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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Retconning, Rebooting, and Melonpool.

Confusion, consternation, and retro-active continuity from Melonpool.

So, this post is going up much later than I expected, thanks to the joys of dicey internet connections and busy days. Also, it should be noted that a full understanding of the terms laid out in this Wikipedia article could be considered prerequisite knowledge required to fully understand this post. Those pieces of administration out of the way, let's dive in.

For anyone out there that reads Melonpool, you already know that Steve Troop decided to retcon his comic. For those of you that don't read Melonpool, there's never been a better time for you to start (except maybe 1996), because it's a whole new ballgame. Steve Troop has actually gone for the most drastic of all retcons, the reboot. That's right, he's decided to start over from scratch. In fact, he's so gung-ho for this reboot that he's even taken down NINE YEARS worth of archives and restarted them fresh from this Monday. This is especially interesting as he actually went through the trouble to explain the reboot in the strip, ala Crisis on Infinite Earths, then he eliminated the strips which contained this explanation (because, thanks to the reboot, those events never took place. It's kind of a confusing thing. It involved lots of time travel and alternate universes).

What's most interesting about Steve Troops retcon of Melonpool is that it entirely a personal decision. It wasn't that he needed to correct some inconsistencies between storylines, or pare down the number of characters. The archives were getting somewhat bloated, but you really didn't need to read all the archives to understand the strip. It helped, but it wasn't essential. My guess is that he was influenced by the Blank Label Comics folk somewhat, as most of the Blank Label folk used the move over to Blank Label as an excuse to start a brand new strip: Kris Straub with Starslip Crisis, Paul Southworth will Ugly Hill, Brad Guigar with Courting Disaster (sort of), David Willis with Shortpacked (sort of). Troop probably saw the success these new comics were having thanks to the collective model of Blank Label and decided that this would be a great opportunity to draw in some new readers by presenting them with a short archive and not alienating his old readers by keeping the strip Melonpool. That's my theory anyway.

The point is that Steve Troop retconned because he wanted to, not because he had to. And this is a gutsy move. Retconning always risks leaving fans unhappy because the strip's not "what it used to be". But then, there are always fans complaining that something is not "what it used to be", so it's probably not really worth listening to them anyway. Still, if the retcon goes off badly enough, you can lose a large chunk of your existing fanbase without successfully securing a new fanbase, so it IS a risk. If you're going to retcon, you've got to be sure it's good.

And I think Troop is pulling it off. Although the actual transition was a bit choppy and confusing (if you're really desperate to see it, you'll find the last ten strips here), everything since the reboot has been gold. Troop used the opportunity to change the artistic style (full color and comic book pages rather than strips, hearkening back to the glory days of the Melonpool Chronicles), and it's definitely a change for the better. The full pages allow for much more freedom than a four panel strip can give you, And Troop has already taken full advantage of that with some beautiful page layouts. We're still waiting to see how the story progresses, but if it's anywhere near as good as it has been in the past, combined with the new layout, I think Steve Troop could find himself with a lot more readers and really have some great success with this.

Interestingly enough, I've been working with my artist this past week on rebooting the Gideon D. Ragon, Private Eye comic. Neither of us were happy with how it was progressing, and we've learned a lot since the time we started both about writing and drawing a comic, so we thought a fresh start would be the best way to go. The entire strip is going to change, stylistically, pacing-wise, and even plot-wise. Even the name may change. And this is going to be an old school reboot. We're taking down everything that's on the site and starting from scratch, with no mention of the old stuff again. No explanation of why we reboot, or even that we have rebooted. No attempt to work the reboot into the plot of the strip. We're just going to treat the old stuff like it never existed. This is a much different thing than Steve Troop is doing, as we don't have to worry about keeping a fanbase or staying true to the "spirit" of the work. We're just formatting the hard drive and fresh install. Hopefully it goes well.

So what do you think? Should Steve Troop have retconned? Is it going to help him out, or will it hurt him? Is retconning a good idea in general, or is it best to just "tough it out" and try to clear out the old dust without taking such drastic measures?


At 9:13 AM, Blogger Brad said...

Actually, I think you're on to something. I'll be making the announcement on Monday, for example, that "Greystone Inn" will cease updating in December and the spin-off, "Evil Inc." is getting its own Web site,, which will begin updating Monday. :)

Like Steve, I've been doing webcomics for a long time, and I'm seeing the possibility to do more than I originally set out to do. One thing BLC has been extrememly good for is we can bounce these sorts of ideas off one another and get some very honest, very intelligent feedback.

Steve's new Melonpool comic is going to be a phenomenal success. The caliber of thought he's put into his new direction and the degree of care going into his new business plan guarantees it. :)

At 12:48 PM, Anonymous Philippe Gaboury said...

I think the reboot is a good thing. I wasn't aware of Melonpool before getting in the Grind and discovering how very large the world of webcomics is. I was always attracted to the art but could never manage to get into the story or read through the immense archives. By starting over, Steve is giving me the chance to enjoy his comic.

I've already added a bookmark.

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Phil Kahn said...

The thing I can say in the affirmative, is that I wasn't reading Melonpool before. Mostly because of its huge backstory.

Now I am reading it.

And that's all I can say on my end.

At 1:19 AM, Blogger John Lynch said...

No offence intended, but your post has a factual error in it (I made the mistake myself so that's how I spotted those ;)). Shortpacked started over at Keenspot, more info here. Comixpedia's a great site to quickly check for stuff like that.

As for the retconning I like it. Normally I think it's sad when a comic has it's archives removed completely from the web. But they're all available in his book (which I've bought 3 of, and will be buying the other 3 shortly) so I'm fine with it getting removed. It's still available. Just at a price.

Having said that, I think you removing your archives is sad, because it isn't available in print or anything. Lots of people have talked about creating a seperate subsite not linked to from the main site, specifically for the fans. I like that. Regardless of what you decide, within the next month I'll be making a Comixpedia article on your comic to preserve the information in it ;)

At 2:29 PM, Blogger gwalla said...

johnlynch: Actually, the old Melonpool archives are available in print.

At 2:21 AM, Anonymous Darg said...

Truth to tell, I didn't even notice Melonpool rebooted until today (Dec. 1). I'm glad I invested the 4+ months at the beginning of the year to slog through that archive. Now I know what the heck is happening.
Part of me is sad that it's gone, but the continuity was getting a little (okay, a lot) confusing with all the time-jumping and paradoxes running amuck.


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