I’ve been writing columns specifically about webcomics for several years now, so it should come as no surprise that I try to read as many of them as I can. I stopped counting the number of them that I tried to keep up with when I started going north of 300. Which sounds like an awful lot, but the vast majority of them are not updated daily. Many don’t update more than weekly and, sadly, several update only very sporadically.

In order to follow them all, I use a feed reader and pull in their RSS feeds so I can keep track of what’s new and what I’ve already read. The challenge, at least when you’re dealing with hundreds of different feeds, is keeping it up to date. You don’t want, of course, a bunch of dead feeds cluttering up your reader, but at the same time, you don’t want to discard one just because it hasn’t updated in a few months.

In some cases, you can drop a feed pretty safely. The story reached its conclusion, the creators said thank you for reading, and you’ve seen them move on to other projects. Personally, I still keep the feed alive for at least a few months beyond that in case the creator says anything about getting the work printed or going to conventions, but it’s clear there’s no more story to be had. Other webcomics, though, can linger…

I’m going through my feed list now, checking out some of the ones that don’t seem to have updated in the past two years. Interesting thing I just learned about my reader, though: it doesn’t register posting dates prior to January 1, 2013. It turns out that  One Swoop Fell hasn’t had an update since October 2011, and the last comic was months earlier. The last Socks and Barney strip actaully dates back to 2010, and the site seems to be at least partially hacked now.

But what about something like The Meek? In November 2012, creator Der-shin Helmer left a note saying that the comic would be on hiatus for the forseeable future. There hasn’t been a new post since then. However, just this past August, that post was editted to say that a relaunch is planned for January. Had I dropped the feed sometime in the not-quite-two years since that previous update, the comic would’ve completely fallen off my radar and I might not hear about its revival.

Creators know that they need to keep their audience apprised of their schedule lest they risk losing them entirely. And I think everyone understands that things crop up unexpectedly sometimes, leading to delays and even long hiatuses. How long someone is willing to stretch their patience, however, depends on how much of a fan they are. It doesn’t take long to drop out of the habit of reading a daily (or weekly) comic, and there have been more than a few occasions where I’ve started culling my feed list, only to realize that a creator changed the location of their feed months ago and I haven’t been getting any updates. (That’s another issue entirely!)

The key is really to just be aware of where the creator(s) left off. Did they announce a hiatus, or did they simply stop updating? Did they make note of moving on to other projects? And did you, as a reader, really enjoy the comic enough to warrant spending time waiting in eager anticipation of the next installment? Whether you’re going through a feed reader, or hitting their site regularly through a bookmark, or just watching their Twitter feed, the result is the same — and the question is: are you wasting your time following a comic that’s no longer going anywhere?