Thursday, March 17, 2011

Super-static Feedback Party

I've just been looking at the numbers for Bad Machinery and they're going nowhere. Let me tell you, dear readers, never has a project vexed me so. Everyone I speak to about the comic is very enthusiastic about it. They like the setup, the characters. And it's a comic I love making. But I just can't put on new readers. With Bobbins and Scary Go Round, the curve always pointed gently, and sometimes steeply, up. But I can't get any momentum behind my current work. It's infuriating!

When I look at the drawing and the writing, I can't see where I'm going wrong - I work hard at both. But obviously am doing something wrong, as I get very little feedback these days. So at the end of each story, I sit back and think, a. is it worth doing another one for 24 weeks and b. if it is worth it, what could I be doing better?

Here's what I suspect may be wrong

1. Kids are a hard sell
2. The stories, at 100 pages, are too long, or too slowly paced
3. There are too many central characters

In the old days it was easy: I read emails that people wrote, looked at my message board, did more of what people liked. Now I find myself apparently getting something fundamental wrong and not knowing what to do about it. It's not that the sky is falling in - I can survive, just about, at the present level, but I don't want to spend another six months repeating my mistakes.


Jon Downes said...

I think that this is a great pity. Of all your comics, Bad machinery is the one I like most..

JP said...

Same here. I love Bad Machinery, and I follow it far more devotedly than I did any of the SGR storylines. I guess not enough people share my opinion.

radioguitar said...

I don't understand it at all. I believe Bad Machinery is your best work yet, some days reading an installment leaves with a weird feeling of actual joy.

Doctor Oddverse said...

I've been a reader since early Bobbins, and love your work. Your stuff this week has been great - in particular the fire engines, which made me spill my coffee.

That said, I don't love Bad Machinery. I wish I did. I want to love it. I like it, but the love isn't there.

I suspect that it's down partly to the length of the stories - although splitting them in to chunks helps with that. My main problem is getting my head around the characters - which is easier to do when I sit down and read a batch of strips, but harder at the rate of a strip a day.

Now, SGR had a large cast of characters, but the stories tended to focus on one or two of them as main characters. In BM, you're permanently juggling a larger cast, and in particular you introduced them all at the same time. In BM, new characters came in more gradually, and I think it served them better.

One way to tackle this might be to run shorter, more focussed stories, between the main stories. What Charlotte did on her holidays, that kind of thing. Give new readers a character to identify with and "enter" the world of BM through.

Apart from that, it's hard to pin down - as you no doubt realise! - your plotting and art have never been better, I just suspect it might not be as new-reader friendly as it could be.

John A said...

Guys, your comments are very cheering. The people who like Bad Machinery REALLY like it. The problem is more one of promotability - I can't pick up new readers. Advertising doesn't seem to work and there's little word of mouth, so I'm stuck.

I don't actually want to do side projects like Giant Days, I want to get BM on a good run. Titting around with bits and pieces on the side just ignores the loyal readers who ARE enjoying it every day.

Billy said...

That is pretty strange. I really dig Bad Machinery. Your writing is better than it's ever been. Lottie and Professor Ryan and Ms. Perks and the rest are just fantastic characters.

Could it be that you have plateaued? The more you refine your particular sense of humor and style, the less broad the appeal is? I don't know if that even makes sense.

The Rev Mountain said...

I really love Bad Machinery (I'll admit, not as much as Scary Go Round, but not a drastic amount less), but I think you may have nailed it with point number two. The characters will always take a while to get used to, especially given your writing is more nuanced at the start of Bad Machinery than it was back at the start of SGR.
But the length of the stories may be what is stopping those new readers from hanging on, even if I personally actually like the length (cue puns).
That being said, I'm pretty sure people could have said the same thing about SGR, and I remember at times when I tried to get my girlfriend (now wife) into SGR she felt it was very much an all-or-nothing thing - you needed to read all the archives - to actually really get into the stories and characters.
It's a hard thing to balance - I like the fact that I get a piece of the Bad Machinery story with each post, and in fact I grew tired of Diesel Sweeties quite a while ago because I didn't get that, but by the same token, I imagine it's hard to pick up new readers if they're coming in at page 46 of a 100 page+ story.
So in short, I think that you're right about that, but I don't know how you solve while still doing what you want with it.
I guess Giant Days is an indication that shorter stories may be more of what people want? But is that what you want?
Regardless, I am currently RSSing it, if it would help your numbers for me to hit the site instead (for whatever reason), I will happily do so.

Unknown said...

Yeah, I can see that. SGR had magic, love problems, and girls shouting a lot. Like a flashing neon sign. BM is slower, but I'm really getting into the characters and can't wait for the next strip to see what happens next, not just for the next chuckle like SGR.

Yay yay keep it up and I wish your books were sold overseas in Amar'cuh

Josher said...

Here is some hopefully constructive feedback.

1) I love Bad Machinery, and will continue to read it because it's excellent, BUT I marginally preferred Scary-Go-Round. I do prefer BM to Bobbins, however.

2) Kids as the core characters are a hard sell. This is a pity as you have clearly found your voice with them, but in a way one of the main charms of SGR was that the characters were both adult AND childlike - in their manner and their decision-making processes. The characters in BM feel more ambiguous, and their relationships more flexible - which is good, and may be me interpreting rather than something that's inherent, but it does mean that the interpersonal stakes feel lower. Perhaps that's because I read kids in a slightly more patronising light. I assume that when kids fight they'll make up, and when kids fall in love they'll fall out again, and that the status quo will inevitably be restored because - hey - they're kids, and it's what kids do.

3) The Tackleford of BM feels less anarchic and more structured than the Tackleford of SGR. The storylines thus far have been less, I don't know, zany than SGR's, especially early SGR, and that can't help but make them less eye-catching. There hasn't been a Shelley-gets-zombie'd moment yet - a moment that makes the reader go "Woah, that's bananas!" That's a testament to the increased maturity of the stories being told, I think - the current story of the simple soul is much richer than Shelley Gets Munched Om Nom, and I would like more of that, please - but even the most mature stories have to turn on the razzmatazz from time to time. Nabokov ended Lolita with a shoot-out in a pornographer's mansion (very Scarface). But aside from that, the appeal of SGR in particular was that the setting was comfortable, cheerful, charming, and deeply unsafe. As a reader, I never knew when I was turning on my computer whether it was going to be character development or Krakens, and that was appealing because you do both of them really really well. At the moment I feel like you're drawing heavily from column a and less from column b. This has an effect on what I said above about low stakes - it's hard to believe that you're going to zombify Shauna, so the sense of threat that was pervasive in (particularly early) SGR is missing.

4) I've been comparing BM to SGR more than Bobbins because my feelings towards Bobbins are more nuanced. SGR was a huge advance on Bobbins under the terms of both 2) and 3) above. I liked Bobbins but never read it religiously, as the characters were thinner and the setting less engaging than they became in SGR. In terms of trajectory, BM makes sense - it's much more character-driven than either of its predecessors.

5) It may seem like what I'm saying that the SGR was the "sweet spot" and that you should either a) change back or b) regret having changed in the first place. That's not so. BM DOES represent a clear development in your storytelling and that's marvellous; the narratives in SGR were at times meandering and the "weight" (by which I mean, back-story and very, very defined personalities) of the main characters clearly sometimes prevented you from doing things that you wanted to do. All that BM needs to do to easily exceed SGR, at least in terms of quality, is develop a bit more narrative drive. Find a way to up the stakes, emotionally or physically, for the characters and the readers will come, I have no doubt.

John A said...

Sarah: all my merchandise is available in America - most of it ships from a warehouse in Massachusetts.

Magnolia Guitar said...

I love Bad Machinery, but the long-story format is probably hard for all but the most dedicated readers. I read BM every time it comes out in my Google Reader. But with SGR, I wouldn't read it for weeks or months and then spend a whole day catching up. Your work is less like a webcomic and more like a webcomic-book or webgraphic novel. Would you consider developing an iPad app for it? It might be appealing to the 500 Bazillion new ipad owners if it felt like a comic book. Cheers.

K said...

I don't at all mind the longer storylines of Bad Machinery, but I have noticed my reading patterns changing - I tend to read every few days (and read several pages at once) rather than checking every day. There are other reasons I do this other than the longer form (to do with changes in my web-browsing habits that have nothing to do with this comic) but I suppose if a lot of people are doing that, it will affect the stats.

Umm... If I knew any children of literate age, I would recommend BM to them. When I was aged 12 or so I would have enjoyed it (I was stuck with "Bunty" and my brother's Beano or Dandy if I wanted non-superhero comics, plus the occasional Asterix book). I do recommend it to grownups who like this sort of thing.

EZ Goodnight said...

One of the things I notice--people will ignore an illustrator (even if they like the art) unless they can make some kind of connection with the subject matter. IMHO this means one of two things--either shallower, more eye-candy subject matter or fanart.

Case in point, I personally found you when I saw your X-Men 88 fanart, subscribed and stuck around. I started reading Bad Machinery not long after you posted that image, and I've only been getting into the stories for the past month or so.

Getting into stories with SO MANY complex characters is a a pretty big investment of time. If you have to understand so many characters to enjoy the story, the internet won't reward you for it. New readers are fickle--if there is too much time to invest they'll simply forget.

I guess, in short, aggressively (continue to?) promote yourself, and write stories that can be appreciated both on shallow levels by new readers, and on deeper levels by long time fans.

S. said...

I'm a relative newcomer to webcomics and found SGR from Bad Machinery. SGR does have an unpredictable, fractured, charming, sometimes even frenetic energy that is less evident in BM, but (having read it in archives) SGR also sometimes suffered from that same energy when it overwhelmed the story arcs. I think BM does have that same goofy charm, but it's just functioning within a much higher level of plotting. I trust you more as a storyteller in Bad Machinery and Giant Days.

I own a bookstore that sells a *lot* of kids books, and I think that Bad Machinery has the potential to reach a wider audience than just traditional webcomics readers--kids are not a hard sell to other kids, and *this* kind of storytelling about kids is a very easy sell to parents, teachers, any grownups who spend a lot of time with kids--so if your numbers are staying flat, it may be that there are other places to look for your audience.

This could be a great published book series with graphix (Scholastic imprint) or Amulet (Abrams).

Wood said...

Maybe the main reason why you can't gain new readers is the lack of... how should I put it... sexiness ?

Internet people are mostly stupid. Also they are horny all the time. They want characters they can fantasize about, and stories from which they can write rule 34 fanfics.

This is a sad lesson about webcomics, arts and humanity as a whole. Lose the sexiness, lose the audience.

thestuckduck said...

I love Bad Machinery, but it took me a little while to keep the boys straight.

I love it as an adult, but I know that when I was a 10 year old girl, it would have been my favourite thing ever. Is there a way to get your stories linked into other kid sites? BBC Kids, CBC Kids, Nickelodeon, etc?

Take heart, you're a brilliant writer and artist, your genius will shine through.

Noel Curry said...

I only became aware of your work when Bad Machinery started and that was the first thing of yours that I read. I enjoy it very much and personally, I don't have a problem with the fact that the main characters are kids. However, I would agree with some of the earlier comments about the amount of characters and the length of the stories. Having dipped into the Scary-Go-Round archives, I very quickly got a sense of who the characters where and what they were about. I think I would have a hard time describing the various BM characters to a friend who hadn't read your stuff. It may be a sign of your improving abilities as a writer that your characters are more nuanced, but for a daily webcomic hoping to attract new readers, it may be problematic. Also, I would say that BM has not produced a breakout star. Whenever I see SGR referred to, it is usually because of Shelley. Having a strong character who seems to exist outside of the world of your story makes it easier for new readers to enter this world.
I do hope you find a way to continue doing BM as I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Shaun said...

I think a lot of the feedback and comments left above cover much of what I might say myself. Bad Machinery is a significantly tighter, better-written tale with a cast that is stronger overall (even if it does lack some of the wonderful characters who grew and developed throughout SGR). I suspect I love Bad Machinery more as it is a fine comic with a fine core cast, but I'm a little less *in* love with it (with some of your SGR characters being people I wish existed, and I wish I knew; I also wish I was a little less tragic, but I'd just take from this pride in your writing and art).

A recurrent concern has been how difficult it can be to get into a comic which is already underway. Well, perhaps you could draw a short one-off special with a link to it emblazoned towards the top of the site: "New to Bad Machinery? Get up to speed with this short tale..."

Something simple that hit all the relevant notes: the comic's general themes and motifs, the core cast, and the setting of Tackleford. I think if prospective readers have a clear place to start, and something that gently eases them in to the setting and hooks them with your writing, art and humour, then they'll be a lot more inclined to either subscribe and read from that point on, or to visit the archives and read through existing stories.

No idea of whether that would work but I know it's something that would draw me in. The internet's busy these days, and if something doesn't take the time to introduce itself to you, it's easy to refuse it your own time to get to know it.

Anonymous said...

Put me in the "love BM" camp, but as far as webcomic-standard goes I am sad and disappointed to have to agree with Wood.

Constructive suggestion: BM works with looong story arcs, intricately plotted so coming in midway is disorienting. What about making that clearer on the front page, e.g. with a prominent link to the start of the current story?

Katy Newton said...

I agree with everything S said. It's a brilliant comic. I liked SGR but I can't honestly say I took the storylines that seriously because they were overwhelmed by the strip to strip madness. In Bad Machinery the zaniness is there but only where it drives the plot forward. I think it's a proper work of literature, innit, and I agree that it would sell like mad to parents and children as a book (I used to work in a children's bookshop).

I genuinely don't understand why the readership isn't increasing. I do remember some of your SGR fans saying, when you posted a similar request for feedback, something along the lines of "Hey, I'm 25 and I don't want to read about schoolkids", which irritates me, but if that's how they feel then that's how they feel. I don't know where you've been promoting it, but I think you may need to start actively looking for parent/child oriented sites or educational sites or perhaps the mainstream press rather than exclusively working the alternative webcomic site (you may have been doing this already, of course, I don't know). There must be a market for this on the internet, but I'm not sure it's the sex! steampunk! scifi! fantasy! at least two climactic scenes or cliffhangers per week! arena.

I have no other suggestions. It's absolutely brilliant. Please don't stop writing it.

Edmund Ward said...

Anyone who tells you SGR is better than Bad Machinery is wrong - tasteless at best, actively trying to creatively sabotage you through lies at worst.

I think this is your problem: Scary go Round was a really good webcomic. Bad Machinery is undeniably a superior comic: superior art, superior plotting & structure, superior characters and characterisation. I would hate for you to change the characters (extremely universal, but with a specificity about them that makes them ring true), or story structures - These 100 page stories display a maturity of plotting that was often absent in Scary go Round.

It's not as "Zany" and it doesn't have as much "Razzmatazz" as Josher mentions above - and that probably is what a webcomic audience responds to better - in part because of the demographics and in part because of the nature of the daily reading experience. However, Zany and Razzmatazz is not what makes a good work of fiction and art.

Now, I've been reading your work for about 7 years, day in day out. My relationship to your body of work really is quite unique. I'm an avid reader of a few webcomics but yours and Superosity are the only ones I follow daily, but I was introduced to Scarygoround from the first collection - a gift from a friend - and I don't know if I'd have ever discovered or gotten into it without that. I have all the ScaryGoRound books because heck, I want to share my love for your work and actually most people aren't regular readers of webcomics - they just won't load up a webpage for less than thirty seconds of entertainment every day. So the book forms are the best way to attract new readers - readers who don't demand jokes about videogames and twentysomething characters.
But I didn't really successfully pursuade many people to read Scary Go Round - The reasons for this are as follows:
- It's very Zany, like, extremely Zany. Too Zany for most of my friends to swallow. (See
- It takes time to get going - you kind of need to get through quite a lot before it starts to get going and it only really starts to get going, in my opinion, with the introduction of the teenagers.
- The art is all over the place.

Bad Machinery is a fresh start - it hits the ground running in terms of creative quality. These 100 page stories are brilliantly crafted - they make for satisfying stories. They make for satisfying stories that I can see myself lending to friends and family and them finishing and being satisfied and interested to read more. As opposed to reading it and going "hmm, yeah, bit weird, I like the way they talk, but I'm not really sure what the point of these stories is"

My friend picked up the print of Bad Machinery you did for shows because I wanted to start lending them around as I know a lot of people who would really appreciate these stories.
Unfortunately, as they're printed in black and white I won't be lending them out. I know that this book was not really intended to be the proper print version of these stories, but it breaks my heart to see your artwork in black and white...
I was surprised to see it was A4; was this to keep printing costs down? While reading it, it did make me realise that if, as you mentioned on twitter the other day, you decide to go with an A4 format for the next story, then an A4 book would be marvelous - the detail on the work you're doing these days would really stand up to being enlarged on a one-strip per A4 page format. If it makes the process of getting colour Bad Machinery to print any easier then should switch to that layout and never look back.

My broad point is - you've got to get these stories to print because that's where they'll come alive - print is a better format for their structure, it's a better format for your characters - My mum might read Bad Machinery but she wouldn't read Scarygoround. She's not going to read anything on a computer screen

Anonymous said...

Blogger just ate my encouraging, thoughtful comment. Short version: BM is the best in a series of your delightful comics; like reading a modern, clever version of E. Nesbit. Perhaps it is too "real" comic-y, though, for many readers. Continuity and pacing are scary (for some people)! I love it, my friends who didn't love other stuff you did as well love it, and I wish you the best of luck and all deserved (that is, increased) success.

rachel xs said...

I read Scary Go Round everyday (back in the day), and now I read Bad Machinery everyday. I absolutely loved SGR (so witty! so clever! such interesting plot lines!) but I only 'like' Bad Machinery. The reasons are certainly the ones you pointed out. Too many young characters going at a slow pace. I already feel more interested in the teachers and parents than I do to the children. Perhaps they simply can't get into as much mischief as adults?

I will always come back for whatever new comic you have in store, whether or not it is the most incredible piece of work you've created.

You have a loyal fan base, no worries there.

La Chelsa said...

Hope you don't mind another contribution to the echo chamber. I was a big SGR fan for years, and I love Bad Machinery. I think it's well written, funny, and charming, and I love your art style. I don't know what you could do to gain more readers, but I'll keep reading whatever you put out. All the best.

evaristo said...

I for one really, really, really love Bad Machinery and think it's perfect the way it is. I just feel a bit sorry that this opinion may not be very helpful about what to change. Um... more ebooks?

deathtopenguins said...

I only found out about SGR and Bad Machinery over the last month and they've quickly become two of my favourite comics. I found out about them from a friend and also links from other comics. However, I did feel that it took reading about 50 in a row to really understand the humour and style.

Personally I like Bad Machinery best because of the focus on children and the nostalgia I have for 'Famous Five' books I read as a child. Also Charlotte Grote is probably the cutest character ever!

Sorry to hear that you're not getting the enormous amounts of respect you deserve for putting out such great work. I'll start badgering friends, family, the internet and random passers by about you site :p

whereistom said...

How much do readers directly equate to income? Is it a case of (to sound horribly capitalist for a minute) monetising the existing readers better? Are people who are engaged enough to read a 'more difficult' comic engaged enough to buy more merchandise? Is it that side of what you do that needs work, more than the comic itself?

FWIW - I liked SGR, but I love Bad Machinery. SGR made me laugh. BM makes me laugh, and also makes me feel wistful and nostalgic and happy. I care about the characters - they feel so much more real and 3 dimensional, because you're not always out for the quick laugh.

I suspect that what I see as its strengths, though, are equally it's weaknesses in terms of a daily web comic. But I for one would be gutted to see it disappear or totally change.

Anonymous said...

If I had to make a guess as to why you have more trouble selling this comic than others it would be the "no Shelly Winters" thing. Of course, you don't need Shelly Winters, per se, but one, single, clearly-out-front character would probably help a lot. Even treating the groups (boys/girls) more as "character units," if that makes sense. Don't let the groups splinter as much and play them directly off each other more.

Chelle Lynn said...

I'm probably restating someone else's point, but here goes:

I felt that I could read any random SGR strip and get a chuckle. There were more zingy one-liners, bright colors, and crazy hijinks. So, when I was a new reader I didn't feel so intimidated by it...even if I missed a comic or forgot what was going on, I would always be entertained by any random strip.

BM is, to me, one of those comics that is best read several strips at a time instead of every day because I find myself forgetting what's going on. The pacing is just slower than SGR. I actually do this with many comics that I read...I save a week's worth then read them all in a sitting. Perhaps new readers are more intimidated by this comic than's hard to jump into and therefore a more challenging piece of work.

I applaud you for creating what you love, and truly see a wonderful progression in your work from when I first starting reading 7 years ago. BM is a delightful piece of work, I hope you find that stride that you are looking for.

Anonymous said...

Count me in as another of the "love Bad Machinery" camp. I wonder how much of the new readers problem is down to the sheer number of webcomics around these days. Ten years ago, I'd mention a webcomic I loved, and a number of people would check it out immediately. Now, people go "hmm" and forget it. They just have as many comics on their list as they feel they want.

geedeck said...

Regarding Bad Machinery (and SGR/Bobbins), I feel like the situation is kind of like being a kid at the grocery. In my brain, I know that Bad Machinery is the healthier, heartier choice... but the candy-like enjoyment of SGR is so very appealing. I mean I like both so very much, but with BM its harder to point a strip out to people and be like HAY GUYS.

I admit, I latch onto the adult characters more. With the kids, you know they're going to do some cruel/foolish kids things, and inevitability of that is offputting to me. On the other hand, the character depth and ability for growth with the kids is amazing. So I realize this... but then am always so happy to see a strip with the adults.

I don't think I'm a smart enough person to see a solution. The perfect advert campaign? More adults? Less? More Giant Days? Have a rally to have people tell their friends? I don't know.

Don't know. I do know I quite like your work and will be glad to read it as long as you keep making it.

Greg K. said...

It would be foolish of me to try to tell you how to improve your comic. I think it's great and I expect to keep reading whether or not you make changes.

I try not to make a habit of talking to people, but I'll make an effort to share your comic with potential readers.

Possibly a stupid question: are you missing out on reader numbers or ad revenue because of the thousands of us who read on RSS and never go to the site?

Unknown said...

First of all, I'm a huge fan. Found Bad Machinery first and, after reading through that in its entirety, read through the entire Scary Go Round archive.

Since I'm not exactly inclined to think that the problem is with your work I'm not sure how productive my suggestions will be.

But, off the top of my head:

1. Expand distribution. Get each 100 page story into Comixology's digital comics store. I doubt that a bespoke app would be worth the effort (they're expensive to create and maintain), but the digital comics stores seem like a logical venue. Also, I'd think that the Bad Machinery stories would be excellent candidates for the Illustrated Books section of iBooks. Give away the first ebook for free in all venues with a link to the site and to the other ebooks.

2. Improve your marketing efforts with a proper landing page. A simple page that introduces the concept and characters, with no navigation or links except a big-ass button to the first page which says "start reading here", or some such.

3. Add a "Bad Machinery eBooks" category to the store where readers who want to support you can buy PDFs of completed stories.

Not really helpful, I know, and I'm sure that, if you do tweaks to the format or concept, the story will always continue to be excellent. Maybe experimenting with a shorter story with fewer characters might be fun, I don't know. But whatever you decide to do, I'll look forward to reading it. :-)

conundrum said...

i loved SGR, and am one of those who were sad that it came to an end! i stuck around for BM cos i enjoy your artwork and writing still, but ultimately i feel like SGR was higher energy, higher crazy, and had more likeable characters (imo). as a reader though, i appreciate the need to do something different so no problems for me there - i'll happily stick around for many projects to come. i do think something that deters new readers is the difficulty of diving in with your long-narrative-arc style. also, as a rss reader since forever, do let us know if accessing the comic from your website would help - i definitely would do that, it's literally a click away.

Bloggy said...

It's not a problem with the comic, it's that you don't have a (very good) Marketing Department.

Division of labour, my friend. Pay someone to market Bad Machinery. Word of mouth can only carry you so far.

HUKI365 said...

Can't really give you any advice - try reaching out to the Webcomic Weekly guys maybe?

I liked SGR, suffered through the back catalogue and liked BM.

My favourite parts of SGR was the craziness ( unlike the other comentator I love these two characters and Tim the inventor)

The problem I see with going back to SGR is that you go back to all your old problems - large cast, large backstory.

One thing I can constructively feedback on BM is that the aside characters are "instantly" more engaging. Although I really like the arc of the main characters, compared to Colm they feel flat.

If you were to launch a new comic or go back to SGR I think it would have to be with a totally mercenary mindset based on a couple of instantly engaging characters.

I don't think kids are impossible to sell. But it can be hard on the internet.

Bloggy said...

Man, please do not give undue weight to the surprising number of people in this comments section who are "more interested in the adults" or "need more zany one-liners." Those are red herrings.

MsMolly said...

Oh I just wrote you the prettiest, lengthiest, most complimentary comment and Blogger ate it. :(

In summary, I LOVE Bad Machinery. It is far and away your best work. The characters feel so much like real people, like they could step off the page and into real life. And they have so much heart.

In no way do I think you should take the plateau in readership as a referendum on the quality of your work. Bad Machinery could stand on its own against the best of young adult comics, literature, and movies. But I think maybe the lack of Sexy Ladies that people can get drawings of at comics conventions limits the appeal to the traditional fanboy.

I think Bad Machinery's audience is out there, but it's people who don't usually read a lot of webcomics. The women who subscribe to Bust or Bitch, the captain of the roller derby team, the aunt who wants her niece to be a tween more like Shauna, Lottie, or Marigold than Hannah Montana. If there were a book or iPad version of the strip it might help reach these audiences. Don't despair, because this strip is seriously one of the high points of my day, and a friend and I often message each other about small details or character moments that are just so perfect.

Bloggy said...

Achewood, written by Chris Onstad, had a big surge in popularity when Onstad was interviewed on America's National Public Radio (NPR).

An interview or feature in mainstream media, particularly something like an NPR, would certainly do you wonders, but I don't know how you get your foot in the door without a literary agent or something.

Again, though, I think that's just what you need; someone who is paid to spread your gospel, sell you, secure you interviews, run ads, and generally market you.

Nicholas Condon said...

Even though we are several stories into BM, I still feel a little at sea with some of the characters. By the end of SGR, Shelley, Amy, Ryan, Esther, and the Boy were all very specific, relatable, and well-drawn characters. Many of the "retired" characters, like Tim, were also highly memorable.

The BM characters, particularly the boys, feel a lot mushier and more vague at this point. Honestly, I had to go to the cast page to remember any of the boys' names. The girls (particularly Charlotte) are starting to sharpen up on the edges, and I do think Colm is a good addition with a clear personality and traits.

I think Doctor Oddverse hit the nail on the head: Do some shorter stories that focus on one character at at a time, so we can develop the same affection for them that we have for someone like Amy.

Anonymous said...

I have been a reader since Bobbins. I loved Bobbins, loved SGR (although I felt it got weaker near the end).
I used to recommend SGR to my friends, and own a 'secret scary friend' t-shirt.

I can never tell what the hell's going on in Bad Machinery. Can't tell one character from another most of the time, frankly. I keep reading it in hopes that I will see some of my old favorite characters, and to see if it will change into something I can follow.

Josher's comment above hits on all the important points.

MsMolly said...

Quotes from actual IM discussion of Bad Machinery. We are a librarian and grad student, both in our 30s, by the way:

11:33 AM me: today's Bad Machinery is awesome:
Karen: ooh
me: "He was asking you out on a date!" "I know! Gross!"
11:34 AM Karen: lol
poor Colm
i love the shattered glass panel
11:35 AM me: ha! i didn't even notice that. nice.
Karen: :)
11:37 AM i love the sentiment too
"when's the right time to start hurting his feelings?"
me: yes :D
11:38 AM at the beginning i was all prepared to be sad for mildred as everyone paired off and then charlotte's reaction totally made me lol
Karen: :)


9:58 AM me: omg, the details in bad machinery are always so good:
they went shopping at "vasco de llama"
9:59 AM Karen: :)
yes, i've really been enjoying them lately
10:00 AM i'm very fond of the Colm loves Lottie story line
me: haha yes
10:01 AM i suspect jack and shauna will be over by the end of this storyline, because that's the way it goes at that age :)
10:02 AM Karen: :)

Ivo said...

1. Kids are a hard sell

No. Harry Potter, for heaven's sake.

2. The stories, at 100 pages, are too long, or too slowly paced

No. There are longer, slowly paced works out there.

3. There are too many central characters

No. There are bigger casts in other more famous works.

You seem to be having a hard time grasping something: your work is niche work; good stuff, but niche. At one point new readers will stop flowing in, simply because the audience is already here.

Keep doing what you do. We love you for it.

Ivo said...

1. Kids are a hard sell

No. Harry Potter, for heaven's sake.

2. The stories, at 100 pages, are too long, or too slowly paced

No. There are longer, slowly paced works out there.

3. There are too many central characters

No. There are bigger casts in other more famous works.

You seem to be having a hard time grasping something: your work is niche work; good stuff, but niche. At one point new readers will stop flowing in, simply because the audience is already here.

Keep doing what you do. We love you for it.

John A said...

Thank you for all the fascinating comments. There is a lot of good reading here, so much that I can't process a lot more, so I will close the comments here.

I would like to address four specific points that came up along the way:

1. The lack of a stand-out central character is intentional, as an exercise Bad Machinery is an ensemble piece. That might prove a weakness but it was done intentionally.

2. I have little or no budget, financial or in terms of time, for promotion. I work myself to a standstill. I am desperate for reliable, professional help to move the comic forward beyond the point I have been able to take it to but thus far have had no success in securing that in the limited time available.

3. I know that Bad Machinery is not ideally placed for the trad webcomic audience. I'd love to think that there is an untapped audience for it in a different sort of area. I'm very grateful to everyone who takes the time to read my work. And again, to those who took time to write long, thought out comments.

4. RSS readers do count, I know you're out there!

Please direct any further correspondence on this post to

John A said...


jeffpaulsen: God bless you for trying, you are actually TOO loyal! I have met ten year olds who took great pleasure in delineating the different Bad Machinery characters to a degree even I hadn't thought about. I release you from any obligation to keep reading.