While most of my recent articles have been about my game, the fact is my main projects are all webcomics. I’ve been doing webcomics since high school, so I have a lot of experience with working on them. I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error throughout the years about what to do and what not to do when working on one. And since yesterday I spent most of my day working on my series Midnight Menagerie as opposed to Kaiju Crush, and since I’ve heard from some folks on the forum about toying with the idea of working on their own, I figured I’d dip into my fount of experience and give some tips to avoid tearing your hair out or getting discouraged.
The first thing about your webcomic is to figure out, is it a long-form style comic, or a gag strip. Gag strips are more like things like Penny Arcade or VG Cats. There might be some ongoing story arcs, but fundamentally are just one-shot strips that rely on a punch line that takes place at the end of the page or the strip. These are a lot easier to update because they can be read in any order and people skipping a few weeks won’t get lost. The downside is that since most are timely, and based at least somewhat on current events, including autobiographical ones, if you get hit by writer’s block, it gets harder to stay on schedule. Long-form style, which is my bread and butter, is more like breaking down a comic book or manga into a page by page schedule. They tend to be a lot more elaborate in terms of presentation and storytelling, but since are based on a more concrete script, can be planned weeks, months or even years in advance.
Both styles require at least a few of the same things. Among them are figuring out an update schedule, a format style and an audience. Even the most niche, out of left field things can find an audience. It’s just important to remember that trying to appeal to everyone never, ever works and that it’s more important to remember that while feedback from people is helpful to figure out if your message is getting across the way it’s supposed to, catering exclusively to people’s responses will result in a weaker final result. An update schedule is far more important, because once people get used to you updating a certain day or a certain time, variances in the schedule can result in traffic going down. Generally updating once a week is a good pace to follow, and announce any major delays or hiatuses ahead of time. Obviously emergencies are going to happen, so building up a backlog is super helpful, especially for long-form comics. If you can build a buffer of about 30 or so pages before you ever start posting online, you’ll be able to stay on schedule even in the most hectic of instances. Format style is less about what the art looks like, and more about how the comic will actually appear online. You can pretty much use any size or ratio, though you’ll want to use a format that will work well on a tablet or screen. Generally speaking people don’t mind scrolling down, but if people have to scroll to the side to read the top half of the page or the entirety of the script, you probably want to rethink the ratio. Because my comics are available in print as well as online, I use standard book page sizes for my work. My manga The Sorcerer’s Apprentice fits the standard B size format used in manga magazines, while Midnight Menagerie’s format is based off of US comic book page size.
When it comes to actually creating the pages or strips, pretty much any material or software works. MS Paint or doodling on printer paper are both fine, but if you plan someday to release print editions of your work, or even eBooks, work with higher resolution and just post at a lower resolution. You can always save your pages smaller, but scaling back up without having to redraw your work, rescan it or not have it look like pixellated ass is not really an option. If you’re working digitally and want high-end, professional results, Clip Studio is a good investment. Not only is it affordable (especially compared to Adobe’s ongoing scam with Photoshop) it provides a lot of tools that speed up the comic process including default page templates, panel tools and imperfect but serviceable text tools. There are free programs too like Fire Alpaca and Gimp that are also available, just have patience with yourself as you develop a learning curve using these programs.
Generally color comics get more attention than black and white, but if you feel more comfortable with a monotone series, it’s still possible to be successful, just periodically release a lot of supplementary material in color and have an eye-catching website to grab attention. It’s also tempting to create sweeping sagas for your webcomics, but if something is your first series, start small, like a series that’s maybe 2-3 chapters. Especially if you’re releasing something on a weekly basis, even a short webcomic is a multi-year commitment. An alternative is to have your series break down into multiple story arcs. That way if you decide to quit, you can conclude at the end of the arc and have at least a little resolution to the story.
The hardest part of your webcomic will be getting people to actually read and comment on it. It is very difficult to get strangers to just decide to start consuming your work, so your first target will probably be your peers. Start making friends with people on social networking who also do webcomics, but for the love of god, don’t introduce yourself by immediately sending people your links and begging them to read. It’s annoying and extremely rude, and says that you’re only watching/engaging with someone because you’re trying to solicit them a product. People with huge followings probably won’t engage with your right away for that very reason, so start with other small fish and network on a human level. Talk about what you do, how you do it, what you like, and what you like about OTHER PEOPLE’S work. You can’t expect anybody to engage with your comic if you don’t do the same for other people. It also helps to host on comic sites like Smack Jeeves and Tapas, but have your own website as well. A central site, especially one that’s ahead of the story compared to a satellite site where you’re reposting, will help to generate traffic for your work instead of just the other host.
It takes time, a lot of work, and quite a bit of luck to be successful with a webcomic, so be patient and don’t get discouraged.
by the by, you can read *my* webcomic Midnight Menagerie here: http://www.bwillettcomics.com/midnightmenagerie