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Webcomic Buffers And You, for #WeHeartComics

Webcomic Buffers And You, for #WeHeartComics published on No Comments on Webcomic Buffers And You, for #WeHeartComics

I keep turning up new webcomic-related Twitter discussions. This one was an (irregular?) offering from WeHeartComics, a product of the SpiderForest collective. (Think “Hiveworks for artists who aren’t into bees.”)

Last Friday was a chat about buffers. Which was a striking thing to jump into, because I’d just been listening to the ComicLab episode where the hosts go “ahh, regular updates are so 10 years ago! Just update whenever you draw something. Readers will be into it.”

And that works great if you’re Kate Beaton (of Hark! A Vagrant) or Sarah Andersen (of Sarah’s Scribbles), where your whole thing is random self-contained standalone bits. (It also helps if they’re Really Good standalones.) But, listen, it’s all wrong for a comic with any kind of continuity. If you slack on the updates there, readers will forget where they are in the story, and end up losing interest.

I don’t know if if strict update times are necessary in the social-media age. Nobody knows when Webcomic Woes is going to update, and it doesn’t matter, because as long as you stay on top of your Patreon/Deviantart/Tumblr feed, it’ll be served up to you.

But for those story-based comics, you’ve got to keep a regular update rate (e.g. “twice a week”). So you may as well keep the posting dates and times consistent too. Keeps your life simple, makes it easier to track your to-do list.

And with that, on to the questions…

For Leif & Thorn, yes. I like titling strips in the format of “This Storyline 1/24” (a tic picked up from Bruno The Bandit)…and that only works if my buffer reaches the end of This Storyline.

The current arc is getting broken up into sub-acts — starting with “The Show Must Grow On: Overture” — mostly because I’m not far enough to have the numbers otherwise. Did the same thing splitting off the 14-strip An Incredibly Platonic Shopping Day, even though it leads straight (hah) into the next storyline, because Summer Sunshine clocked in at a full 84 strips. I could manage to be 84 strips ahead, but not 98.

As of this writing, I’ve drawn 18 strips into The Show Must Grow On: Act I. Which is…not bad, but there’s gonna need to be a crackdown of work this weekend. And the next one. And probably the next.

For But I’m A Cat Person — eheh, it used to have a buffer. Now I’m almost always working one page ahead. Talked a lot about the effects of that in an earlier WebcomicChat about pacing.

And then there’s Webcomic Woes, which is bufferless by nature. It gets made on a “whenever I have an idea” basis, and I don’t have more than one relevant idea per day.

This here is a heroic effort. I’ve never had a full-page buffer that long.

(Technically, I’m 50-ish updates ahead with Leif & Thorn right now — but since it’s a daily strip, that only comes out to a month and a half’s worth of lead time.)

…and here we have the winner of this thread.

Low buffer gives you a quick turnaround on “whoops, readers didn’t understand that reference, I’ll have a character explain it on the next page.” High buffer gives you security in case you fall out of a tree and have to put your drawing arm in a cast for three months.

…and then there’s algorithms. Or, on a site like mine, the Webcomic plugin is configured to send cranky emails if the buffer runs low.

Although I find that having a large buffer, so you can redo something while it’s in the buffer, is much easier than redoing it after it’s posted! If you realize on page 10 that you need a Chekhov’s gun that should’ve been on the wall on page 1, you really want page 1 to be unposted. I’ve resorted to post-posting edits, but only in the case of serious continuity errors.

(If you’re really bored some afternoon, go through the BICP archives page-by-page and see how many errors you can spot compared to the originals — which are all preserved on the SmackJeeves mirror.)

With Leif & Thorn: hasn’t been a problem. (Knock wood.)

With BICP: uh, mostly posting stuff late with apologies. The comic was originally 3 pages a week, and I couldn’t keep that up full-time, so I took it down to 2 (it goes back up sometimes for special events, like the second Christmas special), and that helped.

I do a week or two of filler between chapters, and I’ve given myself a couple longer hiatuses…but do not have the discipline to use them for buffering, heh. I just use them to recharge before jumping back into the “whoops, gotta draw tomorrow’s page now” rollercoaster.

Waaaay back in the day (2003!), And Shine Heaven Now had 6-strips-a-week updates. When my Dell died and the buffer ran out, I drew a week of filler at the library in MSPaint rather than go updateless.

In retrospect, under the circumstances, I’m sure readers would’ve forgiven a mini-hiatus! But for some reason it honestly didn’t occur to me as an option.

Work up a big one before your comic actually launches. I had several months of Leif & Thorn drawn before I started posting, and the buffer has been healthy ever since.

After that, just pace yourself. Figure out what your workflow is, and adapt your schedule to work with it! Some authors like writing out a script beforehand, others like working it out as they draw. Some artists need strict and well-planned schedules, others (*cough*) get revved up by looming deadlines. In the immortal words of Jan Valentine: whatever works is cool.

…I mean, if your comic is suited to irregular updates, you can always just do that.

If not, you’re allowed to take breaks. Just give your readers accurate information about your plans, and then stick to them. Don’t be the person whose site still says “after this short hiatus, My Awesome Comic will return in May 2017!” when it’s April 2018.

If you can’t do irregular updates, and you can’t make a buffer, and it’s too stressful to keep up regular updates, and you can’t even get back from hiatus…then maybe this isn’t the comic you should be doing, and it’s time to gracefully bow out. (More on that next post.)

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