The Webcomicker

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Steve Troop, Melonpool, and the Unfortunate Nature of Webcomic Commentary

Announcement of a (very brief) hiatus from the cast of Melonpool.

Ok, sorry for the long title, but I'm really intending to cover all of the topics mentioned in it, and I wanted to make it clear from the get-go.

So let's begin by talking about Melonpool. You see, not long ago, Steve Troop decided to reboot his nine year old labor of love. I'm sure this wasn't a terribly easy decision for him, erasing nine years of hard work from the public eye, but his burgeoning archives were becoming more than just a small impedance to new readers picking up the strip, so he took a gamble and decided to go all out and start the thing over from scratch, more or less.

And it was a spectacular moment. All of a sudden, Melonpool had been reborn. And there was a lot of talk about it throughout the webcomic community. It also spawned a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of rebooting in general. It really drew a lot of interest into Troop's strip.

And then, the phones went silent, so to speak. Everyone moved on to the next big event, and left Troop standing alone, yelling "Hello?" He saw a lot of discussion saying "Oh boy, Steve Troop just dropped his entire archive! That's pretty wild! This is going to be interesting," but not a single post saying "You know what, I really like Melonpool a lot better now. It's definitely improved." He didn't see any feedback concerning the effectiveness of his daring move, he simply saw recognition of the move itself. And to him, it was very disheartening. I imagine it gives you the feeling that you didn't really accomplish anything at all.

And that is the unfortunate nature of webcomic criticism at present. Right now all the critics are hot to comment on any shocking or stunning event in the life of a comic. I think Todd and Penguin gets a lot more attention than it really deserves solely for the reason that David Wright frequently makes extremely dramatic things happen to Todd. This is not to say that Todd and Penguin is a bad comic, but it certainly gets a lot more attention than most other comics of similar quality. Critics jump on board to comment on the cathartic moment without waiting to see how it affects the strip. I think this was clearly demonstrated in the recent drama in Questionable Content. Everybody jumped on board to provide their own thoughts on the revelation that Faye's father had committed suicide. No one waited to see what effect this revelation would have on the strip. I specifically waited in that instance until I could clearly see the effect because I didn't want to be another person saying, essentially, "OMG Faye's dad killed himself!" Then I posted my thoughts. And to my knowledge, no other webcomic reviewer did that. Now, this is not to blow my own horn, because I've been guilty of merely "adding my thoughts to the big story" on many occasions as well. I just think I was more useful in that instance as a result of my waiting.

But the main problem isn't so much that people jump the gun to report, as it is that the webcomic critics online generally don't like to return to a story. It's ok to link a comic when it does something crazy and say "wow, go check out this craziness over at so-and-so." That's part of the beauty of the immediacy of the web. What's not ok, but what unfortunately happens the vast majority of the time, is to then never go back a few weeks or a month later and say "Allright, now let's see how this whole craziness played out, what effects it's had, and if the strip is better or worse off for it." People just DON'T do that. They're too busy reporting on the next bit of craziness. And this is not helpful to the webcomic creator, who now has no idea how well-received his idea has been.

Melonpool has been greatly improved since the reboot. The color artwork has been fabulous, the larger page size for each day has really allowed Troop to experiment with different panel layouts and really give Melonpool a comic book feel which is much better suited to the strip than the newspaper feel. The pacing has been slower than I'd like, but Troop is probably trying to introduce the characters slowly enough that he can avoid alienating new readers. I think it's probably about time we got a bit more information about what's going on (I know Troop is trying to build suspense, but it's begun to get a bit on the boring side). This is the sort of thing that people should be saying about Melonpool. But none of these things is terribly exciting, really. None of these things is something which would really prompt a reviewer to say something about Melonpool, when they could spend their time talking about the latest piece of drama. So no one said anything, and the lack of feedback, coupled with all the trouble Troop has had in his personal life lately, has managed to dry up his creative well to the point that he's got to take a break. And that's sad.

And I admit it. I'm guilty of the same mentality. I want people to read my writing, so I try to talk about interesting and exciting things that are going on in the webcomic world. I also try to provide well informed, well thought-out reviews of lesser known comics because I think that's information that is both needed and sorely lacking in the webcomic world today. But I don't give updates on what a strip is doing, how well it is doing it, and any of my various thoughts concerning any given strip on a consistent basis.

So, I'm going to give it a shot, and see how it goes. If you've been reading me for any length of time, you know I make a post roughly once a week entitled "Updates" in which I keep my readers abreast of new stuff I've been reading, what I'm planning to read, and what I'm planning to review. Well, now I'm going to start another post series which I'll try to add to roughly once a month entitled "The Roundup", where I'll basically summarize all my thoughts on what's been going on that month in the webcomics I read. Each comic will probably only get a couple of sentences, but it's better than nothing.

I really think this will provide some useful criticism, so I challenge other critics to start giving a Roundup as well. You don't have to say anything terribly profound, just enough to let people know how you think the comics are going and where they might improve.


At 6:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very good idea in my humble opinion. Everyone does indeed seem to focus on the "teh Drama", but no one offers an opinion on strips that are consistently good, without trying to spark angst, confusion and/or controversy.

Troop's troubles have really bothered me, and I hope you can keep up this idea of a round up. Let's keep our fingers crossed that others will see the reason of keeping abreast with what's going on in the long run rather than just the spikes of activity.

- Sili

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Kneefers said...

Wow. I have to admit that I think it's an awesome idea. And you're absolutely right about how everyone focuses on the latest piece of drama rather than how everything is going day-to-day. I suppose it depends on whether you want to be a critic just to get read (to aggro drama) or actually have a positive impact on the life of the strips that you enjoy.

I hope your Roundup idea goes well. I'm tempted to try the same myself, but I'm afraid it probably wouldn't go over well. I read over eighty comics, currently, and doing a roundup for each one each month would probably kill me.

I really respect this decision, though, Gilead. Show's a lot of responsible thinking. Good show.

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Brad said...

A note regarding Troop's decision, since I wasn't around when it was actually being discussed with any currency. I think it blows. I don't mean the reboot, that's perfectly understandable and all well and good. I mean the decision to take down all of his past work and make it inaccessible to the public. I just can't get my mind around that. I can understand not wanting it getting in the way of his present story, but surely it could still exist off to the side somewhere.

It reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the poet who, on becoming a priest, burned all his poems. The only ones we have to read are the ones he sent to friends. It sucks.

Melonpool -- the old Melonpool -- was very funny at its best, and merely repetitive at its worst, and as an artist I can certainly relate to Troop's dissatisfaction with it. But that's not reason to wipe the slate completely clean. Start anew, but please don't pretend that nothing that came before ever happened. (I'm speaking here of "in real life," that is to say Troop drawing and posting the strips, not events within the fictional continuity which he obviously can manipulate on a whim)

At 12:04 PM, Anonymous Philippe Gaboury said...

I suspect that there is a bit of trying to push his collections out the door in this decision to take down the archives.

That being said, I didn't read Melonpool before and I have been enjoying it greatly since the reboot. I can't complain about the pacing which I find just right to get to know the characters. If he keeps updating regularly come January then all is well.

Also, please skip me on the next monthly round-up as I have really sucked at bringing comics to the table these past weeks. Even if I have my reasons, I feel shameful my lackluster performance already...:(

At 1:28 PM, Anonymous brad said...

I suspect that there is a bit of trying to push his collections out the door in this decision to take down the archives.

Oh yeah. I forgot that some webcomics have print editions. I was under the impression that Troop was trying to remove pre-2005 Melonpool from existence.

At 2:26 PM, Anonymous Robin Z said...

You know, I think the "Roundup" thing is a good idea, but I think you may be missing your better idea: the looking forward at long-term effects, and the following-up on repercussions. Take the Questionable Content thing: to me, your post on the future effects of the "Talk" storyline was as or more interesting than the posts about how her father's suicide affected Faye. To pull an example from somewhere else, Eric Burns's post on the implications of Kim's return to S*P was likewise important. I think that should also be something comic critics can do well.

On a completely unrelated note, Eyeballing It had a quick post about Melonpool on Monday. So he isn't being entirely ignored.

At 1:33 AM, Anonymous David Wright said...

more attention than I deserve? My last mention on Websnark was back in March or April I think, and before that, it was my shortbread for best quiet comic. Hardly a trend.

Also, other than Websnark and Tangents, who else is mentioning Todd and Penguin?

There are HUNDREDS more comics getting talked about than TAP's maybe 3-4 mentions a year.

Of course that might be 3 or 4 more than I deserve.

At 5:27 AM, Blogger Gilead Pellaeon said...

Ok, I admit that when I mentioned Todd and Penguin I was making an assumption of implied discussion without any real evidence beyond a few Websnark posts to back me up. So I apologize for that.

But what I was trying to do was to show the difference between a strip that has quite a few dramatic moments with a strip that mostly unspectacular when broken down to a day-by-day level.

And actually, I've been meaning to write a complete treatise with my thoughts on Tood and Penguin for some time now, but haven't quite been able to get around to it.

*Sigh* So many things to write about, so little time.


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