I didn’t realize until after I got home from Emerald City Comicon that I had forgotten to mention the 4 year anniversary of The Experiment. I have officially been professionally unemployed making comics for 4 years as of March 31, 2012. People used to ask me all the time, ” How is the experiment going?” To which I would reply, “It’s going. I’m still doing it. There are ups and downs, but I haven’t given up.” The more and more I gave that answer, which I thought to be a bit an over simplified response seeing as how I didn’t want to get into the details of nearly missed mortgage payments, mounting credit card debt due to travel expenses and rest of the struggles that come with self employment with every person that asked, the more I realized it was actually the most honest answer I could give. There wasn’t actually an end goal for The Experiment. I never said, “If I can do this for 5 years, I have won.” The goal was to just keep doing it. To keep making comics for a living. To sustain myself and my family through following my passion and doing what I love. The unspecified addendum to that ideal was that in order for it to be a success, I had to keep doing it forever. So the actual and honest response to, “How’s The Experiment going?” is “As long as this is my job, I am winning.”
That said, so far 2012 and has been far more difficult financially than 2011 was. My readership is actually way down from the end of the last year. This directly affects every way that I make an income. Ad sales are down, merch sales are down, and donations are WAY down while expenses due to conventions and travel just keep going up and up. It’s been a tough few months and I’ve been constantly thinking about what I can do to turn things around. All of the way in which I can make money come down to simple numbers. The more people looking at my comics every day the less I will have to struggle to make a living. With that in mind I started evaluating why someone might enjoy my comic initially then stop reading it, or read it irregularly and eventually forget about it. I listened to what readers said at conventions, I talked with some of my peers and I studied what it was about comics in general that made people come back day after day.
At first, I thought the answer was “story.” Readers get hooked by story and can’t miss an update or they won’t know what’s happening. Well, HE doesn’t have a story, and I really never had any intention of working one in. The purpose of HE is to provide commentary on geek pop culture through the eyes of its characters… DING DING DING! Characters. That was the answer. The most popular story comics on the internet aren’t breaking any new ground. They primarily deal with relationships, jobs, emotional issues – sitcom stuff. These scenarios are NOT hard to come up with, and writing them has never held any real interest for me. So if it isn’t the amazing originality of the situations, it must be the characters and how they deal with the situations they are put into that people gravitate to so much. Now look, I KNOW this is common knowledge and had you asked me in ANY OTHER context than that of my own creative output, I would have been able to rattle off the answer instantly. I’d just never seen my comics that way.
Now here’s the rub. HE used to have a very strong character element along with the humor. I started looking back at old comics and thinking back to the comments I used to get an conventions and the emails I would receive and the number one positive remark I would get is that the “characters are just like me and my friends,” or “I love Josh because he reminds me of my friend,” etc. Then all of a sudden these comments stopped. What changed? I reread my old comics again and realized that as I started traveling more and my daughter got older (requiring more and more time for her extracurricular activities), I started seeing the real life Josh and Eli less and less. In fact, I probably haven’t seen either of them more than once or twice in 2012. Our social realities just don’t align that well any more. It’s a fact of life and a byproduct of having children. I don’t love them any less, and I don’t believe we have grown apart as friends. The time to just fuck around and be silly with each other just isn’t there nearly as often as it used to be.
The result of this decreased exposure to the inspiration for my characters was that I lost my crutch. I had never been forced to create personalities for the characters since I would just observe the real people behind them and exaggerate their actions and reactions. Sometime around the middle to end of 2011 I really started writing in a singular voice. Every character was interchangeable and while I think the joke writing got MUCH tighter as time went by, the character development essentially vanished. This was never more evident than in the fact that NO ONE ever seemed to know the names of the characters. As one of my peers, who I respect greatly, told me, “Your characters are interchangeable. People love our characters and that’s why they love the comic.” I used to say, “The characters in HE are just there to service the joke,” as if it was one of the selling points of the comic. If that was the case, why would I keep drawing the same guys over and over? I didn’t realize I was admitting a shortcoming of the strip and disguising it as a feature.
So where does that leave me? Well, this Friday May 11th is the 5 year anniversary of HijiNKS ENSUE. I think that’s as good a milestone as any to re-evaluate what I’m doing, what I should be doing and what direction I am heading in. To that end, I would like to announce a new experiment of sorts. I am going to start devoting more time in HijiNKS ENSUE to getting to know the characters. Not necessarily their jobs, relationship or other sitcom type stuff (which still doesn’t interest me), but more their characteristics, quirks and view points. I want to teach myself (by doing) how to write in a voice that is not my own. I want to recapture that individuality the HE characters had in the early years before they became prisoners of my own head and parrots for my own point of view. The best part of this new direction is, if I do it correctly you shouldn’t even notice the change. You might just find yourself more interested in checking the site more often and getting your friends interested in the comic as well.
The first step down this terrifying new path involves location. I am going to experiment with having the characters fixed at one location, setting or event for more than one comic at a time. Their conversations might carry over for several days before shifting to another topic. I believe the ancient Greeks called this con… continuity? Yes, I think that’s right. Again, these will not be stories per se, but rather little chunks of continuing subject matter (like the “Under The Bridge Downtown” comics). For starters all of the comics for this week, starting with THIS ONE, will take place at The Avengers (before, during and after the film). Depending on the response to this change, I may do this for a week or so at a time, and intersperse it with one off gags to break things up. Beyond that, I don’t really have a plan other than to try new things and see what feels right.
What do I need from you? Just to keep an open mind. If you are of the opinion that HE is perfect as is and should not change, all I can say is A) Thank you, and B) You are wrong. My audience plateaued over a year ago and hasn’t seen any sustained growth in that time. In order for me to reach my goals of financial stability, toiling in obscurity cannot be a part of the equation. Luckily for this fictional guy that loves the comic and fears change, I have no plans to change the actual humor of the strip. Just the context in which that humor is presented. For each 3 panel HE comic I usually write a page worth of dialog, then trim the fat. With this new format I should be able to write 3-4 pages of dialog on a few related subjects then actually craft that into a 3-4 comic arc. I would also appreciate it if you, after reading the comics this week, shared some feedback with me. I would rather that you email comics (at) hijinks ensue (dot) com with your thoughts than post them publicly, and I don’t necessarily want to know what you think until you’ve read all of this week’s comics, though I will never discourage honest communication (and you are certainly encouraged to comment on this post if you have questions or words of support). Then, if you dig the way things are going, how about telling EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU KNOW? Post about HE on your Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc like an insane person who is extremely fixated on one particular geek comic and REALLY wants everyone else to read it. I would consider that a kindness.
I am extremely scared and pretty damn excited about trying something new. I hope you (and I) will be pleased with the results. I hope I will be making a somewhat similar post about the continuing future of HE in another 5 years. I hope people are still allowed to make fun of stuff on the Internet in 5 years. I hope the A.I. Arachno-drones that police our homes and monitor our thoughts will take favor with my offerings and allow me to continue to make a living through putting silly pixels on your computers.
Godspeed, You Fancy Bastards!
The Experiment Overview | The Whole HE Story | The “Digital Age” Artist’s Manifesto |
4 Year Experimentiversary, 5 Year Anniversary And More Experimenting
Longtime lurker, big fan. Go for it, with you til the end!
In reading your post, I found myself thinking back over your recent entries, and yeah, the funniest stuff you've put up are all the "these are based on conversations I've had with real people" strips. Your ConPhotoFests, etc. I still read every time you update (Which is why EVERY creator should be pimping that RSS Feed), but I can see what you're talking about with your actual comics becoming all the same voice.
Do you get ad revenue if I read your comic in google reader? I notice the big comics like Penny Arcade make you click through to the website to view the comic and I assume that has to do with more eyeballs on their page meaning more money. If that's the case, feel free to do the same for your comic. I don't mind clicking through to give you some ad dollars, I just use google reader to manage the sites I want to read so I don't have to remember to check them on my own.
You continue to be my favorite webcomic (which I told you once at comic-con and you shook my hand and gave a heartfelt thanks that I remember to this day, and caused me to blush severely at the time).
I dont get ad revenue from RSS readers (at least not enough to really consider it to be a concern), but I know that I only read sites that put all of the content in the RSS feed. My website is the only one I ever see. I've been 100% RSS for at least 5 years now. I won't remove that functionality because I know it's a great way to read web content and keep track of the unread stuff. I can just hope that RSS Readers are buying merch or donating occasionally.
Damn and blast! I didn't know that I was depriving you of well-earned monnies by using the RSS feed! I shall remedy this at once.
A word on merch and donating: I have bought t-shirts in the past, but I think I'll stick to donating from now on. Overseas shipping is always a bitch, both financially and organisationally (I have to pick up my overseas packages from the Central Customs Office, which is The Worst Organised Place In The Universe. Last time I spent almost six hours there, 5.5 of those just standing in line). Sharksplode order worked well (one downside: the larger size "Fighting Timelords"-shirts aren't the beautiful dark grey pictured, but a marbled light grey. Doesn't really work with the picture, so that's become a sleep shirt). There was trouble with my order from Blind Ferret, which went on a world tour before ending up back in their warehouse after almost six months. I finally gave up and they refunded the money, but it kinda sucks that you didn't get anything from that… So, yeah, I'll just donate the money whenever I get an urge for some of your lovely lovely merch in the future. 🙂
Im sorry to hear about your store troubles. The Sharksplode site does actually say that the larger sizes are a different color "Sport Grey" when you select that size. I would apologize for the shipping woes but I know that's not actually my fault or Blind Ferrets. International shipping is just a cluster fuck that doesnt work very well for anyone. I do appreciate your support, though.
Oh, I wasn't implying that either the different colour of shirt or the shipping clusterfuck were your fault at all! Sorry if it came over like that – I was just sharing. 🙂
Even if I click the link to the site? 🙁 that makes sad panda. My bad. I just do RSS so I don't forget to check one of the (million) comics I like (and then have to spend half an hour catching up when I DO remember). If it helps to click around a little bit, that's no big deal to me… and I can support the other web comics similarly.
If you click through to the site its the same as just going directly to the site. The ads still display and all is well. That said, I am NOT demonizing the use of RSS. It is my preferred way to read the internet. It's jus tough to make income from RSS eyeballs.
I keep up with the strip via an RSS reader (NetNewsWire), but that's only to let me know whether there's a new strip or not. I always click through to read the strip on the website. It never occurred to me that that was helping you with the ad revenue. It was mainly because after I read the strip, I always like to read your commentary afterward. But I'll make doubly sure to keep on doing that now.
"I always like to read your commentary afterward. "
I've considered truncating the blog posts in the RSS feed. It would be cleaner for people that werent going to read them anyway and give those that wanted to read and comment and get involved some incentive to click through.
Good thing you have your facebook page then! I most often follow links for neew comics from there nowadays since I usually check facebook before google reader. I will make a point of going to the full site now, every time. From a creative dad to another. Keep it up, your stuff is wonderful. Also, do more funny shirts with Wil Wheaton. That's how I found this site in the first place.
"Also, do more funny shirts with Wil Wheaton."
He's a busy dude. We have about a dozen project ideas going at any one time and only a few of them see the light of day due to his schedule. Thank you for the support.
I do get pissed when I can't view in-reader … But I also click through on stuff if it's really worth it. The only thing I don't click-through on are those feeds I was only reading because the cost of lost time spent reading was outweighed by the hassle of unsubscribing – in other words, not something I was not then gonna go out and drop money on.
As someone deeply involved in an industry trying to save itself via the internet (newspapers), I can honestly tell you that eyeballs you can't sell are eyeballs you can live without. I know you think you can recoup via merch and such, but chances are the people stuck in the reader aren't going to buy merch if only for the simple expedient that the store isn't in the reader. If they're not willing to click through to see something for free, why on earth would they click through to spend money?
In short, dropping total views sucks, but if you can convert even half (which I think is totally doable, as these people are invested enough to want the new content whenever it comes out) of those to "paid" readers (seeing ads), it's probably going to be a much bigger impact on your bottom line than sporadic merch sales.
Oops, double negative. Last part of last line of first graf should read "- not something I was then gonna go out and drop money on."
I'm serious, though. I too love RSS and get hacked off when I can't find a full article feed, but you sometimes have to put your concerns as a producer over your preferences as a consumer. If the choice were "full RSS of limited or no content because the site makes no money and food equals living" or "I have to click one link," which do you think your readers would choose? More importantly, what good to you are those readers who would choose the former?
I've been a dedicated reader, admittedly lurking reader, for about 3 years. I totally agree that lately the characters have gotten less individual. If you cover up the characters and just read the text, its hard to distinguish them. I think your new plan sounds great, I look forward to the future. God speed good sir.
" If you cover up the characters and just read the text, its hard to distinguish them."
That is the crux of this problem. I even briefly considered just making it a one character comic, but that would have been a coward's way out. Time to challenge myself again. Thanks for the support.
I hear you, Joel, and I know where you're coming from.
I've been working on my own comic for five years, now, and into the sixth year, and I find myself in the same boat, though I wish I had the readership you do. I'll even confess that I have not even broken into quad figures (still stuck in the lower-hundreds… I know I shouldn't confess my reader stats, and should bullshit about big numbers, according the the Kurtz "fake it till you Make It" mantra, but I prefer honesty.)
Heck, I wish my first book would sell enough, or enough ad-revenue, to justify what I am doing. I've even stalled work on the second book as I wonder if it's worth the effort if no one will bother getting it.
However, this year's dip in readership is not a sole issue. I, too, have noticed a downslide, and several other artists have mentioned the same. For what reason this slide has happened, I cannot answer, though I wish I could, to put yours and my own worries to rest.
As for storylines, I've noticed whenever I have tried to do one, to flesh out my characters, readership would dip, and then only rise back up as soon as I went back to one-shot gags, or some Kevin Smith style smut. It made me think that was all my "readership" wanted.
Heck, I've tried on numerous occasions to engage my readers in debate, asking them what they wanted by way of merch, or stuff they'd like to see. But, getting anything from them was like pulling teeth. I have three readers who do comment, but other than them, all I get is silence. I even did a competition to win signed books, and got only one entry. One! It's pretty sad and pathetic. I know I shouldn't be peeved about it, but it made me wonder if my reader-base was nothing but web-crawlers and spamlinkers.
It makes me question why I do what I do, but then I remember, I have a passion and I want the strip to succeed. I want a readership that can be as engaging as yours, as it lets us artists know that our hard work is appreciated and wanted.
This past week I decided to dip into trying another storyline, one which involves putting a main character "on the bus". I want to shake up the dynamic. As, like you, I fear my characters may have devolved into a singular voice, as I no longer have contact with those whom my characters are based upon, nor do I have much contact with the geek community, at large, due to being unemployed, having to be tight with money and not rewarding myself with trips to comic shops, conventions, etc.
Maybe, six months or a year down the line from now, we should compare notes to see how our changes have affected our comics, for good or bad.
But, I do look forward to seeing your future strips, as this is the first strip I always read before hitting the other guys.
Hey joel, I've also been reading for about three years, and i've noticed that you seem to interchange josh and eli, where you used to have josh and eli at the same time with different points of view, but now it's one of them with a view separate of yours. I look forward to you working on the characters, and short story lines. good luck, and God Speed to you, the fanciest of us all.
"but now it's one of them with a view separate of yours."
That is 100% true and 100% due to laziness. One of the things I realized is that I have been writing a point/counter point type of comic whose words could be said by anyone or no one. The only time I switch out Josh and Eli is when I realize I havent used one of them in a while. I feel really shitty admitting that, but it's what got me to thinking about making some changes.
I also think it's very impressive that you're even able to make such a good comic so often, with such quality, with such a busy life. it's sad that you haven't been able to hang out with your friends as often, but well as you said that's parenthood. I will remain a loyal reader even if i don't like the first few changes, because i have high regard for you as an artist, and because i want to see what you do with the comic.
Congrats on 5 years Joel! That's quite an accomplishment.
Seeing as your life has changed so much with family, why not introduce a character that can reflect that? From following your twitter feed, one of my favorite things is hearing about your geek-dad interactions with your daughter. I bet other readers would love to see that in comic form as well. Its very endearing and relatable.
Anyways, keep up the great work man!
I've debated the "be a dad in the comic" thing 1000 times, and Im no closer to a solution. I am actually scared that I would start doing a comic about nothing but parenting because that's 90% of what I do now. Maybe I'll introduce it slowly. I wouldnt mind Joel just having a kid and Josh commenting "You have a kid? When did that happen? Five years ago?! Are you married?"
HAHA! Instant kid. I like it. Yeah, I wouldnt make it ALL about parenting. Stick with your plan too. But if its genuinely funny, readers will love it. Seems like a huge opportunity now too. I know so many geek dads out there that have kids hitting that perfect age. And I know they would love it if done right. Who knows, maybe you'll get some new t-shirt designs out of it too? It'd be fun to see fathers/daughters/sons wearing something like that.
All I know is, they say to be successful – follow your passion. And you sir, are passionate about being a Dad. You're an inspiration.
I 100% love the idea of introducing your kid into the comic! As I've become less engaged with the comic because of the issues with characters, what has maintained my interest is your thoughts on raising a pop-culture-literate kid. That's where your passion seems to lie and I think it could really enhance the comic. It's difficult to write the same kind of stuff you did five years ago as your life progresses away from that. The comic should progress with you.
As it is, I look forward to the revamped HE. I think it's going to be great.
BINGO! I enjoy that perspective as well. It doesn't need to go ALL that way but a smattering of it would be great. It would be a return to form as well. You would be writing what you KNOW and EXPERIENCE. True stuff is the funniest stuff!
I'll keep this in mind. Thanks.
I also must chime in and agree that the occasional strip about being a geek father would be fun and entertaining. Several of the best recent Penny Arcade strips have involved the trials of fatherhood.
Also good luck on the new plan I personally enjoy continuity and expect to be pleased with the results.
Another long time reader, first time commenter here. I'm excited to see how you change up the strip, it's good now so I imagine it'll only get better. You're one of the few sites I turn AdBlocker off for!
HAHA! Instant kid. I like it. Yeah, I wouldnt make it ALL about parenting. Stick with your plan too. But if its genuinely funny, readers will love it. Seems like a huge opportunity now too. I know so many geek dads out there that have kids hitting that perfect age. And I know they would love it if done right. Who knows, maybe you'll get some new t-shirt designs out of it too? It'd be fun to see fathers/daughters/sons wearing something like that.
All I know is, they say to be successful – follow your passion. And you sir, are passionate about being a Dad. You're an inspiration.
I will send the word to all the canucks I know about HE. I really like the ranting and raving absurdity of the comics, perhaps more stories of the pratfalls of going day to day with angry obsession over pop-culture geekdom with the real world. You never see the consequence of sending a cabin full of blood to Fox execs? Congrats on 5 years.
You're obviously a watterson fan, when I read your goals for the experiment it makes me think of characters like calvin and hobbes. Sure there were the story lines that led the reader to a better understanding of the characters but a lot of the really good conversations between the characters was commentary on art and politics and perception, very similar to some of the conversations with Joel and josh and Eli back in the day IMO. I think you are on the crux of something awesome. Keep the same wit and flavor. I really think overall the changes you want to make will be minor in format but will be huge returns. Keep being Han solo and keep tinkering with falcon. You rock this!
Th comic are a hook off sorts, I come to check the comic but it is an appitizer for your comment/blog below it. My wife doesn't get the comics but we do often discuss your comments. Your movie reviews have also been dead on. We have little babysitter and movie money, but we've enjoyed the movies you have recommended and have been similarly disappointed with the movies you have disliked for most of the same reasons, ie muppets and the Lorax. Your opinions and stories around the ninja turtles was a breath of fresh air. I wonder how many people have only come for the comic but have missed out on your blog?
This is a good point. Calvin and Hobbes is arguably the great comic strip of all time and it certainly never had a story. But if you asked me to I could break down each characters personality in great detail. I am going to try to keep this in mind going forward.
Huge fan of yours but you know that already. As long as you keep putting stuff out I will be here. where as it is now or in some other form (ie the Dad comic) .Thank you for your work.
Been a lurking fan for a while, and I enjoy the comic a lot. But I've noticed the same thing, to be honest, and it feels a little empty without a bit of character to it. It's all commentary without character and while I still enjoy that, it could definitely be improved upon.
Good luck with the change, I know it can be scary but I've got your back (for what small amount of support that means, overall).
You have run a wonderful webcomic for many years now, and I am a long time fan. You also are a delight to meet in person, and I applaud you for being so welcoming and friendly to your fans. Keep it up man!
Thats very kind of you to say. Where did we meet?
I don't know if this comment is helpful or not, but please view it as constructive criticism. I can only speak for myself, but I have noticed myself checking HE less frequently over the past year, and in my opinion it's because the updates became much more erratic. For whatever reason I don't use an RSS feed, so I check the comics I read on a daily basis (or whatever the update schedule is). As the updates became less predictable, I started checking less frequently and now tend to catch up every couple weeks when I remember to.
I know as well as anyone that "life happens," but at least for myself (and my eyeballs) I can say with fairly high certainty that the reason I check infrequently is the update schedule.
The update schedule is a whole different debacle. I know FOR A FACT that I would have a much larger audience if I updated at exactly the same time every day or at least on the days that I say there will be comics (M W F or whatever). For years Ive been telling myself, "Do they want the comic at midnight, or do they want it when it's done?" I was basically saying, "Don't rush me, or the comic will suffer. It's done when it's funny and pretty and not a moment before." That's a fine attitude if Im perfectly happy with the number of readers I already have, and have no ambitions of growing the audience. People need routine. They need stability and accountability. I've never offered any of those things in terms of when comics will be posted, and I've always known that was a problem. I've had a life long affair with procrastination and every time I try to force myself out of it, I end up falling flat on my face. I almost added to this post, "Oh yeah and Im going to do more comics, more often and on a specific schedule." but I figured I should tackle one major change at a time.
I agree with this as well. I know when to expect QC, XKCD, PA, etc. I loyally load your page once a day to *see* or more often *hope* there is something there.
If you'd like a different point of view on the schedule problem… whether you have a new comic at a regular time actually has no bearing on whether I visit the site or not. There are 3 webcomics that I check every day (except weekends), and yours is one of them. I usually don't even notice if there was supposed to be a comic but there isn't. Just check the site and move merrily on my way.
However, I may be a minority in my browsing habits, I don't know. (Also, I totally sympathize with procrastination troubles. It is such a demon! And so easy to beat oneself up about without actually helping the problem! Argh.)
Reading the first paragraph made me realize that I've been reading HE for more than four years. And I still love it. I read a lot of webcomics, but HE is the one that I keep reading (besides PA) even after all these years. It became a part of my internet routine and even though I see when a new post is on (via FB update) I still check the site every day just to make sure that I don't miss a new comic. As I think about it the characters might have become somewhat interchangeable (regarding the joke itself and how it is delivered), I'm still here for the quality of humor. So no matter how the characters will be developed, or longer story lines are made, as long as the finished comic can make me laugh I'll be here and I hope the experiment will go on for a long time.
Thank you. I appreciate the longtime support.
I had to stop and think too. I remember clearly a time when I was following the comic and listening to the podcast before the experiment began. Seems like yesterday.
I guess I never really thought about it in those terms, but you're right. I used to be very into HE, and now, I read it when I see it pop up on Facebook or Livejournal a few times a week, but HE isn't something I actively pursue or whatever. I still donate because I dig 'the experiment', but I do miss the days of making fun of Eli's heritage or Josh's sexuality, and I have said it a thousand times, but I really miss the PODCAST! I'm never going to stop saying that… haha…
Anyway, I'm down to give the new direction more attention, and make an effort to visit the site when I read the comics. You're still my favorite webcomic author, Joel!
I sort of made peace with the "where are all my old commenters?" thing a while back. I figured the super fans had just grown apart from the comic (especially without the podcast) and there was no getting them back. The community basically fell apart because it had nothing to anchor it. I am working on that now, and I have some fun ideas. The HE Podcast will probably never return in the form that you were used to. Like I said, I only see Josh and Eli ever 3-4 months and I don't expect that to change drastically any time soon. I have plans to return to podcasting, but Im not ready to divulge them yet. Regardless, thank you for the continued support.
I was going to write some goofy comment about some silly way Id love to support your efforts but then I decided something more heartfelt (Though I'll still leave your page up on all my school's computers so you can find new readers and at least get a couple more pennies from ads for the different computers.)
In all honesty I have to say that two years ago I went to my first comic-con. the big one in San Diego and happened to stumble on your booth on webcomic alley and immediately got really excited by it. I've been an avid follower ever since, my "The Doctor is In" T-shirt is probably one of my most complimented articles of clothing – although I don't know if that says more about your skills, which are substantial, or my wardrobe, but I digresss. I love HE and I want to see it succeed and while you may be scared about the new direction, I couldn't be more enthusiastic and hopeful.
I just want to say with all my heart, Godspeed you fancy bastard, and I can't wait to see what you have in store.
Thank you for the kind sentiment.
One thing that I think you do a hell of a lot better than most of the other webcomicpersons whose work I read is engaging with your fanbase – things exactly like this. People like to be told about things, people like information about things they invest in (even if for most people it will probably only be time) and I am no exception. I sit here with one cat on my lap and one cat on my shoulders (no really*) and read this and it makes me excited for what the future holds for what has come to be my favourite webcomic.
And it's my favourite in no small part because of the engagement you have with your fans (The dick jokes certainly don't hurt). We feel like we're part of The Experiment and it makes us involved, invested and invsomething else I can't think of a word for. I greatly look forward to this new change of tack – having just picked up your second book, reading over the conversations your characters have with each other and even just with themselves (the swine flu one with Josh springs to mind immediately) it's seriously some of your best stuff. Not that I don't regularly laugh-out-loud at everything else you write/draw.
Again, thanks for bringing us into your world 🙂
http://i.imgur.com/h88tz.jpg – he thinks he's about to get fed again. Pro tip: he's not.
I try man. Im glad you appreciate it. Sometimes I feel like Im not doing enough.
perhaps new characters representing the people you see the most now? or if you have enough stories, you could set aside one day a week for geeky stuff as a parent?
I've been reading your site for quite a while, it's been bookmarked and is when i enjoy reading when I get out of work at 4:30 in the morning. Keep up the geeky work Joel!
The people I see most now, the ONLY people I see, are my wife and child. Thats a different comic all together, though I am not totally opposed to bring some of that into HE.
I'll give you an example you could use: what if one day your child in a separate room accidently walks into the TARDIS, it disappears, returns a minute later with your child walking out dressed as a Time Lord? I thought about that but using my 3 nephews and 1 niece <her dressed as Romana>
Well, I for one only found your comic a year or so ago, but I stop by Monday through Friday without fail, update or no. I've enjoyed your work thus far, and a change of pace could make things nothing but more interesting.
It's not often someone punches through hubris to take an objective look at his own work. Granted, you've got metrics, but even so … it's terrific to see. Keep up the good works. I'll keep reading.
" Granted, you've got metrics,"
If the traffic was just skyrocketing, I doubt I would have felt the need for change, but its more than the numbers. I've had a growing feeling of (something less severe than dispair) for about a year now concerning the material Im putting out and the reaction to it. Ive been feeling a change in the reaction to the comics and it's been weighing on me pretty heavily.
I would call that a growing unease. A lurking discontent. Something something sadnes..
I want to say first off that I'm fully behind the idea of you changing things around a bit and focusing more on the characters. While I do like some gag-a-day strips, I tend to prefer the ones that focus on character development. I think the suggestion above that you perhaps introduce some more characters that represent the people you see more often these days is a good one. Hell, make up a few out of whole cloth. You don't have to base everything in reality. Create somebody that's the kind of character you'd like to see in a comic, and the audience will respond to that enthusiasm.
I happen to like Hijinks Ensue just fine as it is, but there's one thing I'd like to suggest changing that will, I think, have a fairly major effect on your readership:
The irregular updating.
I've talked with you at a few shows about this and thought this might be a good time to bring it up again since you have noticed declining readership. Speaking personally *I* don't mind an irregular update schedule, but the webcomics audience in general is pretty damn fickle. Go a couple of days without an update, or update on Tuesdays and Thursdays on some weeks and Mondays and Fridays on other weeks, and people start getting annoyed and not coming back.
I know that your particular style of writing (find something interesting and recent in the pop culture world, then write about it) makes it difficult to keep a regular schedule. I am the last person in the world to tell someone else how they should write or how they should create, so I'm not about to make suggestions on how you should change your writing style or your process for creating comics. Just…think about whether you may be losing more readers than you think because of the irregular updating (which I again stress doesn't bother ME in the slightest; I enjoy reading your stuff whether it's five days a week or once every two weeks, as long as it's *good*).
Regardless, I'm with you for the long haul on this ride. I bought and enjoyed both books and will pick up any future ones. 🙂
"Go a couple of days without an update, or update on Tuesdays and Thursdays on some weeks and Mondays and Fridays on other weeks, and people start getting annoyed and not coming back. "
The biggest contributing factor is that when I started ONLY reading the internet via RSS 5 or 6 years ago, I assumed everyone else followed suit. You can't miss an update if you use RSS and you never have to worry about update schedule. This made me overlook the importance of a regular schedule since it was no longer a part of the way I consumed blogs and comics. In hindsight this was a huge mistake.
Yeah… despite being a programmer who you'd think is on the "cutting edge" of stuff, I still prefer the old fashioned go to the website and check if a new comic is there (I'm also pretty sure I need to yell at kids to stay off my lawn).
Personally, it would probably take a month or so (maybe a bit less) of not updating before I'd stop checking, but I can see how infrequent updates could be problematic for others. A more frequent updating schedule may help.
I don't even think that it's frequency that matters as much as it is sticking to a SET update schedule. If it's "New comics every Tuesday", that's preferable (in some people's minds) to "New comics three times a week, but the three days are random".
Regardless, I think if Joel plans to make efforts to fix this (as he's already said he has), then it can't be anything but good. 🙂
I don't know if it was a HUGE mistake, but it's definitely something you might be able to improve. The new continuity stuff will help with that, like you said — easier to pick up where you left off.
Here's a suggestion I thought of yesterday after I had already posted. Why not build up a buffer of one-shot strips that you can use on days when you have no current events to write upon and you don't have any continuity stories to do? Then you can meet your update schedule with no issues. I don't know whether this would be feasible or not, but it's something else to toss out there. 🙂
Again, I'm fully behind you wherever you want to go with the comic. Just hoping to help out with your readership. 🙂
I'll second adding your daughter as a character. Yes, it'll change your audience, but if done right, your passion will engage everyone.
As for the making money bit, have you thought about selling the older volumes as ebooks on Amazon/BN/etc? I know they take a cut, but with the popularity of tablets and ereaders, I think it would help bring in new readers. I have a very specific suggestion in that arena that has been bouncing around in my head for months. Make a new book of your grayscale "Lo-Fijinks" where every panel is on its own page. It will look amazing on eInk readers!
I have ebook plans. They are just stuck behind 100 other ideas at the moment. Ive also considered an ebook of all lofi strips since they are quicker to produce. It's not a bad idea.
Penny Arcade does a great job of bringing Gabe's kid in from time to time. The interaction with the boy is not so different as to divert the theme of the comic, and it's not so often that the comic stops being about games. Following that model with your daughter could work very well, methinks. I also concur with the need to characterize more. I discovered HE through one of Wil Wheaton's blog posts about six months ago, and now have you in my regular comics routine, but after reading six months of your comics, I know there is one guy named Joel, and I don't know which one he is. Also, and I seem to be in the minority on this, the photo comics (especially the ones from your cruise) were a total turnoff. If I want to see the vacation pictures of someone I've never met, that's what Facebook is for. Just my two cents. All in all, as a struggling indie game developer, I'm behind anybody living the 'Experiment'. Good luck and godspeed.
Well first off. congrats on continuing to feed yourself as a full-time comic for so long, and I hope the tweak in tone helps bring some of your lost readers back.
the sarcastic part of me wants you to bring back just the hobo…. but i am truly impressed with your introspection and your effort to solve the problem. I have a few web comics that i read daily, and i have a few that i have stopped reading all together. Yours is always my favorite, i can read any single comic and its great all on its own. http://questionablecontent.net/ is my second favorite, but if i miss a day i have to go back and catch up with Jeph's amazing stories. I always enjoy your comics and your view of geek culture, I have you to thank for my Dr. Who obsession. Keep up the fantastic work and i look forward to your adjustments in the future.
Hey now, I have a genuine, brotherly love for Boxcar Pete and his mad culinary skills.
They're only in a couple comics, but they could make me snort anything out my nose.
I actually REALLY liked them too, but maintaing that level of writing was a real challenge. I'm sure they'll be back.
When I started reading your post, I was happy! Then sad. Then really sad. Then scared. Then half way through I got a little hungry. Then optimistic.
I really was terrified you were going on "hiatus", which few ever return from. Your comics are a highlight of my feeds, and now that I know you miss out on the ad revenue from that, I will make sure to goto your site directly when I see there's a new post. Also, if I ask my wife nicely and maybe buy her flowers and/or a pony, she may let me buy some merch.
I hope your experiment 2.0 takes off, and you can continue HE forever….forrrreverrrrrr
I've been reading Hijinks Ensue for a long time but never commented – it's definitely one of my favorite webcomics! Sometimes when I'm reading it I snort my coffee out of my nose because I'm laughing so hard. I've convinced most of the people I know to read it too!
Anyway, I just wanted to say that I'm really impressed by your introspection. Most people never acknowledge the ruts in their life and continue doing the same thing blindly until they fail. Admitting shortcomings and owning up to your work is a rare trait that few people have, and I admire that. I'm looking forward to your experiment and I'll definitely keep reading.
"Most people never acknowledge the ruts in their life and continue doing the same thing blindly until they fail. "
I dont want to be the guy that says, "IVE BEEN DOING THE SAME THING FOR 10 YEARS AND NOTHING IS GETTING ANY BETTER!" I know cartoonists and creatives like that, and it typically signifies someone who is creatively unfulfilled and failing to capture an audience.
I was just re-listening to the podcasts of yore, and I miss the casual interactions and general dicking about that they contained. It killed some of my weekly travel time and was something to listen too during down times. The HAWPcast is filling that void a little (a similarly meandering hour-long podcast, which also oddly has a Gearbox employee hosting it). But I kind of wish you guys could have worked out a Skype time for an hour-or-so so that the podcast was still in production. I could try and justify this belief by saying that a fortnightly hour-long podcast would give you time to re-connect with Josh & Eli (giving you character inspirations as well as just being able to kill time with friends) as well as a short podcast to upload, but I know you're probably stretched thin as it is and there probably isn't much (if any) ad revenue possibility. But that's not to say I don't love the comic.
Ive had this conversation with myself 100 times. Part of me wants to recapture the magic and part of me wants to let it be and move on to other chapters and projects. There probably isnt a single area of my creative output that I have stressed about more than this.
You should seriously be so proud of everything you've accomplished so far. Five years of making people smile? That's awesome! I've been a reader for years now, and do try to comment, though I don't as often as I should. I really mean it when I say that you've been one of my heroes and have inspired me to put myself out there and make my own comic. I'll be happy to do anything I can to help, including buying more merch!
I'm also glad to see you've decided to push yourself as a storyteller. I think that's definitely the way to move forward, and I think if we aren't challenging ourselves as writer/artists, then what's the point? Really excited about the new direction, but of course, I'm someone obsessed with characterization and continuity as a general rule overall. I've especially loved the glimpses you've shared about your family life and daughter. No, let's not turn HE into a family sitcom, but you being a dad is obviously a HUGE part of your life, and I don't think you should be afraid of sharing that. I think it would only help.
Either way, thank you. Thanks for putting yourself out there, for creating something new every week, for inspiring people in more ways than you realize, and for making me laugh on a regular basis. Good luck!
I'm one of the newer readers and have really enjoyed the strip over the last year or so. Coming in late means not noticing that things have changed. I think most artists find themselves in ruts at times and I think your plan for getting out is bang on. Creative disruption is good for the soul.
You mentioned the strip being character driven and I think fans are attracted by the mirror it throws in front of us. Bringing the dad aspect in, even in a limited way, would be a good thing. Many of us are geek parents and looking around the floor at the Calgary Expo suggests that there are a lot of geek parents. I'm not saying to make the strip into a geek dad strip but the occasional arc about where pop culture and parenting intersect would be fun and relevant to many in your audience.
Finally it was nice to briefly meet you in Calgary and be able to pay you directly to make something for me. Having you draw Wil so I could get him to sign it (and laugh out loud at the same time) was one of the hi-lights of my weekend.
Good luck de-rutting yourself. The plan looks sound and I'm looking forward to lots more HE in the future.
Thanks for supporting me at Calgary. Im glad you (and Wil) liked the sketch.
You are one of my favorite joels. Never stop posting content.
I have one criticism I will share and only since I believe you are open to it. If no one agrees I am fine with shutting up about it forever.
I do not like your photo/comic things. Yes, there have been a couple that I genuinely found funny. Yes I do read every one of them anyway. My problem isn't the concept but more that they always seem so full of inside jokes. It seems like you make them FOR the people in the photos or that were at the Con or cruise or whatever. I always feel outside of them.
I don't mean to say don't make them. I just don't think they appeal to the mass audience of a typical comic. I take it you know that but when comics are not plentiful, these stand out as being the main attraction, not side or bonus content.
My main problem with the photo comics is I have no idea who anyone in them is and feel outside the loop. I'm sure a few of the people are prominent webcomic artists, but the photo comics provide no introduction or link to who they are.
Basically this. Seems like photo comics are more the majority now since you've been going to more conventions. I'm one of the people on the side of "don't like them."
That said, I think the change up you are planning will be awesome. I still check Mon – Fri for new comics because your specific brand of humor is A) Unique and B) Awesomely funny. The change you are making sounds like it will only enhance that.
They do in the blog post beneath the comic, if that helps.
I agree with the sentiments here, they don't do much for me, very inside jokes, but you don't do them very often.
I actually was trying to get someone to advertise on your comic (through project wonderful) a few days ago, because I believe your audience would be the perfect fit for their pop-culture hand crafted items. After I gave them the link, I saw that it was photo comic, and realized that if that was all they looked at, that might not be the best impression of your wonderful humor and comic. But maybe it helped that there was Star Trek alumni in the photo.
"you make them FOR the people in the photos"
This is essentially true. For me the photo comics are a travelogue of sorts. A convention diary. So far the reaction to them is 100% split between "these do nothing for me" and "OMG YOU SHOULD ONLY DO PHOTO COMICS FOREVER!" Since they are meant to be infrequent, I am mostly OK with this. Since I have been traveling more they have been less infrequent and I can see where that would get frustrating for someone that doesnt particularly enjoy them.
I'll back this sentiment. I like the photo comics, but respect that they could be divisive. I'd look at this aspect as you're never going to be able to make every reader love every comic you make, it's all about having people like the overall product.
I can see both sides of the argument here. Personally, I sometimes find them funny if I can glean the meaning of a joke or two from them. But I almost always find them entertaining, even without knowing who is in them or what is going on, becuase of their sheer bizarreness. I think you are very good at random-bizarre humour, Joel (I have often tried to duplicate your making-up-ridiculous-words-for-things with little success), and the photo comics are almost always completely zany.
So there's that.
I have to agree with these sentiments. When I see a photo-comic, I skip it. Often I'll even avoid checking for site updates for the following week, as the travelogues almost always take up multiple days of posting. I have more or less the same issues that other people around here do, they seem rife with inside jokes, I don't know or care about half the people in the pictures, and they also come off a bit masturbatory. I don't intend any offense, but that's how I feel.
I'm sure you've been inundated with advice since this post, but I'll throw mine in anyway. Put the travelogues in the vault as bonus content, and find a reliable schedule that you can stick to. Find whatever combinations of days allow you to post consistently from week to week. Consistency is key.
That said, it's tough monetizing this stuff and you should be proud of what of you've done so far.
Congratulations on the anniversary. I'll admit I had found myself coming to the site less and less lately, and I believe you nailed the reason. It will be nice to see the core of HE return.
I also must agree with Nacho and LifeSpecter, I personally never really found the photo comics from the cons all that funny. Those seem to have become more and more common, with the funny situations involving the original characters less and less apparent.
As a writer, I can attest to the difficulty of writing in another's voice. Every character you write has a piece of you, but it's so easy to give them to much of you, so that they are all the same person. ! I look forward to seeing how your characters evolve.
Good luck, Joel! I think you are pretty spot on in your assessment. Naturally, I think your comic is hella funny or I wouldn't be here posting this, but the characters are pretty interchangeable. I think one of them is gay … ? I should probably know that. Anyway, I think it's great that you are really going the distance to do what you love full-time, and that you are man enough to be a little introspective about it. Good luck!!
I for one am excited about the shift. I think you'll find working in a BIT of story will let you comment on the pop culture you know and love in an altogether different way.
Just don't go too far overboard with the characters and the stories, or it'll end up like Multiplex.
If that happened I would have to kill myself.
I was a fan of HE since you first started posting in the Penny Arcade artist's corner looking for critique. When you first started, you had a much stronger fire under your feet than you do now. You occasionally took the easy route, but even then it was often funny. You weren't afraid to go as far as a comic like PA and show the evil Fox Executive eating kittens from a paper bag rather than just being upset that there are Cabins being delivered to his office.
You said a lot of your comics originally came from IM conversations between yourself, Josh, and Eli. Obviously the lack of time spent with your friends has affected your writing in some way, but it was always your writing, and it was always good.
When you first launched, your first two years really, you were much more community driven than you are today. You had a forum, albeit short lived due to lack of a larger user base, the podcast, the post show, more vault content, a regular update schedule, even though it was less days, it was a schedule.
Now you seem to be more focused on conventions, your friends at Blind Ferret, and enjoying the "sweet life" and it's obviously caught up to you, as it would anyone. The photo comics are not that interesting. They're funny sometimes, but not as funny as finding unique ways to make Josh die through his own devious behaviors or secretly letting the world know that Eli and Denise are together when they wouldn't admit it on a podcast, but we all knew it was true : ) Also we really, as a fanbase, don't give two shits about how much you, Danielle, Lar, and anyone else hanging with you that night can drink. You're over 30 and it's not freshman year of college anymore….
Where you once weren't hesitant to go for the jugular, now you mash up two intellectual properties, toss it on a shirt, and call it a day. I'm not complaining about that, I love your shirts (mainly the older ones), but if you want to be a t-shirt salesman, do that, if you want to do comics, then focus on that. There's room for both, but I feel like your early t-shirt designs like groverfield, Rosilin 08, the Eh Team, magically fabulous, etc were all MUCH more well crafted and unique than the stuff now, which is just slapping together two beloved things in a way that makes them momentarily humorous.
None of this is meant to insult you or berate you, it's just honest feedback from a year one fan who thinks your priorities have changed over the last couple of years. You used to make a strong point about how you never drank on the podcast, and now every con comic is you binge drinking with fellow cartoonists. Is that because you just found it to be more fun or because you wanted to fit in with that crowd?
Like it or not, you are a special case in the comics world, and and something of an "overnight success" at that. As where most comics go for five years or more before achieving some sort of fame or dying off into obscurity, yours really did take off early on more so than many, many others, and put you in a league of big names early on as well.
Personally, I think you should go back to your roots. Focus more on interesting comics about what makes you laugh, be it something funny you read online or Star Trek TNG. Don't just take the easy stab at what ever is trending on twitter, focus less on IP mashup shirts and focus more on your own unique designs, and really spend more time with your community you worked so hard to build early on rather than your new webcomic buddies.
One last thing. When you started doing this, it was obvious from day one that you're both an extremely talented web designer, SEO crafter, and advertiser. That's what helped you move up the ladder as quickly as you did.
Having said that, every time I try to read your blog, I first have to scroll through ad after ad after ad. You spend way too much time plugging your own stuff on your site, and it's something unique to your strip that I feel doesn't really sit well aesthetically with the rest of your layout. if we like your comic, we'll buy something, a simple store link and maybe one "buy the book" button in plain view above the fold does the job, not four inches of t-shirt sales pitch before we can read what you wrote about that days comic. I know you've got to advertise, we all do, but you do it excessively and then complain when fans use adblock. Well, try to meet us half way.
I've watched this experiment from day one and it's been an inspiration in my own work, much like Coulton's was before that which influenced you. I wish you the best of luck in the future, and I'm still reading the comic, but yeah, I can understand why the readers are leaving, it's not the same comic it was four years ago, or even two.
Some aspects of that have been great. Seeing you teach your daughter to draw is heartwarming, and a nice counterpoint to the crude yet hilarious comics you post.
I really do take issue with a lot of what youre saying here. I see that it comes from a place of concern but some of it is pretty harsh and a some of it is WAY off base.
The forum died because people stopped posting there and started posting on the comments. It was sad to see a working forum that got less than one post a week, so I deleted it. That was more the fans' decision than mine. Yes, the community is not as prominent as it used to be, but part of that comes from people assuming that Im "OK" now. They think they aren't rallying behind a cause (getting me to make a living from this comic) because I am no longer in desperate need of their help. Desperate? Maybe not. Need? Most definitely. The issue is, how long are you all going to listen to me complain about money before it gets too boring to put up with? I just stopped harping on it because I didn't want to be that guy and the bi-product was readers assuming I was flush with cash which couldnt be more wrong.
And if you hate pop culture mashups but love Groverfield, you seem to be missing something.
Regarding conventions and "the sweet life." Yikes. Where do I go with that? I do conventions because it's part of the job. I make about 1/4 of my income from conventions. I do not enjoy travel or the crazy hours or being away from my family, but they are a necessity. The good news is I have a lot of friends in the same boat and we are able to keep each other company. I really do enjoy talking to readers and getting to feel a little famous once in a while but "The sweet life" is a GROSS exaggeration. in fact, its just wrong. its hard work, long hours and physically/mentally/emotionally exhausting.
As for "binge drinking," I have never had more than 3 drinks at a bar in my entire life (if you don't count the cruise). I think it's pretty obvious the photo comics are staged and not really an accurate representation of reality.
And with "going for the jugular" you seem to be asking for more violence in the comic. Honestly, violence and obsessive cursing are a crutch for poor writing. I made a conscious decision to reign both of those in as to not fall into some Kevin Smithian trap of one trick pony-dom.
"Overnight success"? Again, I dont even know where to go with that. I guess Im still waiting for that check to arrive in the mail.
Too many ads for my own stuff? Maybe. You say "If we like something we will buy it" but the joke is on me, because you don't. I have the sales reports to prove it. Less than 2% of my audience will ever drop a dime in the bucket, so advertising my own stuff is beyond necessary.
Im not trying to attack every single point you've made, but that sure was a lot more of "Here's what you're doing wrong" than "good luck in the future." I'm not upset, but Id be lying if I said that comment didnt rub me the wrong way.
Im trying to take all of the points in the comments (good and bad) to heart, process them and really apply what you guys are saying that could help me in this new endeavor. A lot of what you said made sense, but plenty of it was just off base or poorly worded to get your point across without offending.
I was sent here by Whedonesque a few years ago (godsdamn has it been that long?) when you posted a brilliant Joss based comic and have stayed ever since. For a long time you were the only webcomic I read on a regular basis.
I hadn't really noticed it until you said it, but now that you have, I see what you mean. What I think I've loved the whole time has been you and your buds geeking out over many of the same things I do, and well, just everything Josh. So I look forward to the next stage of the Experiment and wish you all the best of luck.
Oh, and I always visit the full site – love to get the comic and commentary together.
Joel, I think you hit the nail on the head. I do miss the dialogue that really defined the characters' personalities. And kudos to you for having that level of self-awareness about your comic. I must guiltily admit to having been slacking off on keeping up with the comics, but life's been crazy this year and I've kinda fallen behind on all of the webcomics I read, so I hadn't really thought about this at length.
Also: OMFG it's been five years?! That's amazing! (And kinda scary. How old am I? Damn.) I'm tempted to say you won when Wil Wheaton started to get excited and make things with you. Because I can't think of a better way to define winning on the internet than that.
I've never commented before, but I just wanted to lend some words of support right now. I found out about your comic at TCAF last year and it quite quickly became one of my favorite webcomics. It absolutely *never* fails to crack me up.
Whatever choices you decide to make with your writing, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. Keep up the awesome work!
I don't remember how I found HE, but it must have been about 4 years ago. Pretty much check it almost every day, don't use RSS feed. A regular schedule would be great, but I have to say that your output is still fairly regular. So many comics that I used to read have ended because the artists/writers grew bored, had other things take priority in their life, health issues, or just felt it wasn't worth the effort anymore. Some of my other favs. have slowed to almost a standstill. That being said, HE is one of the few comics I read that is totally supporting it's creator – so if you want to bring more traffic, therefore making more money, consistency is key.
As a fellow self-employed person, I applaud your ability to support your family and continue to be funny and current. As for the shirt, I prefer the newer shirts to the classic ones, and do not feel that you over-plug your products. Self promotion is an important sales tool, it's difficult to get people to pay attention, you pretty much have to drag that horse to the water.
After reflecting on the other comments, I'd have to say that I agree that the interchangeable characters does pull it down a bit. But the jokes, level of humor, and drawing has improved over the years. If you don't mind comparisons to other comics, I enjoy HE much more that PA or PVP. Perhaps this is because I am a woman who is not into gaming, but enjoys science fiction and pop culture and your work reflects my interests. PVP has strong characters, so if you develop yours while keeping the funny, I'm sure your views will improve.
Louis CK is one of my favourite comedians, I do prefer his older edgier stuff. Talking about his daughters, being a single dad, has become part of his act, and I thought it was getting boring. But I recently watched a short special where he had a long monologue about how much he hated a boy that was bothering his daughter, and it was hilarious. Thus showing that it is possible to bring children into your act and still be funny.
Joel, you've come a long way from posting links to your comics in the PA forums, and I applaud all your hard work and thank you for all the laughs. I hope that this new direction/improvements will take HE to where you need it to be.
I have been reading since the very beginning and I will admit I used to share this comic with everyone I knew, I bought a ton of teeshirts I own both your books, and we subscribed for the last 3 or so years. I recently shut of the subscription… I read the comic about once a week if that now. I still love your work but I think your are right so much of the characters has gotten lost. So much of the humor is about the cons now and hobnobbing with celebs, which is great but it can be a bit much. My husband and I used to do a happy dance every week when the podcast came out, now I listen to old podcast episodes and feel sad.. like the feeling I get when I watch Firefly knowing Wash is going to die. When I was in college I was rediculously in love with Homestarrunner. I remeber the first time a freshman said to me (I was a senior then) "Oh man Homestar.. that is so 2 years ago." I was annoyed thinking "what does he know.. punk kid!" Then I realized it had been awhile since I had checked for new cartoons and no one I knew really was on that site anymore.. and just like that it was gone from my life. The internet can be a harsh mistress. Your readers want to keep staying with you.. but I for one can say I used to feel like I knew you guys, like me and my husband were a part of this fun geeks only world. We haven't felt like that for a long time and ending our subscription was part of that. I don't think anyone wants to see the comic end so trying something new is great. I think though if there is a way you can reconnect with your readers again, to have that closeness that there was when the forums were going strong and the podcast was in full swing, I know I for one would love that. I will remain a faithful reader and am looking forward to seeing what you do next.
I'm a Brazilian Fan, and i really liked your early comics and your podcast… but lately you have been only making comics based on wordplays, puns and photocomics… and abandoned the podcast… I Miss the old times… 🙁
First, All of my best to you and yours. It is the absolute least that I can offer someone who has broufht me as many laughs as you have. You are my current idol, as I am only a lowly furniture deliveryman still trying to sell short stories. You certainly have a dedicated audience, and I hope that it's enough to carry you through. ( SPOILER ALERT: I'm too boozed right now to carry my thoughts any further. Call it the end result of an extremely long day.)
Of course I don't have any answers. I move heavy shit up stairs for a living for Christ's sake. All I can say is that I wish you nothing but the best.
And typo. But… What the hell. You only live once.
I've only recently discovered this comic (recently as in the past 3 months), and I really like it. I can understand how reduced exposure to the IRL people who your characters are based on can pose some challenges for you
Can I just say that I loved the podcast? I was gonna donate so I could get the vault stuff for that, but there hasn't been a podcast in a long time. I'd love it if that came back. Maybe you could even get it sponsored. Audible and Fleshlight sponsor a lot of podcasts (Fleshlight sponsors both Kevin Smith and Joe Rogan's podcast. You guys are as good as they are, and I'm sure just the idea of being sponsored by Fleshlight is already inspiring funny.) Plus, podcasting might be a good way to reconnect with inspiring friends.
Anyway, good luck with the continued experiment. We're reading and rooting for you. 🙂
On a note that you covered I hate to admit it but yeah, I really don't know who your characters are. I've gathered that they're facsimiles of yourself and your friends, that one or more of them is gay(?), and that Wil Wheaton wanders in once and awhile.
That being said I think one thing that would help you is getting a regular update schedule and sticking to it. I remember when I started following the comic some months ago there was something, somewhere, on the site that stated what days the strips came out. Though I quickly found that your updating schedule was pretty sporadic. I think it would really help with your web traffic as you would then have people checking your site on a regular and predictable basis. Find a schedule that works comfortably for you and that allows you to have a small stockpile of strips set aside for when you leave for conventions or other durations of absence. Fun as they are, I think a good goal would be to eliminate the photo comics that show up around conventions.
I'm not an artist, a webmaster, or a business person but when it comes to the successful professional web comics this is the pattern I seem to notice. You may already be doing this, I don't know, but that's my two cents since you seem to be looking for advice for making things more profitable. I love your work, and some of your strips are some of the funniest stuff I've ever read. (The Desecrater one from last year is my all time favorite)
Keep fighting the good fight Joel.
Grats on making is this far and I sincerely hope you'll make it another four years. I can certainly relate to not seeing your friends as often post serious relationships / kids / life. I didn't know you, Eli and Josh fell out of touch like that. I was very sad that the podcast stopped being made, but suspected that lacking participation might be one of the reasons.
Do you think starting up the podcast on a bi-weekly basis would help you either expand your audience or reconnect with Eli & Josh? In my experience, as long as both parties are willing, rekindling friendship lost is often easy. It's keeping the flame alive that's the challenge.
The Hijinks Ensue podcast was certainly my favorite thing to listen to when it was alive, and I'm always going through the backlogs for repeat-humor. I'm currently around ep26 for the third time around. The 20-30 episodes were certainly among the best. I even wrote in once (ep 66) with a rather strange question. If you relisten to it, I'm sure you can guess which.
Regarding the comic. I think some change might be good. You write that you want the characters to service the jokes, which is a good starting point. I personally believe that a good balance between jokes and characters is important. You have this to some degree, but as you wrote, it felt more authentic in your earlier work.
Best of luck!
I love your comic and read it daily. My friends and family occasionally get sent comics that are fitting for one reason or another. That said, there are comics of yours that I absolutely avoid. Those would be the Fancy Photo ones from expos. Sure, they're goofy fun…but they're just not as good as the others. They're not funny to me. As much as I like camaraderie and people hanging out, I just can't stand those entries to your archive. But everything else I love.
I'm also one of those people who reads everything through Google Reader. If you must, make me click through to read the comic. I have to do it for The Trenches and PvP, so why not here? Heck, I make people do it for my blog, and I don't even have ads. Please, put us in the situation to make that insignificant sacrifice for you.
Best of luck!! This sounds like a great idea and I think staying in one setting for a few comics is a great idea. I loved the "Under the Bridge" story line and as others have said, the fancy photo comics are hysterical!! Also, the consistent updates would probably bring a more regular fan base, but again echoing others, I'll be coming back regardless of when you post comics. You do great work, man! You are an inspiration with The Experiment. I've only been a reader for less than a year (and have read the entire archive in that time!) but I'm definitely sticking around for the long haul! I need to post more in the comments and become part of the community, so why not start with cheering you on in your 'new' direction! Keep up the awesome work!!
I think you're right. I started reading about a year ago, I think some other comic I read had mentioned you a couple of times. The jokes are often good, sometimes not to my taste, but I have no idea who these people are supposed to be.
I like seeing artists pushing themselves to do better and look forward to seeing how well you do with it.
My apologies if this is a stupid question, but a teacher of mine used to say that the only stupid questions are the one that are never asked.
Does reading your comic via a feed reader register on your "readership" at all? I use a feed reader because I'm lazy but I'd hate to think that this impacted negatively on your income. Your comic is teh awesome (and I'm so totally jealous of your TNG cast pic but Calgary is the other side of the world from Cape Town) and I would rather you didn't stop providing me with the lulz. I do make donations to your page in gratitude so you can keep fuelling the lulz with Cheerios or whatever it is you Americans eat :P.
Um, other than that keep up the good work. Moar lulz.
Also, omg teens are horrible creatures who should be raised in farms far away from us decent folk until they're 25.
I've been reading for a LONG time and I want to come out of my lurkdom to say I completely support you and your experiment and it's time for me to monetarily help. I only wish I had the balls to do what you're doing. I'm a musician and I keep telling myself that I should be able to make a living playing my horn, that I can find a way to make it work and I'm always too scared to make the leap. Granted, everything I'm doing to create income is music related, but none of it is as satisfying as sitting in an orchestra or ensemble knowing I'm damn good enough to be paid to provide the service I do.
So, here's to you, Joel! I LOVE your comics, it's a site I check everyday and I will continue to support you in doing what I only wish I could. Thanks for the laughs and I look forward to even more!
I've been a long time fan, bought a few books, etc. I have been visiting the site less lately I think; but this is partly due to my reading habits changing. I spend a lot of time on twitter now a days rather than actively going out and looking for content like I used to. So if it does't cross twitter, I probably don't see it. Now I know you generally do tweet new comics but somehow I seem to miss them among other links, regular tweets etc. Maybe a separate twitter account JUST for new comic links that I can train myself to watch for?
I also tend to read exclusively on my iPad these days; which has the consequence of defeating the alt-text – which is a bummer. I think I sometimes find myself "Saving" the comic for when I'm back at my PC, and then forgetting about it. If theres any way of making the alt-text iPad friendly I know that'd help me as well.
Anyway good luck. You keep making them, I'll keep reading them.
I really like HE and whilst I like story orientated comics like QC, there's certainly a home for ones which aren't, like xkcd. What QC and xkcd are, though, which HE sometimes isn't, is consistent in publication. When I click on the link to xkcd during my 5 minute 'settling in' at my desk in the mornings, I know the new comic will be there (M, W & F anyway). I don't have to go back to keep checking which becomes frustrating. At times HE has been very consistent, but frequently it isn't.
I love your comic and have it sent to my email (through rss feed). I agree with your choice to try something new as one of the best ways to become irrelevant is to continue to do the same thing without change.
Keep up the good work and looking forward to see you at FanExpo in Toronto.
I've got to say, I've been a long-time reader (I remember when The Experiment was first proposed – has it really been that long?), and this is one of only two web comics, alongside xkcd, where I make a point of staying current.
That said, your proposed direction sounds fantastic. The two main points you cite (distinguishable characters with their own paradigms, and interspersing short, topical arcs with random single-day gags) are, upon closer examination, two of the greatest assets of the more mainstream look-at-me-admiringly-poke-fun-at-geek-culture comic Dilbert. All other things being equal, I think that kind of character distinction and approach to narrative is a great goal and could do wonders for the already wonderful HE.
I'm excited to see what comes of it, as you settle into the new format.
"B) You are wrong."
That's… pretty damn subjective.
I have (2 seconds ago) disabled Adblock on your site because now I realize how important those things are to your livelihood, and I don't want you to starve, so. I figure a few seconds of rage at the corporate machine (oh no – did I really just accidentally make that pun?) are worth continued delicious Internet-based geek humour.
First time commenter, long time reader (since year one… you did a guest strip that brought me over and I was hooked).
I agree with your assessment of the situation. I think you're making changes in the right direction. Scott K., Danielle C., Jeph J., and Ryan S. are great at creating character or story arcs that keep you coming back, wanting to know what's going to happen next. Gabe and Tycho usually bring the funny no matter what, though their story arcs really get me jonesin' for the next one (simple stuff like the Deep Crow really had me wanting more, even though it was absurd – almost a Pythonesque humour). And Dave K. just hits it out of the park, day after day.
You've got great writing, and I do love all the characters, but they have become somewhat interchangeable… I didn't notice it until you said it and with some light re-reading of recent stuff… yeah, ouch. I can't NOT see it now.
Though all that aside, my biggest complaint with HE is CONSISTENCY OF POSTING. The comics I love the most, and that I'm most loyal to, are the ones that are all available first thing in the morning (EST) or even just after midnight (sometimes I'm dying to know what happens next). I usually only have one time during my busy day that I can set aside to "read my stories," — boy that sounds like an old lady watching soaps.
So if I don't see an updated in the early morning, I'm annoyed. If I don't see updates for a few days, or several days are missed in a few weeks, I'm really annoyed. If I don't see updates for a week or more, I may stop reading altogether. It's only been the quality of your content that has saved you from being deleted in the past. I only have a short time to read my comics, so I prioritize those that give me the most return on my time:
I have my webcomics arranged in an order on my bookmark bar: dailies first, then the 2-3 times weekly ones; each of the two groups ordered with my favorites first. If a daily starts slipping on updating consistently, I move them to the second group, and then only bother checking them M-W-F.
I have moved HE to the second group many times, because of inconsistency of posting. There have been several times over the last few years that I can't figure out what you're posting schedule is, so to avoid my disappointment/annoyance, you've been moved to the bottom of my list in the non-daily category, and I only check you once a week. Sometimes when I see lots of comics coming out, you get moved up the list, and I start checking you more regularly. You've only been on the daily list a few times, and keep getting moved off of it.
If all of this seems a bit OCD, understand that I have 27 webcomics that I read regularly, and some days I only have time for 3-6, so I take my prioritization seriously. And I take those comics that update on schedule and on time, very seriously. They get my most frequent page view, shares, and merch buys.
Huh. I guess they have been sitting in one place for a few strips now. Truth be told I don't think I actually noticed the change! It's been just as hilarious as it always is. I hope you enjoy the change–I think it's probably going to be more fun for you this way, anyway.
Just wanted to toss this into the mix: I love HE, and am excited to see your new direction. Godspeed, you Fancy Bastard!
I have said this before, and I will say it again: I know for my own experience, I visit this comic less and less because for whatever nitpicky reason, you CHOSE not to have the normal ‘previous’ and ‘next’ buttons. You speak of wanting readers to connect with the story and characters, then make it a nuisance for us to see what we have missed. (Even your Archive is haphazard, and is really only needed if I am looking to catch up with a specific month or year, not just that week’s storyline.) Readers are fickle, and if a competing comic is an intuitive, regular-layout interface, their comic may not be as good, but the experience will be more relaxed.
"you CHOSE not to have the normal 'previous' and 'next' buttons."
What are you talking about? My comic has and HAS ALWAYS had Previous/Next/First/Etc navigation buttons directly beneath the comic. 5 years, they have always been there.
"Even your Archive is haphazard"
The archive is haphazard? It's a list of the comics in order with their date and title separated by year. If you don't want to view the ordered list you can view the 5 most recent comics with thumbnails, then click back a page to see more. If you want to see every comic on one topic you can click on a tag at the bottom of the blog post. What else do you want?
"Readers are fickle"?
At least one of my readers is deeply confused.
One of the problems of opening up the floor to critique is that many of the people who take you up on that are actually insane and are on the internet.
As a long time reader who never comments…I have noticed a bit of a downward spiral in quality, which I don't think is rare in webcomics. Sohmer does a great job, but least I could do has felt stale for the first time this year IMO.
A small suggestion:
This is your career. In mine (though in a very different field), I've made time in the past few years to hang out with my peers and partners and it's had a tremendous impact on my business and creativity. Maybe you need to MAKE time to hang out and foster the creativity and experiences your friends bring to the table that help inspire you. Spending time with friends helps make you better in any career, it may be even more prevalent here.
Besides, what's better than making time to hang and shoot the shit with friends as a "business investment". 🙂
Hope things go well!
I was a regular donator and site visitor when the podcast was being produced. Joel, I think you have a gift when it comes to producing a podcast. It still ranks up there with my all time favorites. I dug all the shows, 3 hours or 1 hour, whatever random combo of guests and post shows, and still occasionaly throw one on, but I'm also a podcast addict. I would immediately go back to donating $5 a month for a bi-monthly (maybe to aggressive?) or monthly podcast.
Hello. Since you are asking for feedback, I'm in the "Hate" camp for the photo comics. The "I'm at a con, so I drew these" fall in the same boat. I'd rather see them as a separate feed, out of the main comic stream. That's because it's the main comics that I come here for. It's less important that you post something every day, I'll still come back. XKCD.com and AbstruseGoose post infrequently and erratically, but I keep going back because I enjoy the work. The same is true here. The mashup comics are so awesome. "Snowflake on the wind" , The Tron / Big Lebowski and others are just fabulous. Pure genius. The Han Solo "I know" was terrific also. Keep it! I hope you find a solution that works. Maybe you could work harder on merchandising the great works, and not worry about getting something out every day.
I look forward to seeing how you develop your characters and the community, and learning more about yourself, Eli, & Josh (or the alter ego versions)- but I also hope to be introduced to more of your friends and family as well.
If we look at other comics like Calvin & Hobbes, Non Sequitur, Penny Arcade, PVP – some of their favourite strips are the ones where the writers talked about their family (e.g. Calvin's Dad, Danae & Kate, Annarchy, and Scott's Dad, respectively). While you're always going to play darts on a venn diagram of people who like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr Who, LoTR, SoI&F, etc. – you'll always have a common denominator in family.
I like the photo comics – but it may help to add a few shout-outs / introductions that identify the people you were hanging out with.
In the past 1.5 weeks I have read the entire run of Hijinks Ensue and have enjoyed it immensely (which is good because my work productivity has suffered greatly. Oddly, I was promoted during that time and I suspect that it is some form of perverted punishment.) I obviously love the core formula of one-off gags centered on three main characters (or I'd have REALLY been wasting my time) but, when I came to the recent introduction of story-arcs, I felt that the comic took a large leap forward. Certainly, the development of the characters and stories will create a new kind of work for you but I feel, already, that the work is worthwhile and will only continue to improve and generate rewards (hopefully some will be monetary.)
Doonsbury began as short-run gags centered around a handful of caricatures and has evolved into a phenomenally long-running serial that mirrors our times. But even Doonsbury still manages to throw in a one-off gag now and then. I think that model should give you license and possibly inspiration to pursue the growth that your characters deserve and your readers will enjoy. Serial-type strips beg for me to check back regularly and reward me with the unfolding of an awesome story or hilarious recursive gag or in-joke. Readers dig that stuff and writers seem to enjoy it, too.
Either way, keep it up and know that I read with my ad-blocker off.
I guess this comment is coming a bit late, given that it's over 6 months after you posted this blog. D'oh! But I figured I'd give you my 2 cents anyway. I've met you at conventions … 3 times now. I live in Dallas and I publish the comic Woohooligan. Coincidentally, I just updated the layout and look for my site (woohooligan.com) and linked to HIjinks Ensue in the "recommended reads" (they're labelled "moar comics" at the top) in the NSFW section, not because I consider HE to be NSFW, but because I remember seeing it in an NSFW comic competition a little while ago.
I do think HE is hilarious, but since you're asking for criticism I'll give you my honest opinion.
First, although I think adding continuity and giving the characters more individual personality are good steps in the right direction. (I recently started adding story arcs in my comic as well.) I think you ought to take it a step further and have more than three characters. It's a bit like how the original Star Trek series really only focused on Kirk, Spock and Bones, except, in this case there aren't really other repeat characters to speak of… (okay, there's the hobo, but he's not around all too often). There are so many opportunities for other regular characters – bartenders, the owners or employees of stores you frequent (especially comic/hobby stores), your wife and daughter, etc, etc… and all that potential is balled up and tossed in the waste bin. It's as though the writers of the original Star Trek had literally stopped after creating those first three characters and said "okay, that's it! That's all the crew this ship needs!"
My 2nd (and last) criticism may be harder to hear. I don't really know how to say this "gently", so I'll just say it.* You're not a people person, and in person you've been kind of closed to ideas about marketing yourself in order to improve your results. On the one hand, you do an excellent job of marketing yourself here on your site, but in my experience it doesn't translate very well in person.
It even goes so far as to give mixed signals. Because here you are complaining about waning interest in your content on the site — but a couple months ago I suggested that you could have been marketing yourself better at AnimeFest and your response was "so what? I wouldn't notice any difference if I did a better job marketing myself at this panel."
If you'd been open to the suggestion at the time, I would have elaborated to say that it wasn't just about the panel. When I met you at the table and said "Hi. How're you doing?" your response was "I am here… I am exactly here." With the sort of "this will all end in tears" mega-depressed tone I would expect from Marvin the robot. It was almost as though I could hear you thinking "oh god, not another fan." And the other 2 times I met you at previous cons were relatively similar.
During the panel I had made a comment as well about having seen significant improvement in my own site traffic by putting it on a hosting site instead of going with ComicPress on my own server and you'd sort of dismissed the whole idea with a hand wave and an "oh well, they suck and all those sites are dying anyway, so I wouldn't give that idea any credence", generally indicating a real lack of understanding or even of interest in understanding the subject. The reality is that on days that I update (usually about once a week), I see about 48 visitors that I wouldn't have probably seen on my site on that day. And that's being an only semi-popular comic on an only semi-popular hosting site (ComicFury). While it may not be a big dent in the traffic you have currently, that could be a big help to a new person starting their first comic (which is what I was commenting on at the time).
The long and the short of it is that, while I do love HE, you as an individual have been pretty unapproachable in person, so much so that I very nearly didn't buy the book. Now, if I almost didn't buy the book because of the way you presented yourself, what impact do you think that might have on my desire to take the time to tell my friends about HE? And if you multiply that out over all the various people you've met at conventions, what you might realize is that you're suffering from a "death of a thousand cuts" scenario.
Your humor and your marketing here truly carry you and I'm really glad for that. I'm just pointing out that I think if you presented yourself with a bit more openness and enthusiasm, and were a little less dismissive about marketing opportunities, it could help a great deal with that "toiling in obscurity" problem.
Anyway, I didn't want to end on that note. I realize these comments may be hard to hear… You said yourself in that panel that no matter how successful you've been, you still feel bad when people snark about your work online — and I really hope you don't see these comments as worse, criticism of your character, because I have a tremendous amount of respect for you. I just wanted to give you a bit of friendly perspective from someone who sees you from the outside and who isn't so close to you that they would lie to save your feelings.
And I hope 2013 is a really good year for you! 😀
p.s. I really enjoyed the Avengers movie arc.
* I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2008, and have been working on my own people skills quite a bit since then, but saying things "gently" is often still a challenge for me.
I remember talking to you and I remember your questions at the panel. The reason I was dismissive is that you seemed like you came a panel with professional, full time cartoonists to GIVE advice rather than GET it and it was a little off putting. I dont mean any of that as offense, but your comment above is extremely blunt and honest, so forgive me if I take the same approach.
Animefest just isnt my crowd. If I seemed unhappy to be there, its because I was. That's my fault for doing a show that is completely out of my demographic and comfort zone. Come see me at a different show and you'll see how I normally interact with my audience. Anime kids put off this "I am here to BE seen, not TO SEE" vibe at shows, and it makes it very hard to get enthusiastic about pitching them your wares.
To address you specific points: Marketing myself to a few dozen anime fans at a local show really doesn't have any impact on my overall business. It can't. When I am talking about 10's of thousands of readers, gaining a handful of new fans is always nice, but I am not going to go out of my way in terms of marketing especially if it requires additional expense or time away from my family. When I told you "I am here…" it's because I was having a terrible time at that show and couldn't wait to go home. It's my job and Im allowed to have bad days at work. Don't presume you know everything about my personality when you caught me on a bad day.
Additionally, comic hosting sites ARE a thing of the past and ARE a complete waste of time if you are serious about making comics for a living. There isnt a single full time pro cartoonist on a hosting site like that. It just isn't necessary any more. It would be like you suggesting I invest in a good typewriter. It's fine that it works for you, but when you actually have to make a living at this, it's an unworkable solution and a total step in the wrong direction. I dont even recommend it for brand new comics. It's OK for us to disagree about this, but you asked what I thought and based on my experience I told you what I would do.
I know it's hard to tell tone from text, so please understand that I am not angered by anything you wrote. Frustrated, maybe. I am glad that you are enjoying the comics. The tone of your comments was fairly negative, but based on your last sentence I really dont think you meant it that way. This may make me sound like an evil asshole, but if you know you have Aspergers and that you need to work on your people skills, perhaps that was a contributing factor in me being dismissive towards your suggestions. The bottom line is that you seemed like you wanted to be leading the panel and really weren't that interested in what we had to say.
Either way, I do appreciate your readership and Im grateful for the link from your site. I also hope 2013 is a great year for all of us.
Hi. You're sick of hearing from me so I'll keep this brief.
You stated it yourself, you've been working 5 years off the same material. And also rather than stoke the creative furnaces you've basically being doing the very think you wanted to step away from (pushing sales).
Not sure whether you can see the demographics from you website stats. Which countries visitors are from, which story arcs work and which just deadpanned.
After 5 years, what is working for you? Where do you want to go? What do you need to be to get there?
And yeah. The regular publishing, it's a big deal. I'll pop over to Devils Panties while I'm having coffee, the humour etc is not as great as it was but there's always something new happening.
In the words of the media whores: " But what have you done for me today".
Last point, once you get your stats in order, check for correlation between what you like, what gets audience and what covers your rent.