Linking Johnny Bullet
To link or not to link? That is the question. With several pages of both Johnny Bullet and Leroy Douresseau’s Grumble, I’ve been asking myself which page to link to when introducing the comic strip to a new reader by email or in other online venues. What sounds like a minuscule concern is really a conundrum for me. From a pure ego perspective, I prefer to present the newer pages as they are continually improving and becoming better. I like to make a good first impression. But from a didactic and storytelling perspective, isn’t it better to introduce the first page of Johnny Bullet to a new reader?
Overall, I’ve introduced the last page of the strip to new readers, assuming that if they were interested, they would navigate back to the previous pages of the comic strip. But the Web comic format is not universally understood by all potential readers, it seems, and many of them expect a full comic book, without having to navigate from page to page. I have tested this several times and people tend to stick to the initial page they were introduced to. Casual Web comic readers often do not know that the nature of the genre is episodic and that there is not a full story to read. It’s not a total pay off. So some readers may not want to invest the time to figure out what Johnny Bullet is about.
If I were practising the user experience I preach and research, I would have created an introduction page where people can meet the characters. Many Web comics do this. However, I decided against this because I felt that readers should discover what Johnny Bullet is about on their own and through time, just like in the good old days. Here, I’m opposing the Web comic ethos against the comic strip one. In comic strips of lore, it took weeks and sometimes years before readers figured out what the strip was about. For example, in Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, the hero goes through several adventures before the story gels and becomes readily recognizable, plot-wise. For months Nemo wakes up in the morning not understanding what went on before.
Johnny Bullet for me is a comic strip, not a comic book. Beyond the horizontal display, the story is episodic. Every strip tells a parcel of the story. Comic books are different. Some comic books, even in the 1960s, had introduction pages where, new readers would meet the cast. Marvel Comics does this religiously these days in all its comics with a short recap of the story. For years, comic books had introductory texts that summarized what the series and its characters were about. Because of its format in news papers, the comic strip didn’t have such luxury. There was little space to introduce the strip outside of the actual panels. At most the logo panel masthead was where any information was shared. Comic strips relied on the memory and familiarity of readers to understand what had gone on before. Often the first panel was a recap of the adventure that had happened before.
Of course on a Website like ComicBookBin, I have no space limits. I can put such a blurb or weave more introductory information about Johnny Bullet in every new page. I just choose not to for now. Although I have a pretty good idea of who Johnny Bullet is, I admit that I don’t like the instant briefing that many comics do these days. It feels like the sense of discovery and the unknown and wait for episodic story updates are eschewed because of market pressure. Publishers must be up and running from the start so readers will have no outstanding questions and will be able to get the comic right away. They’ll be able to decide if they want to follow it or not in moments.
I feel that I can still get away with bucking the trend with Johnny Bullet by taking the time I need to build the character and his supporting cast before forcing an packaged identity on the strip. There is no real risk as Johnny Bullet is a free comic strip. I don’t make money from it and it costs nothing to readers. All they need is an Internet connection and a computer.
Having written all of this, I still haven’t figured out which strategy works best when introducing Johnny Bullet to new readers. Should I post a link to the first page or the latest one? Should I post links ton both, or the Johnny Bullet home page? I wonder how other Web comics creators handle this.
Originally published at www.comicbookbin.com.