Friday, December 9, 2011

Starting Points

Well my last article got eaten, so I'll have to recreate it sometime.  Just not now, I'll do this one instead.  Hopefully it doesn't get deleted randomly.

A few months ago now, DC, the big giant comic book company, "rebooted" their entire line up.  The reason for this is two fold:  They wanted to bring new readers in from the beginning of the universe's story without the mountain of backstory most comics come with, and they wanted to make money.  I can't speak on how successful the later was, nor really the former, but let's talk about starting points anyway.

This is actually something webcomics have to deal with, especially the older ones.  Comics like Sluggy Freelance, Schlock Mercenary and other long form comics have massive archives and that can be rather intimidating for new readers.  Sluggy, for example, has well over 5000 strips over it's 14 some years.  I started reading it about 8 years ago, and it was still a slog to go through the archives.  My review process is in fact hampered by these massive archives as I insist on reading from the beginning.  Probably the reason I have so many short/young comics in recent years as opposed to older ones.

This problem isn't even restricted to webcomics.  As already stated, comic books have the same issue and have attempted multiple "reboots" to restart these comics.  Even more so are the newspaper comics, many of whom are decades old.  Blondie, one of the oldest at 81 years, has more than 30,000 strips to it's name.  No one is going to read them all, and until recently, they really couldn't.  Newspaper comics are far more disposable than other comics, and often weren't meant for being reread.

So how do they keep an audience in the first place?  Aside from just simply being there for half a century in some cases.  Well most newspaper comics do it the easy way:  no story at all.  Just single jokes.  You don't have to know the names of the characters, their pasts, or anything really.  The joke stands on it's own.  It's the simplest way to solve the problem of starting points as there really isn't one.  Many webcomics, like Cyanide and Happiness and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, follow this, you don't need to read the archives to know the comic.

Which doesn't work for those long form story comics.  For them, we should look to the comic books, and how they do starting points, unless they're restarting everything.  Ideally (which is to say, they don't do it much) each individual issue of the comic should stand alone.  You don't need to know much, if anything, to get the story.  This doesn't always work, but even a simple narration box at the beginning can get people up to speed rather easily, and for the big comics (Superman, Batman, Spiderman, ect) most people know enough not to need such a thing.

I rarely see this from webcomics.  Spinnerette does it a little, but not as much as a good comic book would.  More adventure style comics have "chapters" or even "books" to designate the division between different stories, but often the older comics, like Sluggy and Schlock, kind of run their stories together and link them.  These deep connections mean that references are often made to past stories, and much like comic books of old, they put up links to the referenced events.

Okay, so what do webcomics have to help with starting a story?  Well, there are cast pages and getting started pages that can be used easily enough, but they aren't perfect.  Sluggy has one, but it's already out of date by quite a bit.  Cast pages tell you little about the character typically, and are often out of date as well.

In the end, webcomics with long stories or adventure style comics will always have a problem bringing new people in.  Comic books have the same problem and there is NO good solution.  Even starting from scratch doesn't resolve the problem, it just holds it off a bit.  The best option is to make whatever story is most recent GOOD.  With access to archives, either through the net or trades from the comic book publishers, will keep people's attention and they can start anywhere that way.

So an article about starting points offers no solutions, because there aren't any that I can think of.  Oh well, at least this hasn't been eaten by blogspot.  I hope.  Until next time kiddies.

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