Unbound: Josh Way on the end of Chronicle

I discovered Chronicle shortly after Josh Way started posting it online, and I liked it immediately. It’s the story of a brash big-city newspaper editor sent out to run a two-bit paper in a modern-day Green Acres, a small town with more than its share of colorful characters. I really enjoyed Way’s sense of humor and his varied cast, so I was disappointed when he brought the comic to an end this spring.

Since I spoke to Joe Infurnari last week about the abrupt end of the Process, I thought it would be nice to talk to a creator who brought his work to a more deliberate end. For Way, Chronicle was a testing ground where he developed both his cartooning skills and the discipline to draw a daily comic. And now he is applying those lessons elsewhere: as it happens, Way is launching a new comic, Strewth!, on November 30 (but click now for the preview art).

Brigid Alverson: Why did you decide to end Chronicle?

Josh Way: I knew from the start that Chronicle would have an ending, though I was flexible about how and when that would happen. There was always a sense that Chronicle was a prelude to something else. Not that it was a throwaway or a false start, but it was as much about developing discipline as a cartoonist as it was about the story. For lack of a less dumb analogy, I suppose it was a kind of cartoonist boot camp I devised for myself.

The decision to actually end the strip came when I felt I had established some discipline in the daily work, and when the story was moving naturally into a kind of "third act." I started wishing I could apply the things I'd learned to something new, and the web platform gave me the freedom to move in that direction.

Brigid: Were there financial factors involved? Was it competing with paid comics work, or was it bringing in enough money that you felt it was worthwhile to keep it going for a while?

Josh: Chronicle was basically unprofitable. Ad sales paid for hosting and I sold some books, but it never successfully monetized. It might have been the limited appeal of the subject matter, but it was more likely my ignorance in marketing. I was working a full time job in web development and enjoying some freelance writing opportunities at the same time, so there was income elsewhere. That income plus the low cost and relative freedom of the webcomic model meant that unprofitability didn't have to kill Chronicle. Still, high on my list of priorities for the next project are finding a broader audience and monetizing. I would very much like to make money drawing a webcomic.

Brigid: Do you think the fact that it was a webcomic, rather than a print comic where you have to worry about issues, page counts, etc., affected your planning process? Is it easier to be open-ended with a webcomic than a print comic?

Josh: Yes, and yes. The freedom of the webcomic model gives the artist so much flexibility in terms of planning. This is a blessing and a curse, as many artists (even successful ones) seem to lapse into lethargy and the "strip's gonna be late today" syndrome. That was never a problem for me. I started with a three week buffer of completed strips and maintained it (give or take) until the end. It really paid off when a particular storyline wasn't working and I scrapped my entire buffer to fix it. I had to work hard to rebuild the buffer, but I never had to apologize to my readers or take a week off.

That's just one way the freedom can be an advantage. It also allows you to plan ahead in terms of writing and artwork. If I wanted to take a week-long detour storywise, no problem. If I knew I was going to be busy with other projects on a particular week, I could plan strips that required simpler artwork (or, if I may confess this, recycled artwork).

Brigid: What has happened to your site traffic since the comic ended? Are people still discovering Chronicle and reading it?

Josh: My traffic has only dropped about 30% since the end of the strip. Which is pretty remarkable, as I am not actively promoting it anymore. Traffic was never exactly booming. I seemed to find a core audience and I think I kept most of them on board til the end. The forum has gone silent, and I haven't heard from any new readers in the last six months. So I'm not sure if the traffic I'm still getting is old friends popping by to read their favorite strips, or newcomers stumbling upon it for the first time.

Brigid: How long do you think you will keep it up online?

Josh: I'll keep it online for the foreseeable future.

Brigid: Money aside, would you say that making the comic was worthwhile, in terms of experience, exposure, and other intangibles?

Josh: It was absolutely worthwhile, on many levels. I'm satisfied with the work. I enjoyed the learning process. And while it didn't exactly make a huge splash in the world of webcomics, it did give me some exposure and led to some great opportunities. Bill Corbett (of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax.com) discovered the strip and contacted me, and that led to a stint as a contributing writer on a number of Rifftrax releases including Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight, and Harry Potter 3. That was a dream come true, and has led to other similar opportunities. (DVDs of my own movie riffing enterprise are available at http://www.joshway.com/dvds.)

For all of the aspects that were less than successful, I have no regrets and nothing but excitement for future projects.

Brigid: What are you doing now, and did your experience with Chronicle have anyinfluence on your current work?

Josh: I'm still working full time as a web developer for a private college. I'm also attending seminary which has taken up most of my time lately. On the creative front, I've been writing for an Internet show called Incognito Cinema Warriors XP and, of course, thinking about a new webcomic.

The new project is a gag comic called Strewth! It will be much more open and random than Chronicle (though some of the old familiar characters might show up now and then). There will be much more topical humor and cultural commentary, both of which were missing in Chronicle. I'm excited about the freedom of the premise (or lack thereof), but happy to have the lessons of Chronicle under my belt as I move ahead.

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