If you read a serial webcomic for a length of time, there’s a good chance that you’ll get to a chapter break. One of the nice things about webcomics, compared to traditional pamphlet comics, is that you don’t have a page restriction, so a webcomics’ chapter breaks can fall more neatly within the narrative structure instead of trying to rework the story so that it breaks nicely based on how many pages your book physically has available.
But the thing that struck me recently about webcomic chapter breaks is that many creators then go on to include a chapter title page/cover as one of their content updates. And I got to wondering about their use, and whether they could be more effective.
Many creators treat the chapter titles as if it were the cover to a print edition of their story. They generally are sized to mimic a typical comic book page and feature a large splash image that represents either a pivotal moment in the story or something of a single-image character study. And frequently, these pages are given extra artistic care, so they often look even more attractive than the story art.
But do they need to be there? The purpose of a book cover is to attract a potential reader to pick the book up in a physical location; but with no physical location and the entirety of the story’s art just as readily available to peruse, a webcomic cover can’t serve this function. At least not until it’s printed. And with digital bookmarks and tagged archives, it also doesn’t need to serve as a visual bookmark cue.
Regular readers are, I would guess, mostly eager to see the story continue, so a cover being posted in lieu of a story update delays their getting to the story. And obviously it takes the creator time to draw the page—time that could be spent on the story itself.
Since many creators wind up printing their stories eventually, there is an argument to be made that a chapter title page might be necessary at some point so the creator might as well draw in the context of where it would be needed. I would counter, though, that since it wouldn’t be needed until later anyway, it could be saved until the story is ready to be printed. Not only would this be more efficient for the creator, but it would also lend itself to bringing more excitement to the printed version as the covers and chapter pages would represent new artwork that regular readers will not have seen previously.
I’m left to wonder if creators who develop title pages and covers for their webcomics, posting them along their normal update schedule, have really thought about how/why they’re doing that. Or are they just doing it because that’s how print comics do things. They may well have considered their options, and they may have perfectly valid reasons for going ahead with that art in the context of the story. But I would think that holding off on these pages would be of greater benefit to the long-term sales of the book.