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GPF, Webcomics

“Geat Site. Not buying the story…”

October 12th, 2006 by Jeff | 16 Core Dumps

You folks will have to forgive me today. I usually don’t do things like this, but I’m tired, cranky, and hyped up on my new vice called coffee in compensation for a 2AM bottle feeding. Normally, this is the sort of thing that I would quietly let slide and keep it to myself, but I had a few hackles raised by this and thought I’d get it off my chest. That’s also why I’m restricting this to the blog, as I don’t think it really belongs in the GPF News. That’s my place for being informative about the comic and associated things and events; this is my place for personal information and the occasional venting. I feel it would be unprofessional to post this there. (It’s probably inappropriate for me to post it here as well, but since when is that going to stop me?)

This morning, while juggling a squirming two-month-old, a bottle, and my measly, hurriedly swallowed and inadequately chewed breakfast, I logged in to check my GPF mail. Amongst the copious spam I received this little gem:

Regarding this latest news about the “hiatus”: Charles Schultz.

Do you think the “Peanuts” author didn’t have issues in his life?

Why am I saying this? Your hiatus “end dates” make no sense. And the difference between Oct 2, and Nov 6…? Probably the FIRST time you were — on time — with an update was to defer. (Oct 2)

And I’m already guessing, Come Nov. 6 — Wait until Dec. 4., RIGHT???

Look…You’ve created a web icon here, kind of like “Peanuts”. If you’ve decided to end it — DO SO!!! Your fan base is only going to be around for so long, and even if you think you’ve got a greater story next; they won’t come. Why? You might have other issues that preclude it. (Baby, new home, New job, etc…)

You started GPF, so you have two choices:

OK. Maybe it’s (webcomic) not paying your bills, but…

Either end it. OR, Suck it up, and continue it.

Or do you think that Charles Schultz had that choice from his family when he had to use inks? Maybe he and his wife had issues too. But we’ve had “Peanuts” for (I believe) 40 years or so until he passed. She apparently didn’t run off with the “other guy” that she could have, had she wished. Not that there was another guy, but really — a cartoonist? As a paid profession?

If you’re tired of GPF, end it.

(Or you could always get syndicated in newsprint. That WOULD pay your bills. Just remember, people WILL buy newspapers; they may NOT subscribe to a website.)

M.

Out of the many, many supportive and understanding e-mails I’ve received in the past few months, this is the first piece of truly negative “fan” mail I’ve received since I announced the current hiatus. (And when I say “truly negative,” I’m not counting the occasional half-and-half messages like “I really hope things work out for you, but it still kind of sucks.”) I’ve learned to develop a thick skin against flames and destructive criticism; you have to when you go into webcomics, as there are a lot of idiots out there who value their own opinions above anyone else’s and assume no one can possibly be more correct than they are. (My favorite from years ago was the self-proclaimed “Queen of Webcomics” who declared that GPF was worthless simply because it was her royal decree.) So maybe it was the lack of sleep, my own sensitivity and self-depreciation concerning the current state of the comic, or some other factor that I have yet to identify, but this person really touched a nerve with me this morning. A raw, seething nerve that’s gone from a dull, throbbing ache to the edge of blinding, searing pain. And I tend to get a little angry when I’m in pain.

So in the interest of fairness, I have reproduced the message in its entirety for your review. And if you’ll forgive a bit of self-indulgent venting, also in the interest of fairness I offer my public reply.

Has this person even read the past several months of News posts? From the subject line of the e-mail (which is also the title of this post), I can only assume he has at least skimmed them, since it appears the “story” he isn’t “buying” isn’t the plot to To Thine Own Self…. Ergo, I have to assume this person doesn’t believe the fact that the comic has been unavoidably delayed by the past five hectic months I’ve had. This, of course, is his prerogative; you should never believe everything you read on the Internet. That, also of course, does not change the fact that every single word I’ve said in the News since May regarding this issue is completely true, and I have the employment papers, mortgage contracts, and hospital bills and receipts to prove it.

For the past eight years, I have worked incredibly hard to not only produce what I think is a quality comic strip in what I hope is a professional manner, and I’ve made every possible human effort to produce it in a timely and efficient fashion. I’m one of the few webcartoonists out there who actually started my comic with a buffer of pre-made strips, and that buffer was probably one of the largest and longest maintained ones online. It usually ranged from six to eight weeks, and its lowest point before the current situation was actually four weeks (when I actually stopped drawing for a month because of tendonitis in my thumb, but continued to update by posting from the buffer). Compare this to most of my online peers and that’s pretty impressive; multiply that by the fact that I’ve maintained this level of consistency for the past eight years, and it’s practically legendary. I say that not to sound conceited, but to state a simple fact of the webcomicking world. Consistency is not something that online comics are generally known for. Up until this most recent incident, GPF was well known for it; to use the author’s own words, a “web icon” of sorts.

So that becomes my first and probably greatest point of contention with this e-mail. Apparently, my eight-year track record of consistent, no-fail, never-missed-a-day updates means little in relation to his immediate comic fix. I could understand such a complaint if GPF were so horribly inconsistent that it updated only once in a blue moon when it’s raining and sun’s out while you’re wearing plaid shorts and bib overalls with a chicken on your head that sings “I’m a Little Tea Pot” to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” I ask very little of my readers. I don’t beg for donations; I don’t hold my comic hostage to increase readership; I don’t go off into NeverNeverLand and disappear for months at a time. All I usually ask is that you endure a little advertising so we can pay the bandwidth bill and, if you enjoy the comic a great deal and wish to support it more substantially, perhaps buy a book, a PREMIUM subscription, or some other form of merchandise as a show of appreciation. With this hiatus, I have asked for one more thing: a small measure of patience. Most readers have seemed to enthusiastically and generously agree to this request. “M.” apparently does not.

All this makes me wonder where the “FIRST time [I was] — on time — with an update was to defer” statement even comes from. Undoubtedly, the first time “M.” ever read GPF was the beginning of September when the hiatus began, or at the earliest August when GPF dropped from seven-days-a-week to three. That’s the only way I can conceivably think it would be logical for me not to be on-time with an update, considering that the automation on the server has predictably and reliably posted the comic every day on the dot for the previous eight years. But I must be forgetting… history apparently has no bearing on the immediacy of the present.

On the hiatus end dates making no sense: They were actually chosen with a very logical and (I thought) well-explained rationale. I chose each end date because it would be the first Monday of the next month, so I could hopefully resume a Monday-Wednesday-Friday update schedule. A great deal of webcomicking history and research has proven that Monday is always the day of highest traffic for webcomic sites. It would make logical sense to defer updates from the first day of the month (which to date during my hiatus has landed on a Sunday and a Wednesday) to the following Monday. It would also allow me to begin this M-W-F update schedule with a full week of updates. As for why the end of the hiatus has been deferred, that too was fully explained:

However, it may take longer than that to rebuild my buffer to a satisfactory level. Thus, if October 2nd rolls around and I don’t have a comfortable enough buffer to work with, I may have to extend the hiatus for another month, continuing ad nauseum until my life returns to relative stability.

Thus, I have no intention of ending the hiatus until I’m comfortable that (a) I am producing comics again on a predictable enough schedule to (b) maintain a consistent buffer and thus avoid the current situation that caused the hiatus in the first place. Thus, the difference between October 2nd and November 6th right now is potentially fourteen comics (assuming I finish the digital half of the comics I’ve currently drawn the line art for). Fourteen comics at a three-day-per-week schedule is four, nearly five weeks of content. Fourteen comics that I did not have available due to life mishaps at the beginning of September. And this assumes that I cannot back to the art desk again before the end of October and generate more comics. Not a bad step toward getting back into the swing of things, if you ask me. Does this rationale seem logical enough now?

Based on this calculation, another delay until December is beginning to look unlikely. The true question is whether or not I can sustain a three-day-week schedule, a question that I’m afraid I still cannot currently answer. If I can manage to produce six comics over a period of the next two weeks, then yes, I think returning to a M-W-F schedule on November 6th is extremely likely. If not, then I will likely pursue another option: resuming updates, but further reduce the schedule to one comic per week, updated on Mondays. If nothing else, this will get something up on the site on a predictable schedule, and will potentially expand that buffer from four/five weeks to fourteen. It certainly isn’t ideal (for me or for you), but it’s definitely an improvement.

The next thing that confuses the heck out of me about this e-mail is the implication that I’m being some sort of wishy-washy, indecisive worry-wart sitting around wringing my hands trying to decide if GPF is even worth salvaging. What about the following excerpt from September 4th’s News post seems to convey this? No, seriously, I want to know. Because I certainly can’t see it:

One way or another, come heck or high water, To Thine Own Self… will eventually be completed. It will certainly take longer than I originally planned, and it may take months (maybe even years) more than I ever wanted. However, I positively hate starting something and never finishing it, so I can guarantee that it will be finished eventually. If I have to post unfinished inks, pencil roughs, or even text scripts, I will get the story completed somehow. And I have so many more ideas for GPF in the future that I can’t walk away from it forever once TTOS is over. I may have to find a new artist, readjust formats, or something, but there’s far too many ideas floating around in my head to keep me from this little comic forever. My fledgling little family will always come first, of course, but GPF is still a major factor in my life and I certainly won’t abandon it.

Should I have used bold type instead of italics? Increased the font size about a couple points? Perhaps the HTML <BLINK> tag would have made things more obvious? No, that’s largely ignored by most browsers now so that wouldn’t work. What about this paragraph could have made things more clear that I have absolutely no intentions of ending GPF in the foreseeable future? If I wasn’t absolutely sure and completely decisive on this matter before this e-mail, I certainly am now, if nothing else to prove this person wrong. While it still may be true that it could take months (or worse, years) longer to complete the current story given my current situation, GPF isn’t going away for good any time soon. End of story. Period. How’s that for decisive?

As for my “fan base… only going to be around for so long,” I am all too aware of this risk, far greater than anyone else. I am, after all, the only one with full access to my server logs. I can see the decline in traffic first-hand. Going on hiatus was a calculated risk, but it is not a risk that wasn’t calculated to begin with. I made a conscious decision to place my family before the comic, a decision I would have made anyway if the comic were replaced with any form of job, and I would make any number of times again. When (not if) I lose readership due to the hiatus, it will be up to me to rebuild those numbers with what I think is GPF’s proven formula: realistic, believable characters in exciting and humorous situations, delivered on a predictable, consistent schedule. If I am able to regain any readership I have lost, the I’ll be extremely happy; if I do not rebuild those numbers, then so be it. I consider my family more important than arbitrary numbers generated from a bunch of bloated server logs. Loyal readers will return and hopefully bring new readers with them. Those who choose not to return are free to make their own decisions on how to spend their time online.

Speaking of family, perhaps the implication that I despise the most from this message is that my family has suffered because of this hiatus. Considering that I specifically instituted the break to spend more time with them, I fail to see where this came from. I certainly cannot speak for the family of Charles Schulz (note the correct spelling), but my wife is GPF’s greatest supporter. GPF would not exist if it weren’t for her input, and it would immediately (or as immediately as possible) cease to exist if she felt strongly enough that it was time to pull the plug. I value her opinions so greatly that, yes, I would (and have) place the fate of my little dream in her hands. Considering how much love and energy she has expended over the years to nurture that dream, the least I can do is provider her such respect. The only “issues” my wife and I have are those from outside our home that we tackle together as a team, and I resent any implications to the contrary. As such, I respectfully ask that if you have an issue with the comic or with me, I’m the one you should be complaining to or about. Leave my family out of it.

And that brings us to this mysterious comparison to Mr. Schulz. What I read in the above message is a back-handed compliment. In one sentence, GPF is called an “icon” in comparison to Mr. Schulz’s venerable and beloved Peanuts; in another, I’m chastised for not “suck[ing] it up” because I cannot live up to his lofty example. As honored as I would be to be considered in a league with Mr. Schulz, I can only see my own inadequacies in such a comparison. To me, it seems a bit like comparing some of my favorite composers, such as John Williams or Danny Elfman, to the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, or Chopin. While I would definitely consider Mr. Williams or Mr. Elfman to be competent, gifted, or even masters of their current art, they are certainly shadowed by the timeless grandeur of such masters. That said, I’m not about to go burn my Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Nightmare Before Christmas CDs either.

Mr. Schulz was a consummate professional. His distinguished, decades-long career is certainly one to envied and admired. However, as much as I try to project and maintain an air of professionalism (I believe that to be treated like a professional, you must first act like one), I am the first to admit that I am currently not. It is a goal I aspire to, but one I have yet to reach. I would certainly love to dedicate a full 40+ hours per week to weaving my little GPF web for your amusement and entertainment, but the simple fact remains that GPF does not pay the mortgage yet and I thus must devote those 40+ hours to another job that does. Until such time that GPF can meet all my financial needs, it shall remain what it is today: a little side business, not much more than an over-glorified hobby, that pays for itself, provides me a bit of a creative outlet, and hopefully entertains a few people along the way. Ergo, I do not consider myself a professional. I will, however, continue to strive to become one, and I will continue to attempt to conduct myself in as professional a manner as I can. Going back once again to my eight years of archives, I think I’ve gone a long way in establishing such a reputation. That, however, is left up to you as readers to judge.

Finally, I’m afraid this “M.” has a rather glamorous and inaccurate view of the state of newspaper syndication. Perhaps he hasn’t actually met any syndicated cartoonists. Well, I have, and the realities they reveal paint a sobering picture. Syndicated cartoonists have not received a raise in their pay since the 1970s. Having your comic syndicated does not guarantee that it will actually appear in any papers (and thus does not guarantee a paycheck either). The real money to be made from syndicated comics comes not from the distribution of the material itself but from merchandising–the Snoopy Snow Cone Makers and Garfields with the suction cups on their paws–and those deals only come to the most successful of artists. These points are dower enough, yet they ignore the facts that artists tend to lose all ownership of their syndicated work (which becomes the property of the syndicate) and that newspapers are steadily dying in this age of instant gratification via the Internet.

At one point, I actively considered pursuing syndication for GPF. I soon came to realize that this was extremely unlikely to happen. GPF’s audience is too narrow, too much of a niche, for a syndicate to seriously consider. Its serial nature is also something that would be heavily frowned upon, as comics with continuity are generally turned down in favor of those that you can miss any number of installments and still get the punch line. And then there’s the fact that my primary audience would be much more likely to get their news and information online than from the “out-of-date from the moment it’s printed” lag of a newspaper. (The last time I think I bought a paper was in 2000, when my old home town rag ran a story about my first book.) When I had the facts in the previous paragraph relayed to me by those actually in the field, I put all these equations together and completely abandoned the idea of syndication, deciding to concentrate my energies on online distribution. There is no future in the traditional newspaper medium; the media conglomerates know this, and that’s why you see the steady transition of newspapers to the Internet. While “M.” may be more likely to buy a paper than to subscribe to a Web site, he is of a dying breed. He can keep listening to his 8-tracks and vinyl LPs while watching those Betamax videos; the future of content distribution is obviously firmly planted in the Internet, and I currently see no need to seek backward compatibility.

I apologize to those of you who may disagree with “M.”‘s views, who came here to catch some sort of update about Ben or maybe find another leaked picture of the Gamester. This was more of a therapeutic post than anything else, a way to verbalize my thoughts and justify my issues with this particular e-mail. (Okay, so I haven’t “verbalized” much of anything, which is probably a good thing as I’m afraid I might break my usual calm demeanor with a rash of “bleeping” to keep the audio family-friendly.) You are, of course, free to agree or disagree with either set of opinions that you wish. Personally, I think my opinions are back up by some very strong facts and logical conclusions, and therefore consider the matter closed. The real question I have now is whether or not I’ll open this post up for comments, and if I do, for how long.

Regardless, I feel a bit more relaxed now. If I don’t post any sooner, I’ll see you all on November 6th. I firmly believe there will be a strip that day, and with any luck, two more the rest of that week.

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