Share your betas

I often pick up on cartoonists as examples of good social web practice, partly because I like cartoonists, partly because their work lends itself to being displayed on a web browser but also because many of the cartoonists I follow have a history in fanzines and self published comics and have an innate understanding of how this stuff works.

Darryl Cunningham is one of these. I first came across him through the UK small press comics scene in the early 90s and, after a rocky few years, it’s been great to see him attain some success and recognition with his Psychiatric Tales collection.

Darryl is now working on a new collection of strips about science and is posting the strips in their entirety on his blog as they are drawn. So far you can read chapters on homeopathy, MMR and, from this week, evolution. What’s interesting is he’s calling these “beta” strips and inviting corrections and clarifications from his readers.

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This prompts a few thoughts which I’d like to share with you.

He’s using the wisdom and knowledge of his audience. In sharing his work he’s attracted the attention of a wide range of experts in the field. This low-impact request for assistance can complement more direct, in depth research.

Crowdsourced proof reading. Before releasing the work as a unchanging object Darryl is checking it’s as accurate as can be. Most people would get a couple of friends to do a read through – Darryl is getting a few thousand people to do that.

It’s great publicity. He’s dealing with controversial subjects which those on the science side are always looking to explain clearly. By making it publicly available for free people can use his work simply by sharing a link. I now see references to Darryl popping up on well respected and popular websites.

It hosts and contributes to the debate. Personally the last thing I want to do is debate evolution with creationists but many do and the comments section after Darryl’s strips provide a forum for that. If the purpose of this kind of art is to get people thinking and talking about a subject then surely the most apt place to do that is directly following the work itself?

It demonstrates an audience. Darryl is published by indie publisher Blank Slate in the UK and certainly-not-indie Bloomsbury in the US. His science book will be published by Myriad next year. While it might be nice to think they decided to publish him because they judged the work to be good a more pressing criteria was the work’s likelihood to sell. Darryl has proven he can build a significant audience on his own which the resources of a publisher can only increase.

The last one is the key, I think. The other week another cartoonist I follow, John Allison, who really wants to get his school-based comic Bad Machinery into the hands of actual pre-teen kids instead of the webcomics market, bemoaned literary agents who claimed he’d ruined his chances of getting published because he’d already given it away for free.

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My response would be to get new agents who understand simple things like audience testing and publicity and who appreciate John has done a significant amount of their work for them already. All they have to do is build on that in a different medium. (If that still doesn’t work cite Go The F*ck To Sleep)

Sharing your work online for no financial gain isn’t always the best policy but sharing your process, be it your ideas, sketches or, in Darryl’s case, final drafts, can be.

One thought on “Share your betas

  1. David Ziggy Greene

    I don’t know. I agree that you shouldn’t stick everything online. It’s seems logical to save most of your work for the printed version.
    I understand publishers approach to this.
    Promote but if you want to sell it later, don’t give it away.

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