The Webcomicker

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Some thoughts on Popcorn Picnic

One of many amusing observations about movies from Popcorn Picnic.

All right, I promised this post days ago and never delivered. I've been hedonizing far too much for my own good the past few days and it's going to come back to haunt me down the road, methinks. In any case, here's some thoughts on Popcorn Picnic, by Chris Shadoain.

This isn't a full-blown review, because... well, Popcorn Picnic isn't really a full-blown webcomic at the moment. It's only got about twenty strips in the archive so far, and is only updating once a week. So we don't know much about the direction it's headed yet.

What we do know, however, is that it is a webcomic which consists primarily of two guys making snarky comments about movies. There's no continuity, just a new riff every week. Sound familiar? It should. It's the exact same formula Penny Arcade has used to build its empire in video games.

Other similarities to Penny Arcade? Popcorn Picnic is willing to occassionally disregard it's main characters in favor of an out-and-out parody of a movie instead, should the situation warrant it (ala Penny Arcade's many video game parodies), and it's allready established in multiple strips a washed up drunk character in E.T. (ala Div, who we don't see nearly as frequently as we ought to around Penny Arcade these days). So let's take a look at some key factors to Penny Arcade's success and compare them to Popcorn Picnic.

First of all, Penny Arcade is legitimately good. It's funny, it has ever-improving artwork, and it's pretty much spot-on most of the time in the way it points out the foibles of video games. Now let's look at Popcorn Picnic. It's also funny (the one I linked at the top of this article is one of my personal favorites), Its artwork has improved from the first test strip (and will presumably continue to do so as time goes on. Remember, only twenty strips in), and it's pretty much spot-on most of the time in the way it points out the foibles of movies.

Second, and probably more importantly: Penny Arcade appeals to a larger market than just webcomic fans. It appeals to all people who play video games (and some people who don't. Myself included in the latter group), which is a market that has exploded in the past five or six years. Millions and millions of people play video games, and most major releases these days come with multi-million dollar development money behind them. But still, the video game industry pales in comparison with the movie industry. Billions and billions of dollars go into movies every year, and more than likely there are billions of people worldwide that watch movies every year. You can't ask for a better demographic than "everyone who goes to the movies."

And this brings us to Joey Manley. For, you see, I discovered Popcorn Picnic when I heard Manley reference it in a recent Blank Label Comics Podcast (yes, I am addicted to the Blank Label Comics Podcast now. Curse that catchy theme music!). the hosts asked Manley what he thought a secret to webcomics success was, and he said one of the most important things at this point was to have a comic which appealed to a demographic outside the realm of "people who like webcomics". The number of people in the "webcomic fans" demographic is simply too small to support more than a few creators. If you look at the webcomickers who have been able to make a living off their creation, you'll see that in almost every case they've garnered support from a major group outside of webcomic fans. Penny Arcade and Ctrl+Alt+Del = video gamers, PvP = video gamers at first, and then generic comics fans, Questionable Content = indie rock fans/angsty teens (sometimes I think these demographics are one and the same), User Friendly = Slashdot types, Schlock Mercenary = sci-fi fans, etc. Each one of these comics has been able to find a larger pool to tap into and absorb new readers from.

So what about Popcorn Picnic? In the podcast Joey Manley cited Popcorn Picnic as being a prime candidate for success ala Penny Arcade because it could appeal to such a potentially broad fan base, i.e. people who like movies. And it's certainly got some of the pieces in place. Good humor, good art, low commitment level and easy new reader entry (you don't have to read the whole archive to enjoy "today's strip"). I like how you can click to see a list of movies in theaters and there will be links to strips he has done about them, and I like how the rest of his archive is listed alphabetically by movie under the heading "On Video and DVD". I think that's a great way to connect with his audience, who's used to seeing stuff in that sort of format. In fact, I personally would include the "Still in Theaters" links on every comic page so that someone who happens on the site can look and say "oh, he's got something about King Kong too", and that can help hook them into the site further and hopefully become a committed reader.

It might be interesting for Shadoian to try putting up his own commentary on movies and movie related items, just like Tycho over at Penny Arcade does for every strip, but then again Tycho is a completely unique creature and perhaps trying to recreate that same sort of feeling that Tycho is able to evoke with his own brand of high-brow colloquial speak would just seem lame in comparison. So whether or not having accompanying commentary to the comics would help increase the popularity of the site or not, I can't say.

In terms of exposure, how can Popcorn Picnic connect with its potential audience? I doubt Shadoian has the money to advertise on such sites as IMDB, RottenTomatoes, or, and neither are those sites in the habit of linking to sites outside their own little close-knit network. And does the average movie watcher stray from these giants to read the reviews of bloggers and other such amateurs? Not bloody likely. So we've got a potentially huge audience, but an almost equally huge obstacle of trying to find some way to connect with that audience and help them to find your comic.

And, quite frankly, I don't know how Shadoian could do it. Anybody out there got any ideas?


At 9:37 AM, Blogger Mr K said...

mmm, no idea really, what it needs is nods from film magazines, although how to generate those any way other than blind luck, I don't know.

I can't really enjoy it that much, as it is very much a current affairs strip, and being a UK resident, I haven't watched or even heard of half of the films they talk about, as there are still many films with delayed release.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Gilead Pellaeon said...

That's an interesting point. It might be difficult for non-US people to read Popcorn Picnic since it has the potential to provide spoilers for movies they haven't had the opportunity to see yet.

Fortunately it seems to be pretty spoiler-free so far, but that is a good point.

At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Philippe Gaboury said...

I've said this before and I'll say it again.

In the world of webcomics, and all the internet while we're at it, there's nohing like word-of-mouth. And your chronicles are a very good source of such.

I'm sure Popcorn PicNic might see their audience go up just because of that.


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