Monthly Archives: March, 2008

WCCAs 2008

This year’s Webcartoonists’ Choice Awards were announced several weeks ago – which is essentially a hojillion years in internet time – but I felt I should comment on them a bit anyway.

First off – I’m actually rather sad I didn’t make any predictions this year, as for once nearly all of the comics I was rooting for ended up as the winners. The main exception was Lackadaisy, a comic not on my reading list, which claimed quite a few awards this year. Given that it did the same last year as well, one would think it would stand as an easy choice to be added to my reading list, but somehow I still haven’t gotten around to doing so.

This was actually a really good year for the WCCA’s as a whole. Moments of drama were relatively few and far between – though not absent entirely. The ceremony itself (in the usual form of online comics) was incredibly well-done and easy to read, as opposed to the sprawling madness found in some previous years. The entire event felt more professional than it has in the past, and that is by far a step in the right direction.

This year featured the removal of the ‘genre categories’ – awards given out to the best sci-fi strips, the best superhero strips, the best romance strips, etc, etc. I was somewhat afraid of this change, largely because those fields gave some smaller fish out their a chance to compete while the usual big names swept the primary categories. But going through the awards now, I don’t really feel the loss as much as I expected – and looking over past years, it is definitely obvious that such categories often required a great deal of stretching to even find enough nominees for the ballot.

So, having said all the above good things about this year’s WCCAs… on to the complaints!

Only two, and the first one is merely to point out that, as usual, the event has an amazing lack of advertising. For something that is designed around getting input from webcartoonists all over the web, they do an incredible job of flying below the radar – from the beginning of the nomination process to the announcement of the results at the end. And I think that very lack of reaching out to the larger webcomic world as a whole is a key reason for the occasionally static results – we see a lot of the same winners and nominees, even in categories that aren’t necessarily the right fit for them.

And, yes, some of that is the natural result of this sort of event being a popularity contest at heart, and there isn’t anything wrong with that – but it also feels like it has one relatively small group of people involved in the entire show. If they can expand their audience, and draw in more participants, I think that would be a very good thing indeed. And the only way that is going to happen is if they actually make an effort to spread the word every year when the awards are actually happening.

Complaint number two is a more genuine one – I was appalled when I see PvP nominated for Outstanding Website Design. I know he pays people to professionally put together a website for him – that does not mean they do a good job!

His design last year was relatively slick and effective, but his latest site is completely out of control. There is no way to easily go to the first strip. I repeat – there is no easy way to go to the first strip!

There is not a button that takes you there. There is not a button that takes you to an archive! You can manually go to the little calendar widget buried in the bottom-right of the page, well below the fold, and select May 1998, the first month listed there, and then select the first comic. And it is not all that difficult a task, but it is about three steps more than such an act should require!

Similarly, when you click on an individual date in the calendar widget, it brings up, not a page with the strip itself, but a page with a thumbnail of the strip! Clicking on that then brings you to the comic itself.

Look. These are not horrendous, life-changing mistakes. Will it turn away some new readers? Sure. Will it frustrate regular readers trying to hunt through the archives? Probably. Are either of those problems that big a deal? Not really.

Seeing them on what is supposed to be one of the most professional webcomics on the net, on the other hand, is really disappointing. Normally, I wouldn’t have any problems with it. Similarly, I would normally be able to forgive the sheer amount of links and promotions and ads and other craziness plastered all over the page, because Scott Kurtz does have a lot happening and needs a place to put all that stuff.

But when the site is being nominated for being one of the most “Outstanding” around… well, as I said, it is disappointing. Not as a mark against Kurtz, really, but as a sign of how easy it is for a comic to be nominated simply because it is a big name, rather than because it is appropriate for the award at hand.

A Home is found and a Name is sound.

Well, it has been a few weeks since my last post – let’s assume I give you the usual excuses about being sick with the flu (which I was) and how work has been especially busy (which it has). With that out of the way, how about I get right back into game – and how better to do so than deal with endings and beginnings, and the sadness of each?

When Home on the Strange mentioned, last November, that it was ending, I found myself saddened by the news. This shouldn’t be a surprise – it is the natural response to such an announcement – but more surprising might be that my reasons for sadness where entirely tangential to the comic itself. Oh, it was a good comic, and one that provided more than its share of amusement… but as much as I liked the cast and crew, I wasn’t really going to miss them. They had their run, and it was a good one. Nearly two years of solid, constant updates is certainly a triumph in its own right.

What I knew I would miss would be the commentary on the strip.

The loquacious fellow known as Ferrett is the writer of the strip – or primary writer, rather, as it is was clear that the entire process of producing each strip was a collaborative process with the artist, Roni. In any case, Ferrett had a specific set of ideas in mind when they went about creating a webcomic – indeed, the entire thing seemed to be approached in a very formulaic fashion. A pinch of regular updates, a dash of nerd culture references, an appropriate blend of cliffhangers and punchlines, and a whole kitchen filled with other tools and techniques designed to produce a perfectly balanced webcomic that will attract new readers, while keeping old readers coming back for more.

I’ve heard the occasional denouncement of this form of manufactured comic, but I never put much stock in it – if it produces a quality comic day after day, isn’t that the bottomline of success? If he simply draws upon what he knows readers want – such as reliable updates and an easily navigated website – why in the world should anyone complain?

But even aside from the convenience of it, I enjoyed the chance to really observe the inner workings of a comic. To see how it was put together, and why. To see analysis of what worked and what didn’t.

And Ferrett did not disappoint, with several posts discussing theories of comic writing, and a whole series of posts reviewing other webcomics – often with specific insights drawing on his experience producing Home on the Strange. And, of course, often detailed notes and comments posted alongside the comic itself with every update, laying out the author’s thought-process right there for the audience to see. Thus it was sad to know that with no more Home on the Strange, there would be no more discussions of random spikes in the strip’s readership, or the challenges of specific story arcs, or confessions of how surprising it was to discover the popularity of certain secondary characters.

Speaking of which – today, they have posted the comic’s final strip. The strip largely wrapped up several months back, but they promised one last conclusion if reader’s made a final donation drive. (Which they did.) The final strip was there to address the fate of a character who was never intended to be the star of the show, but somehow resonated with a surprising portion of the audience – Branch, the annoying chatterer with poor social graces who goes on and on and on about all those little minutiae that no one else actually cares about.

Yet despite being designed as a pest and a nuisance, Branch gained a following. Like Mike in Something Positive, it turned out that readers are all too willing to root for a bumbling social misfit to overcome their own weaknesses and become something… more. Perhaps because many of us recognize that character from our own social circles – the one that everyone finds somewhat creepy and discomforting, but also feels sorry for. And perhaps because we also recognize many of those same elements within ourselves – maybe only in bits and pieces, maybe to a much smaller degree, but still there nonetheless.

Whatever the reason, Branch’s first real storyline was when the comic really seemed to take off – and when the comic came to a close, the one burning element people needed for closure was an answer to “What happened to Branch?”

Especially given that, in her last appearance previously, we saw that for all the progress she had made, she still couldn’t connect to people in person – and it looked like, maybe, she never would. And the only mention after that wasn’t altogether promising, either.

So what was her final fate? Well, I suppose you can go and see for yourselves. And the answer… well, you can judge that on your own, I suppose. There’s a preview to the right, but all in all, I think the answer… is that it ended well.

I don’t think anyone can deny that the artwork for the final strip was absolutely gorgeous. And the final fate of Branch itself… seems fitting, and as happy an ending as could have been for the path she had walked down.

And now Home on the Strange has truly come to an end.

Ferrett is producing a new webcomic, co-written by himself and Catherynne M. Valente, and drawn by Avery A. Liell-Kok. My Name is Might Have Been,” the comic is called. It currently has five strips to its name. The artwork is stunning and the writing is superb.

I am reasonably sure it will be gone from my reading list within a week or two. Not due to any true fault of its own – but it just isn’t for me.

It is a comic about rock band, and guitar hero, and all the little details and understandings those games entail. And I’m confident those familiar with such things will find it sheer genius… but it just doesn’t resonate for me, unfortunately.

So that too is sad… but I’ll get over it.

After all, I read enough webcomics already as it is.