On being discrete…
If you happen to be a grammar guardian who knows the difference between “discrete” and “discreet”, hold off on the torches and pitchforks— I’m actually using the word correctly. This post has nothing to do with being subtle or secretive, but rather the separation of elements. Namely, the usefulness of splitting a story into separate chunks.
Whether you call them “chapters”, “issues”, “episodes”, or something even more esoteric, I’ve found the practice very useful from a pacing standpoint. Where a webcomic is concerned there’s really no authority or mandate for a certain type of structure, or even much in the way of structure at all. There is, for example, no real need to conform to the strictures observed by a monthly comic book, which tends not to run much longer than about 24 pages of content, not counting all the advertisements, letters pages, etc.
Zombie Ranch was the first real foray into comics for Dawn and myself, and in many ways is still a learning experience even after three years of publication. We’ve gone through many experiments, such as forays into animation, text-heavy pages, pages completely absent of text, art shifts, crazily dynamic layouts, etc. etc. Our first story arc happened to end conveniently at about the length of the pages of a standard comic, and for me set a precedent of trying to compose the ebb and flow of events after that into similar lengths.
But I’m always aware that I don’t *have* to follow that. Even when we go to print there’s no need to fit in ad space or be a specific size, and so when we were getting towards the end of Episode/Issue 3 I remember thinking, “I’d really like four extra pages to wrap this particular bit up in a way I find satisfying”. And there it was… if anyone happened to be paying attention, Episode 3 is 28 comic pages long, with a correspondingly slightly larger print issue.
I doubt anyone really noticed or cared, particularly online where, although we divide up the episodes with covers or title cards, the comics themselves are numbered to represent an ongoing, contiguous story. But for me that’s exactly how an online reader would function, right? You wouldn’t get to the end of the episode and stop, you’d just keep going until you got tired or ran out of material. However, the dividers still serve the function (at least in my imaginings) of letting a reader “pause for breath” during their archive binge, maybe taking a moment to reflect on what they just read before plunging onwards.
And from our end, these spots provide a convenient place to change things up a bit, taking a moment to work in some world info in entertaining ways that are hopefully never too jarring. Sometimes we’ve done these inserts mid-stream (like the “Moment With Suzie” in Episode 5), and at the beginning of Episode 6 we dispensed with any sidetracks to get right back to business. Is sidetracking for the beginning of Episode 7 the right call? Well, just call it some more experimentation if you must. The idea of cutting to some Safe Zone woman criticizing the fashion sense of the Z Ranchers seemed deliciously dark after the readers (who of course have seen a lot more of the “footage”) just witnessed them fighting for their lives and livelihoods. But the chapter change also again gives that breath in the pacing, like the pause before a bridge in the music, after which we return to the main theme.
I guess that’s a fairly subtle thing to consider. So call this a post about being discreet, as well.