The Blue View: Dial-A-Webcomic

Before there were modems, and back when the function of the pound key was still a mystery to us, we started a simple but enticing service on a home phone line with a home phone machine that would inform and often eclipse the rest of our band’s output…Almost every track on this compilation started its life on Dial-A-Song. The biggest challenge to They Might Be Giants as a musical project was clear to us before we even started: This thing needed a lot of songs. …It helped us become less precious and a lot more prolific…"

-Liner Notes, Dial-A-Song (Twenty Years of They Might Be Giants), They Might Be Giants

I love that last line.

(I also love the way they use the word ‘inform’ because they sort of let slip that they know how to talk like rock critics, and perhaps rock critics inform TMBG’s own writing.) But the line that really grabs me — as a creator of ephemeral entertainment — is that part about the Dial-A-Song making their songs less precious. That’s it, exactly. If you’re going to have a thousand babies, you can’t treat each one like a crown jewel. Raise it right, give it what it needs, but don’t dwell on it, and don’t try to control the parts you can’t control.

It’s served TMBG well, too – no sophomore slump, tons and tons of output. Most of it wouldn’t have existed if they hadn’t had to update that damn answering machine all the time. Anyway, the model works. A lot better than that Brian Wilson "I’m not coming out of here until this song is perfect beyond perfection model." Except for Good Vibrations, I guess. He really did create something incredible there.

That’s not the point, though.

After all, we’re talking about webcomics. It’s publish or perish. Get a strip out every day, or else your fans will only click even more ravenously than they would have if you had updated, because, you know, they keep checking…for a couple of weeks, and then you watch as they slowly give up over a period of maybe six months. Then you produce one more strip and everyone floods back, and you can sit back and watch the process start over again.

Hmm. That’s not really what I had in mind either. Missing deadlines does pay off.

But to be taken seriously, like a comic book, you have to update…

…once a week.

Hell, I don’t know. Do what you want. If you can produce when you say you will, or even if you can’t, as long as you promise lots of updates, you’re golden. I’m sure there’s an upside to producing consistently and daily, I just can’t think of what it is right now.

Yeah, everything works. I’m enjoying They Might Be Giants’ output a lot more than Boston’s, though.