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Thread: Week 37- Webcomics Pt 1

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 37- Webcomics Pt 1

    It's been a week already? Doesn't it seem like we were just here yesterday? Time flies when you're having fun, let me tell you. And yes, I'm still having a blast. Can't you tell? It's a lovely Tuesday, I'm listening to 80s music, and things are just looking up. Always look forward, that's one of my mottoes. One of many. So is ďalways eat food,Ē and the always faithful Mr. Miyagi: no breathe, no life.

    Enough! Let's talk about webcomics. It's been a long time coming, I know. You ARE reading my webcomic Group, right? It's weekly on Wednesdays. Go on over, catch up, and tell me how I'm doing. And then I want you to call me on the carpet for going against some of the advice I'm going to dispense here. Just remember, I do things for a reason.

    Before I get too deep into this, I want to get upfront about what this column will NOT be about: it will NOT be about how to draw a webcomic, specific dimensions of strips, characterizations, and stuff like that. Nope. Not gonna touch it. Why? Because this column is specifically geared to work between books and such. The book that I recommend having in your library is How To Make Webcomics. Go out and get it today. No, really. This book will be important to you. Trust me.

    Why am I telling you to go get a book instead of just waxing on and on [and on and on and on] about it here? Because I'm really not here to reinvent the wheel. That book is a great primer and more for starting up your own webcomic. What I'm going to do here is talk about it and around it.

    Webcomics. Webcomics are going to be vitally important in the very near future. Why? Diamond. If you've been watching the news [you are using an RSS reader to stay on top of industry news, right?], more and more books are falling out of the Previews catalog because of the new Diamond benchmarks. While Haven is there, it's still too early for them to start rolling books out in mass quantity. They don't have much of a track record, especially since they bought out Cold Cut. They're getting their feet under them, so there's really nothing else to do but wait and see. This means people are going to be turning to the web in droves in order to get their stories out.

    I'm going to tell you right now, webcomics suck when it comes to the amount of money you lay out in order to tell your stories. As a writer with no ability to draw, you will be stuck with having to find an artist to draw your epic. But it gets worse! Let's take a look at it, but in order to do that, lets take a few steps back and see what we have.

    Before you even start thinking about a webcomic, you have to think about what it is you want to do: a strip, or a finite story. There are tricks to both.
    Doing a strip [usually humor] means that the story is never going to end. No, I have to say that again, because you didnít understand what I just said. Doing a strip means that the story will never end. (Got it.) No, you donít. So, letís look at it another way. Your strip about superhero penguins from the moon will be akin to Spider-Man. Youíre going to be doing this for years, with no letup, and it will only stop when you expire [or stop, whichever comes first].

    Look at one of the most famous strips ever: the Peanuts. I donít know much about Charles Schultz, but I do know that the strip was done for decades. Think about that. Think about basically working on the same thing for decades. We can barely keep a team together for twelve consecutive issues anymore, and this man did Peanuts for decades. Something to think about.
    Anyway, doing a strip will generally necessitate doing it for years. And youíll have to update it more often, for years. Nope, I still havenít gotten there yet.

    Doing a finite story means youíll be doing something akin to a graphic novel. Weíll call it a graphic novel, just for the sake of ease. Itís a graphic novel, but on the web. We good? (Yup!) Groovy.

    For stripsÖno, thatís wrong. For webcomics period, the keys to success are content and constant updates. For strips, I honestly recommend doing one that updates at least twice a week, depending on the production. If youíre just going black and white, thereís little reason you cannot update three times a week. If youíre going color, then twice a week is fine. But I wholeheartedly suggest doing an update more than once a week. Same goes for graphic novels. (But wait! Yours only updates once a week!) SighÖ

    Group, my webcomic, does update once a week. A single page a week, and itís killing me. Itís killing me more than itís killing you. It was supposed to be part of an enclave of stories, where you wouldnít much notice that this particular story only updated once a week, because the other four stories were going to be doing the same thing. That was the deal I made with the artist, and sheís definitely holding up her end of the bargain. Just because the other part of it fell through doesnít mean that Iím going to change the deal on her. Thatís not what she signed on for, and thatís why it only gets updated once a week. (Oh. Okay, I can forgive you, then.) Thanks.

    But that updating once a week is also a problem. Because the content only gets updated once a week, itís going to be harder for readers to stay interested in the story. And that, dear friends, is the heart of the problem right there. It will take me nearly two months to get to a point where things are starting to come together, and that is VERY long for a reader to be invested in the characters and story. Once a week is murder on the reader and the story being told. Donít be like me. Update more than once a week.
    How often? Great question. For a strip, the best thing to do would be to update seven days a week. (HA! No, really. How often?) For a strip, the best thing would be seven days a week. (You just said that.) I know. Because that would be best for a strip. (Wow.) Exactly. Seven days a week for a strip is best, but I wouldnít go below twice a week. There are LOTS of strips that update two to three times a week. If you can get five, go for it. Just make sure you have enough material to go on for a long time before you even start.

    For finite stories, I suggest doing updates two to three times a week. Give the story some time to build and gain an audience. Two to three times a week is perfect for that. Make sure you pick your days accordingly.

    For the love of shoes, no matter what you do, make sure youíre working WELL ahead of your updates! If youíre telling a finite story, have a healthy portion of pages stored up before you go putting them up for all to see. If youíre doing a strip, I suggest having a backlog of two or three weeks in backlog already done and just waiting to go up. That buffer is going to be invaluable to you. I know it sounds like a lot, but there are times when life just gets in the way, or something happens and you canít get to it. You donít want to be always working right up against your deadline to get something up that day. Build up a backlog, and from there, make sure you always have that number in the ďbank.Ē

    Now comes the tricky part. Youíre a writer. Whatís worse, youíre a writer with no artistic ability. This means you have to team with an artist. Did anyoneís stomach just drop at that thought? I know mine did. And no, thatís not a slam against artists. Itís a realization of the daunting reality thatís about to unfold.

    Looking at the strip, youíre going to ask a an artist to team with you to do Vampire Penguins seven days a week, basically for the rest of their lives. (Ö) For free. (Ö Ö Ö) Daunting, isnít it?

    Donít ask how youíre going to get an artist to agree to that. Youíre not. Donít even think it. Not for a long time, and not for free. [Weíll talk about money next time around.] If/when you decide to do a strip, when you look for an artist, ask them how long theyíre committed to the strip, and then work toward that. Thatís more realistic, because theyíll more than likely stay with the strip that long. If they stay longer, great! If the two of you find out you work well together and decide to stay on the strip, even better! Congratulations.

    The best thing to do for strips is to have an artist approach you for it. (Huh?) Okay, everyone knows that I hang out at Digital Webbing a lot. Over there are a couple of forums: Help Wanted/Collaborations, and Help Wanted/Paid. Look in both of those on a regular basis. There have been a few artists looking for writers to work on strips lately. That works better than approaching an artist to work on a strip. You just have to be flexible in giving the artists a voice in the property.

    If youíre working on a graphic novel, let your artist know that itís a finite story, and give them an estimated page length. If they agree, great. If they donít, then you have one of two choices: you can either cut down the number of pages, or you can keep searching until you find the artist that will do it.

    Of course, thereís always the third option. Work on an infinite amount of finite stories, which will allow you to work with a lot of different artists on smaller stories. (Huh?) Okay, think Twilight Zone: The Movie. [Did I just date myself?] Itís an anthology movie, right? Itís just packaged under one umbrella, with a finite end for each story. Want to think bigger? Think of the original series being sold as a box set. The setup of the series is basically an infinite amount of finite stories. It could literally go on forever, without repeating. You could do the same thing with webcomics: do an infinite amount of finite stories, working with different creative teams. Doing this will guarantee that you always have content without tying a single artist up for years [or the rest of their life, whichever comes first].

    Whichever format you decide to undertake, I want you to remember a few things. First, no one owes you a readership or a following. Webcomics are the same for print comics, because no one owes you a readership or a following there, either. Thatís first.

    Second, make a schedule to update it, and stick to it, no matter what. The only things that should keep you from updating your webcomic should be nuclear proliferation, or a breakdown of a server. Something that is out of your control. I havenít yet spoken about anything other than creating the webcomic, but I will next time around. There are tools out there that will basically automate the updating process for you. Birth of a child? No excuse. Death of a pet? No excuse? In a car accident? No excuse. World goes up in a bright flash of light? You may be able to slide with that. (Thatís deepÖ)

    Yes, it is deep. Hereís the reason why: As soon as you start updating the story, it really is no longer ďyourĒ story. It belongs to the readers. You now have a responsibility to your readers to make sure you give them the next part of the story. The update is all important, because youíve made a tacit promise to your readers. Iíve said it before, and Iíll say it again: look at this column. Its been running weekly since I started it. I havenít missed a week yet, not even when I had a slight problem with a missing file. Why? Because as soon as I miss posting, I hurt my integrity with you. I become unreliable, and can start hemorrhaging readers. There isnít much that will keep me from updating for you. You have to have that same mentality when you start up a webcomic.

    Thatís it for this week. Next week, weíll talk about programs, hosting, and money. If I get too wordy, Iíll split it up. Weíll see what happens.

    And youíve had it really easy the past little while. No homework! (Drats! Thought he forgotÖ) Well, this week, the homework is to think about what you want to with a webcomic: a strip or graphic novel, along with how often youíd like to update. It wonít be as easy as you think when you start to write out what you want.

    See you next week!

  2. LiamBradley Guest

    Another great addition mate.
    Where is your webcomic at?

  3. tylerjames Guest

    Nice kick-off to the article on webcomics, Steven.

    For those of you too cheap to buy the "How to Make Webcomics" book, I suggest you download the podcast "Webcomics Weekly" to your ipods. As far as comic podcasts go, it's one of the more entertaining and informative podcasts out there, and it'll definitely fire you up about getting entrepreneurial about your comics career. (And then, you'll pluck down the $15 and buy the "How to Make Webcomics" book anyway.)

    Steven is completely right on the importance of a regular, committed update schedule. When I first started posting comics to the web, I'd just post pages of Super Seed whenever I finished them. Sometimes it'd be a few days between pages. Most of the time a few weeks. Granted, I was posting on a shared site with other art content, so there were still a lot of eyeballs that got to see my work, but they were coming to the site to see "stuff" not to see "my stuff."

    And that's really the key. You want people seeking out "your stuff." You want them incorporating visiting your site into their schedules, just like they do with American Idol Tuesdays or Lost Wednesdays.

    I don't want to give much more advice on webcomics, because I've yet to run a super successful one. But this summer, I plan on launching two. One is completely me (story and art) and I plan on updating 3 times a week, with entertaining blog content most other days. Though I've already built the frame for the site (couldn't resist), I won't "go live" until I have 7-10 weeks of content in the bag.

    I also plan on launching a once a week webcomic, drawn by another artist and written by me. With that one I want to have 10-15 weeks of content finished before I launch, because it's full color.

    The one last piece of advice I'd give though...if you're going to do a strip comic, just draw it yourself. Probably the most successful story in webcomics this year is XKCD I don't care how bad at art you are, you can draw xkcd. That comic proves, if you are a good writer, and are doing work that appeals to a big enough audience, you can have a successful strip without killer artistic chops.
    Last edited by tylerjames; Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 11:32 PM.

  4. AdamH Guest

    In addition to what Tyler said, go ahead give the website that hosts Webcomics Weekly, ( a look. It's got great information on running a webcomic as well.

  5. MattGrant Guest

    110% Solid.

    I've been doing my webcomic Mastorism for a year now, and I can attest that everything you say rings true.

    And even though you said it 500 times, it still bears repeating:

    pick and update schedule and STICK TO IT. Come hell or high water, every tuesday and thrusday, Mastorism updates. I'm also proud to say that in over a 100 pages, there are only 6 pages that could be classified as "filler" and I only put those up between "chapters/issues" so it wouldn't interrupt the story-- i gotta catch my breath sometime!

    I'm totally with the responsibility to the readers vibe.

  6. StevenForbes Guest

    Thanks, everyone. Glad you liked it.

    This series turned out to be in three parts. I could probably go into more depth about any one facet of it, but I'm not trying to drag anything out.

    And the Group webcomic is located at (I really need to add that to my signature.) Oh! And there's a new page up today!!

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