Static on the frequency.
Last week, we had a reader leave us. He (and I will presume the gender simply because I don’t feel like typing ‘they’ or some clunkier pronoun option throughout the article) expressed a lack of satisfaction with our once-a-week update schedule, with the last straw being our late posting of Comic 118. There was no excuse for such affairs, he voiced, especially when there were other people out there updating their comics on a daily basis.
Now ironically enough, we did have the comic done on time, only to experience an unforeseen outage of our hosting service that took our whole site down for several hours… so if one was in the mindset to consider excuses, I reckon that does seem like a pretty good one. What was more worthy of thought is that he then left a follow-up statement that made it clear he felt it wasn’t just a matter of being late, but that there was no place on the Internet for story-driven webcomics that updated at the rate of a single page a week. That it was an impossibly slow pace for anything dependent on continuity. Zombie Ranch had been entertaining so far, but he was done with us, and I suppose also felt obligated to leave behind a warning, like a Dickensian spirit, in hopes we would mend our ways before it was too late.
It’s easy to get angry or defensive in the face of such comments. My blog last week was all about the idea that creative arts are a matter of taking your inner thoughts and perspectives and throwing them out to the public, and criticism in response can sometimes feel like your soul is getting kicked around, particularly if you’re not getting any significant financial benefit as a buffer to the slings and arrows. As W.B. Yeats wrote: “But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”.
But the plain fact of the world is, if you put your dreams out there, there will be treading, and some of it may be wearing cleats and a heavy hat. If art is, as I argued, a way for people to communicate between disparate selves, then the manner of communication can matter as much as the audience. What frequency are you tuning them to? How much static is on it? And if they’re not satisfied, you better believe you may get some static in return. Some may, to put it even more colloquially, be all up in yo’ grill.
Frequency of course has a double meaning here, because I like to pretend I’m clever in that way. Dawn and I made our decision at the very beginning to run on a weekly schedule, on the basis that we’d witnessed far too many examples of webcomics attempting more ambitious schedules and failing to meet them, or worse yet, burning out their creators entirely. Better to go at a steady “every Wednesday” rate, possibly ramping up later if we felt we could handle it, than to start off three times a week and then have to give up and scale back after the readers were used to the faster pace. That always seemed to me like a much bigger recipe for disappointment, which would lead to reader complaints at just the wrong time (i.e. snarking on a creator or creators who were already by definition feeling overworked). In fact, a variation on this could be said to be exactly what happened in the ex-reader’s case, as it appears he was fine as long as he had archive comics to go through as fast as it suited him, but once he hit the end of those the sudden slowdown was too much to adjust to.
Now it’s entirely possible that we’d be more popular if we tried to update more frequently, but it’s also entirely possible that I’d just end up spending a lot of days making apologies and excuses. We do have weeks where we post artwork instead of story progession, but I always make a point of warning people ahead of time so that they’re not unpleasantly surprised. I don’t beg forgiveness for such breaks, but on the other hand I never want us to be one of those webcomics that just leave their readers hanging, or worse adopt the attitude of “You’ll get your new page when I damn well feel like it!”
Is it enough? It is what it is. Bizarre as it might seem to say, I actually do appreciate the former reader expressing why he was leaving us. I have to, because haven’t I lamented many times on how much of a vaccuum webcomic creators exist in despite all our statistic trackers? Having someone specifically express why they’re not satisfied is hardly as pleasant as having someone express why they think what you’re doing is great, but at least it’s feedback. Just in this case, stating that weekly updates aren’t enough happens to be feedback I really feel unable to address for the foreseeable future, even if I were to accept his opinion as fact. For the record, I do not, and I could list several webcomics with audiences who seem just fine with the slow but steady drip-feed diet, including critically acclaimed offerings like The Abominable Charles Christopher.
Interestingly enough, in my original, longer draft of last week’s blog I had intended to discuss a facet of “the insider perspective” that might have pertained to all this. As a writer, it’s pretty much my job to remember every character and every situation I’ve introduced as clearly as possible. Every few months I re-read the comic from top to bottom in a no doubt futile effort to not go off the rails with the narrative. So I have every line of Deputy Jimmy’s dialogue fresh in my head, when many readers would probably just wonder: who the hell is Deputy Jimmy?
And why not? His last appearance was not that long ago in terms of the comic, but in real world terms he hasn’t graced the page since 2010. So in that sense, yes, if it weren’t for the success of other weekly story comics I might succumb to that nagging feeling that I’m fooling myself anyone besides me has a sense of continuity about what I’m doing. I still don’t expect any of you, even Dawn, to have it to the same level I do, because I’m sure you all have better things to do than try to keep all this stuff straight over the years. Mind you it doesn’t stop me from doing subtle or even not-so-subtle callbacks to previous comics, but I knew better than to throw a fit because no one commented “Oh!” when Rosa answered Frank’s snark with some of her own. The two strips in question were originally published five months apart… it’s something that probably would only be noticeable in the print issue or an archive dive, assuming anyone noticed at all before I brought it up just now.
Speaking of which, I feel like it’s a valid point to consider that as every new comic is published, the time separations between them disappear. It’s a reason I don’t begrudge those who skip off for a few weeks or even months before returning to “catch up”. It doesn’t do our daily traffic counts any good, but that’s a perfectly viable alternative for those who aren’t comfortable reading at the pace of a page a week, and I’d much prefer that to anyone feeling they had to stop reading entirely, particularly if they were enjoying the story!
I have to say that as losing readers goes, “I like this but there’s not enough of it” is one of the mildest, if not one of the most positive, criticisms there can be. There will be more — and even if the frequency doesn’t satisfy, if the content connects there’s always the possibility they might tune back in down the road.