Today’s Feature Presentation? A Presentation on Features

What is a Comixpedia feature?

It might be easier to explain what it’s NOT.

It’s not an interview, although experts and other relevant people might be consulted and quoted.

It’s not a column (nor an editorial nor a soapbox), because it’s meant to be objective – at least, as objective as is possible to be. We’re all still human.

It’s not a review in that it’s not giving an overview of one particular webcomic. However, it might give an overview of a type of website – something larger than a single webcomic – but goes beyond what’s good and bad and tries to look at its relevance to webcomics as a whole.

Beyond that, the concept of the Comixpedia feature remains undefined.

We’ve had illustrated features: making points or illuminating debates.

We’ve had complex rantings about problems with certain sub-genres. Which breaks the "it’s not a column" rule, although the pieces had many more supporting data and argument points than columns normally do.

We’ve had journalistic investigations into online and offline projects.

We’ve had historical reviews of things like fan response through the ages and the things from a couple of different angles.

The list goes on and on. There are currently fifty-six features available in the Comixpedia archives. By the time this article is published, there should be over sixty. But rather than continue to list the various types of articles we’ve done, let’s change gears a bit and talk about how the articles are created.

Each month, Comixpedia puts out four issues. Each issue includes a feature, at least one interview, one or two reviews, one or two columns, and the occasional editorial or soapbox piece.

To create all of this, the editorial staff sets up themes for each month well in advance. We use the themes as guides and how tightly we adhere to a given theme depends upon who’s willing to write on the theme and how much material is available on that theme. We don’t always publish the theme – sometimes it’s for you to guess, sometimes it’s too tentative a thread.

Next, we plan the collective four weeks of a given month upwards of thirty days in advance. So, for example, set up for March starts in January. Sometime late in January the editorial staff brainstorms ideas for whom to interview, comics to review, and features to assign.

As the features editor, I have the email addresses of over a dozen writers who have created features for the Comixpedia in the past or who regularly contribute to the ‘zine. I send out a solicitation containing the theme and some ideas on that theme to this list. In our March example, I would try to send the solicitation for writers out before the end of January. Sometimes I succeed. The deadline for a first draft is set to the middle of the month, e.g., February 15th.

In the best of all possible worlds, writers volunteer by responding to my email and picking a story, or suggesting a different idea. Sometimes those ideas are also related to the theme, but sometimes they are about something else altogether. Either is acceptable and encouraged. The writers turn their drafts in on the 15th. I read them through first, trying to really read the article without worrying about mistakes or problems. This gives me a glimpse of the reader’s perspective on how well the article flows together. Then I read the piece again, editing as I go by either by making changes and highlighting them in bold or noting in comments at the end of a given paragraph that there is material missing or a sentence is awkward or a word is repeated, etc.

I return the edited draft to the author requesting changes. I note that, if I’ve changed or inserted text, what I’ve suggested is optional. The author can go back to the original text if they have a good argument for doing so, but I prefer that they either keep or re-word the modified lines. I also note that my comments/requests are to strengthen the piece and to let me know if they have any problems getting additional data.

The changes are made by the author and sent back to me. I double-check the final product. Sometimes there’s another round of back-and-forth, sometimes I pass it up to the Editor-in-Chief, Damonk, for final editing. My deadline to Damonk is around the third week of the month. Damonk may engage in another round of editing with the author, if he catches things I have missed. When he is satisfied that the work is as good as it gets, he programs it for publication.

By this time it is the end of the month and I begin the preparation for the next month. So, per our example, it’s the end of February and I’m working on putting together the features for the April issue.

Admittedly, too often the solicitation doesn’t go out until sometime during the first week of the month. In the example case, if I’m running behind, it might go out as late as the 7th of February.

In the worst case scenario, no one wants to write, on the theme or off. I beg the regular writers to contribute, often to no avail. I have to scramble for new writers, writing letters to strangers who post well-written work in forums or who are recommended by friends and colleagues. I may end up writing a feature piece myself to fill in a gap or asking one of the other editors to do so. By the time I have convinced at least a couple of other writers to contribute, half the month is over and I have to slide all the deadlines back to compensate. Then I have to write reminders and the writers scramble to finish their pieces, often becomes something in real life has come up. And besides, this is only a volunteer gig. Sometimes we’re still editing and re-writing pieces just before publication.

Both extremes have happened. The work is constant and challenging. So why do it?

First, I love writing and I love writers.

Second, I actually enjoy editing. I like helping writers create good stuff. I find it fun to really look at the bones of a piece and figure out what’s working and what’s not. I like encouraging writers to find the flaws and fix them themselves.

Third, I love comics. I’ve loved them in various forms all my life, although my addiction to comic books dates back to 1992 and my addiction to webcomics only started in 1997(ish). I love doing something that I believe is useful for the medium.

Fourth, I am very stubborn.

Maybe the work is important. I’d like to believe it is, but on the scale of Important Things In The Universe, that’s a tough one. Still, even if we’re making a small difference, it’s definitely worth it.