A Certain Lack of Focus

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Online Graphic Novels

I'm currently reading How to Make Webcomics which Matt picked up for me at the comic shop the other day (because he rocks). It's by the authors of PvP, Phables, Starslip Crisis and Sheldon. It is about, wait for it, creating web comics. I'll do a full review (maybe? unless I change my mind?) once I finish it, but for now I just wanted to make a note about wording.

comicsSomething that I found interesting in this book is that rather than referring to serial web comics as online graphic novels, the authors call them longform comics. I'd never heard this before, but it makes sense and I really appreciate the distinction.

What's the difference you ask? Well, there may not actually BE a difference, but in my mind there should be. I love longer story arcs like you get in graphic novels but I don't think the traditional graphic novel form works on the web.

Take MegaTokyo, a popular webcomic (maybe not a great example since it's obviously succeeding, but bear with me) drawn by Fred Gallagher. This is done in a fairly traditional graphic novel style, in fact I think they're on something like book 7 by now. But while the art is engaging and sometimes amazing, I could care less about the story. Now that may just be me, I don't particularly care what dumb thing Piro did this time to piss off his girlfriend or the girl he wants to be his girlfriend. Some people like this style of comic story (there's a huge genre inside manga that does this exclusively and MegaTokyo is kind of manga) but it's just not for me. I think though that the larger reason it fails (by my standards) is that graphic novels move so SLOWLY. Think about it. I've seen graphic novels (and MegaTokyo is one of them) that can take ten pages before anything happens. I've seen MegaTokyo posts where an entire page is just one of the characters looking sad from various angles. This works great if you're pacing a graphic novel and you have the entire book in front of you to read at once but... MegaTokyo posts three times a week! That means you could be waiting more than three weeks for something, anything, to happen. It's just TOO slow.

Now I haven't seen many other serial type webcomics, but I'm wondering if there's a way to have some balance. Can it be fueled by a larger plot, with important developments happing slowly along the way, and still leave the reader with something satisfying on a page by page basis? I think it can. I'm working on starting a webcomic now, egged on by reading this book, and that's what I hope to accomplish (I'll keep you posted).

As for MegaTokyo, it's obviously doing just fine. It has a ton of dedicated readers. I don't know what motivates them, what keeps them interested. Personally I still visit the MegaTokyo site when bloglines tells me there's a new strip, but like a high school kid with a Playboy, I'm just looking at the pretty pictures.

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