Why You Don’t Need A Buffer for Your Web Comic

Today’s article is the first of a two-part debate. Guest writer Drowemos Eseotevahi of Exiern presents his views on why webcomic writers and artists don’t need a buffer. Tomorrow, I present the opposing view. It’s up to you to decide which side you come down on.

Friends, webcomicers, Internet workers, I come before you today to burry buffers not to praise them.

It is one of the few orthodoxies of webcomics, the one rule we tell one another, the thing we believe is essential over all other things. A webcomic can have any art style, any topic. It can be family friendly or pornographic. You can do anything you want with a webcomic. But you must have a buffer.

That’s what we tell each other. We post it of forms, proclaim it podcasts – even write it in books. With out a buffer you’re setting yourself up for failure. That’s the one rule of webcomics.

And it’s a total lie.

In fact, with a buffer you’re setting yourself up for failure not the other ways around.

The way I see it there are 5 reasons buffers are bad for webcomics:

  1. Buffers delay the launch of the comic;
  2. Buffers cause you to fail later when more people are watching;
  3. Buffers create an unrealistic update schedule;
  4. Buffers separate the artist from the readership; and
  5. Buffers prevent the comics being topical.

Delaying the Launch

A stack of sketches for a webcomic.

You've drawn all these comics and not even launched yet?

Delaying the launch of a comic is one of the cardinal sins of buffers, if you ask me. It takes time to build up a buffer; time where the creator is not getting feedback from a readership or money from advertising. It makes the task of creating the comic that more unpleasant because the simple rewards of sharing the story are not there. We all know the story of the really talented artist who is forever planning and refining his comic; always getting ready to launch and never actually posting something on the web.

The simple praise of someone saying “I like this” is the lifeblood of a comic creator in the early stages of creating a comic. It gives you hope and the will to move on.  A buffer starves the creator of this lifeblood and kills a comic in the womb. When you are creating a comic, you should set up a system that makes success easy if not unavoidable. Toiling away in obscurity when you could be getting the support of a community is not making success easy.

Delay Now, Fail Later

So let me tell you a tale of two comics: one about a grasshopper, and one about an ant. The creator of the ant comic toiled away all summer to create a buffer where the grasshopper creator just launched his comic after he drew the first page.

Well one week after launch, the grasshopper comic ran into trouble and had to go on a hiatus and reconsider how his comic was done. The ant comic on the other hand updated regularly for a full year even though he had the same troubles as the grasshopper comic. Instead of going on break and fixing the problem the buffer slowly got used up. At the end of the year, the ant comic had to go on hiatus because the buffer was gone and the troubles of the comic were now apparent.

Well the grasshopper comic was able to change the method of production with no negative effect. The problem happened before many readers had come along and the few readers that it did have were friends of the creator and very understanding.

The ant comic on the other hand lost half of the readership it built up over that year before it went on hiatus. The creator was deluged by nasty letters from readers who were upset over his “unprofessionalism” in making his comic. The changes that were necessary to get the comic to be sustainable produced another wave of nasty comments and another loss of readership.

Both grasshopper comic and ant comic had the same “trouble” but grasshopper was able to correct it early with little negative effect whereas ant suffered greatly for not fixing the problem at the start. The buffer magnified the problem because it delayed the point where it need to be dealt with and fixed.

The moral? When it comes to webcomics, be a grasshopper and live in the moment so you can see the problems now, not later.

Unrealistic Scheduling

I was sort of vague about what the problem was in the previous example but the problem that buffers make worse all the time is an unrealistic update schedule. New webcomicers make this mistake all the time: they update their comic at the exact rate they can produce comics. If you have no buffers you soon realize that your optimal rate is not the same as your average rate. Buffers by their nature cover up bad schedules by slowly getting used up while the creator keeps on telling himself that he will replenish the buffer… later. Of course later never comes and eventually the creator has to slow down his update schedule. Slowing down once people have gotten used to your schedule upsets them to no end.

Separating the Artist From the Reader

Webcomics are an interactive medium; the readership has a direct line of communication with the author. This is a major part of the draw of webcomics for readers: the knowledge that they have influence over the story.

Many, many times I have changed my story because the readers liked or disliked something in it a lot more than I expected. It has always made the comic better and the readers love it. This is the power of webcomics.

A buffer kills this interaction. The stuff that the readers are so excited about will be a chapter behind what you are creating. You will not be able to change the story and, honestly, you will not be that interested in what the readers are talking about because that’s not what you’re work on. The buffer creates an wall between the creator & the reader and undermines the fundamental power of webcomics over traditional comics.

The Barrier to Topicality

In the same way that a buffer separates you from the readers, it also separates you from current events. Granted sometimes you can slip a topical comic in front of buffer pages but if you engage in any sort of story telling in your comic, this can destroy the flow of a story.

Why should it matter if you can’t slip topical events into your comic?  Because comics are viral and if you can say something funny about the latest hot topic, you can get your comic shared all over the world in an instant. Working a month ahead deprives you of this potential and decreased the viral potential of your comic. Yet again you are making success more difficult.

So why?

If buffers are so bad for comics, if they increase the suffering in producing them and makes success more difficult, why do all the professional recommend them? I believe there are 3 reasons: ego; tradition; and broken hearts.

Ego because we want to make the creation of a webcomic more difficult, thus increasing our status for accomplishing that task.

Tradition because that is what the print publishers always asked for, so why not ask for it in webcomics.

Broken hearts because we love to read comics and our hearts are broken when a good comic stops. We don’t want to be hurt again, so we want to make sure a creator is going to follow through.

But here’s the thing: the psychological problems of webcomic professionals are not your problem. A buffer is a bad practice and you shouldn’t have to create one just to make the professionals feel better about themselves.

Instead I would like to propose a new type of buffer. I would like to propose a buffer that is not a collection of comics, but a collection of time. 15% of the time you could spend on making and publishing a comic, you don’t spend on it. Instead you spend that time on yourself; making sure you are happy and sane. Go for a walk, read a book, spend time with your family and feel good about it because that creates your “buffer”.

If a problem arises, you can reach into this time reserve to maintain your schedule. If it’s a really big problem that eats up all your time, well then a buffer of comics wouldn’t have saved you either

Work a couple of comics ahead. Have a modest buffer of 3 or 4 comics. But a 30 page buffer is a determent, not an aid. The true key to success is time management and having a reserve of time, not a reserve of art.

I say now and forever: down with the comic buffer! Long live the time buffer!

Tags: , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply