Webisodics - Part Two:
An Overview of the Current Field (Summer 1998)
Since the "downfall" of the
original corporate-sponsored webisodics, many in the media have proclaimed
the death of web based episodic fiction. On the upswing in its place
appears to be the "personal diary", no doubt fuelled by the popularity
of such exhibitionist TV shows as Jerry Springer. These diaries
range in ability and design from the poorly written and badly designed
irregular "notes" that are found on practically every homepage in
existence to the beautifully told and professionally designed personal
stories found on The Fray. As proof
of this phenominia, I offer this: Under Yahoo! there are eight new diaries
listed. . .and no new cybersoaps, save the for the now-infamous Our First Time, which many
believe was intended to be a money-making
It appears that the lessons learned by the now-defunct American
Cybercast hit "the Hollywood crowd" hard: they're simply no longer
interested in potential economics of web based fiction. The only
exception to this rule occurs when the webisodic "supports" an existing
product, as in the case of NBC's Homicide: Second Shift, or
Lifetime TV's In the
House of Dreams. (If you've never heard of either, don't be too
surprised. Though they're both very well designed and executed they have
more or less failed to spark a new interest in the genre.)
That's not to say that every websodic is written by an "unknown" - Tony
Puryear, author the Schwarzenegger movie Eraser, is
responsible for the cyberserial/graphic novel, Black City, as well as a new "web comic," SolarRollers.
For the most part, of the 98 cybersoaps still listed by Yahoo!, the
majority are run by smaller firms looking for a break, or dedicated
enthusiasts with a small fan base. A surprising number of the websodics are "dead" -
they've obviously quit updating some time ago. For example, Cracks In the
Web which still has a "reviewed by Yahoo!" sign drawing attention to it, hasn't been updated since 1995. (Three years in the real world is equivalent to about twelve years in "Internet time"). The Journal of a
Short-Timer, claims to be looking for a publisher for
his tales. Lots of luck - everything except the main page is missing from the site!
Many of the websodics currently listed on Yahoo! do NOT use pictures to
illustrate their stories. One in particular, Cresendo Cove, addressed that problem up front by doing a survey of the readership. Surprisingly,
the fan base voted overwhelmingly not to include pictures. Most readers
expressed opinions along these lines: "...I think pictures would
detract from the story and it would take too long to download," and "graphics are
for people who lack imagination."
However, an obvious difficulty to overcome is the time,
effort, and money involved in trying to get the pictures you need to
professionally illustrate your cyberserial. The other option is to
simply do an "online comic book".
There are three ways to get pictures for your cybersoap:
- Use your friends and co-workers for your "actors" - as in the
amateur RealVideo production Byte
Me!;-). If you don't have enough friends to fill your roster,
stick them in wigs when necessary. The result is often as professional
as you'd imagine. Which is fine as long as you've no illusions about
turning the guy in the cubicle next to you into the next Bruce Willis.
- Borrow pictures of people - or get portraits - but they don't
ever change, and you use them sparingly. Two examples of this are Old Men's War, and the new Schuyler Falls, where author Kira
Lerner admits the that "many of the characters have been created with
particular actors in mind", and that "use of their pictures is not in
any way meant to indicate approval on their part. It's just for fun,
and to help readers picture the characters."
- Hire models, like The East Village and The Spot did. And how are
you going to afford that? Well. . .
It takes a strange mix of skills; writing ability, photographic arts,
and web site design to pull off a really slick cybersoap. But there are
more issues to consider before heading into the digital waves to surf
your way to webisodic fame. For writers, this is an entirely new medium;
What writing pitfalls can you encounter? What's in place to help your
story in ways that "regular fiction" never could? From the business side, how can you generate money from these ventures to support them? Sponsorships? Ecommerce?
There are no easy answers to these questions. But as the saying goes, those don't know the past are condemned to repeat it.
(Follow up article: http://www.cultureland.com/episodic/features1101.htm )