Format’s Theorem

Been thinking about combining the newspaper comic strip idea with all of my other ideas and making a sprite comic to alpha-test my stories.

The trick is, I want it to be ideal for reading on your phone, but almost zero work for me to print out in a book of, say, 30 strips.

My first thought was take a page out of Re-Tail’s book. Four panels, two on top, two below, with of course the power to combine the pairs as I see fit.

In newspaper comics, I’ve always preferred the 4-panel strip. I like the flexibility it gives you for timing.

The trick is, how to format it for Amazon. I kind of want to make the book as small as possible, so that would be 5×8, but…

Holy cow, does that leave a lot of unused space above and below the comic!

So I started going through the kosher sizes for Amazon, and the best fit for the ratio I could find was 7.5×9.25, or slightly bigger than the 6×9 books I’m making now.

I don’t like it. It’s too big.

I want to make bigger books for my comics and children’s books. I want to go back to 8.5×11. The main reason I don’t do that is because I’d want to make the illustrations at least 50% bigger than the final book, plus trim, my scanner and printer can’t handle 14 x 18 paper.

But for Alpha Test, smaller is better. It’s a gag-a-day strip. The whole point is it’s a high-speed, low-effort lump of clay from which I can later sculpt my low-speed, high-effort masterpieces. Making each panel 3+ inches on a side seems wrong to me.

Besides all that, most people will be reading the comic not as a book, but on their phone. It has to be legible and comprehensible on a phone screen, which is closer in proportion to those narrow books.

Hmm… what if…

I don’t 100% like it. I like 4 panels, not 3. I associate 4 panels with BC, Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts. I associate 4 panels with Garfield, which is the most plastic comic ever.

But the panels have a 16×9 widescreen aspect ratio, which lends itself to gags where a panel is a computer or TV screen. So it suits the conceit. It’s better designed for phone screens.

Allright, time to test this out.

The Test

I made a comic. It’s not funny. It’s not even coherent. It’s just meant to test the format with pictures I already had on hand.

Theoretically, I should be able to just export this at a slightly higher DPI, and drop it directly into Scribus to make a page of the book.

Okay, but how does it fare on big social? Obviously I can’t rely on Jack and Zuck to provide me with a fair platform, or even, supposing I stay under their radar, to keep their platforms afloat for a long time, but neither can I afford to ignore them as marketing tools.

Well, Facebook and Twitter handle the output differently. Facebook does a pretty good job presenting the whole thing, only trimming off an insignificant slice of the bottom..

Twitter, on the other hand, picks a random panel and crops it to that single panel.

Without the ability to manually control the panel, this could spoil some jokes. But wait! If one panel is about the size of a twitter picture, what happens if I upload the panels as separate images?

Three panels results in random cropping for the first image, but dropping in a title image solves everything. Meanwhile, back on Zuck’s hellsite…

Surprisingly enough, Zuck’s hellsite handles three panels loaded as independent images quite gracefully.

Making the panels 16×9 seems to have been a providential choice, as website image-hosting algorithms seem suited to play well with that aspect ratio.

Lads and lasses, I think we have something to work with. The next test is make a book’s worth of comics so I see how it all looks printed.

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