On History: This is Indicative of... Something

By | Tuesday, December 30, 2014 Leave a Comment
I'm not overly fond of "Best Of" year-end lists, but this one caught my eye. GoComics ran some numbers and came up with a list of the Top 14 most-trafficked comics on their site throughout 2014. That's specific comics, mind you, not just most popular titles.

Now, these could have high traffic numbers for a variety of reasons. Maybe a popular news site just discovered a comic that day, or someone on reddit made a particularly amusing comparison, or something happened to the creator him/herself on that day... Regardless, though, a lot of people clicked over to these comics.
So here's what I'm seeing...

Of the fourteen, I know three of them (Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, and Get Fuzzy) are re-runs. Four of them (Pearls Before Swine, Frazz, Wizard of Id, and Get Fuzzy) pretty directly refer back to other comic strips. Two creators (Brooke McEldowney and Bill Watterson) show up twice with different strips. And, finally, two of the strips (Heavenly Nostrils and Pibgorn) are only available online.

Of what's left, we have one of the most mundane jokes ever in Garfield, multiple underwear jokes in Luann, socio-political commentary in Doonesbury and Non Sequituir, a dramatic but isolated moment in 9 Chickweed Lane, and a nice-idea-but-kind-of-difficult-to-parse bit in Big Nate.

That's out of around 300 comics they host at GoComics. (I didn't do a full count, but they had 287 strips update when they posted this yesterday.)

I don't know that there's a super-obvious take-away. There doesn't seem to be a definitive "here's the type of thing that was most popular." That said, that three of the strips were re-runs, one of the meta-references was to an old strip, and the strip in the #1 spot was guest-arted by a man who is famous for comics that he hasn't drawn in 20 years seems to suggest that there's a preference for older material. Add in two of the strips being webcomics, and we have half of the Top 14 that seem to say, "We like comics other than the ones you're printing now."

Now, granted, there are any number of reasons a particular strip might be highly linked, and that we're talking about comics online, it inherently avoids the input of syndicates' historical audience: newspaper readers. But I wonder if this points to what syndicates should be doing: maximizing their back catalog of existing material, rather than trying to find the next Calvin & Hobbes.

I've heard it said that past behavior is only good at predicting past behavior, not future behavior. That certainly seems evident in this overview where viewers seem to appreciate the nostalgia factor more than the actual new content that Universal is publishing. Which might suggest that doing what they've been doing based on past behavior isn't working so well.

On a self-promotional note, I'd like to remind readers that I recently launched a Patreon campaign, and I'd really appreciate your support.
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