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Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Terrifying Breach of Common Sense

Posted by Nathaniel at 10:36 PM
ComicsI'm going to start this rant with a couple of caveats. First of all, I simply adore Kris Straub. I won't lie about that. He is not unlike a god to me. Also, I like--like--Starslip Crisis. Like. I love--loved--Checkerboard Nightmare. Loved. That said...

I still haven't gotten out of the habit of visiting CxN on a daily basis. It's still in my bookmarks, filed under Webcomics: daily, and I'm not likely to remove it soon. It's a constant reminder to me that I've been reading that excellent comic for close to 5 years now, and now that it's gone, it's left a noticeable hole in my webcomic psyche. My fragile webcomic psyche, I should note.

"But Doc!" you say to me. "We have Starslip Crisis now! We still have Kris Straub in our midsts! We still have reason to love him!"

"Like," I reply. "Not love; like."

SC is a good webcomic, it honestly is. It has Straub's excellent sense of comedic pacing, it has original humor, and it even has a fantastic Straub-crafted scifi universe in which to exist. I like it. But I loved CxN. And that's probably where my frustration comes from when I see something as appalling as this.

It's the first Starslip Crisis collection. Of the first four months of SC comics, with extras. It's 142 pages, but don't let that fool you. It's easy to fill 142 pages with only four months worth of comics when you put one comic per page.

Now, I know part of the reason Straub is publishing a collection of SC's first four months already has to be because it's so god-damned easy. Utilizing a slick service like Lulu means digital, on-demand publishing. No backstock, no restock--no stock of any kind. Someone orders something, they print and ship it. Click, bang, boom, done. It's the embodiment of that Xerox commercial where the guy stands up in the middle of a college writing class and talks about digital, on-demand publishing, how there's no backstock, no restock--no stock of any kind, someone orders something, they print and ship it, etc., etc. It's simple, cheap, easy, and available. I can understand the desire to do it.

But until this point in time, a webcartoonist making x amount of his/her archives available in tangible book form has historically been a momentous occasion. Ordinarily it would be a year of comics, with commentary and extra art, and miscellaneous other assorted goodies. It wasn't merchandise; it was an event. It was a moment in time where you knew that this particular webcomic you have invested your time and interest in was beginning to really make it. You rejoiced in the event, and you threw down your dollars for a piece of the history. That was how it was.

To see this now, this once historic event now feels a bit cheapened. The significance is lessened. It's now just another piece of merchandise.

The most difficult thing about this is that I should actually be behind this effort. This is the kind of thing that I would ordinarily get behind. I would rally around any effort that included: A) individual's rights/powers, B) technology, C) webcomics --and this effort includes all three of those things. So, I should be proclaiming how fantastic this is, how utterly great and marvelous for the future of webcomics this is.

But all I can do is look at it and say "I don't even think I am going to want this book after one year, why would I want it after the comic just started?" I can then immediately follow that question with this inquiry: "How come we are offered a collection for SC after just four months, and after 5 years of CxN we still haven't seen a collection there?" That's probably a question I should be asking Straub directly.

Obviously, I'm not the target audience for this collection, which is disappointing, because I should be. All readers of a certain webcomic should--by default--be the target audience of any merchandise offered by the creator of said webcomic. So why isn't a collection of SC's first four months appealing to me?

Is it appealing to you?

11/20/2005 1:01 PM: Blogger Dacquin said...

Nope. It's too soon. Man, it hasn't even been a YEAR yet. I'm slightly unhappy we get a Starslip Crisis book instead of a Checkerboard Nightmare book. I'd eat that all up. Starslip just wasn't the followup I was hoping for.

I agree with Doc. I like the comic, but it's no Checkerboard.

I looked at the preview of the book and have I say this, you don't make a book like this so early. Every comic strip book I've seen has at least a year's worth of comics. Four months is too small a collection, no matter how you dress it up, add the fact that it's too soon.

My 2 cents.

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11/23/2005 5:38 AM: Blogger Kristofer Straub said...

Here are the honest reasons why a Checkerboard Nightmare book doesn't exist yet, one or two of which I have told very few people:

(1) I had put together a book using an unusable technique. When I first shopped the book to KS when I was still under their banner, they said "yes, we will print it. Here is the formatting." I finished it, and they dragged their heels for months and months until ultimately I left KS for BLC. (The slow book thing wasn't really a reason why I left, but I wish they'd have said "no, we won't do it" rather than say they would, and then ultimately tell me no because it wouldn't have sold.)

But the way they wanted the book formatted is unusable to any other printer, especially ones like Lulu. It's "done," but no one can print it. So I have to convert all these images into a PDF, and it's an enormous effort. To be honest, the existing formatting is now worthless, because I never wanted CxN to be a manga-size, which was the only option at the time.

(2) Despite there being a "completed" book, however much work remains, I'm not really convinced that CxN works outside of the internet. Of course, I did it before Lulu existed, which is why I never relished buying 500-1000 copies from a printer. I was certain I'd have sold 150 at max and blown the other $600.

(3) Related to (2) and sad as it is, this was an honest-to-God constraint for me. The pitch for Starslip Crisis is a tough one at cons: "it's an art museum in space!" That generally elicits little interest, depending on the crowd. It's kind of high concept.

But at least it's self-contained. For the same reason I don't know if CxN would work stand-alone as a book, its pitch is far, far harder: "it's a webcomic you've never heard of that parodies other webcomics and styles that you probably also haven't heard of!" Outside of the internet, a Checkerboard Nightmare book audience is near zero.

To be honest, I feel the same way about Penny Arcade. I love that it is really a balance between comic and essay. A Penny Arcade collection that's just the strip, and a couple sentences below it, won't really work that well, I think. Luckily, the sliver of audience a book would work for, for them, is enormous. CxN needs the context of the internet.

(4) I went from color here and there to B&W to all color... I wish I could make it a color book, but it'd be like $40. The color strips need to be seriously color-adjusted before they work in B&W.

At any rate, Lulu makes (2) a moot point, but I would hate to just put out a piece of crap, misformatted mess like the current version is. The thing just needs to be redone, and it's hard to want to pull together a collection when you are, unfortunately, tired of working on it.

That doesn't mean I will never do it, but sadly the original book formatting, the time investment and its newfound non-viability burnt me out on it for the time being.

Chex is very near and dear to me, but unless I can find a good way to present it, it will elicit thirty purchases from diehard fans and a polite "pfft, wtf" from everyone else. A CxN book should try to make something permanent out of a strip whose subject matter is often very, very fleeting.

Finally, Dacquin, if you wanted a Starslip book, I'd send you one. I know you are an old reader and supporter. Surprisingly it doesn't feel like "only" four months. I worried about it being too soon, but it is the same length as many "best of" compilations.

The real function of a Starslip book is to have something to show. It is more of an introduction for potential new audience members, than a gift to "all the fans." (Incredibly, Starslip already has more readers than CxN did after five years.) If you don't like it, I do understand why, but please don't feel like I'm cheating everyone out of a CxN book.

Man, I wrote so much, but it is because I don't want to feel like I let you guys down. If you really believe the Starslip book was a rush job, you would cry bloody murder at the CxN book if I moved it out the door as is.

It deserves better than what happened with it, and the CxN fans deserve one of those year-long, sprawling, full-of-extras books. I will not release one until I have it. God, I would love there to be some greater context for the book. Like a (false) history of webcomics. The last sentence might be the kernel of a great approach for the book, actually. I should thank you for making me think about it!

Also, Chex is not dead. That Wikipedia mess of anything told me there are still many places for him to show up (and I have plans for the strip starting January 2006). The stories just have to be on my terms now, and not M-W-F's.

Chex is a weapon to be deployed when there is webcomics drama, then returned to the hangar. On a MWF update schedule, he was rusting out there when there was no job to do.

Thanks for reading and for asking the question.

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11/23/2005 8:31 AM: Blogger Nathaniel said...

Hey, Kris! Thanks for commenting. Honestly, I had misgivings posting my rant because I knew you swung by here periodically, but in the end, I usually end up saying what I want to say regardless.

In any case, I greatly appreciate you explaining the reasons a CxN book has never surfaced. Truly, it boggled my mind to understand why we hadn't seen one yet.

First of all, please do not in any way feel that you have let us down. You explained the reasons a CxN book hasn't seen the light of day, and they make sense to me. I can see why it hasn't happened yet.

But I still stand by my previous assertions. You claim the SC book is as big as many "best of" collections, and that may be true. But it just seems to me that it's awfully easy to fill 142 page when you put one comic per page. In a comic strip collection, I picture something similar to the Calvin & Hobbes books I have on my shelf. Most pages have no less than 4 strips on them (with just about every other page being a full-page Sunday comic).

Of course, even a full year's worth of comic strips at 4 comics per page would only fill 65 pages of a book. Add in another 10-15 of extras, and you're still short of a solid 100 pages. So maybe that's not the way to go.

But honestly, you did say something that defended one of my points in my rant. I said that maybe I'm not the audience for an SC book, and you agreed saying that "The real function of a Starslip book is to have something to show. It is more of an introduction for potential new audience members, than a gift to 'all the fans'." Now that I know that, I can understand why it doesn't appeal to me. I guess it really wasn't made for me, since I'm a fan. I'll wait for the giant-sized collection (one year, possibly?) that has all my favorite strips with some commentary and extras. I'll buy that, absolutely, unequivocally.

So, thanks again for commenting. I appreciate your desire to set the record straight on the CxN book.

Also, just for the record, I wrote the rant. You mentioned Dacquin in your comments, and I just wanted to make sure I got proper credit (read: blame) for the rant itself. I'd hate for one of my collegues to be put through the grinder in the webcomics community for something I wrote. =D

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