Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is one of those horrifyingly funny gag comics that you can easily snicker about with your friends. It is great for providing one-liner inside jokes that will puzzle those who haven’t read the comic, but cause your friends to keel over with laughter. (I can make puppies appear anywhere!)
Then I made the mistake of reading them. Oh, I can tolerate Chason, and I have a tendency to avoid journal comics as a whole, so that wasn’t really his fault.
The real problem was with the third strip, Zach Your Own Adventure. Wherein I realized that there seemed to be a trend for ‘choose your own adventure’ style comics to often be absymally bad.
There, like here, the entire sequence was a bunch of stupid random crap. There wasn’t any real jokes other than, well, the shocking chaos of what was happening. The highlight was the choice itself – the fact that the strip was chosen by the audience.
Which, well, its a cool idea. But if it doesn’t produce material actually worth looking at, what’s the point?
The problem is, the audience is composed of a bunch of random blokes who don’t know – or don’t agree on – how to tell a good joke, or a good story. You can’t just throw a bunch of topics at them and expect for it to result in anything interesting. They may be engaged in the process of making the choose, and enthused if their choice wins out – but the content itself becomes meaningless.
The other issue with these strips? Because the main point of it is to let the reader choose, the author doesn’t have to put any thought into the options at hand. It doesn’t matter if they are funny or not, it doesn’t matter if they would use them on their own if they were writing the strip. All the user cares about is the choice, so as long as they present choices, the quality of those options is irrelevant.
[Insert Title Here], which sadly appears to be on hiatus, is a fully fan-written strip that actually has promise.
The key is that they don’t let the entire audience choose a random topic for the author to interpret. Nah. They actually have people submit scripts for each page, and choose the best one to go with.
Clever, still interactive, and producing actually decent material. I like it.
Another comic that has pulled it off well is Goblins. It has a rather extensive feature about a goblin named Tempts Fate, and the bad situations he seems to wind up in. The reader’s donations (and occasional poll) determines whether he lives or dies, how well he does, and occasional other information.
But that doesn’t mean the man behind the comic slacks about it. He puts together pretty damn sizable pages with genuinely interesting results having been influenced by the readers. The final product is actually readable.
Again, I like that.
The lesson here is that if you are going to have these sort of drives or randomly reader-driven strips… don’t settle for that being the whole of them. Sure, even if you don’t put any effort into it, it will still stir up some excitement while its running. But once the moment of the gimmick is over, it’s useless – it is some random crap sitting on the site for people to read. That doesn’t impress anyone.
I like the idea of reader input. I think the way the web works allows for interesting events like this, for an interactivity between the creator and the audience.
Which makes it all the more depressing to see the potential in those sort of interactions thoroughly wasted.