Re-Evaluation Time

By | Tuesday, May 19, 2020 Leave a Comment
Star Power: The Final Chapter
I happened across two bits of webcomics info that make for an interesting contrast with one another. First, yesterday Scott Kurtz started what he's calling PVP 3.0 -- a "new chapter in the lives of the PvP cast." Second, artist Garth Graham announced that they'll be ending the long-running Star Power comic at the conclusion of the current chapter. Let me start by quoting some of the reasoning they've given. Here's part of what Kurtz said...
I've tried writing PvP as if there was no pandemic but it feels disingenuous. Drawing the characters together feels like I'm lying. They're not together right now. They're isolated, scared, uncertain of the future. That's just where they live in my head, I don't know how else to explain it.

I'm hopeful for the future. I believe we'll not only get through this, but we'll be better for having survived. And I know that I'll be excited about writing PvP again. I just don't want to wait. So I thought, screw it. I won't wait. I'll just jump ahead. Let's just skip this bad part and pick up with everyone after we've all gotten through it. When I put myself in that head-space, the ideas really started to flow and I got very excited about writing and drawing PvP again. Which was exhilarating and scary at the same time.
He's basically doing a "time skip" to jump over a chunk of storytelling. This isn't unheard of in comics, of course. Tim Batiuk did in Funky Winkerbean, Eiichiro Oda did it in One Piece, and DC Comics did it for their entire line of comics back in 2006. The specific motivations can vary from instance to instance, obviously, but it frequently comes down to creators wanting to make significant change to their characters without having depict the potentially thousands of sometimes small incidents and actions that led to the changes over an extended period. Batiuk wanted to bring his characters out of high school and make them adults, Oda wanted his protagonists to "level up" and be radically more powerful, and DC wanted to allow its creators to reimagine their heroes without worrying overmuch about continuity. Kurtz, as he says, wants to skip the depressing pandemic stuff of now and see his characters grown (or broken) because of it.

Graham, by contrast, has more practical considerations in mind...
Comics are exceptionally labor intensive. We’re no strangers to the staggering amount of upfront work necessary to get a comic to the point that it’s making money. We saw some really promising growth in the first three years of this project, but that growth plateaued and never reached truly sustainable levels...

We’ve had to reduce our update schedule from 3 days a week to 2 so that I have time to take on extra commission work to keep things in the black. Much to my delight, my skills as an artist are proving to be in high demand. I have more clients asking for work than I can comfortably take on while maintaining anything like an update schedule with Star Power. Much like with my days of Finder’s Keepers I am forced to choose between telling a story I love and focusing on the work that pays the bills.
This is, sadly, a reality of many webcomics -- that if a creator isn't able to make a living from it, they'll eventually be forced into deciding whether they can continue to produce it or have to instead focus on something that does, as Graham says, pay the bills. (I actually talk about this dichotomy at much greater length in my Webcomics book, due out next month!)

Kurtz is explicit in his explanation that the current pandemic is very directly related to his decisioning. Graham does not say this, but it's hard not to believe the radical cultural shift the pandemic has caused gave him reason to think more seriously about where the comic was headed. I suspect he, like many of us, knows friends and relatives who have lost work -- lost income -- because of various shut-downs. Does it make sense to put so much effort and work into a project that is losing money when friends are scraping by? I could well be reading far too much into Graham's motivations here (and I apologize to Graham if I am) but I am certain the radical change we've all experienced in the past few months has given rise to re-evaluating what is/isn't working in his life. I think everybody has done this to some degree.

This kind of re-evaluation is common around large, dramatic changes in people's lives. Graduation, marriage, birth of a child, death of a loved one... What we're experiencing now, though, is a dramatic change that impacts virtually everyone across the globe more or less simultaneously. And this particular dramatic change is of a type that the planet hasn't seen in a century so, unlike just about every other life changing event that we might experience, we really don't have anyone to provide guidance on what it's like to experience it. (There are people alive today who lived during the 1918 flu pandemic, but there are VERY few of them left and they were only children when that pandemic broke out in the first place.)

We're seeing a lot of people re-evaluting their approach to comics right now. In many cases, notably the entire direct market, there's a lot of practical considerations surrounding the physical distribution of comics to shops that, in some cases, aren't even allowed to be open. In other cases, we might be seeing creators who have to shift focus onto their webcomics or independent books because they got laid off at their day job. But in a lot of other cases, people are just taking some time to reflect on what's working and not working in their lives. Maybe that's creators who still want to create but need to shift their focus because the current reality is too depressing. Maybe that's creators who need to find paying work. Maybe that's readers who wonder why they'd been buying a title that they really haven't actually enjoyed in several years anyway.

Not everybody's re-evaluations will necessarily mean they will change things up. And they won't all come at the exact same time. But don't be surprised if you see more than a few creators making announcements like either Kurtz's or Graham's.
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