Of Schedules and Timing

Since I'm debating whether to add a fourth page to this week's PTH update (I make a comic! Yes! Go comment on it now!) this seems relevant for the week...

With webcomics the size and shape of the comic is totally up to the artist-- Scott McCloud's infinite canvas has been discussed to the point of becoming an in-joke.  But I think it might matter more that, for the first time, frequency is also totally up to the creator.
This is something I haven't seen even McCloud discuss in any detail- a crying shame, since I"m sure his thoughts on the matter would be far more coherent and useful than mine- but it affects every webcomic I've come across.  Release once a week? Three times? Every day? Single pages, chapters, multiple pages? Keep a schedule, and update with whatever you've got, even if you have to edit it later(the Girl Genius approach- GG updates EVERY MWF, but there are times it's been just penciled for a while)? Update when you can, but make sure it's brilliant (the Tracy Butler/Rich Burlew method, and not recommended for those not brilliant, but hey, maybe you ARE)? Does the when matter, as long as it's consistent? And matter to what?

Pretty much every book on making a career in webcomics advocates updating absolutely consistently, as often as is possible without letting the schedule slip. But then pretty much every book on making a career in webcomics is written from the standpoint of gag-a-day strip format comics, which worked out their pacing, as a genre, over decades in the print media. I happen to think it actually works better in webcomic format, where individual gags can also build a long term story arc* that's easily readable in archives. But then I'm prejudiced towards my sweet pixels, so, hey.

Long--form narrative is a whole 'nother pony show, though. Most long-form comics I read have much more involved art than the gag strips, for whatever reason;**some titles might break that rule occasionally (Oh, Watterson...) but in general Peanuts is gonna be faster to draw than Prince Valiant. It just IS. So in deference to the time demands of the art if nothing else, most long form comics end up posting new installments less often than a gag strip.

But most narrative strips STILL seem to go for a multi-day, 1-page-at-a-time update schedule.  I know the logic- more frequent updates means more frequent reasons for readers to come by, more chances to be noticed and voted for, or on the front page of the hosting hub, or whatever. It's not bad logic, and keeps readers- many of whom have been trained to expect updates in that pattern- happy.

I'm just not sure it's good for the story. One of my favorite comics, What Birds Know, updates on the "Good and Ready" schedule-- but their updates are multipage minichapters, pages separated by no more than loading time. That allows individual installments to go through an entire argument, or drift over a detailed silent landscape, without the feeling than an update has been wasted on installments that don't advance the story. And I could, but won't, name several webcomics I liked quite a bit until they had too many installments spent on silent pages, blank pages, covers, and other mood-and-tone setting tricks that work just fine in issue form, but in the single-page update format resulted in weeks of no story progress at all.

Obviously I've gone for once-a-week-multipage update, because the standalone page thing felt very restricting to me. Yes, ideally, every page should be its own 3-act structure, every panel its own story, and so on; but darn it, sometimes a long form story needs a few pages that do NOT stand alone to serve the larger story.***

This isn't even getting into the interaction of anticipation and enjoyment and frequency. If a comic comes out once a month or once every couple of months, it's something of an event; once a day and it's a routine. Does that make a less-frequent schedule more appropriate for Big Event stories?

I don't know. And I don't have a real point, here, except maybe that I don't think there is a single ideal update schedule.  But I'd love to hear anyone else's opinion.

And I still don't know if I want to include this last page in today's update!

*Please, everyone- it's ARC, not ARCH. Same root word, but they've diverged.

**Note that I said "more involved" not "better". Good cartooning is an art unto itself, and requires tremendous skill. It's like the difference between an orchestra and a champion fiddle player- one is just going to require a whole lot more time to get itself together.  

*** True even in brief stories, sometimes- one of my favorite paper comics, Halo and Sprocket, had a story with two pages that were pretty much pure white starburst. In context, it was hilarious. As a webcomic update? One meant to hold people over two days or a week? Would've been useless.