Hot Seat: Area Unknown, Blow the Cartridge, and Noah’s Brother’s Ark
It’s time to kick off another round of Hot Seat critiques. This is a unique opportunity for us to get down-and-dirty with the craft of comics — and some of the best practices of business, marketing, social media and more.
The “Hitch It / Ditch It” Hot Seat is one of the more popular of the critique series. The rules are simple: I go to your site and point of one thing you’re doing well, and one thing that might stand some improvement.
But that’s only the beginning of the discussion.
Members (especially members who have asked for critiques in the past or plan on doing so in the future) are encouraged to add their own thoughtful responses.
The point isn’t to elect a new King of Comics (or point out a goat) — rather, this is a chance to talk about the how and why of what it is we do.
Hitch It: I really like the art. It’s clean and descriptive. Great job.
Ditch It: I can see by your archive that you’re just starting out. And you’re making a lot of novice-level errors. So at the risk of making you feel like I’m unloading on you, I’m going to list the biggest problems here. Luckily, they’re all very easy to address. And I think you’ll notice a big difference once you do.
First, I think there’s way much wasted space at the top of the site.
Plus, all of the menu buttons across the top are different type-sizes. This makes your site look amateurish. “Contact” is particularly unattractive.
There’s lots of information on this topic on the site regarding optimizing your “first screen view.” I think the site would be much stronger if there were other elements (ads, promos, site features) higher up on the site.
The social-media buttons are too far away from the comic to be useful. Your reader is quite likely to think that those buttons apply to the blog (and not the comic) — because, after all, they’re visually separated from the comic.
Worse, yet, those are the wrong kind of social-media buttons. When I click them, I get taken to your Twitter feed. That’s not very useful. You want social-media buttons that enable your readers to help promote your comic. And that’s pretty easy to set up.
Beyond that, you’re making a very basic error with your gutters — specifically, you’re not using them. That’s going to create problems with your pages — such as ambiguous images where the reader is unable to discern panel borders from the lines used to build scenes.
I’ve tried to read several pages in your archive. It’s almost impossible to navigate your page designs because I don’t know where the panels are. My eye keeps seeing horizontal and vertical lines as panel borders and vice versa. I wanted to comment on the story you’re writing, but I have to be honest: trying to read these pages is such a frustrating experience, I gave up after about three pages.
Gutters are your single greatest tool in building a comics page. Use them.
Finally, please read this post and consider the points that it makes. I think longform comics have an un-exploited advantage that almost all longform creators are missing.
Hitch It: Good site design. The background, the navigation buttons. I like the “theming” aspect of the site design. There’s a lot of interesting and fun stuff to be found under the comic. Nicely designed! And your blogging is excellent!
Ditch It: The writing is a complete miss for me. But I know nothing about old video games. So I’m going to ask you this: How are people responding to your humor? Are they sharing your comics? Are you getting favorable comments?
My gut tells me that you’re suffering from a problem that I see very often in humor writers. Specifically, you’re stopping at clever instead of pushing your concepts to truly funny places. Here’s an example:
That’s clever. But it’s not funny. Funny is what happens when he tries to put his (useless) thief skills into practical use. Funny is what happens when the teacher asks to be paid for his services (and is the victim of a “mugging” that consists of nothing but crouching and face-hiding). Funny is any number of things that happen after we push this concept past clever and take the situation to ridiculous places.
That’s a clever idea — and a common humor framework. You’re exaggerating something until it’s no longer serious. These two fire their guns so much that they’re literally always firing their weapons — even through a meal. Clever.
Funny is what happens when he asks her to pass the salt. Does she shoot the shaker? Does she shoot next to it and ricochet it into his hand? Does she turn to hand him the salt and shoot him? And if they eat, they’re going to have to go to the bathroom. How does that happen?
Funny is what happens when you push past clever and go careening headlong into ridiculous.
But here’s the biggest thing holding your comic back — lack of context. I know you have the game title up in the upper left-hand corner in itty-bitty lettering. But, for anyone but a hardcore gamer, that’s just not enough.
I wonder if a new approach to this comic might be something to consider. One way to accomplish this would be to switch to a first-person narrative, and let the comic become your personal reminiscences of having played these games.
“When I first played “Nam-1975,” I played for three hours straight without lifting my finger off the “‘fire’ button…”
<scene changes to the video game>
Narration: “Those guys NEVER had to reload…”
It might be a decent way to sneak a little context into the comic in order to make it approachable from a broader base of readers.
Hitch It: I love the art — the character designs, the colors, the draftsmanship. The lines are clean, and the scenes are descriptive and legible.
And the humor-writing is quite nice, too. This one was charming as hell.
And the site itself is terrific. There are lots of great things in the first-screen view. I like the ease of jumping into the beginning of the storyline. I like the incoming and outgoing social media. And although I like the “We’re on ComiXology” button,” I think — instead of the ComiXology logo — it would be stronger still if those were simply book covers with links to the appropriate ComiXology hyperlinks.
Ditch It: I don’t have a problem with the uppercase/lowercase lettering per se, but if you’re going to do that, I think you need to bump the size up a little bit. It’s a little hard to read as it is right now.
Also, I’d like to see navigation buttons above and below this comic. That goes for any vertical comic. It’s a huge plus in providing your readers with an easy way to navigate comics they’ve already read without having to scroll down to get to the buttons they need.