Three Years of Blow The Cartridge!on July 4, 2014 at 11:18 pm
If Blow The Cartridge was a human, it would be a precocious toddler that I would annoy my friends by posting videos of it dancing around the lounge room on Facebook with. But it’s not, it’s just a goofy website full of comics about old video games, that I annoy my friends by posting links on Facebook with.
Technically Blow The Cartridge launched to the world in September 2011, but the archive goes back a bit before that so there would be comics for new visitors to read, and I was doing what became Blow The Cartridge comics on my other comics site for a little while before that so let’s just meet in the middle and say I started it three years ago, OK? Yeah sounds good.
It’s been a really fun three years! We’ve learned, we’ve laughed, we even cried a little. Well I know I did at 2AM when the comic still wasn’t done and all I wanted to do was sleep already but kept going anyway because I’m a comic-making idiot. What I want to do is look back over what worked and what didn’t over the last few years, and talk about what’s coming up in the future.
I look back on the early comics I was doing three years ago and I hang my head in shame. I mean serious, I was drawing myself as a stick figure. A stick figure for Jarvis’ sake, that’s just bush league stuff. The art was scratchy and the lettering was a mess and there’s so many jokes that either fell flat or were half-baked to begin with. It was pretty obvious I was still learning – which is OK, because that’s a process that never ends – but real crime was that I was just not putting in the effort the comics (and readers!) deserved.
I was juggling a creatively draining day job, a side job, two other webcomics AND this site for a long time until I made some changes. I left the creatively draining day job to focus my creative energies on my own projects, and wound up the other webcomics recently to concentrate it all on Blow The Cartridge. I started taking my art commitments seriously. I studied and practiced improvements to my drawing and writing skills. I upgraded my tools from an all-analog set up to an all-digital one and revamped my workflow to make comics quicker and easier. I’d like to think the changes have been obvious when comparing a recent strip to an older one, and I certainly hope the comics I’m making in 2017 make the stuff I’m doing now look like unmitigated garbage, the same way I look back at the old stuff and wince.
There’s still problems I’m not sure how to tackle. The big one is the balance between making a comic that appeals to people who have played the game in question and those who haven’t. If I make it too much of an “in-joke” I run the risk of it appealing to very few people, and if I make it too broad the comic loses focus on the game it’s parodying. And then there’s the balance between doing comic about the game or what the game means to me. Frankly, I get these balances wrong more times than I get it right, but I hope the strike rate is improving over time. You’re the best judge of that, of course. I play all the games I make comics about, some more than others, but no matter how much virtual research I do into a game I can still get comments that I “missed the point”. This is especially so in games that have a huge and rich back story and world to explore, that means a lot of different things to different people. It’s become impossible to do a Street Fighter comic without someone getting ticked off, for example. But I keep trying.
The “To Do” List
When I started the site three years ago, I posted on a few forums asking for suggestions for games to feature here. I’m still working through that list. This is in addition to the requests made by email, Twitter and of course the “Request A Game!” page here on the site. I put five of the most popular contenders up on the poll on the right and it’s a slow process to get through them all since I only add a new comic once a week every Wednesday.
At last count there’s still about two to three hundred games in the “to do” list so that’s going to keep me busy for a while, and that’s just from other people – I have a personal list of games I’d love to get around to featuring one day! Sure, they’re all terrible obscure Commodore 64 games nobody cares about, so maybe it’s not a bad thing they’re at the bottom of the pile.
I was talking to someone about Blow The Cartridge a few weeks ago and he asked if I was worried I’d ever run out of games to do, and I just laughed. There’s thousands of classic games for us to enjoy, so much so that I honestly don’t know if I ever need to buy any more video games ever again. Retrogaming is a real passion of mine, and one of the things I love about Blow The Cartridge is that it brings people together to share memories and recommendations.
So how do I solve this issue? No idea, frankly. One thing I want to do in a few weeks is compile all the requests into one list, maybe a Google Doc for everyone to see and add stuff to. Right now the requests are scattered all over the place and I lose track of games here and there. I’ll clean up the “Request A Game” page too to get rid of requests that have already been taken care of, too. I think the big long term solution, frankly, is just to make more comics, more often. I’ll get into how to make that happen below.
(If you’re really tired of waiting for me to get around to your pick, I’m also selling custom Blow The Cartridge comics where you can choose a game for me to draw for you – they’re available in the shop now!)
I can’t say I put a huge amount of thought into the website when I started it way back when. It’s your basic WordPress + Comicpress set up with a bit of tinkering here and there, but it’s starting to show its age and buckle under its weight a bit. I do like the big pile of screenshots on the “All The Games” page, but with over 230 comics in the archive the page takes ages to load and it’s getting hard to manage and navigate through.
I need to upgrade the Comicpress set up to the latest version which will allow me to customize the layout a bit more. It really bugs me how I can’t have the social media sharing buttons directly underneath the navigation buttons, instead of under the blog post, for one thing. Plus, y’know, it’s always good to have the latest version of whatever is running under the hood.
Generally the layout needs an actual web designer to make it look more professional and get the cluttered sidebars into some semblance of order. I got ads and polls and Facebook plugins and thumbnails and shop links and all sorts of stuff going on so it needs a clean up. One day.
But what I’m really concentrating on with the site for the forseeable future is just getting more people to come to the site and read my nonsense. More people are visiting month on month, which is great, and thank you so much for spending some of your valuable time here and coming back for more. I’m spending a bit on advertising and trying to spread the word too. Ultimately though the best way to get more readers is to do better comics that you will want to tell your friends about.
I do need to post more blog updates, that’s for sure. I used to be a “pro” games journalist back in the day so it’s something I enjoy doing. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like covered.
Aside from the site we’ve had some successes recently which is very affirming. Of course the big one was the Super Blow The Cartridge Kickstarter, which had a tremendous response and everyone seems to have liked the book. (Missed out on the Kickstarter? You can buy your copy of Super Blow The Cartridge right now!) Blow The Cartridge is featured occasionally on various gaming blogs webcomic roundups including Kotaku, Screwattack and Joystiq, which is super nice of them. You can now get Blow The Cartridge specially formatted for your iPhone (and soon your Android device!) via the excellent Comic Chameleon. I am making extra content exclusively for my Patreon backers. There’s more to come!
I want to make better comics every time I upload a new one. That’s the big target because nothing else matters if I can’t get that one right. They need to be funnier, they need to be more focused and I need to improve the art further.
There’ll be a new issue of the Blow The Cartridge comic in the next few months – and some cool merchandise too if I can get everything together right. How about a calendar? How about a T-shirt? I just know I want to wear a T-shirt with something cool on it, so maybe you might too?
My big aim between now and next year is to change this from making one new comic a week to two or even three. You can help make this happen by supporting my Patreon campaign. The more backers I get, the more comics I’ll make every week. More comics is always a good thing AND you get bonus goodies too so it’s a win-win!
I also have some other sort-of-related projects that I’m working on that I can’t wait to share with you. I know one of them will be of particular interest to my retrogaming pals!
Blow The Cartridge simply wouldn’t exist without you reading it, and for that I can’t thank you enough. Thanks for visiting the site, adding your comments, buying the occasional book and helping spread the word online. Even though I know that without the Internet I’d still be sitting at home making comics for myself, it really does make the long nights worth it. I have great readers!
But now I need to know what you think! What works, what doesn’t, and how do you think it could be better? Post a comment here or drop me an email. And don’t be afraid to be too harsh – I need the good and bad to work from in order to grow as an artist.
And thanks for reading all this! See you next year, yeah?