their profitability is coming from touring. They make some money by mp3 downloads sure, but it’s more a promotional device than making car payments. Why comics’ presence on the web should count for anything more than simple awareness at this point would be a friggin’ miracle. Print it up people, it’ll last longer. Who doesn’t have a Facebook/Myspace/Blog at this point?? Make something a little more tangible than that allright?!?!?

  18. sophie yanow says:

    Bodyworld was the first of Dash’s work that I saw. I’m a very tech-savvy person, but I’m also a big comics person (and work in a comics shop) and I generally avoid ‘webcomics’ like the plague. When I found Bodyworld, though, I was totally pleased with the format and presentation. I think it really works for the web. It’s ‘natural.’ The only other online comic I’ve found that does this really well was “Chicou Chicou” (http://www.chicou-chicou.com/) which Domitille Collardey was involved with (who now lives in NYC..).

    It was those two comics that inspired me to do a ‘scrolling’ type 24 hour comic a few years ago, and then put it on the web in the same fashion. I found though that I wanted a physical object as well, so I created a 30 foot long accordion book. When flipping, it works like the printed version of Bodyworld, top to bottom, but you can also pull it apart and see it as it appears online.

    Personally recommending Bodyworld to folks at my shop is a little hard. I loved the comic but the book is more of an art object to me than a particularly functional piece of reading material. I’ll first recommend Bottomless, get ‘em hooked on Dash so they feel the need to be a completist, and eventually they’ll want to own Bodyworld – yet I still find the online experience to be much more pleasant.

    Also, I’m gonna read this Jesse Moynihan comic, I was totally unaware! It looks AMAZING.

    • BVS says:

      yeah, I work at a comics shop too. we had body world on display next to the counter for a few months. people would pick it up intrigued by the cover or because they had heard about it. you could watch their faces contort into a grimace of disaproval when they realized how the book is meant to be read. they’d set it down as if it were contaminated with a disease all while muttering something about “fuckin art comics…”
      I wouldn’t have expected it to be such a big deal but for some reason it really pisses people off.

      • BVS says:

        though it’s not always that reaction. there have been plenty of people to buy it and really like the format, most of those people are less the comic book traditionalist customers. it has sold decently.

  19. More for the “in case you don’t know department”:
    Tym Godek has done a scroll comic as well. Horizontal type. You can read it as a book
    http://ayellowlight.blogspot.com/2010/08/real-thing.html

  20. Rich Barrett says:

    Us longform webcomic guys have had it tough for a while. The format is much friendlier to the kind of strips that Frank mentioned. But we’re in an interesting transitional period right now. Webcomics are slowly giving way to Digital Comics (apps, e-books, pdf distribution, etc). That’s where longform and serialized comics are going to thrive online.

  21. darrylayo says:

    I was talking to a cartoonist about this the other day.

    Here’s my rundown on your points and some other stuff.

    1– Web serials work when the instalments either tell a complete chapter (Freak Angels, Box’s EVERYTHING DIES COMIC) or when the individual pages tell a complete, coherent thought while advancing the storyline (Octopus Pie, Scary Go Round)

    2– I thought people talked about Jesse Moynihan. Shame on the comics community for passing on discussion. He definitely “feels” more like your alternative comics than your webcomics. Regardless, tear down these walls!

    3– I remember lots of people talking about Bodyworld. Maybe not reviews, but there was a big TCJ thread, back when that sort of still almost meant something. And there was Heidi MacDonald hyping it up on the old Beat blog. I felt–at least from my seat–that Bodyworld had some cultural momentum behind it.

    4–Building excitement is why I like webcomics and serial regular comics. Also grapic novel series. I hadn’t really thought there was a great difference in HOW they build audience excitement. I do agree that stand-alone graphic novels tend to get swept away. It comes out, some people like it, and then something different by someone else comes out the next week/month/year, whatever. Having an ongoing thread of story to follow keeps people’s emotions invested.

    Even my favorite stand-alone graphic novel of the year, ARTICHOKE TALES was originally released as a minicomics series. Although I believe that the minicomics never concluded the story. The point remains that, there’s something inherently exciting about the INCOMPLETE STORY.

    I was talking to my pal about this. The incomplete story puts the reader in a predicament. The reader runs up against an end point but still needs more information. Then there is a period of revisiting the material–rereading the work that IS available. Until the next chapter/issue/volume comes out. The serial story reader tends to feel more intimately connected with the material because of this natural reaction to incompletion. The reader revisits the material over and over to make sense of something that is nothing more than a piece of a greater work. Wheras the reader of the fully-self-contained book reads the whole thing and has all questions answered within the text, immediately.

    Personally, I find that I remember less about most self-contained books because they don’t demand to be re-read as urgently as the fragmented work. Going back to an earlier point, I feel that some webcomics provide TOO SMALL of a fragment to have this emotional connection with the serialized work. The reader loses the thread of the thought. But those longer webcomic episodes, and standard comic book issues, or mult-volume sets provide enough material for the reader to become engaged with, but withhold enough story to keep the reader perpetually hungry.

    Keep ‘em hungry.

    Keep ‘em in pain.

  22. Ian Harker says:

    Darryl, I think it’s a sentimental thing. Most of us grew up on Marvel Comics, or some other mainstream serialized comic. The best thing a comic can do is make you daydream. There is a lot of sentiment wrapped up in that, I think it goes beyond nostalgia. It’s like the difference between and open system and a closed system. An open system has more possibilities, and those possibilities are tantalizing. There is a level of entertainment in just that alone. As a kid I would get more entertainment out of daydreaming about comics than actually reading them. I associate that feeling with comics so I look for comics that give me that today. Graphic Novels don’t work on that level.

  23. Eric Reynolds says:

    Some good food for thought here, Frankie. I tend to agree with most of what you say, even if I suspect these are more the opinions of old men who love print more than genuine truths.

    The Jesse M. and Bodyworld examples are certainly curious examples, as I think they are the two best webcomics I’ve ever read, and it’s unclear to me how much either benefitted from being on the web first. If Jesse had published his story in, say, Mome, would it have garnered more attention? I have no idea, but that strikes me as slightly counterintuitive given the potential audiences for both. I suppose it’s possible.

    I really thought BodyWorld The Book was poised to break thru between momentum for the web version online and the print momentum Dash has enjoyed from Bottomless (which sold tremendously well for us). I have no idea how well BodyWorld really did but I have heard from more than one person that the print format was really off-putting. I disagree — I had no problem with it. But even my wife told me she had a hard time simply engaging the format, she said it hindered her ability to really enjoy the work on its own terms.

    Could the format have discouraged buyers? I hope not, because I love seeing people reinvent the wheel in regards to book packaging/design, and in this case, as bold a decision as it was, the form really was germane to the material. It wasn’t a capricious decision.

    If the format hindered sales, that’s especially odd because it might make BodyWorld the only longform comic where the web version was more user-friendly than the print edition. I would not have thought that was even possible, but Dash’s innovation can never be underestimated.

    Regarding “talk” about BodyWorld: I thought Ed Park wrote a really good piece about it, I think it was in the L.A. Times?

  24. patrick ford says:

    My children (8 & 10) both read comics. In fact they argue over who gets first crack at the funnies in the morning.
    They also like to play games on a DS system, or on a PC.
    They will not read comics on the computer.
    Part of this might be the format.
    If we had a reader tablet which displayed whole pages at once, and turned to the next page with a click, I suspect it might be different.
    Do many people share the opinion that with comics it’s very important to see the whole page at once? The eye can then drift around, and settle where it likes, or is directed. Naturally there is a logical way, and order around the page, but the interaction is often more complex than that, purely on a subconscious level.
    I would strongly suspect almost everyone “reads” a whole comics page as images (even if it’s only for an instant), before they start reading the text and panels starting at the top left.
    I’ve noticed (and remember doing the same thing) my kids will page through a whole story, before going back to read from the start.
    Even a tablet reader format is awkward compared to the ease of print.
    I think a comic could be designed to work on a digital device, but almost all comics are designed for print in the sense that the artists conception of comics is probably derived from print, and translated to a digital format.
    Maybe an artist will come along who can design comics that take advantage of the digital format, and when that happens I would think the result wouldn’t look like a print page on a computer screen.

    • iestyn says:

      I agree with this entirely. I think that this is something that the idea of a scrolling comic can change and why this format might make matters change. The whole thing of looking at panels from a comic or fiddling a page up and down to see the details and then clicking on it to enlarge the lettering enough to read and then zooming out…

      It’s way too much like hard work.

      The reason reading a comic book works is because its easy and you can switch off the part of your mind that’s thinking about HOW to process something and just enjoy the story or visuals.

      This is also why i generally start a manga read about ten pages, then go back to the beginning when my mind has switched to coping with the different reading experience.

      THere does need to be a change in format to comics made for online viewing that make sense, and some of that might be reformatting a page layout to only one page that fits on screen and for others it might include tighter or shorter ‘gaps’ between panel progressions so that each one can appear after the other. They both seem like realistic solutions.

      I think maybe the iPad and whatever rip-off follow may open this market out, particularly for online scans of physical comics.