The Art of Advertising
Advertising has always struck me as one of the mundane elements of the internet experience.
It is something one does to pay the bills. (Well, to pay a bill. A small one. Maybe.) I’m not entirely sure how much selling advertising space really pulls in – I’m a consumer of the webcomic experience, not a producer. I see the flashy ads and shiny buttons, but not the numbers behind the scenes.
Despite that, it seems clear that it is a hassle to deal with selling ad space, and the business has gone through rough stretches without substantial returns.
The market doesn’t seem as bad these days – I’ve seen many comics running google ads, presumably due to it being low management. Something*Positive is one of a handful I’ve seen that run personalized advertisements. And while most places generally run ads from other webcomics, or online merchandising stores, Penny Arcade has ads from big hitters in the video game industry. Some of these companies are genuinely recognizing the webcomic audience as a player base – that’s definitely a good sign.
Still – advertising isn’t fun. It isn’t really interesting. It is, more often than not, a chore.
But lately a few folks are trying to change that.
Project Wonderful hit last week, presenting a transparent system for bidding on ad space, allowing a method that results in cheap advertising paid by the hour, not by the clickcount. More than that, it debuted with style. The front page is dominated by a randomly selected piece of powerful photography. The page’s motto: “Advertising online just got totally awesome.”
There is no question about whether or not it looks nice. It is a damn elegant site. Whether it will actually be a success? Time will tell. It looks sweet, and looks like a great deal for those buying ads… but that’s only half the business. Selling ads stupidly cheap doesn’t do great things for those on the other end of the line. But it is an innovative concept, and one it will be exciting to watch as it develops.
It was with a bit of surprise that, only a week later, I got notice of another new advertising project: One Simple Ad.
Continuing with the elegance, One Simple Ad seems to set out to present advertisement in a new fashion – rather than have ads hidden away on the sideline, on this site they are the very focus of the page. One ad at a time, allowed to be as large and imposing as desired.
Again, conceptually exciting. Again, potentially not feasible. Advertising is almost always parasitic, attaching to some other medium that people are already observing. Standing alone, can advertising attract an audience for its own sake alone?
Hard to say – other gimmick based sites have certainly had success in the field. If word spreads and enough people find it interesting enough to keep an eye on, it may do well. Or it might not – again, I don’t know if I’ll be able to judge until I’ve seen it in action.
That said, I’m hoping it will succeed. The mind behind the project is T Campbell, who has contributed vast amounts to the culture of webcomics. He has had his hand in writing webcomics, editing them, contemplating them. But… creative minds don’t always have the greatest business sense, and from the sounds of things, all he came away with was debt. Which is a damn shame, because the man really did do a hell of a lot for the world of webcomics.
So if all I can do to repay that is to link his new project, and spread the word… well, here it is once more:
A Step Beyond
It’s funny. I’ve spent the entire week thinking, quite a bit, about webcomic peripherals. The little things that are part of the web experience – that, in many ways, help define webcomics as seperate from print comics.
You’ve got the basics – things that are pretty much just requisite, such as a good archive system, decent layout, cast pages, and a forum / email / tagboard or some other form of contact and communication with the reader. You can get by without them – but these are the building stones of a good site.
But the things that has been running through my mind has been the goodies, the extras. Newsposts that are as humorous in their own right as the comic. Fan art, side strips, puzzles, games, alternate scripts – the whole shebang.
And alt text. Man. I’ve recently fallen in love with alt text. Some comics just use it for a bit of witty explanation, but in the hands of a master it can add an entire new level to the joke. I mean, we’re talking about comics that already twist ideas in ways that I have trouble following, and here’s a chance for them to finish up with a final one-two punch. Or one-two punchline, as the case may be.
Unfortunately, after spending all week pontificating on this, my train of thought on these web-only wonders was completely derailed yesterday when I picked up Penny Arcade Volume 2: Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings.
(Momentary tangent – I am only now picking it up because I tend to favor purchasing such works in a local bookstore. Not out of any irrational fear of the internet, but because I like the confirmation that they’ve infiltrated right out into the open, where anyone can pick them up and take a look.)
In any case, the book proved that print comics can have plenty of bonus features too – I was blown away by the commentary on every strip, along with news posts transcribed from their electronic haven, a collection of their illustrations for the Penny Arcade card game, and a selection of other unfinished works of theirs. To quote the back of the book – it was filled with “bonus content that defies description!”
…though I suppose I did just describe it. Hmm. Hyperbole or not, the book was more than just a collection of strips, just as all the quality webcomics online are more than just a series of pictures.
And I began to wonder if the real lesson wasn’t about the medium, but about the creators – the artists behind webcomics have a tendency to love their works. To want to make more out of them. To add in historical backgrounds and imaginary blogs; to lay out lengthy story guides; to both create and invite guest strips; to explain how they create their art; to produce livejournal icons, animated strips, podcasts.
That’s a lot of extra effort they put into their works, well and beyond the already pretty momentous production of the comic itself.
And, well… I guess the only real point to all this is to say that it’s appreciated. I like finding the easter eggs, reading through the extras, downloading the wallpapers. I like the immersion into the strip.
I like that for a lot of webcomic artists, it goes beyond just creating a work – it becomes about creating a community, and building attachments with the reader.
That’s a really good feeling.
Lightning in a Bottle
I’ve spent the day rereading through Squidi’s A Modest Destiny.
Now, Squidi’s has gotten a lot of flak for various things in the past, but the comic itself is, in my opinion, a pretty damn good one. Pixel based art that is quality – expressive and interesting and diverse characters, backgrounds and scenes. That’s not easily done, and a lot of people overlook the quality simply due to the medium alone.
Even more than that, it is a good story with good characters. Sometimes it falls into formula – but one that fits smoothly within the essentially video-game RPG world it has set up for itself. It works, and I was glad to have the comic return, because the story really dig grab me up and leave me eager to see how it all ends.
It’s not a perfect comic, admittedly, but there are no really glaring problems that leap out of the page at me.
…well, ok. Maybe just one.
See, he has trouble writing the crazy.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that madness is a damn hard element to capture in a character. Convincingly showing someone as crazy is never and easy task. Sure, some can pull it off on a regular basis, but that’s usually the product of a powerfully intense and creative mind.
And I am willing to allow him some leeway, because he isn’t just arbitrarily throwing in a crazy dude for shits and giggles. The crazy dude in A Modest Destiny is a combination of victim and plot device – there is both legitimate reason for his insanity in character, and deliberate use of it to further the story.
Unfortunately Squidi has trouble with, well… portraying the madness. The only way he can think of to do so is through the same fail-safe most people fall back upon – random gibberish.
Now it might just be me. I mean, sure, there are crazy people in real life do just say random crap all the time. I am not an expert in that field, but it is not an entirely illegitimate portrayal of some varieties of insanity.
But nonetheless! It doesn’t work for me. It feels forced, it feels arbitrary… it feels lazy. Rather than try for convincing dialogue, the artist just puts in words. Any words, any topics, any concept that pops to mind. Bam! Cheese monsters devour Denver with perplexity! Done.
Now, I mentioned before that our good friend… Pippity Bobo… is occasionally used as a plot device. The old ‘crazy guys hears voices, and some of those voices say important things.’ A time honored tradition, really, and Squidi does a better job with it than the normal randomness. It still isn’t flawless, and often feels a little forced with his ‘cryptic advice’ – but I much prefer having a guy who clearly has something important to say, but is genuinely unable to directly say it. And is more frustrated by that his listeners. When it seems that he isn’t just speaking random words, when he is honestly trying to communicate as best he can, but is limited almost as much as if he was speaking another language entirely…
…well, that has context. That has a grounding in his setting, and his character, and his relationship with other characters. And it is that sort of context that makes madness something interesting.
So I’ve got hope that Squidi’s eccentric little madman will keep developing, and maybe find a bit more of a method in his madness. If not? Well… it’s just one character, and one irritation alone won’t break me out of the story.
And if he does pull it off? Then that’s more than worth the trouble getting to that point.
Madness is difficult to master, but if you can accurately portray that combination of disconnection and genius? Convincingly get into the mind of something that is a half-step to the left of our own mental workings, and then draw out that disruption for us all to see?
Then let me tell you – you’ve got it made.
This post doesn’t really cover any new ground.
I’ve spent the day catching up on comics from the last few days, and being pleasantly surprised by a number of things:
1) Something*Positive is running a halloween story on “Operation: Terror for Jesus!” Apparently Christian “Hell Houses” are very, very real.
I’ll be honest – this storyline is probably going to make me laugh. A lot.
2) Loserz is back! I can’t blame the guy for taking a break, given the others things keeping him busy, but it went on hiatus at quite the cliff-hanger, and I’ve been rather eagerly waiting it’s return.
3) I found the new website for My Nemesis! I continue to like this comic a lot, even if I can never tell if it is taking itself too seriously or consciously riffing on itself.
4) The recent run of Rob and Eliot guest strips has been phenomenal.
5) I’ve been liking Questionable Content more lately than I have in… well, probably ever. The comic was pretty much teetering on the same love-triangle/unresolved-tension for the longest time, and resolving that (at least for now) has allowed Jeph to start moving the comic through some pretty damn good new storylines.
I actually thought he’d have trouble keeping me on after the sheer awesome insanity of a few weeks back, but no, I keep going back for more.
Once again round the bend
Over at PvP, Kurtz has been working on a story about Jade. (He’ll also be a guest of honor at next year’s San Diego Comicon – good deal, no? Back to the story, though.)
His stated goal with the current storyline is that he wants to “move Jade from a reactionary role into more of a protagonist.” So the arc is about developing Jade as a character, and more than that, about changing the very way she interacts with the rest of the strip.
It’s a neat idea, and it is always good to see strips that are already solid, already established, and have no need for change… to still go ahead and try to change anyway. To keep evolving, not out of need, but out of a desire for self-improvement. So that’s good, and Jade is definitely a good character to do it with.
But that isn’t what has really caught my attention in the most recent strips. It’s the new character – Samantha. She was brought into the strip pretty much for the sole reason of letting this storyline come about, and helping to further Jade’s characters (in ways we have not yet entirely seen)… but Kurtz managed, in the process, to add another interesting figure to the cast.
She easily seems to fit in with the crew, to play along and improvise with all the normal wacky interactions. I don’t know if we’ll see much of her when the storyline is over – she’ll probably pop in and out much like Gwen and some others, becoming supporting cast, not a regular.
But still – she was brought into the strip as a plot device. Period. Scenery, catalyst, nothing more. And yet, instead, she already actually is a character, one distinct – in several ways – from the rest of the cast and crew.
One of the biggest criticisms against PvP, back in the day, was that it was too formulaic. It was designed to be marketable, to be easy to produce, not to tell a story. Now, putting aside whether or not that was true – or even whether or not it mattered – I think you’d have trouble saying the same today.
I’ve been following Flint Again for a while now, and it hasn’t failed to disappoint. As usual, Troutman is a good storyteller, and even though we’re delving into the backstory of characters from his previous works, it manages to be pretty new and exciting at every turn.
But what recently has really been getting my notice isn’t the character development and the ability to see some of the defining character moments and first meetings among the crew – it’s the art.
Now, John Troutman has had more than a few webcomics. Many of them have been successors or side-strips or prequels or sequels or all manner of interconnected works – but they have each been pretty distinctly different. His art style is constantly changing – in some cases simple improvement, in some cases simply trying out different styles and techniques.
His latest style is much more intensely detailed then his previous works. It’s a good style, and works well with moving from pure comedy to a more story driven setting.
The only thing I had found slightly disconcerting was the way he drew the faces – adding in some prominent cheekbones on many of the characters was mildly disorienting. But my uncertainty about the new style was blown out of the water when I saw the latest update – which features our first scene with Andie.
Now, Andie was never really my favorite character in the strip. I mean, I liked her, but she just never pulled me in as well as some of the others.
I think, though, that has now officially changed.
The image on the left is the one that Troutman has been using to represent the latest update – on the Keenspot newsbox, on his own update page. Its a good image, and its definitely cute.
But it’s the image on the right that won me over.
Troutman was able to capture an incredible depth of expression with this new style. I’m not even going to get into the new look for Andie – other than to say that it works, and works well – but just with the face alone, he seems to have caught a moment of real honesty. Real feeling.
That’s hard. That’s a challenge no matter what style you’re using.
I am confident that this is by no means the final stage of his artform. We will see it continue to evolve throughout this work alone, let alone any projects that follow. And that’s good – that’s a good thing.
But right here, right now, he got it right.
Andie was a prominent character throughout almost all of his previous works. She even had her own entire spin-off. She had, arguably, a more complex background than many of the other characters. Througout all of that, though, I never really got her. Never felt any great attachment.
4 pages. It took him all of 4 pages to change that.
Now that’s skill.
I continue to be impressed with Tim Demeter’s work as the new editor of Graphic Smash. Even aside from the quantity of work now available on the site – I count 10 updates today, and believe there was over a dozen this Monday – the strips being added are distinctly quality.
Just last week I waxed eloquent on the glory of Wonderella, which it seems will be joining the fold. Today’s pick, though, is Brat-Halla – the adventures of Thor! (and friends)… when he was a boy.
I’m not sure if we’ve seen the last of the new line-up, or if GS will just keep on growing until it devours the entirety of the internet. So check some of the new stuff out – it will be a great way to placate our future lord and master!
Shouldn’t the sound effect be something like "Released!"? Or "Ka-Released!"? Isn’t that all the rage these days?
I have never ever ever ever liked Chef Brian. Random gibberish is not humor. A moment of chaos can be surreal and exciting – a full page of inserting whatever words and images come to mind is pointless.
Twisp and Catsby, while surreal, has a distinct method to their madness, and that is what lets it work. Yes, it started out as a random gag, but Penny Arcade can pull it off well, because they treat it as carefully as the rest of the strip.
Chef Brian is pure inanity and nothing more, and that doesn’t just not work for me – it actively rubs me the wrong way.
Which is why I have to give credit where it is due – last Friday’s Ctrl+Alt+Del actually had a moment where I appreciated Chef Brian. That panel, off to the side?
Left me in stitches.
It actually has meaning. It isn’t just a throwaway of garbled words – it is zany and surreal, but you can still fit it into context.
Now, the rest of the strip unfortunately reverted to form. But I’m a forgiving sort, so I’ll overlook it this once, and give props to Mr. Buckley on a job well done.
That special time of year…
It’s Friday the 13th. Friday the 13th of October, even. Should that be scary? Should I be scared?
Man, I just don’t know. The worst thing that has happened to me today is drinking Mountain Dew for the first time in two years. Is that scary? Bad, sure, but I wouldn’t say it’s left me shaking in my boots. (Well, poor choice of words – the caffeine has had its inevitable effects upon my system. Bah! Moving on now…)
It strikes me that horror seems to be a genre pretty absent in webcomics. It may be that the medium doesn’t work well for it – it is much harder to shock and scare the reader moving one panel at a time.
Now, I’m not saying I’m really looking for horror comics, as it isn’t really my favorite genre. I’m just a little surprised by the general lack of it on the web.
A quick review of possible contenders on my comics list doesn’t turn up much hope:
Scary Go Round: Delightfully quirky and with plenty of gothic elements, but not really frightening.
The Devil’s Panties: I wouldn’t say the comic’s all that fearsome, but yeah, I’ll admit that Jennie herself is kinda scary (in a good way.)
Hellbound: Zany, sure. Diabolic, technically. Not actually scary, though.
Jack: The best on the list thus far – but Jack is, in many ways, more philosophical than terrifying.
Megatokyo: Piro genuinely feels that having all his main characters strip down to their underwear is a genuine extension of the story, not fanservice. Including, potentially, an entire classroom of underage kids. Hmm… yeah, that is kinda scary.
No Rest for the Wicked: It definitely has elements of “the Brothers Grimm” creepiness to it, but it is generally a little diluted by the other fantasy elements. Moments of darkness, but not necessarily horror.
Suburban Tribe: This gets a spot on the list for having quality, non-continuity halloween arcs every October, much as I fondly recall the Simpsons doing. Rock on!
Toasted Pixel: Ok, I’ll admit that the news articles about phenomena found on the internet almost invariable leave me horrified.
Oh damn. I was about to give up hope – no real qualifiers in the list above. I’m ashamed to admit I almost forgot about The Stiff. The story is definitely up there for creepy. I mean, weird things are happening to the main character. It’s easy to focus on all the random school drama and highschool love crap happening – but at heart, this seems to be something of a zombie story, and I have a feeling it won’t stay hidden forever.
The art also really works for leaving one… disturbed.
Unfortunately it has also been on hiatus for a bit – but Jason Thompson (the disturbed mind behind its creation) hopes to be back and happening in November.
So I’ll keep my fingers crossed on that, and in the meantime, give out the First Friday the 13th Webcomic Horror Award!
(Can he do that, they ask? Ha! I just did!)
(And before you ask, no, the award doesn’t come with any special prizes. Just, you know… recognition on a horror well done. And really, in these days of half-assed efforts and disappointments, can one ask for any more than that?)
(On second thought, don’t answer that question.)