I had an art mentor one time who told me there were only two steps to making great art:
- Get the audience’s attention.
- Keep it.
Easier said than done. The thing is, I’m only one person. I need to find a way to balance the creation of the product, with the creation of promotional content. Then, this 500 page graphic novel being a huge project, I need that wrapped up in a process that’s sustainable, and beneficial to the work.
If I had more money to invest up front, I could spend all my time creating the product, and then use the full work to make promotional content when I was ready to release. This is basically the model of big budget film. Ideally, using a process where the creation of the art comes before worrying about advertising should put all the emphasis on making a really good product. In practice, however, since the full work would be released all at once, the success of the project relies almost entirely on advertising. So the production of the product is less important than the production of a product that is marketable.
Also, I don’t have money, so I can’t follow this model anyways.
Perhaps more ideal would be a situation where the work itself is it’s own promotion. Weekly comic strips fall into this category. They’re small and easily repostable. Even newspaper comics get pinned to cubicles and fridges. You have to work to get your audience back every week, but you do that (theoretically) by making really good art, not by advertising.
Sharing in chunks like this has its own problems though. Pacing can be a problem. Just look at the massive shift in style between the episodic tv shows of the age of rabbit-eared tube-televisions, to the epic serialized stories of the age of binge watching Netflix. You have to know how something is going to be consumed, to know at what rate you can dispense information. You don’t want people forgetting what’s going on in between sittings, and you don’t want to waste their time repeating yourself.
Every time you leave an audience, you have to leave them with something to get them to come back. The old radio shows got people to “tune in next week” with cliffhangers. A weekly comic is usually built to be catchy, quippy and upbeat, every one ends leaving the audience feeling good. In his book “Manga in Art and Practice” artist of “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure”, Hirohiko Araki says “When an installment ends with a feeling of defeat, the readers’ emotions will stay down on that negative side with the protagonist, and that will be reflected in the reader surveys. You’ll get the best results by ending each week with some kind of victory, if possible.”
After thinking all this through, it becomes painfully obvious that releasing a page a week isn’t the right choice for a graphic novel. This is one story I’m telling, and I like my pacing Ghibli slow. Not every page is funny, or ends in success. Sure, it’s important that every page provides impetus to the reader to read-on, but I’d like to think that I could get that kind of investment with good story-telling, and the assurance that I’m winding up for something within a few pages, even if nothing really big is happening right now.
So… I guess I’ve finally learned why comics and manga are released the way they are. One fifty page “pilot” episode, and twenty page “chapters” after. I know… most people probably would have been like oh, how are comics made? And then just friggen done that. But I’ve always liked seeing why things are the way they are for myself.
The thing is, I don’t have a full pilot yet. I’m still a scene away from having a full set-up. How can I produce promotional materials, while slogging through this twenty page opening scene?
Indie game companies are often a good example of promotion without having the product finished. As long as they know what their art is about, and it’s key appeal, they’ll start posting concept art, and little test videos early and often. They build audience trust, not by sharing promotion of a fully polished project, but showing how hard they’re working to find and fix bugs and glitches. As small teams, they feel much more personable online, and you can get invested in their process, and their love of their creation. It kind of reminds me of the little chibi drawings manga artists sometimes throw into the backs of their work.
My partner is a marketing expert and small business owner, and he said something really interesting the other day. He said that promotion is best used to show people how to enjoy something. It’s not there to influence, but to educate. And that felt a lot better to me. I’m pretty squeemish about advertising (even though that’s literally how I make money: drawing ads), but I feel like I could put more energy into sharing how I use art with all you lovely people.
So. I’m going to move to a chapter-by-chapter release schedule. But in the meantime, I’m going to try to share more background shit. I’ve got notes and links on everything from political conspiracy, to Oregon native plant ecology, to the psychology of grief, and that’s just this week.
If you’re a person that wants to see more of the project faster, get me your email, and I’ll send you monthly rough builds: pdfs of all the pages I have, from rough sketches to fully fleshed out completed pages.