The webcomics blog about webcomics

Deep Archives

So what happens when your comic is really, really long-running? There are archives that require more time and commitment than any rational person would want to spend in front of a computer, even with the help of Archive Binge. But even if taking print as a given, it seems to me that there are two strategies that can be utilized: the Completist approach and the Best Of approach; which will work I think will largely depend on the nature of the strip and the audience.

Case in point: Josh Lesnick’s Girly, which ran from April 2003 to September 2010. It quickly became a plot-heavy, continuity-driven strip, which is the sort of story that rewards very loyal readers, but is a challenge to newcomers (cf: John Allison’s perception of bleeding audience at Scary Go Round, and his decision to reboot into Bad Machinëry).

This is the audience that can (and will) go for a comprehensive reprint set, much like Lesnick now has up for preorder at Kickstarter — and a handsome set it is. Four books, slipcased, with tons of extras, and limited to a print run of 500 copies. As a wrapped-up story that grew ever more complex (the page counts for each of the four books is about the same, but each covers progressively fewer chapters than the one before it), Lesnick’s goal isn’t realistically going to be to bring as many people to this work as possible — this is a reward for the fans.

By contrast, PvP (May 1998 — ongoing) is a continuing strip with an intermix of noncontinuity gags and short storylines that weave together into a connected whole. Sometimes these longer story arcs play out over a considerable period of time (cf: the Brent and Jade Break Up metanarrative that wove throughout all of 2002), but a precise knowledge of all that went before is considerably less necessary than it would be for Girly readers.

In fact, PvP’s Scott Kurtz has in many ways the opposite problem of Girly’s Lesnick — by having many books in print, the logistics of keeping inventory, not letting older material cannibalize sales of new, and giving new readers a jumping-on point for the current strip made for a considerable challenge. Kurtz has mentioned the challenges of longevity on Webcomics Weekly, and hit on the solution to avoid the comprehensive back-catalog. Old strips will remain online, but that’s it for the older books — a new Best Of collection hits the highlights, sets the stage for the current stories, and clears the deck for the next ten years (or so) of periodic collections.

Also worth noting: no more books 1 through 5 in the store, no more having too much merchandise on the table (which can scare off potential customers), although you can still get the comprehensive edition while supplies last. Two situations, two solutions, and hopefully two happy audiences and two happy creators.

In other news, T-Rex posed a question today that, coincidentally, may have been answered in today’s Bucko. Fun threesomes for everybody! Bucko, by the by, has shifted from a Tuesday/Friday schedule to Tuesday/Thursday, and thus slots neatly into the space occupied by Digger until last week. Though you’d be hard pressed to find two webcomics less alike, my complete sense of bereavement has been temporarily assuaged by having a terrific new strip replace a beloved old strip in my daily trawl. Cancel the national emergency.

98? Youngster. Help Desk turns 15 on the 31st. That’s 1996, baby.

Old PVP is pedestrian.

Part of the reason that Melonpool stopped updating in 2005 or so was that I never could get past the critical mass that happens when you have a long-running webcomic. And I tried a lot of ways to get past that, including purging the entire archives, making an in-depth Cliff Notes version of the strip’s first 7 years and trying to do recaps to older storylines whenever they popped into the current storylines.

None of them really worked and usually were met with a lot of negative criticism. I always thought I was doing good work, but it got really disheartening when newer, younger strips had 10 times the readership I had and took a lot less time and effort to produce (such as stick figures and clip art).

Still… I often think about drawing comics again. Maybe someday. And maybe some of the ideas presented by Kurtz and Lesnick hold the key to sustaining decades-old properties…

— the other guy that started in ’96.

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