Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mild terror at 5pm

I have spent today in a state of elevated panic. I think I might be making the best comics I have ever made, and the worst webcomics I could possibly have chosen to make. Apparently I have excised every detail of my work that appealed to the floating voter. By which I mean "sexy fun". That is what I have left out. Sexy fun.

I don't expect the kind of high-minded individuals who take an interest in my blog to abandon ship, but reading back over what I've been putting on my website over the last month, I'm not sure how I will stop losing hundreds of readers a week. It is a breath-holding competition; after all, Scary Go Round took a long time to recover to where my original comic Bobbins had been beforehand. Projects take time to find their feet! But back then I had the luxury of a day job, I could fiddle while Rome burned, so to speak.

I'm not sure what purpose a blog post like this serves. I feel privileged to be able to make comics every day and it is scary when it looks even a little like that could come to an end. I start running round in circles, waving my arms in a crazy fashion.

I ought to calm down eventually.

53 comments:

Sparkles F said...

John, breathe. You'll be fine. Your work is excellent.
If not, you can always move into my basement. You know, if I had a basement.
Also, I forsee a future for you if this doesn't pan out. My word verification word is RAPPERS. Think about it.

Matthew said...

I'm still reading, but I'll be honest that I don't enjoy it as much as SGR. Part of that is that I came to really love SGR, and I don't have that emotional investment in BM yet. But another aspect is that I could identify more with the characters of SGR, where I have more trouble identifying with younger, more ignorant characters.

Every update, I'm waiting to hear more about Ryan :-P That's what I find myself wanting. I'm also intrigued by the Russian business owner... but those are both more SGR than BM.

The baseball card thing... what was that? There was no emotional hook there for me.

I don't know if this comment is helpful for you or not. I wish I could be more helpful--I love your work, and will continue to read and purchase items for Christmas, etc.

Wishing you the best.

Hilary said...

Don't worry-- we are sensitive intellectuals, and we will stick with you to the end! And eventually everyone will realize that you were the best all along (because it is true). Also I agree with Matthew about the emotional investment bit, I think once there are more BM comics out there and people get to know the characters as well as we know those from SGR, all will be well.
My word-verification word is dentist! Is the internet trying to tell us something?
And stop waving your arms, you're going to put someone's eye out.

Robert said...

I like the new comic better. Scarry Go Round was great, but it was a little too fantastic for my tastes. Too "Sluggy Freelance". Bad Machinery is certainly slower paced, but it already feels much richer than SGR. So far BM hasn't been especially funny or sexy, but there's no shortage of comics of that sort. What you're doing is new (to me) and interesting, and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

My verification word isn't a word at all: 'stinai'. What does THAT mean?!

Sarah said...

Paul Erdos, one of the greatest (or at least, most eccentric) mathematicians of our age, spent his life essentially homeless, couch-surfing from university to university. If worse comes to worse there is a worldwide community of comic artists who will probably suffer you to live on their couch in exchange for the solution to a tricky problem or two.

Personally, I like where the comic is going, but I'm one lowly pageview. You are a wonderful artist, and are probably one of the best (male) writers of female characters, which is why Shelley and Amy are so beloved. And you are also one of the best (adult) writers of younger characters, so there's that, too.

Phssthpok said...

I've really enjoyed the humour this last week, keep it up!

Dan said...

I'm sorry to hear you're stressing out about this - your situation confuses me, because I'm thoroughly enjoying Bad Machinery - more so than a few SGR story arcs. Moreover, I don't see much difference between it and SGR at all, so I can't imagine why you'd be losing readers.

Shauna and Charlotte are great characters and I'm very excited to see how their story develops; also, I look forward to seeing more of Jack. I do miss Ryan's beard, though - that had some serious potential.

Keep it up, John. Things may be shaky now, but your art and storytelling will bring people back in due time.

Stephanie said...

I suppose it takes any new project time to get its bearings, but I have to admit, I'm surprised that you're losing readers. BM's just as cheeky and wunnerful as SGR. Example! For the past two weeks around my apartment, any conversational mentions of Russia (and for some reason, there have been several) have been followed by, "You know. Where the brides come from."

artistaggie said...

*Sigh* I apologize. Since I began blogging, my webcomix-viewing has been vastly upstaged by my blog-surfing. I think stuff like this happens with us followers, and we ebb and flow whither life takes us. This doesn't equate to "John's lost The Knack" or "John's comics have become lackluster (-re?)"; it simply means that things will right themselves after awhile. :-) Be of good cheer, and please calm down. You are loved!

rereadingproust said...

Just another reader who's enjoying the new comic just as much as I ever did sgr. I will gladly purchase a shirt so that you can eat. I'm the fan who likes the shirts what ain't got words on 'em, so keep me in mind!

Patrick K. said...

BM seems aimed for a longer pay off than is usual in webcomics (100 episodes per story?!). So far, it seems closer to the pacing of, well, a graphic novel. Even in the best graphic novels are hard pressed to make every page as rewarding for a just-introduced casual reader as it is to someone who's been following along for 90 pages. The quality of the writing and humor in BM has impressed me, even as a longtime SGR reader, but for better or worse it's not brassy as the old, more absurd stuff. None of the characters has yet proven as consistent a source of daffy page closers as Shelly was.

Not that multiplying your workload would be fun, but if BM is going to be even more about long, detailed stories (and, ahem, satisfying conclusions) than SGR, and you're worried about keeping fickle, big-joke-addicted readers around,
maybe you need a second sillier, more episodic comic on the side. My gf would probably suggest "Fop Chaser."

At any rate, I can't say I prefer BM over SGR yet but I'm not about to stop reading. I sure wouldn't mind some non-middle-school characters but the cast page seems pretty clear so I'll just grin and bear it.

Heather Ann said...

Patrick K and I have similar feelings about BM so far, but I am also grinning and bearing it (and chuckling about the definition of Russia), because if SGR taught me anything, it's that I can trust you to put out great comics. So I'm trusting and reading every day. :)

John A said...

Thank you everyone for your candour so far. I have the best readers, you are always polite and helpful even when something doesn't suit you. I take your points on board.

I may have to institute some changes. I might drop the number of Bad Machinery strips to three a week because it IS a graphic novel I am writing one day at a time and it IS sort of agonising to read that way.

Then the other two days I would draw something less dense, more fun and insane with Shelley, something like that, and put it on the blog, see how it works? That way there would be both healthy vegetables and grossly great dessert, something for everyone?

Have your say now while I am still sane and still solvent!

Bro said...

That looks like a great plan John! Though I think Bad Machinery will find it's own place in it's time. Yes, the pacing seems a little slower for now, but that's inevitable when you begin a project: you have to introduce properly all the new cast, and that's definitely not an easy task.

A solution would probably have been to launch BM with already a few updates, so the reader could familiarize himself with the new comic faster. But hey, don't worry, they'll come back later. Or sooner. Sooner than later in fact, pretty sure about that.

Zero said...

The name "Bad Machinery" initially made me think that there'd be hundred-metre robots with laser eyes, so it took a little while to get used to the new style, but I'm really enjoying it right now.

BM is a different comic to SGR, so your audience will be a little different.

I wouldn't worry too much that you're losing people who want a quick fix more rapidly than you're gaining people who appreciate this more measured pace - the latter will come, but pretty much by definition they'll take a little longer to get here.

OTOH, a bit of Shelley-fuelled madness now and then would be great :-)

Joe Taylor said...

I do love your work, John, and you don't need to worry about me stopping reading. SGR was always the first thing I'd look for in the morning and BM still is. :-)

So yeah, I'm definitely going to give Bad Machinery all the time it needs, and I think reading it from the start a few times might help! I think you have a point about it reading better as a novel than a page a day. The whimsy is still there - "Mr Bough has 'Surprise Picnic' written all over him." It's just not quite as in-your-face as Shelley was. ;-)

Of course life is all about moving on and if you didn't introduce new characters then the whole thing would become stale and joyless.

But I'd love to find out what happened to the likes of Shelley, Esther and Eustace and if the blog is the medium to do that I certainly wouldn't complain!

bdw said...

I like the new comic and I think it's a necessary departure from SGR (for the same reasons that you described yourself). However, the transition to the new one will always be just that, and I think your audience may change a little (and people may warm up to the new characters). That's not a bad thing.

That said, I think it was a good idea to carry Ryan (perhaps your best-developed character) into the new comic and everyone's going to want to see more of him and Amy, at least at first.

caldwell said...

I love the new comic. I loved SGR, & still do. I for one am excited to have a new page of Bad Machinery every day, but two days per week of "madness" wouldn't be so bad, either. Whatever schedule you decide to keep, I'll still be reading--you are an interesting & very talented gentleman-artist, Mr Allison, so do not despair!

Owen said...

I think you're doing fine (but then I did buy and love Ghosts, and you've implied that I am in the minority in that regard,) but if things are going that poorly it might be worth stea.. er, borrowing some of the Ideas from others who are doing longer form webcomics.

I think that the way MSPAdventures always has the main page resolve to the start of the story so newbies are never thrust into the middle of a story and has a simple cookie to keep you where you left off is pretty brilliant.

You could also try the Whole Big Blob of story at once thing Octopus Pie is trying. Although I like that more in theory than in practice.

All I know is I like your work and will continue reading it in whatever form it takes.

sneakums said...

I am enjoying immensely the exciting new voyage that is Bad Machinery. Don't change a thing.

cristymuranda said...

calm down, it'll all even out ^.^

Hilary said...

However much I would enjoy two days of fun insanity, I think it would, if anything, slow the transition of people from SGR to BM. They might choose to just look at what they know rather than checking out and moving over to BM. Also, it would slow the reader's attachment to the characters, as less frequent BM updates would mean the story would take longer to develop. But if that's what you want to do as an artist, go for it! I think above all, you should create what you feel a personal pull toward creating-- if you're making something you love, the people will come.

ZeroGravitas said...

I too bought 'Ghosts' and even had you put a lovely drawing in it. I loved SGR, it was my favorite webcomic out of over 50 I read regularly, but I'm afraid I'm not enjoying BM yet. Like some of the others I can't relate to the characters as much, I am not down with the kidz... I understand your need to make a change, and it's your lovley webcomic to do with as you please, but I will always want to see more of Ames and Dark Esther. (Shelley used to be my favorite, but she has run her course as a character for me...) I'll buy the last SGR books for sure, but I don't yet know about any BM books. I'll continue to follow BM, and hope it grows on me! The art is still damn pretty, so do not despair!

Pierre said...

I really think that by its consistency and the efforts you put in it, Bad Machinery will prove to be better than Scary Go Round in the long run, and that a lot of people will end up reading it. And I, for one, really appreciated the little bit about the footballer stickers, which connected with my inner schoolboy. But I guess typically european references will be lost to american readers...

Sarah said...

Another idea, if you want to go full-on web/graphic novel with it, is to do it FreakAngels=style and upload 4-5 pages all at once per week. Of course, then a lot of people might just wait for the book like they seem to do with FA.

Ann said...

I love the new comic. It's beautiful and I like the characters, they're rounding out already. I've been reading the SGR archives from before I found the strip years ago, and BM feels like a natural progression from SGR.

If you don't scare the pants off yourself sometimes, I say you aren't doing it right. But I wouldn't hold some transitional Amy + Ryan strips against you, either.

Aaron said...

I think that Bad Machinery is great, and I honestly don't understand all the people who don't "get" the younger characters ... weren't we all young once? Maybe I just found myself on the bad end of too many sportscard swaps as a child, but I thought that subplot had lots of emotional OOMPH. To each his own, I suppose, but I find these kids more interesting to read about than the self-confident, quip-ready hipsters that populate so many web comics (SGR included).

While I am enjoying the current pace of the comic, I do think the comic might benefit from having some sort of transparent aim or mission statement. Those of us who have been reading the blog know that there will be 100-strip story arcs, but I don't think the actual website mentions that crucial detail any more. While the new cast page confirms the rumors that our pint-sized heroes fancy themselves as detectives, this has only been very vaguely hinted at in the actual narrative. (I think by some news clippings in Lottie's room?) After a of comics month we don't really know where the plot is going, and it's possible this is just too slow for the Internet?
The name of the strip is also oblique ... is it a nonsequiter? What is a Bad Machinery?

On another note, I've been reading the comic via RSS since the start of BM... I wonder if others are doing the same and driving traffic away from the actual website (which has advertising?) I will try to remember to click through from now on! Sorry to write a novel... hopefully some of this was helpful.

V^e said...

I see zero difference between BM and SGR. I feel like it's just a new story arc. I think it's fantastic. Also, "blog suits you, John."

laner said...

broccoli and custard mixed during the week sounds like a good idea.
i never, ever forgot to read sgr every day, but seem to forgot to check bm most days. i will put a post-it on my screen to help remind me, and won't stop reading (and, if i ever get money, i'll buy another shirt too), but i hope something slightly more interesting happens sometime.

Laura said...

I love bm, I think the young characters are great and I'm so glad Ryan is a teacher! Finally makes me feel cooler, I too worry about giving too much away but I have never implied I kiss pianos!
Hopefully people will get used to the change, I do think these things take time. I've always got a spare bedroom if you need one, it even has an ensuite!!!

Amy said...

Mr Allison - don't forget a lot of people use google reader etc. too now. I know that doesn't show up in my analytics.

I'm loving BM, and the pace of it too - it's true there isn't the emotional investment yet but that's natural. People aren't going to have the same feelings about a new comic that they had about one they had read for years. It will come!

You are all covered in awesome, it makes me sad that you're worried. Do not make me hunt you down and send you cake.

Glenatron said...

I've been reading since Bobbins and I think both in terms of art and storytelling that Bad Machinery is the best work so far.

Unfortunately I'm one of the people who tends to like bands who are critically acclaimed more than bands who sell lots of records, so my appreciation may be, if not the kiss of death, at best a minimal indicator for the winds of commerce.

hat_eater said...

Executing your strategic manoeuvre, you lost a big, loose part of your readership and retained the (hard)core. That was to be expected. Now you have to wait until a new mass of casual readers grows around that core. Nothing to worry about... if you can afford it.
But I plead with you not to make any hasty decisions with longterm consequences.
For the record, I will always miss SGR, but I find BM like a new child in a family.

Christophe said...

Other posters have made similar comments but here goes...

I'll be honest John, instead of frank, I'm not really a Frank.

You've already identified the drop off curve when you kick off a new project and the cliff was probably steeper then from Bobbins days. I think the shift down to four comics a week certainly hurt my enjoyment of SGR and the proposal to reduce BM to a three day jaunt, is not something I'd welcome.

In short, stick with it but given where we are in the world in 2009, the timing of your new venture may have been ill advised alright.

You know your true financial situation, so if it's a case of taking on water then the only option is the bucket and start bailing...

John A said...

Christophe, the sad thing is that there is more art and writing in one Bad Machinery than you got in two of most of the run of Scary Go Round. I don't expect a round of applause, it's actually quite a stupid thing to do in a world where XKCD and Cyanide and Happiness are totally fine daily deals. That's not a slight on them. They are copper-bottomed webcomic smash hits.

Bad Machinery is slow because it is paced like a book in order to be collected into the kind of book that would look good in bookshops, maybe! The Scary Go Round collections are absolutely manic, I never felt good taking them to publishers. I thought, naively, that I could get away with something properly paced to be read at leisure and that folks would go with it.

Alongside those high minded aspirations I invented another comic about time, moustaches and robots. I am a businessman and if I have to, I will bust out the most appalling crowd pleaser of all time. But there will be no throwing out of the baby with the bathwater.

Alexandra said...

I find the Bad Machinery characters charming, engaging and plenty identifiable. Then again, I am a high school and middle school teacher and am fascinated by adolescents. I actually found the last SGR storyline a good transition to BM because it introduced us to these new characters when they were young kids and hadn't come into their own yet. Now, when I read about them as budding adolescents, I find it thrilling to see how they've grown and the personalities they've developed.

I haven't found the pace to be too slow at all. It's actually keeping me more engaged to feel like this is all building up to some kind of big story than some of the SGR storylines that just felt like bizarre interludes that didn't go anywhere (not that I didn't love every second of SGR). I totally agree that you're doing your best work yet. Love it!

I like the Monday-Thursday update schedule much more than I liked skipping Wednesdays. I vote against three days a week of BM and two days of "sexy fun." Personally, I'd rather read one consistent story more often and I agree that it might actually make it harder to attract new readers, who'd see an even slower story on the main page and would probably not click over to the blog. Selfishly, I wouldn't like the several-updates-all-at-once idea because BM is the first thing I read every morning. :) But I do think the idea of having the main page for new readers be the beginning of a storyline is a good one.

Christophe said...

To clarify, I actually quite like the pacing of Bad Machinery itself but am ever eager to flick to the next page...

Heather Ann said...

There are currently 3,305 people subscribing to the Bad Machinery RSS in Google Reader. Do your web stats see that at all?

JAM said...

I'm pretty much a brand new reader; I think I came on board right when Scary Go Round finished up (in fact, I think it was a link from Dinosaur Comics saying that Scary Go Round had just finished up after however many years, and I was all, "what's that" and then I got sucked in and my productivity fell to zero as, of course, I had to go back and start at the beginning).

Having just ingested all of SGR at once, as it were, I'm really enjoying Bad Machinery a lot; I'm digging the slower pace and what seems like richer storytelling -- not that I didn't enjoy the storytelling in SGR (which, obviously I did, see above, in re: all at once), but that comic seems to have been an entirely different, zanier proposition. Starting fresh with a new time frame and style certainly seems to have been artistically the right choice to make, and your stated reasons for doing so made perfect sense. I'm in agreement that the peripheral audience is probably going to be different; that said, there will probably be an uptick once there's more of a Bad Machinery-specific archive, wouldn't that make sense?

Well, anyway, not that any of that was much help at all, but I'm at least one guaranteed page-view you've gained *since* the end of Scary Go Round proper. So, um, there's that.

Rob Brewer said...

You definitely are making the best comics you have ever made, John. The refreshed art style and more disciplined storytelling will pay off in the end one way or another.

I can see how "it's about 11-year-old schoolgirl detectives" could be a hard sell in a competitive marketplace. But I hope you find a way to keep doing what inspires you, rather than just churning out a product that pleases 20-somethings with a need to "identify". Because we need you to be inspired.

Rocket M. said...

Dear John,

I came to SGR relatively late... I think I had to go through 4 years of archives, but I read it all at once. And I will be real- I did not get quite the same rush from later-period SGR. I still read it regularly, and it was still awesome. But I think that there was a significant tonal shift somewhere around the last third. And I think that in light of that BM is the comic you should be writing now. I love it so far and agree with all the many positive comments everyone's left. I don't necessarily think that reducing the number of BM pages per week and serving up some silliness would benefit the comic, although, as others have said, I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more Ryan and Amy. I love Shauna and Charlotte, though, which is easy because they were basically the stars of the last story of SGR. I think BM is refreshed and energized with their youthful vim and vigor! Also, I activated my google blog just so I could leave you this comment. So, you know, that's something.

John A said...

Thanks for all the comments, they really helped. I will stay the course for now with the current update schedule (and the occasional comic split in two to make it five a week). I will also definitely make some more Destroy Histories although I think I will just trickle them out on the blog and Twitter for the hardcore faithful.

There were lots of good ideas in different posts, I will consider all of them. It is a turbulent time, and working alone it's easy to worry that you are going in the wrong direction. I will keep going!

Wolf said...

Yes, do be calm.

Mike said...

I think you hit the nail on the head with "sexy fun". The artwork in Machinery is gorgeous - you've definitely taken a step up. But the pace is slower. Maybe that's just because it's early days and you're getting up to speed.

And as for the sexy half of the equation, SGR could always throw in a strip like the shirt-and-skins volleyball game, or the many panels of Amy in various states of undress. I won't deny that that was some part of the strip's appeal, and it's harder to recapture that with preteens. At least, it had better be.

mustbepatient said...

John, I love BM. I think the charm of it is how well you create child characters. I suspect that potential readers that don't (a) have kids or (b) think like kids will probably not appreciate that aspect as much.

I think you created very desirable women in SGR and I don't see how you will fit in substantial characters like that in a comic about kids.

In short, I love the new comic but I think it will be more of a challenge commercially.

John A said...

Mustbepatient: I need kids to read the comic, they will send me their pocket money. They will give it all to me. And their parents' money too!

markleford said...

(A bit late to the commentfest, but still...)

If you described BM to me as "pre-teen adventure", sight unseen, I would be totally uninterested.

I also disliked the trend in SGR when the focus characters became younger and younger toward the end. I'd hoped that you'd "turn it around" before we started dealing with pram-racing infants!

My bias in this regard is mainly that many story and subject options open up starting in adulthood. The prospect of a limited array of school-tyme hijinks holds little appeal for me.

However, we've yet to see where the story will lead, or even the full cast of characters. For instance, the momentary bit with the Russian football team owner shows a different side that I'd like to see more of...

Namely, I fear for the loss of the barely-contained madness which was SGR.

For all I know, though, it will soon turn to tales of the righteous kids foiling the greedy plans of those naughty adults! Hah-hah! Oh the comedy potential! ... Well, if you're writing Disney kids films perhaps?

Just as you've had your own doubts about BM, I guess some of us also do. But you're the only guy that knows where it's going, so I'm just going to have a little faith and ride it out for a while longer. Having enjoyed your two previous series, I owe both of us that much.

Oh, and the art. Looking good.

- m

John A said...

Markleford:

I grew up with Roald Dahl and Tove Jansson and Richmal Crompton and Ronald Searle. They were all masters of world-building and immersive stories. They never spoke down to readers and I can read a lot of their work as an adult with the same pleasure. If I want to keep doing this for the rest of my working life, I have to make something lasting like that.

My old style was too heavy on standard webcomic tropes and creative returns were fast diminishing over the last year. If you're not sure about the new comic, come back in a few months and see how I got on.

Wolf said...

Your invocation of "Roald Dahl and Tove Jansson and Richmal Crompton and Ronald Searle" is indicative of why I suggest ongoing calm. You're crossing a frontier of sorts. The liminal state is rarely a comfortable place, but the territory you're headed for is hella sweet.

Also, it prised open my wallet, something you've never succeeded in doing before. Congratulations. You are slightly less likely to wind up with a wardrobe consisting of brown paper bags, and I slightly more. Apparently, this is what a victory for Art looks like.

Paul said...

Although I fell in love with SGR a good three years ago and felt a tinge of sadness upon its demise, BM is catching me in a different way and I'm liking it a lot.

John, I think both your art and writing are exemplary. XKCD et al only have one of these and they, frankly, very quickly become one-trick nerd ponies. You must continue because what you're doing is unique and lovely.

Red_Dog said...

I know I'm coming at this a little late (I've been away), but I really have to say bollocks to the floating voter! Appeal to the middle ground, and all you will ultimately end up with is a bland, middle of the road load of 'meh'-ness. Of course, my livelihood isn't on the line here, but I really think you should stop listening quite so much to your public, since you'll end up not knowing your arras from your elbow in the attempt to keep everyone happy.

lavalamphat said...

I've been reading your work since 2000 (bobbins) and loved it. I have a few t-shirts and books from you and they're great.

But, I'm really struggling to like BM.

I completely understand and respect your need to change, but I'm just not interested in teenager or school themes, even if it does turn into something 'Goonies' like.

It's even a bit depressing with what has happened to Ryan, he seems so disappointed, working in a sucky teaching job. He even seemed sad being married to Amy, and she appears to have turned into a bit of a nagging bitch.

I'll stick with BM a little longer, I'm hoping that this is like the beginning of a 'comic book' movie, where you show how horrible Ryan and Amy's lives were before they were inspired to become superheroes, or supervillains, or open their own superpub.

(Heehee, supervillains Amy and Ryan, being thwarted by secretagent gingerninja-superspy! That'd wear my outstandingness badge.)

Cheers.

John A said...

Thanks for that, lavalamphat. "Cheers" indeed. You really improved my day.

I don't want to make the kind of comics you want to read any more. I wrote and drew wacky young adult hijinks for eleven years, and I'm bored with them.

The new comic isn't for you. You don't need my permission to stop reading. Just remember that something new doesn't invalidate all the stories that you enjoyed.