New Robot 6 webcomics columnist Brigid Alverson wastes no time in telling it like it is:
Eight pages should be enough space to establish the setting, introduce one or more characters that are worth caring about, give some sense of what the comic is about, and get the story rolling. This is obviously most critical for longer stories, but gag-a-day creators would do well to establish their premise and characters clearly as well.
A surprising number of stories flunked this test. Many jumped right into the action, often starting off with a complicated fight (Zuda creators love a good fight) between utterly unknown characters, leaving me unsure who to root for.
Each Zuda page includes a space for a text-only synopsis, and that is where I would often find finely crafted, intricately thought out backstories and alternate universes.
Unfortunately, that’s not where they belong. They belong in the comic.
Although she’s talking about Zuda specifically, the complaint about bad storytelling applies to many webcomics/comics everywhere. We’re busy. We don’t have time to make understanding your comics’ contents a new hobby–unless your concept and execution are so superior and daring that we can’t help ourselves, but that is exceedingly rare.
Now, some people LIKE to need ancillary material to understand the storyline. Indeed, the internet has made the background material and the ARG part of the story in many cases. We’re probably as guilty as any of not laying a foundation for a story when more info is only a Google click away, but you need both.
Here is more advice on mistakes to avoid. From “When to Start the Story”:
Agreed. Any comic and/or webcomic should be able to hook the reader within 8-pages sans ancillary materials
ACT-I-VATE boasts many great webcomix: http://www.act-i-vate.com/
Plus, there’s my very own Zuda webcomic: STREET CODE: http://www.zudacomics.com/street_code
Obviously 8 pages is the Zuda format, but it’s hardly a universal maxim.
A print comic has the whole first issue to hook the reader. It is (and should be) paced accordingly. Similar format webcomics have the same sort of leeway.
Episodic webcomics, OTOH have maybe three pages (if they’re lucky!) to hook a new reader.
The article seems to assume that comprehension is necessary for interest – it’s not. As Brigid pointed out, the winning Zuda comic was one where a dog inexplicably exploded. Not comprehensible at all, but an interesting enough hook that the reader is willing to keep reading.
We’ve been trained by TV. Hook us with an interesting enough teaser and we’re willing to wait for the explanations.