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Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Daily Grind: Apparently, it's pretty easy.

Ok, I've resisted saying anything for quite some time now, but I feel like I've become so distended from holding it in that if I don't make my comments known to the general public, I'm going to literally explode and prove once and for all that human spontaneous combustion is a reality, not a myth.

What am I talking about? Why, The Daily Grind, of course. For those of you that don't know, the Daily Grind is the currently most well-known "Iron Man" competition for webcomics. The basic idea was that, for a twenty dollar buy-in, you tried to post a comic a day, every weekday. As long as you post at least two new panels of artwork every weekday, you're still in. But miss a single day and you're out. Last man standing gets the pot.

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Well, anyone who's been following the message board will be able to tell you that those simple rules have ballooned into a ridiculous amount of drama over the past few months, with arguments about people that should be out or should not be out, questions pertaining to particulars of the rules (such as the infamous "one sketch every ten days" rule), and the various general macho posturing that naturally comes out in any contest.

I myself have not posted anything in the message board because, as I mentioned in my Statement of Purpose, I like to avoid adding anything to the static of the internet which is blogs and forums, and I also feel it is better to leave the forums for the artists to express themselves rather than filled with uneducated commentary by the general public.

So, that of course begs the question of why I've now decided to write this post in the Webcomicker. Truly I know nothing of the work which must be involved in keeping up in a competition such as this, after all, my own webcomics are very rarely updated and one of them I don't even draw! So this is an outsider's opinion. But sometimes an outsider can provide a fresh look at the subject, so let's start from the top.

The main complaint from competitors dating back all the way to the first week of the contest and which will probably persist until such a time as the competition is over is this: A lack of accounting for quality. What do I mean? I mean that as long as you slap together two panels of work a day, you get to stay in the Grind. What does that mean? It means a great advantage to those members that have a very simple comic, artistically. Let's face it, it doesn't matter how good your comic is, if your style is basically inked outlines with no shading, it's going to take you a lot less time to do your comic than someone who does a full color work. And if you go straight by the two panel minimum, it'll take you half the time to do your strip than someone who's strip's pacing needs a full four panels to work itself out. Obviously it's going to be frustrating if you consistently do a four panel strip every day and you see one of the other guys clearly abusing the rules by splitting up what is essentially a four panel strip into two days of two panel strips.

One of the biggest complainers on the Daily Grind boards is D.J. Coffman, and when you go and look at all the strips, can you really blame him? He produces a full color work every day, four panels or more. That's gotta take serious time. Then he clicks on over to Brian Fukushima's site and sees what basically amounts to nothing more than a cleaned up and inked sketch. Is Brian's comic worse than D.J.s? No. Did it take less time to make? DEFINITELY. So D.J. feels slighted, and rightly so. But Brian argues that he's well within the rules, and so he can't be kicked out just because he's chosen to make a faster product. Like it or not, that's his style for his strip. And thus begins the arguing.

This example highlights what is essentially the problem with the Daily Grind: It is an unlevel playing field. When you compete in a triatholon, all the contestants run the same ground, swim in the same water, ride the same bikes. Their bodies may be built differently, their style of running or swimming or biking a bit off, but the grounds on which the competition takes place are equal. This is not true of The Daily Grind. Everything in the production of a comic strip is variable. Pencil or ink, color or black and white, shading or outlining, drawing by hand or using the computer, each one of these factors heavily into the amount of time it takes to produce a strip each day. And none of these factors is accounted for in the current incarnation of the Daily Grind rules. D.J. Coffman could quit the contest right now in disgust, and still have invested a greater number of hours into creating his comics thus far than the eventual winner might spend in total over the entire contest. Does that make the winner the Iron Man? NO! It makes him the smarter man for learning best how to use the rules to his advantage, but not the Iron Man who put in more hours toward winning the competition than anyone else.

So what's the solution? Some have suggested using an "American Idol" style voting system where people vote for which comics they like best and the lower rated ones get kicked off every week. Of course, the problem with this idea is that the established, popular strips, would get massive amounts of ballot box stuffing from their fan base and all the lesser known strips would be gone in a few weeks. And anyone who thinks that the more popular strips wouldn't be so cruel as to leverage their fan base against the smaller guys doesn't know Scott Kurtz very well.

Another (more popular) suggestion has been to use a "Survivor" style voting system in which the contestants themselves vote for who goes and who gets to stay. While this seems like it would be an interesting idea for a contest, as we all know from watching Survivor this would turn the challenge into a political contest rather than a true test of will and fortitude, which was of course the original intention of the Grind. Alliances would be formed and broken, back-stabbing and double-crossing would occur, all-in-all it would actually be a great show and probably draw some nice publicity, but it wouldn't be a Grind, it would be a circus.

So what is the solution? Well, speaking as an outsider, it seems to me that the original intent of the Grind was a good idea. Basically the goal was to determine who had the most devotion to producing their comic on a consistent basis. However, the plan hit a snag due to differences in the level of devotion necessary to produce any given comic. So what needs to be done is to develop some means of ensuring that all contestants must spend roughly the same amount of time producing work each week, and that means accounting for all the factors mentioned a few paragraphs ago. Here's the general idea: rather than simply requiring two panels of work every weekday, the contest should require of the contestants to earn a certain number of "points" each week. Different types of work would be assigned different point values to account for the disparity in total amount of time needed to produce such work. I think this can best be illustrated by an example. These points values would probably need to be adjusted for an actual contest, but it gives you an idea of what I'm talking about:

Each contestant must "bank" 60 points worth of work over the course of each week. No more than 20 points may be banked on any given day.
1 panel of pencil work = 1 point
1 panel of inked work = 2 points
1 panel of full color work, done on the computer = 3 points
1 panel of full color work, drawn and inked then scanned into the computer for coloring = 4 points

So you see that by this scale, someone like D.J. Coffman would have to produce roughly 15 panels of work for a week, whereas someone like Bela Whigimill would need to do close to 60. Now, as I mentioned before the proportions of points given in this example are probably off, but you get the idea. This would level the playing field in terms of time spent making comics each week for each contestant, and would ensure that in the end the ultimate winner would be the person who dedicated the most time to their comic.

Ok, I feel like I've vented enough of the running commentary in my brain to allow myself to go to sleep tonight. Hopefully I'll never let a build-up like this fester in their this long again, because that is just plain painful.


At 4:52 AM, Blogger Kristofer Straub said...

I think the Daily Grind was a neat idea, but it was never really viable in such a variable-quality field as webcomics at large.

I made an analogy once similar to yours, that the Daily Grind was like a bicycle race in which runners were also permitted to compete. Sure, there's no chance in hell a guy on foot will keep up with the guys on the bikes, but hey, thanks for putting $20 in the pot anyway.

One of the more specious criteria was the server uptime one, where if your site is down, you're out. Um, what? That isn't even related to effort. How about if my site is down I'm out, but if a relative dies within the following 48 hours, I'm back in? But I have to sing a song and be judged by members of INXS first?

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Phil Kahn said...

This, all along, was why I never paid a signifigant amount of attention to the Daily Grind Challenge (Other than when Kurtz dropped out). There's nothing stopping a guy from doing a stick figure comic of two incoherent panels every day for the rest of his life, but someone like DJ would need to take a break.

The only Daily Grinders I'm reading are the ones that I happened accross in the same way I happen accross all comics that I read (except for Blindmole, his icon on the page intriqued me enough to take a look).

And the fact that the grind has taken as much time as it has already has caused my interest decrease to absolute minimal. When it's finally all said and done I might say "Hey, good for ________, they sure made comics every week day for a long time."

Other than that? Meh.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Peter Venables said...

I remember thinking, when I glanced at the list of competitors and their respective works, that this whole thing should have been done by invitation only. Not to be elitist, mind, but to organize the contestants into similar groups. Full-colour comics as a category, black and white as another.

In the end, however, it still isn't a level playing field. Those people who do paper-doll or cut-n-paste comics have a real advantage. it's like of like the first time you see Ultimate Fighting Championship, you expect the Kung Fu master is going to rule only to see him mercilessly taken down by a more efficent martial art.


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