The root language of the web is HTML. You often see it as the file type for many pages online, but it stands for Hyper-Text Markup Language. It essentially allows a person to write a document that uses a standardized method of recognizing basic formatting -- things like italics, bullet points, line breaks, etc. -- and can connect to other documents via hyper-text links. Thus, you can create a document that connects with other documents, which connect to other documents, which connect to still more documents. This is the basic functionality of the internet; you’re able to read this column and I can provide you easy access to webcomics like Two Guys and Guy or Nnewts.
It also lets a webcomic creator intertwine their series of individual comic pages into a collective whole, most commonly through forward and back buttons attached to the strip. As I spelled out in one of my earliest columns, it can also point readers to more about the creation by way of About, News, Comments and other links. Note in the previous sentence how I used a link to refer back to an earlier column I wrote here to provide a sort of continuity.
One thing not frequently seen in webcomics, though, is taking deeper advantage of this linking ability and tapping into that feature as part of the story itself. Philippa Rice did just that, though, in one of last week’s installments of My Cardboard Life.
When two of the characters found a tear in their comic, they used the opportunity to go exploring beyond the confines of the comic itself. A link took readers over to Rice’s Flickr account to see the second part of the story, at which point the characters headed off in two different directions. Readers were then encouraged to follow EITHER of them, and were then presented with two links each following a different character.
The links took readers on a journey through Rice’s various social media accounts. One went through Google+, Spoonflower, and Facebook while the other passed through Tumblr, deviantART, and Instagram. At each stop, there was another few panels of the comic and a link to head on over to the next. Which, by itself, would be relatively clever, but Rice took the additional time to craft a sequence very specific and tailored to each new site. The Tumblr page made use of animated GIFs (popular on many Tumblr accounts) and the deviantART page looked like a piece of furry fan art. Spoonflower, used for uploading and printing custom patterns on cloth, featured a My Cardboard Life pattern while Instagram, used for sharing artificially aged photographs, featured a photo of a three-dimensional figure cut out and propped up against a crème brûlée.
Artistically and creatively, it was a very good use of the both the medium and the specific instances of the medium. But what impressed me even more was that it also serves Rice very well as a marketing tool. Since it’s something that most webcomic creators don’t do, it has some measure of a viral quality about it. Fans see it, think it’s fun (there are many comments that ranged from “that was cool” to “best idea ever”) and point it out to other people who they think might like it. Indeed, it caught my attention and I’m telling you about it now.
But it also touches all of Rice’s other social media accounts, directing her viewers to all the places where her work can be seen. A reader might not have known of her Tumblr account or Facebook page, and can sign in to get alerts through those. (It should be noted that a reader does not need to be logged in to see any portion of this comic.) And by touching so many different accounts, readers can choose to follow Rice herself through any of those vehicles they might wish. If they don’t want to sign up for Flickr or deviantART, they can still follow Rice via Facebook or Instagram. Whatever option serves the reader best; Rice is catering to her readers’ preferences, whatever they might be.
Despite my usually being cynical about such things, I don’t think Rice had marketing in mind when she created this sequence. I get the impression that it came about organically out of a creative idea for a story sequence. But that it serves her, I think, very well from a marketing perspective is a decided bonus that works infinitely better than a simple Facebook or Google+ icon on her home page.