Open Soapbox: Zen and the Art of Message Boarding
People â€“ most of them webcartoonists â€“ keep asking me the same question over and over. In fact, it was asked to me again during the Keenspot panel at Comic Con 2003, and I started babbling about something else, if I recall correctly.
The question is, of course, why the CRFH forum is so popular.
To be honest, I don't know the answer. I can try to guess, though.
The CRFH forum has a reputation, but for some people, it's a SCARY one. There are a lot of misconceptions about it, especially among the people who are overwhelmed by the unusual amount of traffic and run away screaming to never come back.
However, we are a pretty heterogenous bunch, ranging in ages from 13 to around 60 (this according to a poll I once administered). We likewise have people from all over the world. This leads to many interesting discussions. The threads you find there can be classified as follows:
a) Threads about CRFH
Part of the topics are discussions/speculations about the current CRFH storyline. I have to confess that when big drama happens in CRFH, the number of these types of threads skyrocket. Three-page topics can develop 20 minutes after the comic update. On the other hand, when we're covering light subjects or fun stories, you can hear the crickets chirping. This also covers conversation/speculation about generally anything that has to do with the comic.
b) Threads featuring fan works
Another big contributor to forum traffic consists of fanart and fanfic threads. These usually happen in spurs. Something becomes "trendy", whatever it may be (poetry, fiction, short stories, illustrated stories, etc.), and everybody and their neighbor wants to join in the fun. PFFs (participation fanfics) are also big, but these can be classified among "boardie activity" too.
c) Boardie activity
Usually, message board regulars ("Boardies") are involved in one or more group activities where the only purpose is that of having fun. This covers minor role-playing fun like war threads and party threads, nonsense contests, or even the organization of real-life get-togethers, such as the now traditional Boardiecon.
These threads are usually about the outside world (what's that???).
That being said, there are some myths about the board that I'd like to clarify.
Myth #1: Unless you have practically nothing to do, it's impossible to keep up with that damn board.
Not necessarily. As the classification above shows, a big percentage of the threads in the board are off-topic at some degree. Many people just read the threads about the daily comic â€“ which are properly labeled with the date of the day â€“ and skip the rest. Others read those and the fanfics, but skip the PFFs. Still others stay away from the War Threads. The thing is, with a forum that has so much activity, labeling the threads becomes mandatory, especially with the OT ("off-topic") threads. You just have to become more selective on what you're reading.
Myth #2: That board is WILD. There are constant flamewars and a lot of trolls.
This is SO not true. One of the things that separate the CRFH boards from other popular ones is that the CRFH one is actually moderated. We don't allow anything above PG-13 (not even external links). Flamewars are given first a warning and deleted if those involved don't comply. (I don't believe in closing threads, I just pn them). Trolls are quickly dispatched (but we give a lot of people a second chance). Religion and political discussions are monitored carefully. I'm sometimes a bit of a nazi with this, but people are usually grateful for it. Despite the horrible rumors about newbie hazing, it's not true. We used to "poke" newbies to make them feel welcome, but that got out of hand quickly so we toned it down.
And I still haven't gotten to the part where I try to explain why it's popular, have I? Boy, my mind loves to wander.
Well, the truth is, I think it's popular because it's a friendly place. Usually, when someone joins, the community greets him/her unconditionally. Discussions tend to be calm and on the fun side. Even deep and touchy subjects are addressed with civility ("or ELSE!" as pointed by the nazi moderator) and there's usually a high degree of empathy and friendship among its members. After some time, people start feeling at home there. You can tell because they share everything: from their school/job woes to their new pets and their movie reviews and their broken hearts.
The conclusion is of course that the CRFH board is popular because the boardies are nice. I have no better explanation for it. I can speculate also that activity leads to more activity, and that the huge amount of fanfics/fanart comes because we, as a collective, encourage and support creativity.
To the many persons out there who wish to acquire a more active fan base, I have only one advice: keep in touch with your readers, answer their questions, challenge their creativity. The universe of a comic author is something to be shared. Some of you will find that your audience is on the quiet side. That doesn't mean they have nothing to say. Sometimes you'll have to get it out from them, to make them speak, to get them talking. Listen to what they have to say, because their input is priceless.
Maritza Campos is a guest contributor for the Comixpedia. You can look at what post-secondary Hell spawned her message board's incredible popularity here.