What’s Your Comics-to-Crap Ratio?

Douglas Rushkoff is offering an online preview of a new comic called X (Heidi’s comments here). Looks like a fairly cool comic, with some pretty art by Cheoljoo Lee and Younger Yang. And as usual, the format got me thinking.

The preview is your basic repurposed printed comic book on the screen (*sigh*), but looking at the tiny, unobtrusive controls on the lower right of my screen, I realized that one of its strengths (offsetting the annoyingly long load times) was the high ratio of screen real estate devoted to comics versus navigational elements.The controls and loading bars were as tiny and unobtrusive as possible, (and the preview doesn’t blur everything between spreads for no reason which is a plus).

So I thought, hey, there are really only three types of pixels you’re going to be looking at if you sit down to read a comic book or graphic novel on the screen. There’s (1) the comic, (2) the controls, and (3) the crap—”crap” being logos, chatter, ads, useless branding, etc.

I figure most readers would want the ratio from 1 to 2 to be as big as possible. On my admittedly big screen, the preview’s comics-to-controls ratio is a whopping 170 to 1. Not bad!

And where the crap is concerned, I’d think that most readers would want the crap to go away entirely when they settle down to read a long comic and sure enough that’s what the preview does.

As usual, this doesn’t really apply to strips which have always thrived in a sea of distractions; and I’d still favor arrow keys or the spacebar over hunting and pecking; but where the long form stuff is concerned—the online equivalents of comic books and graphic novels—I just thought it might be useful if we artists took a moment to consider our comics-to-controls ratio, as well as our comics-to-crap ratio.

Discussion (34)¬

  1. I’m very draconian when it comes to dropping the “AdBlock” anvil on everything that isn’t the content on websites… Especially since I’m using a 1024px by 600px netbook… So the crap doesn’t bother me much these days.

    I was about to say that it’s be nice if the TV had the same ability to get rid of ads, but these days, the ads are usually more entertaining than the shows.

  2. Jazzbie says:

    Honestly huge load times and a dead black space between comic pages distract me more than a few ads. I look at the website of a comic almost like its packaging through the colors, top banner, and occasional author comments(i feel detached from comics that don’t have some author interaction). I think more comic artists are designing their pages to feature the comic though (story and strip).

    Plus from a webcomic perspective, a comic that hopes to make any extra money from ads(mainly project wonderful) Having readers click through the old fashioned way is how to go.

    That was definitely one of the better nav controlled comics i’ve seen though.

    • “i feel detached from comics that don’t have some author interaction”

      Why is that?

      • Jazzbie says:

        Just a personal opinion, but to me it feels like if the author is just dumping their stuff without making any effort to interact with the readers then they must not care much about the support. (not necessarily true but just what i feel)

        So it’s kind of like meeting a person who was really standoffish, they might be friendly underneath, but from that first lack of interaction it becomes more of a ‘read and run’ kind of thing.

        Also by interaction i’m not referring them having a whole column to be bigoted and ego-stroke; but just being friendly, saying something about the days comic, themselves, what-have-you 🙂

        • Scott says:

          I understand what you mean, Jazzbie. This particular comic is definitely served up in a very cold impersonal way.

          What I always figured for stuff like this is that the front end (welcome pages, comments, etc.) would be very community-oriented and the comic/GN itself would be more stand-alone.

        • Interesting.

          For me, I’d be more than happy to keep the author away from the work because I think they are not (nor should be) the draw. Yet it seems to me that they usually are more so than the work. For me, as mentioned below, that’s a sign that the work is a failure to be compelling.

          Back in the day, I had no idea what, say, Walt Simonson had to say about his kids, dog, politics, his health, etc. I didn’t care. The reason I was following him was that his Thor was a kick-ass piece of work.

          Or, using Scott here as an example: I read this blog because of his content and ideas. I’ve been assured by dozens of folks that Scott is a great guy, but that is not why I read. If he were to never post a blog again and return to doing The Daily Improv, I’d be just as happy to give him my traffic.

          I guess it all comes down to how much the fan thinks they’re owed by the creator. (I’m not stating this as a form of blame and shame, btw. Just as a fact) Some think that access to them on a (poor internet facsimile of a) personal level is necessary. For me, it’s just a pleasant bonus. But “too much of a good thing”, you know?

          If creators were to move themselves further into the background in favor of their work, I’d be one happy comic geek.

  3. Sandra says:

    Odd “comic”—it’s just one panel, with a small puzzle piece, and the narration reads “Click here to download plugin”.

    You’d almost think that the comic was a satire of that crazy program some people would use, “Flash”.

  4. Kyle Latino says:

    Wow, that was pretty cool. Well done all around. I did like the comic to controls ratio, very low impact. It all got out of the way for the reading experience. If only the pages didn’t stop in the middle, but that’s hardly his fault.

  5. Nice work.

    For something like this. Where it’s simply a preview of a printed book. This works great. You don’t need advertising.

    But for webcomics…you NEED the ads. And I guess “the crap”.
    Making it work well in the overall design is tough. And I know a lot of us struggle with design vs. function.

    It’s tough. But just like TV shows…webcomics need advertising to be our source of revenue.
    So I think the “crap” will be a part of it for a long time.

  6. I try to always publish my stuff in an embedded Issuu reader, so people have the option to read it in full screen.

  7. BAM says:

    I guess I’m as good as anyone at focusing in on the content once it comes down to it, so the ads don’t bother me too much if (A) They don’t move and jump and flash and blink and (B) they are kept pretty well at the edges of the screen. My comic is not a money maker, so it is ad free, and I have most of the page devoted to the comic with a translucent, moveable control panel (which I need to tone down–it’s a little silly looking). Even the larger-than-screen “pages” themselves are moveable, which is the best way to navigate them. But my comic is Flash-based, and there is a bit of a lag between “pages.” I might get around to playing with the format again one of these days…

  8. On my monitor, the controls covered a word balloon on page 1, and then again on page 3. And there’s no obvious (to me) way of moving where the control is located on the screen. So for me, this was significantly worse and more distracting than a layout which used more space for controls (with a bar at the bottom, say), but didn’t make the control and the comic share space.

  9. tyler page says:

    I’ve never been a big fan of ‘controls’ in the first place. zooming in and out is annoying. I’ve just always formated and sized my pages so they’re already readable on an average size screen.

  10. Mike L says:

    The up and down ratio of the comic page is only going to be reinforced by the new wave of e-readers. Once color is involved, it’s going to be harder, I think, to get people to think of doing e-comics in a different aspect as generally, people won’t think to scroll while reading e-books (if it’s even possible). And since I think that e-books and e-readers have the potential to be a sizeable market for web comics, it won’t make much sense to experiment in ratio and layout if it means excluding that market. I wonder how much people will be willing to tip their e-readers just to read a comic strip.

  11. Michael M. says:

    With my comic, I try to keep crap to a minimum. Since my comic is usually a long tower (with white background, to stave off distraction), I keep important links at the top and bottom of the site, closer to the blog and heading. I also limited my color palatte (black and white for the comic itself, red, white and black for the background) to keep things as simple as possible.

  12. Sen says:

    I took off the site-navigation and header on my comics’ archives (when you’re actually reading the comics, not on the archive listing pages themselves) and people keep asking me about that. I always loved long-form comics whose comics and the comic page navigation were pretty much the only things on the page, though. Those are very few and far-between, it seems, to the point where taking off the navigation/header seems unusual, even if they do take up real-estate. (Although, I also have no issue with ads/comments directly below the comic, and sometimes beside it)

    Also, I refuse to read comics in special reader formats because it’s just way too annoying. I tried, I really did. They either look worse because of scaling or the controls wind up being counter-intuitive.

    • Scott says:

      Taking a quick look at your archives just now, I really liked the way your pages were right at the top, just loading into place without any scrolling at all. If I sat down to read the whole story, that would make it a lot more seamless, I’d think.

  13. TerryB says:

    I agree and disagree with this one. One of my favorite things about reading webcomics as opposed to print comics is the artist and/or writer connection with the reader. When there’s no “crap”, I feel a little ripped-off.

    As a comic artist, I’ve had a marked increase in readership and reader participation since I increased my “crap” text content on my webpage. It helps people feel *involved* and involved readers are loyal readers. I have a blog, a twitter feed, and comments enabled, as well as short commentaries by myself and my author on some notable pages.

    I do 100% hate ads that flash, make noise, or move though. They are distracting on even the most austere webpages.

    • That’s a great point.
      I think webcomics are 50% comic and 50% creator.
      The fans enjoy the interaction with the creator just as much as they do the comic.

    • Scott says:

      Hi Terry!

      Of course, when not going full screen, maybe the real question is whether the “crap” is on top or on bottom (below the fold). Sadly, Girlamatic has almost an entire screen of formatting on TOP of Godseeker (comic’s looking good, btw!). So it’s all click, scroll, click, scroll, click, scroll…

      But yeah, artist-reader interaction is a huge plus. I’m just thinking that if a reader is settling down for a really long read (like, say, an 80 page archive), that’s when it would benefit everyone to put everything else aside and let the story and art shine.

    • Sen says:

      For me, interacting with the author is a per-comic kind of thing. Some comics I read, I wish I could interact more with the author in an instant kind of way. (Twitter has solved this in a lot of cases!) Others I don’t really mind not having a constant, semi-instant form of back-and-forth with the author, and sometimes such conversations can distract from comics. But that’s a very personal kind of feeling, not a general one.

  14. […] [Commentary] What’s your comics-to-crap ratio? Link: Scott McCloud […]

  15. BAM says:

    Hmm. The whole author interaction thing is interesting. I suppose I like to keep the creator and the content somewhat compartmentalized. Sorta like actors in movies. If I “interact” too much with them, I can never watch their movies again (a la Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, and Russell Crowe. And Tony Danza, a little bit, but his movies aren’t hard to avoid…).

    • I feel similarly.

      For me, if people are coming to the site just because the creator writes amusing blogs, the comic is a failure as a compelling work of art.

      I figure that’s the difference between having fans and having readers. Readers aren’t there for you. They’re there for the work.

  16. Kim Sullivan says:

    The loading is really distracting… and that’s a huge problem with Flash. There’s simply no way you can load all the other pages in tabs while you read the first. Freak Angels by Warren Ellis does this nicely – I can just select the links to the pages, right-click “Open Selection Links in Tabs” and I’m ready to read the pages any way I want.

    This comic doesn’t seem to “preload” the whole comic while you’re reading, neither does it cache the pages. The default action for the scroll button is zooming, if you want to scroll a zoomed picture, you have to drag, but if you accidentially drag while zoomed out you load the next page (even if you click on the left page, which often means “take me back one page”).

    In my point of view, this comic has an amazingly high amount of “crap” – maybe not visual crap, but usability crap. Which is something I can’t just “tune out” like visual distractions (or use things like adblock or noscript to get rid of).

  17. John says:

    Personally, I don’t like flash so I don’t often read comics embedded with flash.
    Often I’m on dial up so the page load is even LONGER than a static image. Flash intereacts with my system more than a static page. I started blocking flash when some ads generated pop ups every time I moused OVER the flash ad, I didn’t even click.
    As for visual clutter, I try to just ignore the crap on the page. My eyes just slide right over them. I don’t click.

  18. If by “crap” you refer to the adertizing then I would have to state that this would be the failure of the advertizers. Nowadays one of the big draws for the Superbowl is to see all the neat new commercials they come up with. Heck there is maybe more discussion on the News of the commercails than the plays in the game.

    The idea of advertizement is to sell a product and thus the ads themselves have to be interesting enough to draw the readers attention while not overshadowing the “work” which the reader is paying with his time and money to read. Thus if you are going to spend money to advertize your ads better not be part of the “crap”.

    Just my two cents……

  19. […] McCloud discusses a comic with almost no non-comic stuff getting in the way of the reader, and an interesting […]

  20. Sly says:

    I echo other readers who prefer author interaction and basic site involvement. On the other hand, when I want to read a comic, I want to read a comic, and not be bothered with the crap.

    What I did with my comic was have a basic front page, with all the usual crap, but kept all my archives to just the comic page and the navigation bar under it. Unfortunately my host requires an ad at the top of every page, so I tried sectioning that off with a border and then the page and navigation with another border to help the reader just scroll past the ad for loading. The set-up seems to work quite well, as when I talk to people who’ve read the comic archives, they are always very surprised to hear that they’ve read over 80 pages of comic.

  21. […] § Scott McCloud and his commenters regard the “crap” that fills many online comics interfa… […]

  22. […] McCloud asks what is ‘Your Comics-to-Crap […]

  23. […] McCloud asks what is ‘Your Comics-to-Crap […]