This week I’d like to talk about a couple of things- the first is one of my favourite webcomics out there, Gunnerkrigg Court, and the second is how and why update scheduling is one of the most important parts of a fully functional webcomic.
Let’s start with the review first, though. Gunnerkrigg Court follows Annie Carver, a new student at Gunnerkrigg Court. The court itself is a magic and technological wonderland of immense scope, but it’s never overwhelming; Tom Siddell manages to reveal new parts with incredibly well judged speed, always showing the reader something new but never overwhelming them with too much information. Annie and her best friend Kat are the people we follow through this world, and they are both an utter delight. They’re independent-minded, just becoming more than children (Annie’s joining in the first year of British secondary school at the start of the strip, so she’s about 11/12) and their friendship is the primary bond in the comic. The art is much improved from the early strips, but there’s real charm to it from the word go. I won’t say much more because I’d really rather you went and read it; it’s a wonderful blend of myth, technology, and some of the most complex and fascinating female characters I’ve read about in print.
Gunnerkrigg Court, like most webcomics, updates on a Mon-Wed-Fri schedule. This schedule’s so ubiquitous in the world of webcomics that I’ve used it as the name for this blog- it’s become the basic standard by which webcomics are judged, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Whether we should or not, as consumers of media we expect a minimum standard of work to keep our interest. If a webcomic only updates on Mondays, for example, we expect that update to be “worth” three updates of entertainment. The problem this causes is that even when there’s a vast gulf in terms of the time a creator can put towards a webcomic project, we expect the same standard of work. Take Penny Arcade, for example (but bear in mind it’s not a safe space before clicking the link). It’s a behemoth of a comic- it earns its creators more than enough that creating the comic is their primary job. There are quite a few comics out there that do, but we judge all the new comics we read on this standard. A lot of these comics are labours of love. They’ve not had the five years without a regular job just to create, to try new ideas, to boldly split infinitives. They’ve got an hour and a half squeezed into every day of the week, and an enormous amount of work on a Saturday, just to keep up. It’s one of the reasons that so many new webcomics try using a simplistic or stick-figure style to start off with, to take the pressure off on the art front, but a good webcomic- a good comic, period- relies on the story being told as much by the art as the words.
What I’m driving at here is that we, as readers, get too upset, and consistently too upset, by missed updates. If Penny Arcade takes a week off without any news or explanation? Sure, be a little peeved. But if it’s a new project, it’s already stretched thin, folks. Cut new creators a little slack, and maybe send them a message saying you’re a fan of the comic. Nothing, believe me, motivates a creator like praise.
There are other schedules out there, with benefits and flaws. Questionable Content updates on a daily basis, Mon-Fri, and I know people who got into it just because it was “something to read on a Tuesday”. Ménage a 3 (NOT safe for work, by the way, if the title hadn’t tipped you off there) updates, rather cheekily, on Tue-Thu-Sat. This almost guarantees it a readership- so few webcomics update on these days that if you read Ménage a 3, it’s probably one of only a few comics you read on that day. It means you think about it more, and that translates to a more dedicated fanbase. Warren Ellis has tried something new in Freakangels, as well- they update once a week, with 6 pages. It’s a fascinating idea- it gives you something that feels much more like a print comic, giving Ellis and Duffield the space they need to show more complicated scenes, while still keeping it down to under a page a day’s worth of work. The downside of deviating from the “norm” of Mon-Wed-Fri is that, well, it’s not the norm. People like consistency, and for some people that means checking for updates on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, update schedule be damned. There’s a lot to be said for conforming to that idea. Especially if you’re trying something very new, giving it to people in a way they understand can be extremely important.