Me versus Forums.
I have never had a good relationship with online forums, and that’s why there will (likely) never be a Star Power forum or message board here.
When I was getting started as a webcomicker back in 2002, it was assumed a forum was a necessary part of having a webcomic. This was years before social media as we know it today, and you needed to hear back from your readers. Feedback is essential to keeping your readership happy! So, like everyone else, I installed a message board onto my first webcomic. It went pretty well. Then I moved to a webcomic collective’s site, and they assigned me a message board with a separate moderator. I had no problems with the community mod (hi, Dan!) but the nature of forums began to shift. Dramatically. And badly.
I only ever saw complaints. I only ever saw unhappiness. I only saw demands on my stories. I only ever felt disappointment and frustration. But what could I do? I was “supposed” to have a forum. It was one of the rules!
I remember the day I gave that rule big old middle-finger and deleted my forum.
I’d worked extra hard one day to create a buffer of comics for an upcoming convention weekend. I felt productive and accomplished. I was getting ready to reward myself on a job well done with a great big ice cream sundae when I got an email notifying me of someone on the forum harassing others. I rolled my eyes and checked my forum. There was a huge list of posts from this troll that had come seemingly out of nowhere, harassing other posters for voicing their enjoyment of my work and/or generally being an awful internet troll. So, with much aggravation, I wrote a notice to this troll politely asking them to stop being awful. What I received shortly afterward was a huge message (as a public post so everyone could see it, of course) telling me what an awful writer I was, what a crappy job I was doing “moderating the community,” and how I should do die in a fire or something. I looked at my now-melted ice cream sundae, decided that none of this was worth my time, and never put another forum on my site.
It was a wonderful decision. I woke up, worked on my comic, and got on with my life. People could still reach me through email, and I was happy to engage them there. My site, and my soul, felt cleansed.
Here’s the thing. In webcomics, your website is your “store front.” It’s your statement. It’s what you present to people in an effort to get them to know your work. Allowing a forum, or nowadays a comments section, is allowing co-authors into your work. It’s giving up the control you have over what people see when they come to visit your site, when they come to browse through your work, and when you’re doing your own webcomic you have every right to every ounce of control. Other businesses aren’t expected to broadcast bad reviews or crappy opinions of their products, and neither should you if you’re making your own art. Also, nowadays I don’t have the time to commit to moderating anything. Fatherhood takes up every second of my non-comic time, and I’ll be damned if I have to give up playtime with my son to deal with some forum troll crapping all over my site.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy hearing from people. We like interacting with folks on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. We get lots of feedback through those channels, and folks are more than welcome to voice their excitement or displeasure there. But not here. This is where Garth and I make our statement. This is where we make our presentation.
I’m still sour about that ice cream sundae, too.