Saturday, September 08, 2012

Supporting Your Local Comic Store

Every town has one. And yet for some reason most webcomic creators seem to have divorced themselves from them for some reason. The usual reason is that they do not read printed comics anymore, or that they are past that phase as a reader. Well, you need to go back and make friends. Now.

I am talking about the local comic book store. This is where the geeks hang out, swapping stories about their heroes, what their favorite villains are up to, and which comics are worse that month. It is a place that everyone knows everyone else' name, and the place you need to make friends with at some point in time.

Eventually you are going to want to do a dead tree version of your comic, and then you are going to do something silly like try to sell it. In order to do so, you are going to need to have a local ally. You are going to need someone to buy your book for the local store, and you need to know someone there. So go back there and make friends.

More importantly, it can can give you a way to talk to other comic nerds and explore what makes the stories and characters so important. Sure, you can do that online, but sometimes you need to talk to people in real life; you need to know that people really exist and aren't just some advanced artificial intelligence program. It gives you a way to discuss problems you may be having with a story, and see what they would do about it. If nothing else, you can smash someone's theory about how Superman should win against a particular enemy.

The bottom line is that we all need that human touch once in a while. You need an excuse to get out of the house, and talking to someone is not a bad way to do it. Sure, there are parties and such, but sometimes just talking to another person with the same interests is a lot better than getting drunk and getting laid. Not often, admittedly, but it is something you can count on doing at least....

Guest Starring In Someone Else' Strip

One of the best ways to get people interested in your comic is to have your character guest star in someone else's comic. This is not as easy as it may sound.

The first step is to talk someone into guesting your character. This can be simple or complicated, depending on how well you the person. The ideal would be a reciprocal deal, where characters from both strips show up in the other, but that is something that can be negotiated. You may have to promise something, such as money or some special favor, but some people will do it for something as simple as a link. However you do it, do it; it's some great publicity for both sides and it can build some interesting links between the two comics.

You have to work out some sort of justification. The simplest is the “face in the crowd”, where the character just appears in a crowd of characters. The most complicated is the “multiversal cafe”, where characters from a variety of universes show up and either just meet or get assigned to some Grand Quest. This is not advised unless you have a story that works for everyone, and that everything has been worked out. Slightly better is the “quick trip”, where one character shows up in the other strip, does something quick, and then either goes back to original universe or recedes into shadows.

The one major detail worth debating is what similar characters will do when they encounter each other. There are a number of ways of joking around with it, ranging from the characters purposely ignoring the similarities even as other characters comment on it, to one character taking advantage of it, taking over the other's life and, um, sleeping arrangements. There can also be some confusion between the two, as well as one claiming to be the original. Conflicting characters can be handled as needed, but characters with similar designs need to be handled, and it provides for some comparison between the two strips, so have fun with it.

Do not forget to cross-advertise a little. The idea is to get some marketing out of this, and it will not help if it just happens in the background. Post a note on Facebook, tweet it, and let people know! This could be something fun, and it helps if you advertise a little. This can be a great way of getting two or more strips together, and having some fun with all characters and concepts involved. So get going on corssovers, especially if they make sense in the normal world.

Tee Shirt Design 101

Good T-shirt design needs to be looked at. Eventually you are going to want to get some money from your comic, and you are going to make the realization that, “Hey! I can draw! Time to design a shirt!” As there is nothing that I can do to stop you, I may as well give you some advice.

Keep the design simple. If you get nothing from this, get this: KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID. There are some great designs that are very complicated, but the best designs are those that are seen and understood at nearly the same moment. Sure, tour shirts break this rule constantly with that listing on the back, but graphic tees need to make their point almost as soon as you see them. That should be the first test of any design; if it does not make you think or laugh within five seconds of seeing it, it's time to scrap it and go for a different design.

I would point out that there are exceptions to that rule. However, those exceptions combine complicated graphics with a simple point. An Escher print, for example, makes for a great tee shirt design, even though they are all very complicated designs; this is because it conveys a very simply idea that can be grasped immediately and the complicated design emphasizes that point. All I am saying is that a “find Waldo” shirt is going to be a horrible design, unless Waldo is bloody obvious.

The same applies even more so to text. You do not want a viewer to have to stare at the shirt for more than a few moments to read the shirt; this is more of a courtesy to the reader, who should not need to stop to read a shirt, and to the wearer, who should not need to pause so someone can read his shirt. Now, I can see an exception for shirts that you want to draw attention to, but you need to make them the exception, not the rule. It works for some designs, do not get me wrong, but go as light on the text as possible.

Keep in mind also that there are more colors than black and white. White is great because it makes for cheap shirts. Black is great because...yeah, black is just great. But keep in mind that there are other colors out there that people like, such as neon colors. A great option is the baseball tee, which has short colored sleeves and ring shirts, which at least gives you a splash of color. You may not like them, but at least look into other colors and styles than the basic white and black. Please!

[Oh, and while I'm at it: Camisoles. I'm sure that your female potential customers would like something a little sexy and not something that is just a guy's design that has been modified to a camisole. Thank you.]

The last is to keep in mind that the price should be right. Hot Topic can get away with $40 shirts; this is because the people that buy that stuff are on some decent drugs. The price range for most shirts should be in the $10 to $25 range. Combined with simple designs, limited texts, and a few different colors, you should be well on your way to designing a great looking shirt.

Social Media Marketing

When it comes to marketing social media can be a fickle friend. Worse, there are no hard and fast rules for dealing with social media, so you need to develop your own rules. In that spirit, here are some considerations.

  1. Don't just advertise your comic. You don't want to be seen as a spammer, so you need to talk to these people every so often. Post funny pictures, make comments on other people's posts, and basically have some fun with the other people. Become friends with them in more than the sense that you have them on your friend/follower list; actually post things that have nothing to do with your comic. And comment on what you see; you want people to do the same for you, right? So do it for them, even if it's just a like every so often.
  2. Be aware that game friends are unlikely to pay attention to your non-game posts. There are exceptions to this rule, but your gaming friends are unlikely to do more then want your gifts. This is not to say that you should not have any gaming friends, just be aware that they rarely add to your ability to market your comic.
  3. Respond to friend requests as quickly as possible. The general rule is that you should respond within a day or two. This is just a matter of courtesy if nothing else. You can be selective; if I can't see anything in common with someone else, I am unlikely to reciprocate. This is not because I'm a mean person; I just have 5000 slots and I want people who I can talk to. Twitter followers are different; just because someone is following you does not mean you need to follow them, although it's not a bad idea, and it's not like there is a limit.
  4. The big fish aren't as good as you think. Just because someone has 4000 friends on Facebook does not make them any more desirable than someone who only has 40. If anything, I would prefer the one with only 40 sometimes; they are likely to be more active, and so are more likely to check out your posts. Also, they are unlikely to have many friends in common with you as the guy with 4000, and too much overlap is a bad thing. If we know the same 2500 friends, the remaining 1500 are unlikely to be interested in what I'm doing, and most of those friends are unlikely to be very active.
  5. Don't be afraid to drop someone who is obnoxious. I've been dropped a lot because of my religious convictions, and because I will defend my points, sometimes a little too strongly. I sort of expect to be dropped a lot, and I can deal with that. Social media should be people that you like to hang out with. Keep that in mind when someone starts putting a lot of posts on your wall that you find offensive.
  6. It bears repeating, so: You are not required to keep as friends or accept friend requests from people you find offensive. I have a wide variety of friends, and I really hope no psychologist ever sees my friend list; he's going to think I have some serious MPD issues. But that's me; I still drop people who are too strong about advertising their beliefs, I hate spammers, and I really hate people that friend me just to friend me. Sooooo...Yeah, I drop people all the time.
  7. Post new content. Don't just post the same thing everyone else is posting, but occasionally post your own content. And I'm not talking your own comic, but stuff from other sites you see. Or make your own inspirational images. Something. Just don't limit your posts to commenting on other's posts, sharing the same images, and your own links, okay?
  8. Don't feel obligated to share or comment on every post on your wall. If you have enough followers, it will drive you nuts. For that matter, don't feel bad if you occasionally miss a post or so. Heck, don't feel bad if you miss several hours of posts. If you worry about the missing posts, then you will go insane. So don't! If someone really wants to get in touch with you, they can message you. You are not Lucy or Ethel packaging chocolates! Don't sweat the small stuff.
  9. Join groups! I'm not saying join every club on Facebook that has even the slightest link to what you are interested in. Just a few, like half a dozen tops. You want to join groups for added visibility and to get messages out to people who are not on your list; groups also provide a forum for you to talk about topics and get advice. Groups rock! So join some, but not a lot.
  10. Go outside once in a while. My morning constitutional is just an excuse to get out of the house. You need sunlight for a number of reasons, like Vitamin D production. So get out! Your computer will be there when you get back, you can miss messages, and you can feed your addictions when you get back. Just get out now!

I hope these tips help calm nerves, and lead to a much healthier lifestyle. The next level up is suggesting you get rid of all electronics, and I really don't want to go that far....

Organizations: Hostile/SUpportive?

Not every organization supports its agents the same, and sometimes there are even levels of access within the same organization. This level of support needs to be noted, even if that support basically means nothing. However, just like the other variables how well the organization supports its members can determine how you handle it.

[Caveat: This applies to how the organization treats its members in general. A hero and a villain will obviously be treated very differently, with a hero getting access to anything anyone can get him, whereas someone who is generally disliked will be lucky to get a can opener. Someone with a reputation for getting the job done while getting good press or making others feel good is obviously going to get anything he wants, to the limit of the organization's ability, whereas someone with a reputation for dead or severely partners, who just does what he wants, or is generally a jerk will have problems getting more than basic support even at the best of times. Just something to be aware of...]

A supportive organization will find ways of supporting its members no matter what, to its limits. The reason can be pragmatic, such as military organizations; they have a job to do, and they must give their members every legitimate chance to succeed at that job. They also have to explain their budgets; if a soldier goes into a situation with minimal gear, you know someone is going to answer for it given how big military budgets get. This applies to clubs as well; you would be surprised how well a club will make sure its members are prepared when club pride is challenged, even if its resources are limited to nesting habits of local birds.

A hostile organization, however, also seems dedicated to messing with its members. This is either because its leadership is apathetic to its membership or has created too many bureaucratic hoops to go through. There are also organization that have become so corrupted with politics and fear of legal suits that their members have little support from an organization that is scared to do anything. Consider the Japanese police for a moment; they need to be polite to everyone, they most likely have links to local gangs, and there are complications based on familial relations. It may not seem hostile, but it meets our definition here, as all of those features make it notoriously unwilling to do anything unless it has to. Little wonder that the yakuza end up settling so many problems!

The irony of this situation is that the lighter the universe, the more hostile an organization is going to be towards its own members, especially if that organization is law-enforcement, as politics and legal issues throw the organization into a quagmire. Conversely, the darker the universe, the more likely the organization is going to be supportive, as it realizes that its power relies on a solid front, so offenders are dealt with whatever force can be summoned against them. This is why cultists are scarier than cops; the common goal versus the legal quagmire makes the cultists supportive of one another.

The lesson for writers? The local bird club can be scary in a noirish environment, as everyone supports one another, which includes all that firepower that seems to float around those universes despite draconic laws. Conversely, an order of knights is going to find it hard to deal with a dragon when they know that they are going to have to deal with destruction of property suits if they do anything to save the citizenry. Getting people together is never easy...

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Is Your Organization Secret or Transparent?

Organizations are not all created equal, and some of them do not want you to know this. Another factor to look at when designing an organization is how transparent it is. Some organizations are required by law to have some transparency at least; in the real world, a charity, for example, is required to maintain records that are visible to the public in exchange for its tax-exempt status, and any attempts to hide its financial records can result in that status being pulled. Other organizations, especially those involved in law-enforcement, will hide as many of their records as possible for security purposes; apparently its harder to protect yourself from the bad guys when they know all of your undercover agents.

[Clarification on transparency: An organization that is required to be transparent is not usually required to be fully transparent. That is, although it may be required to show what it does with funds it raises, it is not required to give out information on its employees. Conversely, a more secretive organization is usually required to compile publicly available statistics, including how it spends most of its money, in exchange for its privacy, especially if it is governmentally funded. In short, there are always some secrets, and there is always some information available on any organization.]

From a writing perspective, this gives you options. A transparent organization, especially one that is required to be transparent, has a number of problems. A for-profit competitor can take advantage of its records in order to take over the charity's niche. This also means that the transparent organization has to be aware that anyone can look at how it is spending its funds, or face legal action; this limits what it can do as regards some non-proprietary patents and how it can organize itself. Because it has to let people know what it is doing, it has a major strategic issue. In a dark universe, there is likely to be a lot of creative accounting when it comes to funds and by-laws in order to hide some items from the public, such as a private army.

A secret organization, on the other hand, will always be under attack, leading its members to have a bunker mentality; at the very least they will be suspicious of new people in their lives. Since everyone wants their secrets, and they need to hide those secrets, there will be layers of security even for the most mundane of day-to-day business. Depending on what they are willing to do to get those secrets, the organization may be in serious trouble. You will also need to determine the effects of something like Wikileaks; does the public really need to know the identities of those that are testifying against mob bosses, and if it does, how will that affect how the prosecution deals with cases? There are issues of how well two secret organizations will cooperate on the same case, and to what degree they will share relevant data.

Out of all of the various axes, this one is probably the most interesting to play around with, especially in darker universes. Enjoy!