Thanks to hosting sites such as Comic Genesis and Webcomics Nation, it’s never been easier to start up your own comic. This is both good and bad… as the graveyard of dead comics continues to grow. Indeed, it is sometimes a bit tragic to look at comics that die two or three updates in (though in some cases it’s an attempted reboot of an older comic that we see). Fortunately, I’ve seen enough of what works and what doesn’t with webcomics to give some basic advice to people interested in entering the trade.
Naturally enough, you should decide what format your comic will be. But whether you decide on a gag-a-day comic, an epic story comic, or some combination of the two, most of the advice still holds merit.
First, there’s Storyboarding. It may seem odd that adding a step of complexity to the comic-creation process can actually make it easier to create a comic, but it’s actually true. One thing I’ve noticed with a number of comics (especially full-page comics) is that the artist struggles with character positioning, blocking, and the like. A preliminary rough sketch can help hammer out the specifics before doing the majority of the artwork.
This is done at Disney and in anime studios to help map out where the story is going before the actual animation work begins. It’s also used by the Brudlos brothers at Alpha-Shade to map out the comic ahead of time. It works in reducing the overall time spent working on the comic, and is definitely worth using.
Second, there’s the use of buffers. Indeed, I cannot empathize this enough: Create. A. Buffer. Do this before you advertise the comic. Heck, do this before you even create the website to host the comic. You want to have at least 12 weeks of updates done. If you’re planning on a weekly update, that’s 12 comics. If you’re going to update twice a week, you want 24 comics. If you’re going for 3x a week, then you want 36. I think you can do the math from there.
Once you have created the buffer, pretend it doesn’t exist. Buffers should only be used if you are sick, if you have an important project you need to concentrate all your efforts on. It can be used for vacations and the like as well. Mostly it is useful in keeping a regular update schedule, and you should do everything in your power to keep that 12 week buffer up and running (which means making up for lost comics after that project or vacation is done with).
Third, don’t miss updates. You want to get into the pattern of updating regularly. You want to make it an obligation. The only thing that should keep you from updating is a server outage, and even then you should fight tooth and nail to try and get that update posted. Once you miss one update, it becomes easier and easier to miss additional ones. Naturally enough, buffers can help keep you from missing updates. However, things can happen to cause buffers to vanish.
There’s a reason for this. Your audience will watch your first six months of updates with very sharp eyes. If you miss updates from the start, your audience isn’t going to grow fast. The expectation is that you will fail, since you’ve been unable to update consistently from the very start. If you update consistently from the very start, then you will find your comic audience will grow faster. This is no guarantee of gaining a huge audience or of being a success, but it is this initial growth period that is so vital for a comic. Regular updates are the food, water, and sunlight your comic needs to grow strong enough to survive any future mishaps.
Fourth, read a number of comics in the genre you want to draw/write in. The best writers are those who read a lot (in addition to writing a lot). The best artists are those who view a lot of art (as well as drawing a lot). Both of these take a lot of time. This is in fact why those artists who update daily end up having their artwork improve so dramatically. The constant update schedule gives them continual practice to build upon.
Fifth: Trust your characters. They know what they’re doing. Lucky and good storytellers will find at some point their characters will decide they don’t want to do what you decided they’d do… and suddenly pull something unexpected. It may be minor. It may be quite significant. The important thing is this: these characters are aspects of your subconscious mind, which is seeing patterns and the like… and realizing what works and what doesn’t.
Mind you, this is why mapping out a story ahead of time is often a good idea. By pre-writing a story, you can get a better handle on these various plot twists and then return to previous sections and strengthen plot points that help flesh out those later segments so that they’re not just a plot twist… but one that will have your readers look back and say “so that is why such-and-such did that…” (and there’s no better feeling than to have fans praising an inspired and planned plot twist).
Naturally enough, there are plenty of other things you can do to help keep your comic growing. But these five elements can ensure your comic continue until its planned end. The first three will ensure the comic doesn’t fizzle out a half-dozen updates in, leaving your readers cursing your inability to continue what looked to be an inspired story idea. And if you find you can’t keep up the update schedule… and are unable to even create the buffer to begin with… then isn’t it better to learn before you go through the hard work of setting up a webcomic account?