Why Buffers Matter

Those of you who visit the site regularly (or even those of you who look at the date stamp on the last article before this one) will have noticed that I haven’t posted for a week or so. The reason for this is twofold: I’ve not been well, and the site had no buffer.

We can’t do much about the former. When illness strikes, it generally strikes without warning. We can, nay must, do something about the latter. Without a buffer, your comic will very likely suffer when something comes up.

What is a buffer?
When content has to be produced on time and on a regular basis, there is always the chance that something will go wrong and you’ll be unable to keep up the pace. In order to avoid those situations, it’s important to keep a reserve of content that can be fed out to fill in the gaps. This is what we call a buffer, and it comes in a variety of forms.

Type One: The Pile
In many cases, the buffer is simply a pile of comics that the artist has built up because they produce them faster than they are updated on the website. When this sort of buffer is used, the comic you saw today would have been drawn a week or more ago and the one the artist actually created today won’t go live on the site for another week or two.

This sort of buffer acts on the fact that when the artist creates a comic, they schedule it on the site in a way that is akin to simply putting it on the top of a pile. The website then pulls the next comic off the bottom of the pile and feeds it to the readers as an when required. If the artist can’t create a comic on a certain day, for whatever reason, the pile gets smaller but the readers don’t miss out.

Type Two: The Interval
The other main type of buffer is that special reserve of short stories (which could measure in length anything from a one-page gag to a week or so’s worth of content) that the artist calls on when, for whatever reason, they can’t produce the next story.

These are rarely in keeping with the main plot of the comic, hence the name of the buffer. Sometimes they take the form of humorous asides in an otherwise serious comic; or maybe a chance to look ‘backstage’; or a question and answer session where the characters read out “readers’ letters” (these don’t have to be genuine, of course).

This type of buffer is less common than The Pile because it means the artist has to write a separate story and keep it to one side, just in case it’s needed. Do you want to put time and effort into a creation that might not be seen; or if it is seen, it may come at a time when your art style has evolved so much the work is no longer in keeping with the comic? It’s something to consider when taking this route.

Of course, where interval comics are created but not used for a while they can always turn up as extras in the comic’s next collected volume. That’s a distinct advantage that users of The Pile can miss out on.

Type Three: Dead Piro Days
I’m not normally one for MegaTokyo-bashing but sometimes it’s necessary to use them as an example because, in my experience, most people have at least heard of MegaTokyo even if they’ve not seen it for themselves. In this case, I’m using the site as a bad example.

Dead Piro Days are a variant on The Interval. At their most basic, they are the first frame of the next comic, posted on the update before that comic will go live as a way of saying “hey guys, I know I should have something for you today but I don’t – I’m still working on the comic though, as you can see from this picture!” My response to that is always to think “Hey, if you’ve got the comic done, just post it!”. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Alternatively, a character design sketch or other piece of throwaway art can be used in place of an update. It gives the readers something to look at and stop there being a gap in the archive calendar. It doesn’t give the reader any real content however, and it screws up anyone doing an archive binge but at least it’s something, right?

I’m guilty of trying this route when I’ve had no strip on update day and no buffer either. It’s the reason I’m so harsh on this approach to webcomicing. It’s not pretty, it doesn’t look professional and you should seriously reconsider using one of the other two forms if you’re going to have a buffer.

Are there any disadvantages?
Buffers take time to build up, and some of us don’t have that time to spend on what is essentially a hobby. They also have the disadvantage that if you’ve got a fanbase that actually talks to you, you’re going to have to keep stuff back from them all the time, because you know what’s going to happen far in advance of them (if you’re doing a story-based comic, you’ll probably know this feeling already).

Nevertheless, there is a massive advantage to buffers. If you look at the Project Wonderful stats for this site from last week, you’ll see there was a significant drop in readership during the time I couldn’t post anything. The same will happen to your comic if you miss a few updates, and a buffer will stop that happening. This alone should be a reason why they’re worth the time and effort to create.

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