Banner Ad Hot Seat: Principal is an Alien, Cat Prentis and Deadeye Dick
The third installment of the 2012 Banner Ad Hotseat. Same concept as always: I talk about three banners from participating cartoonists and then open up the discussion to the group. Links to the comics being discussed are in the headers.
There are some serious problems with the typography in this banner. For example, you have to be really careful when you’re screwing with letters. It’s swell to let one of the letters morph into a mouth, but that also puts a capital “C” at the end of the word “Alien.” And the entire left-hand side of the banner could be designed to give the words more impact. We know this is true by the expanse of wasted space above the word “Principal.” That’s prime advertising real estate there… just going to waste. When you see that in your ad, it’s a tip-off that you might have more work to do (unless you’re a very good designer with training and experience in constructively using neutral space). But I’m going to skip all of that to get to a larger point.
This banner is indicative of a larger problem with the comic itself: Lack of identity. Here’s what I mean… read this excerpt from the New Readers page:
If you don’t want to read through the archives and would rather have the Cliff Notes version, here it is: This strip is about a boy, his friends, and their adventures at an elementary school located at the corner of Weird and Strange.
Make sense? No? I get that a lot.
If you get that a lot, you should fix it. If indeed, this comic is “the artists attempt to learn more about comics, develop his own skills as an artist and writer, and pass that knowledge on to others,” (About page) then let’s start the learning process by responding to feedback.
What is this comic about? Skimming the archives, it seems to be a fairly standard kid’s-point-of-view comic set in a somewhat fanciful neighborhood setting. Trees come to life and give chase (as do science-fair projects).
I don’t see any aliens. Or principals. But that’s the only information that the banner is giving me. The banner shows a kid who is about to get eaten by a strange-looking green mouth. When I click that ad, I fully expect to see some sort of school-based sit-com revolving around an extraterrestrial administration (which is actually a pretty good hook). But instead I have — and I have to be honest — a fairly cookie-cutter kids strip. Kids mow the lawn in a Family Circus-style pattern and when a kid walks the dog, it’s more like it’s the other way around like when Linus would walk Snoopy in Peanuts.
And that’s OK. Jon is being upfront with his readers, saying that he’s using this comic to find his way, and I respect that.
But here’s my point: The banner has to reflect the comic. And this one simply doesn’t. Instead of illustrating a title that has little-or-nothing to do with the core concept of the comic, I’d rather see that banner present a one-line gag from the comic — a representation of the kind of art/humor you could expect from the comic itself — and ride on the merits of that. In a case like this, I wouldn’t even include the title of the strip since it doesn’t seem to lend anything to the understanding of the comic’s theme.
You could easily re-purpose a comic (like the last panel in this strip) as a banner, for example, and it would tell readers tons more about your comic than the current banner.
But more importantly, and I feel strongly about this in general (so please don’t read this as my picking on Jon specifically) you shouldn’t be advertising your comic until your work is strong enough to really retain readers. And I know that’s an unpopular sentiment. But really… Jon’s upfront about this: He’s learning. His work isn’t very good right now, but this is the only way he’s going to get better. There’s no shame in that. I was there once, too. We all were. Just look at the first Greystone Inn strip. Today I’m doing work I’m very proud of, but I had to start there to get here.
I would much rather see all of his energy put into working on the craft of comics rather than see him spending his time (and money) advertising a comic that just isn’t there yet.
All in all, this is a really good start. In fact, we can make this a really effective banner with just a few tweaks.
This is always a challenge when advertising a b&w comic. If you create a full-color banner, you run the risk of your readers feeling cheated when they click over to see a b&w comic. And that’s not a great first-impression when you’re trying to retain readers. So keeping the art b&w is a good move. And, as we talked about in the case of the Overcast with a Chance of Doom banner, using a single accent color is a really effective way of making a banner with b&w art more engaging.
But that yellow-and-red color scheme — especially jammed right next to each other is… well… unattractive and pretty jarring to the eyes.
Especially when limiting your choice to one color is so much better. Just look:
Whew. That’s a whole lot easier on the eyes, isn’t it. And I could have just as easily decided to go with the red instead of the yellow.
Fight Evil. Pass Algebra.
That’s a wonderful tag line. I love it.
But it would be stronger if it were bigger. And right now, presented the way it is. It has almost zero impact.
When I’m designing, I follow a strict motto of “if it doesn’t add, then it must be subtracting.”
That URL? It’s taking up space that I need. As I’ve argued in the past, since the banner is hyperlinked, you don’t need to show the URL. No one is manually typing a URL into the browser to follow that ad to your site. And they’re not memorizing URLs from the banner ads they skim past as they go from Web site to Web site.
So I can painlessly get rid of it. And when I do…
Holy smokes. Just take a minute and look at the original. And then come back here.
You don’t miss that URL a bit — once you see what you were preventing yourself from doing by insisting on keeping it. 🙂
OK… this falls more under personal preference, but I’m gonna throw it out there. I really, really love the tagline. I think it’s awesome. So why isn’t the chalkboard showing some sort of algebraic formula?
Algebra uses letters. You could come up with a formula that spells out “Thwart” (or some similar evil-stopping word). For example.
Listen, every Simpsons episode has started with Bart using the exact same gag as this banner. And how many episodes has that been? Like a thousand or something. And the Simpsons isn’t exactly a cult favorite — it’s a mainstream smash.
In other words, nobody is looking at that banner and chuckling to themselves, “oh, how clever… do you see what she wrote on the board?” It’s just not doing the job.
It doesn’t have to be algebra.
But it does have to be better.
See what I mean about supporting b&w art with a single color. This banner is beautiful.
But it’s wordy as hell. Your typical reader isn’t reading a banner ad; they’re skimming. That means we’ve got to get to the point as quickly as possible.
Let’s edit, shall we?
OK. Here’s the core concept of the joke. We’re using “discharge” as a double meaning — (1) gun and (2) penis / premature ejaculation.
Can we boil that down to one sentence? Here’s one way…
Early discharge: Great for duels. Bad for dates.
Two sentences — max? maybe something like
Word balloon, offpanel: You won the duel!
Narration: For once, Dick was proud of his early discharge.
I’ll bet there are others.
Bottom line: Two narration boxes and two word balloons are too much reading for a banner ad. And it’s actually a little tough to understand with more words. I’ll argue that — besides being quicker — both of my suggestions get the point across a lot more clearly than the original.