Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why Should You Continue Your Webcomic?

I don't usually use the word "should," especially when it comes to webcomics. Whenever I hear advice about webcomics in the form of "you should do this," I question it. Why do we make comics on the web, other than to let go of the externally imposed standards of companies, publishers, and society in general, and do whatever the heck we want to?

I've noticed that our society has a particularly strong stigma against the idea of quitting something, and I think the strength of the stigma is harmful to people's overall productivity and happiness. We value hard work and dedication - pushing through whatever you're doing, finishing what you started. But I think something we don't value enough is stepping back and evaluating whether or not your effort is actually going somewhere positive. I think one of the most valuable things someone can do is give up on something that they've already put time and effort into, because they realize that it isn't working for them.

This started out being about webcomics, but I guess it could apply to a lot of things. In business, people often have to try several ideas and drop them before they come up with something that works. So if your comic becomes one of those over 50% that die within the first 6 months (I don't know the statistics exactly), consider it an important stepping stone. You learned something about what you don't want, you got experience, and you had enough insight to know that you wanted to give it up and move on to things that are more important to you. Or maybe your circumstances were more drastic than that, I don't know.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from making a comic they love. I just want you to ask yourself, if you are continuing, then why? Because you feel some vague obligation to keep slogging through it, or because you want to? And I want to acknowledge the value in quitting something. What may look like a failed project may be an important step to great success.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why Publish Project Wonderful Ads?

In the past I have talked about why Project Wonderful is a such a good website to advertise on a relatively small scale. One of the reasons is because the cash value of the ad space is very low compared to other ad networks, so a little money goes a long way. However, for publishers, that means less revenue. On Think Before You Think, I publish ads from both Google and Project Wonderful. Although I could probably get more revenue from publishing ads exclusively from Google, I still choose to publish Project Wonderful ads as well. Why, you ask? Mainly two reasons:

1. Each user has a single account for both publishing and advertising. That means once you have gotten some ad revenue, you can use it directly for advertising. I find this convenient - I never have to think about putting money into the account for advertising, I only use the revenue. Since advertising is cheap, for me it is one of the best ways to use those accumulating pennies.

2. Publishing ads on Project Wonderful serves as a form of advertising in itself. Advertisers do their own targeting, and may check out your site to assess its relevance and ad placement, before placing a bid by hand. That means you get visits, and especially if the ad is particularly well-targeted, the advertiser might take interest in your site. I say this because there are numerous webcomics that I have found by advertising on them, and continued to read.

You can assess for yourself whether these advantages make it worthwhile to publish Project Wonderful ads. It seems to me that even having one small ad space would reap these benefits. Also, I just think it's cool to give other comics a chance to advertise on my site by choice, and they can't do that with Google.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Copyrights and Creative Freedom

I'm not an expert on copyrights, but I think I may know enough to write this post. If I'm wrong about something, feel free to point it out.

In this post I want to explain why I chose my copyright terms for Think Before You Think. Specifically, that I allow people to distribute fan works, such as fiction, comics, and animation, for profit, as long as they give credit to what they're borrowing (The full terms are listed here). I think this is a step beyond what most webcomic creators allow. Many these days are choosing a form of the Creative Commons license that retains the right to alter their work or distribute any form of it for profit. I think the Creative Commons license is useful for people whose wants fit it, and a positive step towards creative freedom compared to a copyright that reserves all rights. However, as independent creators of original content, we can set our own copyright terms as specifically as we want to, as long as we don't claim any rights that we don't already have.

So why do I want to allow people to distribute fan works for profit? There are actually quite a few reasons:

1. I want to see fan works of my work. I know not all creators are as comfortable with this as I am, but I crave this kind of thing. I see the profit as an extra incentive. I don't want anyone to be discouraged from writing fan fiction of my work by the fact that they won't be able to profit off of it and they could spend their time and energy writing something profitable instead.

2. I don't think I would lose any potential profit from this arrangement. In fact, if people are able to distribute and promote their fan works freely, while giving credit, I think it would add to the amount of publicity that my comic gets, without me doing any extra work.

3. I want to contribute to creative freedom. I think it's limiting, not to be able to profit off of a work that you put a lot of time and energy into. And I've seen people get so immersed in writing fan fiction that it's all they ever want to do. I also don't want people to have to worry about how much inspiration they're getting from one particular source when they create something. I want to contribute to a creative world that is more fluid, where people can take the ideas they need from other creators and harvest them.

4. I want to set an example for other independent creators of original content. I don't see a lot of people specify terms like this, and I think if more people did, we'd have a creative environment more similar to the one I described above. I don't expect everyone to, because for one thing, I know some people aren't as comfortable with the idea of people taking their characters and doing whatever they want with them. But I think there are also more people like me out there, who love seeing fan fiction of their own work, and maybe this idea just hasn't occurred to them.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What and Why Is a Plot?

When I was in grade school, I learned about plots. I was given a diagram that looked something like this:
As students, we were taught to write stories that matched this diagram, always introducing conflict at a certain point (the inciting incident) and so on. I never really understood what everything meant, though, in fact I still don't. I don't think I ever really knew what exactly a climax in a story is. Looking back on it, I realize that a message I somehow got from all this was that all stories should fit this diagram, and few of the stories that I read actually did in a way that made any sense to me.

There are multiple problems with this idea, when I look back on it now. For one thing, the diagram is an oversimplification. Many stories have plots that include these plot elements, but they aren't necessarily well-defined, or in this particular order, or occurring only once in the story.

Another problem, which is more notable to me, is that this plot structure is just one aspect of creative writing. I was taught to write stories like this, and I found it to be constraining and unintuitive. As soon as I let go of the idea of plots, specifically formulaic ones, I had this realization of "I can take a story wherever I want." It was liberating. And yet it seems so obvious.

I know plots can have different forms, but now I often reject the idea of plots as applied to my own work, because I associate them with this idea that fiction should be a certain way. I write Think Before You Think, and I never say that it has a plot - to me it's just a somewhat spontaneous progression of events, and if a plot somehow happens to it, then sobeit.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

I'm Not a Real Writer, I'm Just Making This Up!

When I first started Think Before You Think, I didn't feel like I was a real writer. I was just making everything up as I went along. I didn't put much thought into the plot or the storyline, I just let stuff happen spontaneously. And I still do that - that's the way my comic is written.

Before a few weeks ago, writing my comic was something that I had to put effort into in order to keep up with my schedule. I wasn't inspired to write very often, and when I was, I had to really milk it. But lately I've been overcome with this unending, uncontrollable inspiration to write my comic. I've written over a year in advance, and material just keeps pouring out of me with no effort. And I'm starting to feel like I relate to what other writers say when they describe what writing is like for them.

I'm starting to really feel like a writer! And it's not like I write plot outlines now or anything, I just think about my story more and stuff just comes to me, and everything fits together however it falls. I think I'm driven most by my love for my characters, and the more I get to know them, the more I love them.

If you're a writer, have you ever experienced some kind of shift like this?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Messages in Fiction - Brian's Point of View

People often talk about fiction in terms of the messages it expresses, or the ideologies that the author is trying to convey through it. People sometimes ask me what sorts of messages I'm trying to convey with my comic, Think Before You Think. The truth is, I don't always know. Although it deals with some serious issues, I would say the primary purpose of it is to entertain, but there are indeed messages in it, because I think whenever a person creates a work of fiction, it will reflect the way the person thinks, and that person's values will come out somehow.

My characters often say things in ways that I don't agree with, or that I would never say myself. Of all my characters, though, I think the one whose worldview is the closest to my own would be Brian. This makes sense, in a way, because Brian is the most omniscient character in the comic (he knows what everyone is thinking) so his view of the world he lives in would probably be more balanced and accurate than most people's, but still subject to my own biases, which are foisted upon his universe.

But I also think Brian's approach to life is very similar to mine. He is, at times, painfully honest, and that nearly gets him into trouble sometimes. Or course, Brian is a somewhat reserved character - he rarely states opinions, and the audience never sees his thoughts, so the messages that come through Brian are somewhat subtle.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Webcomic Potential

Before I started Think Before You Think, I wasn't a big fan of webcomics. I'm still not a big fan of webcomics, although I've found a few that I really like now. That was one of the main reasons why I started TBYT - because I couldn't find anything like it. I wanted to create something I liked that didn't exist yet. The way I saw it, most webcomics fit into certain genres that didn't appeal to me much - fantasy, video games, fake manga, etc. I saw a lot of potential that didn't seem to exist yet in comics. And I actually got a lot of my inspiration from TV.

There's a lot of advice floating around the internet about how to make webcomics. I don't really like advice much, especially as applying to something so my own as my comic. There's all this stuff out there about writing and plots. I never liked plots much. They tend to either follow a predictable pattern, or be way too complicated for me. That's one thing that makes Questionable Content unique - it progresses, but it doesn't suffer from this plot thing.

They say not to break the fourth wall. I think some of the most interesting ideas come from breaking the fourth wall, but they say that because so many people do it in a clich├ęd fashion. When I made my Lifehouse fan comic, I ripped out the fourth wall and twisted it back over itself, and made it into a fourth wall mobius strip.

I think sometimes following advice inhibits people's creativity. Like they're looking for a way they're "supposed" to do things when really it might be best to do the opposite. When it comes to webcomics, I don't think you need to think too far outside the box to be original.