Every day, thousands of new webcomics are created, and every day we are assaulted by them. I've resigned myself to the fact there is no stemming the tide of horrible new comics, so this is an effort in hopefully increasing the general quality of webcomics.
In this article, we'll explore the reasons for starting a webcomic, the do's and don'ts of maintaining one, and the most common mistakes I see in new webcomic artists.
Hay! Scott Kurtz is fat and rich! I will start an online comic and be fat and rich too, duder!
First things first. Why do you want to create an online comic? If you want fame and/or fortune, then forget it. There are an uncountable number of webcomics available on the internet right now, and less than .1% of them have much of a following at all. Of the ones that do have a following, less than .1% of those generate enough income to support the artist. So, toss that idea right out of your head.
So, got that all clear? Your webcomic is not going to make you rich or famous. You'll be working a thankless job and spending your own money to essentially operate a business that loses money. If you can generate a high-quality comic consistantly for three or four years, then maybe you'll start breaking even. Maybe. But don't bank on it.
Still want to do your own comic? Alright, then let's get right down to it.
It's about a three headed dog and his adventures in the dimension of cannibals, duder.
So you're determined to so this thing. Right. Now, what is your comic about? If you can't come up with anything better than 'It's just about me and my friends and our wacky adventures', then stop now. Odds are, this sort of comic will be chock full of inside jokes, and only appeal to your circle of friends. Also, try and come up with something a little more clever than 'it's two guys who love videogames' or any other topic that's been done to death.
Things to avoid
1. Comics starring two guys who are both passionate about one thing, be it movies, games, pet grooming, punk rock, cooking, auto repair, etc.
2. Comics that rely on inside jokes
3. Comics without any sort of unifying theme
4. Comics with too narrow of a focus, such as 'It's a strip that focuses on a dysfunctional family who is really into knitting woolen covers for vintage WWII helmets'. Don't stab yourself in the foot by being too broad or too narrow.
duder, mah friends think I'm funny!
Now, you've got your concept. It's fresh and original, and it'll knock the socks off of the knitting covers for WWII helmet livejournal community. At this point you need to ask yourself a very serious question.
'Can I write this thing?'
So many webcomics suffer from terrible, terrible writing. Ask yourself the following questions. Answer them honestly.
1. Can I spell? Do I understand basic grammar?
2. Can I write interesting and convincing dialog?
3. Am I funny? Can I be consistently funny without being stale, lame or derivative?
4. Can I convey emotion with my writing?
Now go back and answer them again, because I know you just lied and said yes to all of them.
If you can't write, you need to either get ahold of someone who can, or find something else to do with your time.
My mom sez I'm the best drawer in our family, duder
Now, here's what some would say is the most important part:
CAN YOU DRAW?
If you're just starting to learn to draw, then for the love of fucking god, DO NOT START A WEBCOMIC.
If you are a mediocre artist, then DO NOT START A WEBCOMIC.
Take your ideas, put them in a notebook, and tuck that notebook under your bed. Take some classes, and get a few years of practice under your belt. Yes, a few years
. I don't care if your new comic is the most scathingly brilliant piece of literature to ever grace this green earth, if it looks like shit, then it is shit. The same goes for writing. You can create the most beautiful art that makes angels weep, but if your dialog reads like:
Duder A: omg the xbox id fckuing huge
Duder B: teh xbox is so big that it is going to fuck ur mon u fag
Duder A: haha my mom iz a whore
then you need to stop. Seriously.
i am posting on teh intarweb duderz
Awesome art? Check. Brilliant writing? Check. If you were creating your comic traditionally, that might be enough. But no, you had to throw your creation to the internet. Which means you need a website.
Effective site design plays more of a factor in readership than you'd think. This is an article about comics, not web design though, so I'll just run through a few common mistakes.
1. Putting newsrants on the front page with no comics. I came to read your comic, not to listen to you squelching and wheezing about whatever's got you pissed today. If you must include newsposts, put them underneath the comics, or put them on a separate page. Or better yet, just include a link to your blog. We came for comics. Don't force us to read or navigate around your soap-boxing. (This exact thing is one of the main reasons that Ctrl-Alt-Del can kiss my ass. Get over yourself, Buckley. Tycho Brahe may be the one exception to this rule, because damn, that dude is entertaining.)
2. Music. Don't put goddamned music in your webpage. This should be common sense by now.
3. Hideous/tacky/vibrant color scheme. If your page pops up and burns out the retinas of your viewers, then don't count on them coming back.
4. Cthulhan design. Make sure everything is easy to find. Make sure your scripts are functional, your links aren't dead, and everything is easily accessible. You'd think this'd be obvious, but it's the most common mistake I see.
5. Pages behave differently in different browsers. As much as you may hate it, IE is still the most prevalent web browser in use. At the very least, make sure your page works correctly in IE, Mozilla, and FireFox. Just to be nice, you'll probably want to test it on some other browsers as well.
whoa thanks for tha crits duder
So. We've got decent art, compelling writing, and intelligent web design. Only one thing remains: You've committed yourself this far, so make sure you KEEP THE MOTHERFUCKER UPDATED. If you say you've got a comic coming on Wednesday, then put a damn comic up on Wednesday. I don't care how awesome your comic is, it needs to be up when you say it'll be up.
If you can confidently follow all of these guidelines, then by all means, create your comic. Hell, I'd love to read it.
Hugs and Kisses,
Addendum for the original post.
So you want to make a comic? Cool, so does everyone else.
The problem nowadays is that there is literally an ocean of webcomics out there, all scrambling for attention in this horrendous conglomerate mixture of general crap we computer-savvy folks like to call the Internet. Sure, you can post anything you want online and have a virtually limitless worldwide audience. It's a selling point of the internet, and has been since its conception. The unfortunate side effect being that it becomes a breeding ground for copycats, resulting in a good percentage of the webcomics out there being mirrors (in both storyline and style) of the ones who actually made it to the top of the popularity chain.
But I thought comics just had to have good writing/art to be good!
As highlighted in the above article, both writing and art form are important to make a comic great. These will both work together to make your stuff stand above the rest of the online culture. However, these alone will fall short if you do not know the basics of properly producing a comic.
Whether or not you're planning on someday going professional with your work, there are still industry standards which should be respected, if not followed. If you choose to just throw together something and call it a comic but show complete disregard for the basics that all comic artists should understand, then you'll be thrown down in the thralls of the lame, even if your comic has the "B3ST 4RT EVAR."
First stop: Comic Pages vs. Strips
Do you want to make a page-by-page comic book, or are you hoping to embrace the newspaper-style comic strip? This must be determined before you start, as the rules for measurements differ between them.
Let's discuss general industry-accepted proportions.
The Comic Strip
2.5" x 9" for dailies, 4" x 9" for Sundays (depending on where you want to place your title and the format of your sundays -- horizontal vs. vertical -- the Sunday measurement will vary)
The Comic Book/Graphic Novel
Generally following a 2:3 image ratio for each page. Most books are published around a 6" x 9" active area, give or take.
But how can they fit in so much detail if it's so small?
Calm down. The proportions are meant to serve as guidelines for the comic artist. When producing a comic, WORK LARGE.
This means that you should scale the proportions up to at least twice the recommended size, allowing for more detail and cleaner line quality when printing. Drawing a comic strip at 4" x 17.5" or a comic page at 10" x 15" would be acceptable (and preferred by most professionals in the business). These aren't required, though, and you should find a size to work in that is comfortable for you.
Understand? Good, let's move on.
Next Stop: Materials
Go to your local art store. Bring your wallet, a check/debit card, or your mom if you have to. Pick up the following items.
- Bristol Board. Vellum. 14" x 17". Lots of it.
- Artists' tape. Lots of it.
- Non-photo blue pencils. Lots of them. I recommend the Col-Erase brand.
- A t-square.
- A straightedge/ruler.
- A triangle. 30-60 variety. Two of them, a small one and a big one.
- Pens/brush for inking (I won't go into details with the methods for each here, there are other guides for that)
- KNEADED eraser. The gray kind that looks like old play-doh and is a good distraction from math class.
If you're going to make a comic book, do not be tempted to buy the "pre-printed pages" that some places sell. Most of them are printed on cheap paper that smears the ink the moment it is laid down.
Final Stop: Things Every Comic Should Have
Now that you have your supplies and your size guidelines, let's get some of the basics down. If you don't follow these, your comic WILL look amateur, no matter how hard you cry and burn candles in prayer for it to appear otherwise.
Vital Trait #1: Gutters
Pick up a copy of your favorite comic book or turn to the comics page of the newspaper. Pick any page/comic and look hard. Notice the empty space between the panels. Heck, notice that the panels are separated to begin with. Most kids starting their own comics fail to see this, and I can't understand why.
Those empty spaces are called gutters.
They ARE important, and serve as a medium of time spacing in the comic. Having a break between panels shows that there is the passage of time, and this is of the utmost importance when you're telling a story. If you have a line of panels that are all directly adjacent, it's as if they're all happening simultaneously. Unless your character is in all places at once, this is generally not preferred.
So please, separate your panels. Make them individuals and take the time to rule the borders appropriately. Your readers will thank you in the end.
Vital Trait #2: Text Guides
Take your ruler and put it perpendicular to the top of a panel. Measuring downwards, make equal marks, roughly 3/8" - 1/4" apart. Then take your t-square and make LIGHT lines, all the way across the page. Yes, even across the borders of the panels. It's non-photo blue, so it won't show up when you scan it.
These are called text guides.
They are like the blue lines you see on your school notebook paper. It's a good way to keep your text even and well-balanced on the page. Too many times an amateur artist will throw the text down without thinking twice, resulting in a slanting word bubble. You don't want to give your readers vertigo.
Also, make sure that all the text in your comic match up on the same guides. In other words, don't make two word bubbles with guides that don't line up with each other.
This isn't a difficult concept to grasp, and it makes you look all the more professional in the end.
Vital Trait #3: Written Text vs. Typed
I can't stress this enough: if you know you have crappy handwriting, do not try and write your dialogue by hand.
If YOU have a hard time reading what the characters are saying, Lord only knows what your readers will think.
If you insist on using hand-written methods, then practice, practice, PRACTICE. Handwriting and penmanship tutorials can be found in many places. Developing a comic-style scripting is not as difficult as one might think. It's time-consuming and takes a lot of effort, but it's possible.
For those choosing to go the digital route, heed this warning: COMIC SANS IS NOT A FONT FOR COMICS.
If you think otherwise, you have no business making a comic.
Do searches online. Find comic fonts that work for your style. Try visiting http://www.blambot.com
. Just don't use anything that isn't intended for commercial use if you plan on getting your work published.
Or better yet, combine the two. Develop a personalized (and legible) style of handwriting, and then scan in sample letters to create your own font using any number of programs out there. This way you can have your hand-written font and keep the digital method.
Coloring techniques fall into the same category.
Traditional or digital, it is entirely up to you and your abilities. Just be wise and understand that if you don't know how to color something properly by hand, your readers may have a difficult time deciphering it. There's a level of wisdom required for creativity.
Vital Trait #4: Camera Angles and Stagnant Characters
A camera? In a comic book? You bet your sweet bippy, and it exists in the eye of the reader.
Camera angles are important in film and photography, so why shouldn't they be important in comics? When a camera remains static, the action is lost and the work becomes boring. Then the characters stop moving altogether, producing an endless stream of dialogue bubbles in a copy-pasted panel layout. The reader then falls asleep.
This is what is known as "Talking Head Syndrome,"
hereafter referred to as THS. When dealing with THS, the characters remain in one position, one perspective, and speak without any form of body language or other interaction. These aren't puppets, folks. These are drawings, and as an artist you should MAKE THEM MOVE! You are their God! They do what you tell them to do, and by all means, get their asses moving!
THS is easily avoided. Move the camera around. Go for different views. Try an over-the-shoulder shot. A mouse-eye view. Three-point perspective (a bitch for some folks, but the dynamic angle is really eye-catching). Have your characters show emotion through hand positions and body language. Depressed? Hunch over. Happy? Wave those arms! Go crazy with it and people will be moving from page to page before you know it.
Vital Trait #5: Backgrounds Are People, Too!
One of the most common mistakes a beginning comic artist can make is to forsake the backgrounds. So often you see characters floating in some numbing blanket of white, as if existing in a single plane of nothingness. Or perhaps swimming in a giant glass of milk, who knows? Surely not the reader.
Establishing shots are vital, kiddies.
In the first panel, show the environment in its entirety. An aerial shot usually does the job nicely. Give the reader an idea of where the action takes place, in some way or form. If the characters are in school, show lockers along the wall. If they're in jail, show the bars. In the woods? Trees, grass and wild animals running amok.
Don't skimp on details, either. Poorly-drawn backgrounds will do as much damage to your comic as bad writing. Take the time and effort to draw that tree properly. If you don't know how to draw a tree, learn. Don't just skip drawing it altogether. Even if you're doing a simple comic strip, the backgrounds are important. Heck, even Beetle Bailey has details of the buildings and environments. You can have it, too.
Am I ready?
If you decide to follow these general guidelines, both here and in the above article, then you should do fine. One final bit of advice I should give is that, as with any type of artist, you should never stop working outside your comfort zone.
Experiment. Test new grounds. Draw different styles. Draw from life. Write from experience. Write what you know. Become a better artist through practice and diligence. Don't be afraid to do the hard work.
No one ever said being a comic artist was going to be quick & easy.
Best wishes in your sequential ventures,