Lots of elements go into whether a webcomic is good or not – and not all of them pertain to the comic itself. Presentation and accessibility are also important elements – one reason why a decent comic with an excellent webcomic design can do as well, if not better, than an excellent webcomic with a poor design.
The insightful Wednesday White gave an excellent description of the importance of the “fold” in the webcomic’s medium. It is an essay I wholeheartedly agree with – make it easy for me to read your comic! Especially if I like the comic, I want reading the latest strips or browsing the archives to be a smooth experience – not an exercise in frustration.
I wanted to talk about an even more specific element – the navigation buttons. You know the ones I speak of – the four big buttons that every webcomic has: First, Previous, Next, Current. Sometimes different names are used, sometimes the list changes – but those four are really the key ones.
I’ve seen them all over the place in different comics. Above the comic, beneath it, on the left, on the right – on all four locations at once! I imagine a lot of comic artists don’t even think about their placement – as long as the links are on the page somewhere, a reader can use them, right?
Paul Gadzikowski does it right. He keeps the buttons just below the comic – the logical place for someone moving through the archives to find them, of course. Most webcomics put them there.
However, he also makes sure, whenever he has an oversized comic, to include the browsing buttons at the top as well.
This means that the archive isn’t just easy to browse for someone perusing it normally – but also for someone reading it from back to front.
Why would someone do so, you may ask? Well, it comes up plenty often for myself. Maybe I’ll miss one or two strips (a not uncommon occurence over a weekend.) Maybe I won’t notice when they return from hiatus. Maybe I’m trying to refresh myself on a minor event in the strip that occured a week ago.
Quickly clicking the ‘previous’ button until I find the last comic I read – or the comic I am seeking out – is the easy solution during these occurences. Unfortunately, when a comic strip is large enough to force me to scroll down the page several times to reach the browsing links, it can be a bit tedious to move backwards through the archives.
Especially if I am also trying to avoid reading the strip in case of spoiling the story for myself.
And when I’ve found the point I want, and am ready to read through in normal fashion? If I should try to hit my built-in browser’s back button to easily reverse my order, I find myself at the bottom of the page, in need of scrolling back up in order to reach the top.
With A:KoTaS, I can easily move back and forth. It didn’t take much on his behalf – a browsing panel at the bottom of every strip, and an extra one at the top on the overly large strips. What Happens Next is another strip that does the same, though in that case all the strips are large enough to merit the dual navigation links. Plenty of others do the same.
But for every comic I found that has this nice, easy little addition, there are half a dozen that don’t. Sure, there are plenty of comics that don’t need it – the entire comic is small enough to sit above the fold, leaving the navigation buttons in easy view regardless.
But there are plenty of others that could make good use of it, and don’t. I don’t believe a single comic on Keenspot has this little convenience, and more than enough of them could use it. Sluggy doesn’t have it. The list could go on.
Does something like this make or break a comic? No, probably not.
But it is just one example of how the design of a webcomic matters. There are many little elements that can make browsing the comic more or less convenient for the reader. Nothing says you have to make reading your comic an easy experience – but the less accessible you make the comic, the less readers you’re going to have.
As usual, I seem to be a bit behind the times – apparently Troutman has returned, and brought Basil Flint back with him.
His new update schedule appears to be somewhat haphazard – tossing up bunches of comics at a time whenever they’ve been finished. But thus far it appears to be working well, and I’m eager to see if it holds out – the comic itself seems up to Troutman’s usual level of quality (ie, wickedly good stuff.)
I also noticed that he has introduced the Troutcave!
It is a collection of his former works, and I’m personally quite the fan of them being all gathered together. I know that when I first started reading his comics, and couldn’t track down some of his older works, it made for the occasional frustration in trying to understand background and character history and the like.
While the earlier works aren’t necessarily required reading for the later strips – especially given that the quality has changed quite a bit from one series to another – having them on hand for those that want to check them out is definitely a good thing.
(~Thread title, meanwhile, stolen from Real Life Comics, which has been solidly entertaining of late~)
No Need for Bushido is a comic that succeeds in many ways.
Each strip is extensive, with clean, colored art that is pleasing to the eye. The characters are a combination of cliche and unexpected, with excellent interplay between them and plenty of humorous quirks. There are tons of fleshed out and entertaining side characters. There is an overarching storyline, as well as plenty of minor plots. All the good things a comic needs to succeed.
But what impresses me, what really stands out to me when I visit the site, isn’t the comic itself – it is the amount of content available.
The update schedule for NNFB is not as extensive as many other comics. It updates the main comic once, twice a week.
However, I have rarely felt the lack of comics. Perhaps it is due to the Alternate Script pages – former strips with the text replaced with surreally absurd dialogue. The first ones were a bit weak, but some of the more recent ones have been absolute winners.
The vote incentives provided for the top webcomics list aren’t just casual sketches, as with many other comics. Instead, they are generally elaborate drawings. Good deal.
Glancing around the front page, what else is there? Tutorials on the comic’s cell shading, exclusive content available for purchase, links to past bonus art projects (flash animations, past April’s Fools jokes). They don’t even have a cast page proper – instead, they link straight to the webcomic’s wiki. And the latest feature is the inclusion of a blog written by one of the villains of the series.
I like having that much material at hand when I visit the site. I like having filler at hand that I can actually enjoy, rather than filler that is simply an effort to provide content, rather than provide humor or any sort of, you know, actual enjoyment. I like having a site that throws material at the reader, rather than make them hunt down for the merest scrap of information. When I can’t even find an archive page, I generally know I’ve got a struggle in store for me. When, on the other hand, the archive is the least of the material offered, it makes for a good experience.
Part of being professional about a comic isn’t just about the comic itself. There are obviously plenty of those elements involved – good art, writing, consistency, and so forth. But it also helps to have a good site. That helps make the reader feel like a part of something – and establishing that reader community can be a very good thing.
So here’s a shout-out to No Need for Bushido, for providing a good comic when it updates – and a whole hell of a lot of other good stuff the rest of the time.
(And for full-sized crying Gabe and manical Tycho.)
As you can see on the right, Monday’s Penny Arcade contains quite a bit of text.
A veritable onslaught, one might say. Which is perfectly fine – the words themselves, as most ones chosen by Sir Tycho, are carefully and lovingly crafted to maximum effect.
His writing, as always, pleases.
That said, the writing was not what caught my eye in this strip.
Even here, in a strip that is overflowing with words, it was the art that caught my eye. Despite currently being the artist of the most popular webcomic in existence, and despite having come a long, long way from where the comic began, Gabe often talks abouthis desire to expand his skill as an artist. That’s commendable. Even more – he does so.
Gabe and Tycho don’t have a very wide variety of facial expressions. They are often wearing expressions of disdain, indifference, occasional disgust… and often simply rage. A good variety, but we see it all the time – one reason why I have always liked it when a character gets a bit of a maniacal gleam in their eye. When Gabe gets a chance to draw a bit beyond his usual repertoire.
Today is a good day. Tycho is stark raving mad and Gabe is confronted by horrors beyond mortal imagination. Now that’s a comic I can really get behind!
The Great Outdoor Fight has come and gone. As I suspected, my interest in Achewood faded with it, and I’ve closed the book on that particular tale.
For all that Achewood, as a whole, doesn’t really work for me – I have to give credit to Onstad for bringing at least one stylistic element to my attention – the use of different text for different characters.
I’d seen it done before, of course. But this was the first time that I noticed it so keenly, and it worked so well.
A writer has control of the words his characters speaks, and the language that they use. He can, to a large extent, help to form the speech the reader ‘hears’ when they read the strip – but that control isn’t absolute. Everyone might have a different voice they’ve invented for each character, and it can vary wildly from one reader to the next.
And I’ve seen writers use little tricks to distinguish the speech from different characters – different colorations, different fonts. Cat Legend is a good example – almost every character has their own, unique, speech. Which sometimes works very well – it can make it easy to follow dialogue, and sometimes the chosen fonts and colors are very appropriate indeed.
And for a strip like that, it works especially well – the main characters are faeries and elves and similar sorts. It feels fine to have that sort of gimmick. Unfortunately, it does simply end up as a gimmick, since it applies to every character. It becomes part of the setting, rather than something special – which is fine. It just means that it doesn’t truly help the author establish the character’s voice any more than normal text would.
Achewood, though… Achewood was different. Roast Beef speaks softly. All the other characters that I saw spoke the same, and, as usual, my mind found a voice for them. But Roast Beef, regardless of how I heard him, I knew was speaking differently.
The contrast is palpable when talking with others – especially Ray. Roast Beef’s text is smaller. That’s it, nothing more. It is a simple change – but everytime he speaks, you can feel it. He is a soft-spoken man. Yet his own soft speech makes the other language – even though it is the norm – seem too loud, too bold, too heavy.
I was impressed. That small alteration changed every scene he was in, and very powerfully determined the way I saw – and heard – his character.
I began paying a lot more attention to comics, and noticed more than a few used this device without me having noticed it before. Home on the Strange broke it out, to easily show off the sound of constant nattering and babbling. I’ve seen a dozen more that slipped by mind. It’s a nice device, easy to use, and gives the writer a bit more control over the character.
But in the end, Achewood really did it best. I go back now and glance through the archives – and, as usual, I find it difficult to get engaged. But I take another jaunt through the Great Outdoor Fight, and the scenes between Roast Beef and Ray resonate strongly – in no small part thanks to the contrast between them, one that is powerfully aided by the voice of Roast Beef.
It isn’t it alone – the language he uses is very well chosen, and often somewhat poetic, and it works very well.
It speaks very well of Achewood that even with limited exposure, for someone who wasn’t drawn in being the Great Outdoor Fight, it has shown itself so favorably, and has left its mark on me.
I might not be staying around in Achewood anymore, but kudos to Chris Onstad nonetheless!
After many months of the only video game I invested time into being the nefarious World of Warcraft, I have recently managed to find another diversion – the latest Prince of Persia game.
As usual, my game playing is a bit behind the times – I only played Prince of Persia: Sands of Time about a year ago. I played it because a friend had it, and all accounts I’d heard of the game gave it rave reviews. It lived up to them – a game more based around overcoming environmental challenges than actual foes was a new experience for me, and a welcome one.
Since I was still in withdrawal for a new RPG (despite Kingdom Hearts being just upon the horizon), I decided to give Prince of Persia 2 and 3 a go. The second one, as reports stated, could have been better. Yet I knew coming into it that it made some poor choices, so I was able to laugh at the changes rather than get aggresively fanboyish over them. (It should be noted that the only reason I got it was for story completeness sake, as that is, in the end, what drives almost any game playing experience I have.)
Fortunately, having managed to laugh my way through Warrior Within, the third one has completely blown me away. It not only returns to the excellence of the original – but it takes the best elements in both games and transforms them into something incredible. I’m moving through the game as best I can (in order to start in on the aforementioned Kingdom Hearts), but am enjoying every second of it.
As I said, I realize I’m a bit behind the times with this realization. The game has been out for a few months now, and no doubt handily defeated by many. Nonetheless, it has been a while since I’ve been so captivated by a game – by the puzzles, the story, the combat, the music, the art. As such, I felt the need to give a little hurrah for the experience. So, ah… Hurrah!
There we go.
Another April Fools has come and gone, and I wanted to give a shout-out to the best jokes I saw from the occasion.
I didn’t especially partake in the festivities myself, aside from helping to ‘celebrate’ the birthday of my sister, who had the ill-fortune to be born just alongside this day of mischief.
So, here are a few of the keeper’s that I got a kick out of:
–Old and Alone from Shortpacked: Last year I didn’t notice the Dinosaur Comics nature of his April 1st strip, and despite not reading the works of Ryan North, I must acknowledge Willis’s mastery of this medium as being totally wicked. It wasn’t quite as innately funny as last year’s strip, but I think the laugh this time was more due to the style rather than the substance.
–Switch Up from Ctrl-Alt-Del: I may have ragged on CAD in the past for some of its riffs being a bit formulaic, but I have to say I really liked his April 1st joke. Subtle enough to take a moment to sink in, without the strip even bothering to slow down to acknowledge it. Just a clever nod to the event, and nothing more. That’s good stuff.
Anyway, those were the ones I most noticed and enjoyed. It ain’t easy to pull off a good April Fools joke, since people either expect it to be coming, or are tired of dealing with it already. So even though everyone is back to the normal swing of things, I wanted to recognize a few jokers that pulled it off!