Friday, May 18, 2007

So what if it's free?

I have mentioned in the past that I read an online comic called The Order of the Stick. It's a good comic, but it is late a lot. And by that I mean, of the three updates each week, usually at least one of them is late, and it's pretty common for one to get skipped altogether. Admittedly, the comic is entertaining enough to me that I keep reading it, but what tends to irritate me is the attitude people take towards those who remonstrate with the creator for not planning ahead a bit better so that he can post his comic on time.

I'm not much of a one for internet forums, but I do delve into the one at OotS when the comic seems to be late to find out what the ETA for it is. And when I do, I tend to run across a large number of sycophantic posts talking about how they don't know how they will live without the comic, but will try to sustain themselves with the thought that the extra time is going to make the greatest piece of art the world has ever seen. Things like
this, or this, or this.

This is not what is most irritating about the phenomenon, however. Invariably, when someone has the temerity to point out that it would really be more professional to avoid posting comics at the last possible moment, that it is annoying for the comic not to be up when it is scheduled to be half the time, and that creator might well wish to consider trying to draw a couple comics out into the future, the rest of the board descends upon that individual like a wolf falling on a Russian peasant. The sycophants immediately begin railing that since the comic is freely available on the interweb, we should all be grateful that Mr Burlew should descend from his golden throne to grace us with his art. They say that since the comic is a free service, there can be no valid grounds for complaint about its content nor about its timeliness. This is codswallop.

First of all, this is no longer a free service provided by Mr Burlew. It is, in fact, his job. He explicitly began writing and drawing the comic three days a week because he was able to quit his day job and work on it full time. Perhaps he has since supplemented this with other employment, but the fact remains that he is not providing this as a service, but as a means to a not insignificant source of income. He sells books, a board game, shirts and mugs branded with his characters. The reason people buy these is because they enjoy his comic. He must, then, continue to provide his comic in order for people to continue purchasing these items. Aggravating his consumer base by providing an inconsistent product would seem counter-productive and something that we, as his customers, have every right about which to complain.

Second, since much of the time there is no notice about when the comic may be expected, or even if it can be expected for that particular update. Because of this uncertainty, it is not unreasonable to attempt to inquire why a particular comic is late and when it might be expected. It is, however, against the rules. Scroll down near the bottom to "Inappropriate Topics" and one finds this listed,
Missed/Late Comics: Threads speculating on when a comic will be posted or why it may be late will be locked; this does not apply to official threads started by site staff providing notification of a late comic. This applies to both Order of the Stick and Erfworld [another comic hosted on the same site].
So it seems not only is criticism of the fact that comics are late considered beyond the pale, the very notion that comics can be late seems to be taboo. They are The Words Which Must Not Be Spoken. I'd like to buy the books that Mr Burlew has for sale. I find his comic entertaining. But while he treats his audience in such a high-handed and cavalier fashion, I'll reserve my money for other purposes.