I’ve been putting off writing this entry. I’ve told friends I would write it for months. I keep dragging my feet, but I’m just going to try and plunge forward and write it even though I can feel a cold orb of dread forming in my stomach.
I want to talk about failure. Specifically my own failure. Before I wrote about walking away from my epic fantasy cycle in order to succeed. I do not consider that a failure, I simply consider that a project I’m still lacking the skills to complete.
I want to talk about a project I can never complete, the webcomic PFFFT.net. Oh, every so often someone will talk to me about starting it up again and my response is always “maybe” but I know it isn’t true. Today I’m going to write its post-mortem instead.
In 1999 I joined an online community centered around a series of EZ boards full of wonderful and creative geeks. In 2001 we launched PFFFT.net (it isn’t there anymore so no link) with a webcomic written by me, drawn by Lis Mitchel with web elements by Jennifer Osborne. The webcomic centered on fictional versions of our webpersonas: Petite Fantome, PixelFish, and DigiFox, who in the comic became PFunk, PFish, and PFox three geek-girls tasked with saving the world. The rest of the comic cast were likewise fictional versions of our internet community. Of the characters who appeared on screen only the computer AI was not based on a real life person.
It was, a pretty snazzy comic. Lis’ full-color artwork made it instantly popular, the concept of geek-girl heroes was good, there was an over-reaching story arc planned out, there were lots of little easter eggs, pop culture references, and some of my jokes were pretty good (some were terrible). So what went wrong?
Did not plan for Life – We didn’t have much for lives when we started and for some reason assumed this would always be the case. There were two international moves, various health issues, relationships that fell apart, money problems, and a wedding, at various points that caused problems with getting the comic out on time or at all.
No buffer. – This was a rookie mistake. We were so excited about sharing the comic with everyone we did not build up a buffer of at least a month’s worth of comics before going live. We assumed we could just do a bit extra and get a buffer going as we went. Ha ha ha. No.
Artwork was too labor intensive. – If we’d done a proper buffer’s worth of material to start, we’d have quickly realized that having full-color page-style comics took around 20 hours a page. A week’s worth of comic was 60 (unpaid!) hours.
Using Real People is a BAD IDEA (TM). – Everything else lead to a slow death, but this is the thing which put the kind of nails in the coffin that prevent raising it from the grave. There are likeness issues which weren’t a problem when we weren’t making money off the comic, but massively problematic if we were. We absolutely could not continue to put the kind of time into the comic and NOT make money, but we’d tied our hands there. Also, relationships CHANGED. What on earth was I thinking not only putting real people in the comic but working their real-life relationships into the plot. At the time we started this there were a number of webcomics that used fictionalized real people. Of those, I think only Penny Arcade is still around (and while no separation between characters and creators made them successful, it has also bitten them in the ass). You see, I only control what characters do. Character control is required for successful writing and using real people often left me reacting to real world events rather than telling the story exactly as I envisioned. Also, it is TOTALLY gauche to ask the artist to continue drawing a character based on her ex-fiancee during the break-up and turmoil phase that ended up with her living in my house in a different country. I really regret doing so even if she told me it was fine (it was so not fine and I’m an idiot for thinking so). I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to Lis for all of the stupid things I did and said during that time period thinking I was saving the comic. It was so beyond saving at that point because of how *I* structured the comic and characters in it. Me culpa.
Did not do enough with the supporting website– With the clarity of hindsight. This is probably where I screwed up the most. I should have been putting 20 hours of content up every week in comic, game, and movie reviews, editorials, whatever. I could have had an on-going serial within the universe that went up without art. Ignoring this part of things is what made people stop coming.
Using the name Pfunk for a white girl with blue hair was racially problematic and I rightfully got hate mail over it. It doesn’t matter what I meant by it, it rubbed people the wrong way, and I totally see why. Even if I felt I could reboot the entire story, I no longer feel this is an appropriate name for the character.
Our fans were amazing. We got fan art, fan mail, and even an 8bit sprite flash game. The greater web comic community were supportive and amazing people. From encouragement to guest artists, we had an amazing community and I will always regret letting them down. However, I do not regret the experience or that I ended up taking another path.