I come from the school that says that information rules, literally. I am a doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. My escape valve (every doctoral student should have one) is my Web comic Johnny Bullet. I started it in 2014 and post about a page per week. I have not missed updates, if you count the odd filler page when doctoral deliverable are due.
After a year of posting the comic book at ComicBookBin and other Web comic portals, I decided that I needed more information about my readers. There seems to be different readerships for comics. I suspect that Johnny Bullet being a comic strip about a 1970s drag racer is not standard Web comic fare. It may perform better in print and digital markets. I have a hunch that Web comic readers tend to be very different demographically from print and digital readers.
I received much feedback from friends about why they stumbled on the Johnny Bullet Web comic. Web comics are not for them. The delay in new pages or what I refer to as micro-releases is not something they manage well. There is too much information out there and investing time every week for one comic out of thousands may be asking too much for readers who are used to getting all of their comics in one place.
The numbers on Johnny Bullet are growing but I understand that I need to seriously think about print and digital readers where most of the targeted readership may be. Anecdotes are not good enough. A survey, I thought, would help me understand my readers and test a few hypotheses. So I did what I doctoral students do. I created a survey to collect data and analyze a phenomenon.
I believe that a survey is the best way to know how to improve the experience of Web comic readers and to understand non-Web comic readers who attempt to make time for Johnny Bullet. Before moving Johnny Bullet to a digital comic platform or releasing a collected printed edition, I should know my readers and minimize risks
I designed the survey so that it would be simple for users to fill. After a few days, I optimized it a second time and removed potential barriers like asking for personal emails. I have reduced the number of questions a few times, removing anything redundant or not as necessary. There is one compromise that I did not make. There are a fun questions scattered throughout the survey. Johnny Bullet is entertainment. So a survey about Johnny Bullet should also entertain! Of course, I attached a bonus page for Johnny Bullet respondents who complete the survey.
Little did I know that the survey would be so challenging. Response has been abysmal. Most people who responded know me. I sent hundreds of prompts over several days across many channels. Thousands of potential readers did land on the survey’s page but they did not fill it. I have two hypotheses about why people are not filling the survey.
1-They do not know Johnny Bullet. Johnny Bullet is an unknown series for most comic readers. There is little investment or interests in filling the survey by most visitors. However, hardcore fans did fill the survey readily.
2-Comic readers are not used to filling out surveys about comics. Most feedback that comic creators and publishers get is through anecdotes and comments. It is qualitative feedback. Qualitative feedback is useful and valuable, but draws part of the picture and the feedback may not be targeted to objectives set by creators and publishers. Quantified data is more systematic. For example, if I want to know if Johnny Bullet is every respondent’s first Web comic, I can.
Being one of the first to use surveys to understand my readers means that I am now faced with an uphill battle for being an early user of this marketing practice. If more comic creators and publishers asked their readers to fill surveys, it would gradually introduce survey participation as a common comic fandom practice.
Based on my two hypotheses (which I cannot measure without another controlled query), I have come up with three responses to improve survey participation so that I can get better information about how to improve Johnny Bullet.
1-Continue to push and introduce readers to Johnny Bullet surveys. It is my responsibility to let them know why I need their feedback in this format and how it will ultimately benefit them in the future. A survey can inform me about whether most readers that share similar demographics with my targeted audience are fine with a black and white edition of Johnny Bullet or if they dislike using ComiXology. Such information will help me focus my limited resources.
2-I need to encourage more comic creators to use surveys for reader feedback. I encourage fellow comic creators to check and fill my survey and learn from my experience. I designed my survey to measure interactions with a self-published Web comic financed through crowdfunding that could potentially be printed or distributed through a digital platform. I have thought about each question carefully. Adapt the questions if it is not a crowdfunded Web comic. As a creator, if you want to borrow from my survey to build your own, please fill my survey completely to help me, even if you do not read Johnny Bullet. Let us help one another. Learn from me, and I will learn from you.
3-This is the most important aspect of what I am trying to do and the main challenge I face. I need people to know about Johnny Bullet! The survey is part of a circular process. I need the survey to understand my readers yet few will answer the survey, as they do not know Johnny Bullet! So I need more Johnny Bullet readers to have enough potential respondents that can answer a survey that will help me understand how to get more readers!
Hervé St-Louis, also known as Toon Doctor (@toondoctor) is a doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto and the creator of Johnny Bullet, a comic strip about a man and his ride, set in the 1970s. Read Johnny Bullet at comicbookbin.com/bullet