Sunday, September 15, 2019

WEBTOONS and their Huge Reader Base.

We did an experiment and put a variation of one of our Webcomics on WEBTOONS.COM

It is called BOTS IN SPACE if you want to search for it.  It took a bit of work to convert it into vertical single panels, 800 x 1135 in my case. Been there a week and put up 4 episodes.

My Dashboard view is like this:

This was an experiment to see if this massive Webcomics site would result in people reading it without me actually promoting it, and seeing if it differed much from my own website hosting.  To see if the fact it was on Webtoons made any difference at all. 

I had read it did.

Found that it didn't...

Now it isn't a teen high school, fantasy or romance thing, which is what popular Japanese Manga and Anime are, and what looks like the bulk of the popular series there are.  So not a typical work for that market, and as I only have 4 episodes there, that may comprise the result too. 

WEBTOONS comics from the front page look very much like Shonen Jump, one of the main Japanese Manga and the place all this hugely popular ANIME came from.  Very much aimed at 'teens. There is also the girls version.  My comic here does not fit that market at all, but think the next things I try must.

But so far being on WEBTOONS.COM didn't mean anything.  Promoting it to people that are interested seems more important than the actual site it is hosted on.  The WEBTOONS Phone App is slick and makes reading even a 1000 pages easy.  That is how I read Sithrah. But I would say Jason Brubaker already had an audience interested in his previous work reMIND anyway, that made it a success on WEBTOONS, independent of the fact they were paying him to do so.

My Historical/Autobiographical work had a lot of interest when I posted it to a small group very interested in the things I developed during my career. They already knew me, and that is why they read it and gave the positive feedback they did.   If I made a version for Webtoons, I expect it too would only have the same 6 views. I had also posted a link to that on a Facebeook comic page that had given some great feedback on a few pages from it, but the group itself was not interested in it at all. After following that group for a while, and seeing many dozens of the members post their version of Batman, Superman or Sexy Girl Superhero it was pretty obvious story and actual Sequential Art isn't upmost in their thoughts.

So getting possible readers to know why your interesting would seem important before anyone will give your comic a try. Is this just the celebrity culture around now or just a case of it isn't what you know but who you know, or rather who knows you in the world of social media

An interesting Japan Times article:  South Korea's booming 'webtoons' put Japan's print manga on notice

We can be contacted at Art & Technology 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Designing Synthesizers and Electronic Musical Instruments

I did that, how I earned my living, for a bit over 20 years.

Some of the story of that is covered here, with a look at our work at Fairlight Instruments and Roland Japan.

I went to University to study Electrical Engineering. But I learnt most of what I actually used from Electronics and Micro-Computer Magazines ( and there are few of these things around any more) and learning design from everywhere and building things.  I started that learning process 3 years before I got to University.  Don't see how the current web is anywhere near equivalent to that.  At the time I was far more technical than a musician.

All the companies that were doing Synthesizers at the time are either not around now or are dramatically different. Reflects the music of the era as well. Things don't stay the same.

Even Roland Japan almost went out of business around 2011 with the valuation of the company and all its factories worth very little.  If I thought they were doing the right thing I wouldn't have left in 2001, so that did not come as a shock to me at the time.

You can now do with software what used to take much hardware, but that doesn't make it any easier to do, or stay in business.

I then spent over 20 years developing electronics and software in other industries and the reality is most of it is the same. It is engineering work, solving real problems, and time and time again, the skill require for that was completely undervalued in the business in Australia.   

We can be contacted at ArtAndTechnology

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Organic Search Drops Over 10 years

We have had the current website for over 15 years and have had joy and pain with organic search results. This will be a few thoughts on all this from what I can uncover and what seems to be basic trends.

10 years ago Organic Search results meant we did OK doing Freelance illustration just onLine from our website. Customers could find us, and kept us busy enough.  It was all very encouraging that this online world helped guys like me.  We had Google ads and they helped pay our hosting fees. All was good.

Then 9 years ago Google rebooted their database after some design change. That is that BIG dip in the above graph on the left.   We dropped off  the planet and our site was only displayed on the 3rd or so page. We hadn't changed anything and we just have what Google always recommended you do. Content with the keywords and phrases people would search for.  Customer numbers contacting us really dropped.

It proved to me then that I couldn't rely on Google or the Internet to "do the right thing" for people with Illustrator sites like ours, which mostly has samples of our work with text describing it, or articles describing how we do what we do.  Mostly meant we had to that traditional "other job", or "other jobs" as well.

At the time we determined there wasn't anything we were doing, or could do to fix our lack of find-ability.  But after 9 months, it jumped back to close to what it was before. This was good, but meant we didn't always have time to do the jobs customers wanted because of those "other job" commitments we had taken on, and needed for financial stability.

Since that time Google made many random changes that contributed to that download slope, and there is nothing you can do about them, but not be reliant on Google.  One that lasted some time was other sites effectively displayed our images and gallerias via exploiting something in Google Image search. Watermarking all our images with our URL helped a little, but not being able to click the image and go to our site had a surprising large impact at the time.

About this time, Facebook become popular, and my theory (backed up with research from others findings I must add) is that many people stopped using Google search to do something useful and just filled in time watching their Facebook time line instead, and posted photos of their lunch to it. 

Many people now pretty much just use Facebook, and don't have any other email or messaging. Facebook is also a great time waster. That infinitely scrolling page is designed to keep you looking for something interesting even when there isn't anything and exploits the "fear of missing out".   Stopping myself from doing that is really hard to do, as it is designed to be addictive.

At the same time, Google decided to prefer sites local to the searching customers location. So being in Australia really hurts us in that, even if the way we work means our location is irrelevant.  We do everything with email.  In reality we have only ever had customers from America, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

We went to Facebook too, but it didn't take long for Facebook to lock out the rest of the Internet, and stop showing your posts to your followers.  Facebook only shows something you post to 1% of your followers  (without paying to BOOST it) , and they may not see it anyway in the scrolling time line anyway.
Even the way things are now, our website has been far better at getting customers than ANYTHING on Facebook or Twitter we have ever tried.   I just don't believe anything I hear now about Social Media benefits. It is good for celebrities, but not me.  Have heard that an artist with 6,000 followers on Twitter had only 1 customer from Twitter.  Have equally found Facebook Likes to be worthless.
Our YouTube channel has some 170+ subscribers, but have only every had spam comments, so those things aren't working the way you would expect either.

I can be found easily on Google with normal search for "car caricature logo"  or something like that and probably at the top of the first page at the moment in 2019. BUT, You will see that current levels of site visits are about what they were during the big drop 9 years ago.  And this isn't just me, but a general trend for websites like ours from everything I have found.

But if I look at my sites "how did they find us data"  in Analytics, it comes out like this:

56% was Organic Search and 25% was Social Media for this interval. Not sure how that fits into everything else.

It has meant that Google Adverts aren't worth the effort and website clutter, and I removed most of them, and replaced them with  links to my own eBook, T-Shirts and Mugs.  Seen others also say they have done this too, years after I did it.

I get contacted by SEO companies wanting to redesign my website (that I code myself ) 5 times a week, so it isn't that I cannot be found. People just aren't searching, they don't like my Art style, or they find some one else local to them instead, rather than me.

This all just reflects a change in the use of the Internet, and it will only get worse if Internet Neutrality is lost.  Not relying on just the Internet seems to be the safest thing to keep those customers coming and coming back.

Blogs like this also get far few accesses these days.  So when will Google pull the plug on Blogger I wonder?   My analytics show these posts are mainly accessed by Internet Bots and not people anyway. Post a link on Twitter and 9 bots access it in 800 milliseconds!

Love to hear your thoughts on this.  I can be contacted at ArtAndTechnology

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Rough Sketch To Vector Illustration - Dirt Modified Poster

We deliver vector files such as PDFs for printing posters or stickers which are output from the computer, but the work doesn't start out that way.  It starts on paper with pencil lines. 
We have a Scanner/Printer that we used for getting these images into the computer to work from and to generate working test prints and to use as a sketch enlarger.

Or approach is to produce several small rough sketches that the customer can comment on to get the look and view they will be happy with. The customer is very much involved with the process and decision making.

We then enlarge that to A4 size, as that is what our scanner works with. We use a light table then to draw a more fined sketch with cleaner details. Then again the customer has their say and changes are made if required.

We then convert the pencil lines to a blue color, so when we start laying down the actual vector lines, we don't confuse ourselves.  Laying down the vector lines and objects is a completely manual process. 

We correct and straighten things up as we go.  Add color fills and all that and build up many layers of lines and objects.  Lower layers are at the back, higher in front.

Something like 35 layers in the case of this illustration.  We work as fast as we can, but this still takes hours.

And just in case your interested, it is the same process if not cartooned and more realistic.

We can be contacted at ArtandTechnology  

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Our Road to Being a Comic Creator .. and the Future.

Our road to being a Comic Creator (Mangaka)  has been long and on going for over 30 years. It is just one of the things we have spent our time on though. The usual format has been the single panel, such as this one from 2004.

Our longer format "Sequential Art"  has so far involved creating 5 different Webcomics since 2014. Unlike all other Webcomics, these have not been done for advertisement driven income, but as a method of self publishing and learning the craft.  I should mention that none of these are superhero comics, so not American mainstream works.  Have had some interesting email discussions with people I have "met" through these and this is some notes from those, looking at the approach I have taken to them.

The comics have been:

Heavy Metal Garage - A car related strip with 50 so far.
Terraform  16 page SF color work.
Terraform - Earlier In the Steroid Belt... 5 page color
Terraform - The Sales Call 7 page black only manga style.
This is Where the Smoke Comes Out - 36 page Autobiographical/History of the last 60 years.

All can be accessed from our ArtandTechnology website.  All free.

They have all involve different ways of story telling, just to see how they go.

Heavy Metal Garage was done like a daily newspaper strip and is inspired by Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller.  It uses his format in fact. I am a fan. Apart from the car theme and style that changed a bit over the 50 strip run, each is an individual standalone thing. A single panel with a Narrative Caption, maybe a speech balloon and a single illustration.

This had scratchy rough pen work, that become less scratchy as it went on. Note that Miller's comic is always scratchy pen work.
Site logs show me these strips have been read some 300 times. Promotion the issue? You tell me.

Terraform came about after being inspired after reading all of  the French Valerian and Laureline.  This combines the authors take on politics with SF and was a real revelation to me, in the same way  reading Ghost In The Shell was.  This story is more like a future documentary, or the way Arthur C. Clarke, wrote.  Involves Climate Change too but more about a good use of Data mining and surveillance technology.
In the mid 1990s I was involved with Desktop Sc-Fi Production using models, puppets and animation and this work takes all that into a simpler comic format that I can actually do in a reasonable amount of time.

Terraform - Earlier In the Asteroid Belt.  A character piece with a robot having an existential crisis. This is more the way Issac Asimov wrote. It uses my robot puppet from the 1990s, with backgrounds drawn in Clip Studio Paint.  This is a really fast to do format and I think the way it came out is great. Only let down by my writing, but I have seen far more bad TV with worse endings!

Terraform - The Sales Call.  This has the style I would like to continue with. Using black only and manga tone is a way to do longer stories by a single person. This was done in Clip Studio Paint.  What this story is missing here though, is the introduction of the characters, especially Miki.  Without some feeling for who the characters are, it doesn't make much sense.   ALEC is introduced in the main Terraform story, but that too needs more depth.  This story  is following one of the many SHONEN MANGA formats that allow a story and characters to go on for a very long time. They don't have a 3 act play structure. I would also like it to be a bit educational, but we will see.

This is Where the Smoke Comes Out  - A Collection Of Memories  uses the format from Shigeru Mizuki's SHOWA, A History Of Japan.  That work is as much autobiographical as it is historical and I found the autobiographical sections the most interesting with the history sections providing a time frame of reference for the reader.  Mizuki had converted photographs to line drawings for the manga production process, but I have mostly used back and white photos. Early feedback I received on some draft pages said that gave a validity to the work that comic images wouldn't.

Now this is only 37 pages long, and not the 250 pages a proper graphic autobiography would need to be, so it is very brief.  It also only took about 2 weeks to do so it is more of a framework for a much larger work. It does cover one aspect of our story though so it is complete in that regard.  You will note each page is complete with a title, as if it was to be published 1 page at a time.  So far this last work has been the most positively received in that I have actually received comments about it, but that I have lived and worked in Australia and Japan in the Electronic Musical Instrument production Industry gives it an interesting hook for people already interested in that field in the first place.

That seems to be the key. Unless the possible readers know you, and what makes you interesting, no matter how regularly you update a webcomic or put a link to it somewhere, the readership will not grow. Readers need to know you or know enough about you before they will bother to read or listen to your work.  The "I'm that Australian Sampler designer guy that lived in Japan a long time now making jokes doing comics and metal music" comes first.

Some quotes on this last have been:
I really like this
I really enjoyed your short comic
love your comic
This is really interesting
Fascinating stuff and great fun to read! 
Thoroughly enjoyed it
This is fascinating !!!
Great read, thanks for sharing!
It's an incredible insight as to how technology develops

The advantage of doing webcomics, compared to any other type of "vanity publishing" is I have complete control and can monitor promotion vs accesses, and make changes at any time. They have been built around a PHP system, that by default, will display the latest comic.

You might ask " Why are you doing this art stuff and not involved in the Australian Technology Start-Up industry where your experience should be valuable?"   The answer to that is explained in "The Dunning Kruger" principle and that Australia has become a very conservative and a technological backwater, and many of those in it just want investors money, don't consider experience, or actually delivering anything relevant, ... and just like the cartoon at the top of the page.

So now what?  

The autobiography/ history was done as an experiment and is very brief. There are  many stories I could add to it.  Seems to have had some 30 people read most of it in the 2 weeks since I posted it. If that had been hundreds of times more, then spending more time on it could be justified, but not at the moment. It has scratched the creative itch I had.

Pretty sure most of the people that would be interested in these works will never search for or stumble across them. When I stumble across something I find interesting it is usually years old, and the author has given up and moved onto something else.  

Promotion would help, but always problematic for us if it involves more than our website and SEO keywords. Google has manipulated results returned from searches over the years that can completely kill organic results for periods of time that you have no control over. The same has been true of  YouTube, where they changed the definitions of what views were over a number of years and the resulting drop  was obviously algorithmic.  Our YouTube channel had thousands of views but after their changes, the newest videos had just 10s or single digits. YouTube now isn't worth our effort without a change in what we do. Our videos have all been 2~4 minute original instrumental music  with still images, and the current algorithm seems to punish that type of work, preferring 30 minute talking head vbloggers.  And this wonderful Veritasium video explains their change to clickbate titles and long view times! And the curve he has duplicates the obviously algorithmic one I have seen of my own here:

In the last 5~10 years we expect that many now only ever use Facebook for their internet use, and Facebook has over that time built walls between itself and the outside world while at the same time only showing a post to tiny percentage of the people that liked your page, without paying to BOOST the post. We have had an Art and Technology Facebook page for many years, and a post to that is only shown to such a tiny fraction of those that follow the page that always seems like a waste of effort.  The Oatmeal has a cartoon on that called "Reaching people on the Internet".

There are far too many  trolls and self appointed fandom gate keepers in the social media worlds of comics and manga for that to be a viable avenue for promotion for us. Twitter and Reddit are particularly bad, but really they are all the same.  I found it reassuring going thru the brilliant comic artist Jason Brubaker's blog that he as received that treatment as well.  Read and buy his books! Wonderful! 

It is also true that sitting "waiting for the phone to ring" doesn't work either...  

Blogs like this one have also been less popular since 2014. Expect this is the impact of Facebook, but haven't read anything proof of this. With less people actually using a search engine to find things, the chance of anyone finding our work is much reduced. 

UPDATE: SEP 4 2019. Have watched a few more YouTube videos from those in the Webcomic space, that explains a little more to me about the change in Website/Blog use in the last 5 years or so. A major Webcomic advertisement site closed down a few years ago due to the dramatically reduced activity in the private blog/website space. One guy that did have a blog and a website moved to YouTube, Patreon and Webtoons. The feeling is having your own site like xkcd or Dilbert   is something that doesn't work any more for new publishers. Another suggested Patreon and selling eBooks is the way  in the world of Netflix binge watching. In either case, the Internet is a different place now, so people are less likely to search and find works like I have on my site.. they are just watching their Twitter or Facebook streams and that is the extent of their active discovery of material... result is the same, but I now have some evidence as to why. The Vbloggers are all padding their videos though to get their watched times up, probably to win against the YouTube algorithm and be able to get that YouTube advertising right.. Brad Guigar has 3 minutes of info dripped out over at least 30 minutes. 

And I think this is a really well thought out from Jason Brubaker.  It also is more general then just Webcomic creators, but equally applies to Illustrators with traditional websites and blogs.

Am planning to continue with the Terraform - The Sales Call. style of work and have all the back stories in a art diary.  It all comes down to priorities....  paid commissions get priority, which are mostly vector illustrations for manuals, signs, stickers and t-shirts.