10 things your webcomic could be doing better

When we are starting up, and hell even when we are veteran webcomic creators, we make mistakes, take short cuts and overlook things. This can lead to sub-par performance in some aspect of our webcomic, hindering our efforts to build audience, community, and ultimately readership. There are definitely some things that turn webcomic readers off, and just fixing up a few things that could be really deterring readers from getting into your comic could make a big difference in converting visitors to dedicated fans.

Here is a list of 10 things to consider that could be holding your webcomic back from glory and what you can do to fix it.

10. Poor website Design

Problem: If readers can’t find your comic from the front page, requires many clicks, have to deal with strange comic navigation  or the site is horribly garish and cluttered with ads and buttons, they might well just close the site and head for the hills, not even giving your hard work a fair evaluation.

Solution: KISS (keep it simple stupid) is a good rule of thumb. You don’t have to be a graphic designer (it helps though) to do a nice simple, clean layout. Many are available out there for you to pick from for free from various places if you are maintaining your own site. Use colors that compliment each other, and try to avoid colors that are obnoxious and overly bright.

To many ads actually devalues the ad space of your page, so its really best to consider just one or two ads on the site. Choose a size that won’t interfere with the comic and displays away from the navigation. Leaderboard and tower ads are among the most popular, although banner ads can also be still very nicely handled. If you are going to support buttons or smaller ads, limit the ad fields to a reasonable number, such as 4 and place them somewhere that doesn’t interfere with your comic. If you aren’t getting the revenue you want from your ads, consider a different ad service, or another form of income all together.

Most readers expect to find the latest page on the main homepage. If your comic doesn’t reside there, make sure there is a clear and easy link to get to the latest update. Be careful about this, some update services won’t be able to check if your comic is not on the main page. If you have a graphic novel, make sure you put a visible link to the beginning of your archive for new readers.

Make the comics the feature, so make sure they are big enough on the page to be clearly read. That’s what people want, give them what they came for. Try to keep the site as clean and tidy as possible. It will also load faster if there is less clutter, which is good! New readers have short attention spans.

Even if your website isn’t that bad per se, consider sprucing it up. A little revamping and refreshing after a year or more can be good and attract the attention of new readers.

9. Spelling and grammar errors

Problem: One thing that can really detract from your comic is a poor command of the English language. It doesn’t matter how many hours you spent slaving over the artwork if every second word is misspelled. It destroys the immersion into the world of the comic and suddenly makes things very hard to read. Painful even, for some people. It also shows a lack of attention to detail and care on the part of the artist.

Solution: Use a spell checker EVERY TIME. That will help catch some of the glaring errors, however, it won’t help for grammar or problems like misuse of homonyms (words that sound the same and are spelled differently), or usage issues, such as from someone for whom English is not their first language. The solution there is to find yourself a good editor/proofreader buddy. Make sure you do your comic enough in advance to send it to your friend (or two friends). If you do happen to make a mistake (hey, it happens) try to correct it quickly and promptly so it doesn’t languish in your archives.

8. Illegible type

Problem: If you don’t use a good clear font for dialogue, or  hand letter your comic and you have never taken a course on typography in your life, you are probably turning your readers off simply because they cannot read your comic. The last thing you want is for your readers to be trying to decipher your chicken scrawl, or read terribly script-like curly fonts.

Solution: Yes, special fonts can be used for titles, or sound effects, but your dialogue should always be set in a very clear sans, at usually a minimum of 10 pt for the screen to be clearly readable. Sites like Blambot.com provide free, professional comic fonts for you to use. Use them. Your readers will thank you.

7. Too many filler pages

Problem: Okay so you are just starting out and trying to get some content up to attract readers, and so you post a title page, and then a chapter title, and then a few random character sketches, etc, etc, before  you actually start posting comic pages.

While this might be okay while you are getting set up, if a reader has to click through more than one chapter page at the front of your archive, especially if the art is very bad at that point, they are probably going to get the heck out. Your first few pages of your archive is critical! Keep them limited to getting people into the comic as soon as possible!

Solution: Remove these extra pages from the front of the archive. Leave no more than one chapter heading page, and clear out any extra teaser art, sketches or filler after its served its purpose. If you have a gallery page, put it there or perhaps in an extras section. This also goes for vacation/con/hiatus filler as well. Once you are back, move that stuff to gallery or extra section, get it out of the archive.

6. Too much text per page.

Problem: Sometimes, particularly at lower skill levels, or if you tend towards being more a writer than an artist, you can be tempted to start writing a story instead of drawing a comic. Comics are a visual medium, you are supposed to SHOW the audience, not TELL them. And when there is too many words, not only does it eat up the space for artwork, but people get bored with it. Comic writing is an art, that requires you to be very punchy and relevant and has very litter tolerance for excessive words.

Solution: Edit. Edit. EDIT. There’s really no way to get around this, at least for dialogue. You might have to work pretty hard to find shorter ways to convey what you need to. In your script, instead of having characters describe situations, unless its a one time exposition, write it more as visual instructions to the artist or for yourself if you are handling the drawing chores. Always ask yourself, “can I show this rather than say it?”. Which leads us to the next point…

5. Neglected Backgrounds

Problem: Backgrounds are fiddly and time consuming, and lets face it, most of us don’t particularly like drawing them. However, they are absolutely vital for your comic. If a reader can’t get a sense of the space and world the story is occurring in, or even the environment for a joke, its going to fall flat. The background also serves as a means to communicate more to the reader about the world without words. It gives them a sense of space, information about the world, and context for the story. Ideally, the backgrounds almost have to be a sort of character within themselves.

Solution: Even if you have simple backgrounds, you need to have them. In certain circumstances you need them more than others, like establishing shots they are a must. In action scenes or situation scenes where environment plays a large part, expect to spend extra time on your backgrounds. If you find yourself struggling, just remember, the more you do them, the better you will get! You can also use programs such as google sketchup, to help you with getting perspective and reference for your backgrounds.

4. Bad art/bad story

Problem: Okay, so you aren’t an artist, or maybe you are, but you aren’t very good yet, but in any case you are drawing this webcomic, and its not getting the sort of attention you wanted. You’ve advertised, and promoted, but people just aren’t staying around. Sometimes you have to be real with yourself. Maybe your art isn’t very good, or your story really isn’t well written. It’s usually obvious to everyone save the most self-delusional perhaps, but when people are complaining about the art or story being bad, its probably at least somewhat true. Comparing yourself to similar comics can really shed some light on this. Yes, it can be a little soul crushing, but honestly, you have to realize you have a problem to fix it.

Solution: The solution here is a little more difficult. If you can, working with someone who compliments your strengths with theirs is an option. So if you are primarily a writer and the story is okay, but the art is really lacking, you can try to find an artist to help you out. If you are an artist who can’t write, you can team up with a writer who can help you realize your vision. Partnerships carry their own special challenges though, and you may find that it isn’t working out for you. In that case, its up to you to take the time to bring your skills, be they art or writing up to par.

Take some time off, and take some classes, or educate yourself on the skills of choice outside the webcomic. Learn from your peers, take life drawing or writing classes/workshops/online tutorials and then come back and apply them. Unfortunately this does take a while, and you can still do your webcomic while you learn, but you need to push yourself to polish these skills. Network with other creators, accept help from those you trust and respect, join groups with like challenges and goals to help keep you on the track to improvement. If people see a steady improvement, sometimes they are more willing to give you a shot.

3. Too much spice

Problem: Some comics rely very heavily on certain tropes or ‘spicy’ content (swearing, fan service T&A, etc) to try to pull along a floundering story. While a little of these can be used effectively, you put in too much spice, and it spoils the dish.

Solution: If you find yourself suddenly writing in a lot more ‘risque’ or ‘edgy’ content to your comic because the ‘readers expect it’, stop. If you actually want your comic to be coherent and you don’t want to be known through out the rest of your comic as the “person who does that porn comic” or something, you are going to want to think very hard about just how vulgar you want to be and how  far down the fan service path you want to tread.  Putting in too much adult language/violence/nudity/adult situations can severely limit the services you use for advertisement and the markets you can reach. Spice is a lot like punctuation. It needs to be used sparingly and to make a point.

If you rely on spice for your readership, that’s all they are going to come for. If you don’t want to be severely embarrassed when a child at a con comes and picks up your comic book, and you have to take it away because it’s full of F-bombs, consider this carefully. Do you REALLY need that much spice?

2. Anime Style: You’re doing it wrong.

Problem: Anime is incredibly popular. And while this is good in the sense its brought a lot of people into comics who wouldn’t otherwise be into comics. As a result there is a lot of people who try to emulate their favorite anime/manga, and quite frankly they are doing it not only badly, but wrong.  This glut of bad mangaka-wannabes flooding sites with rehashed stories and even worse artwork has unfortunately created a very bad taste in a lot of reader’s mouths. The same rehashed story lines,  the same badly imitated art, and wholly uninspired character designs… everything looks bad and it gives western OEL (Original English language manga), a very bad name.

Solution: While anime might have inspired you, and might enchant you, and you might really enjoy it, you have to make a choice. Either really apply yourself to master the art, and the comic language of the asian market (as opposed to trying to poorly mix it with north american comic language), or move away and broaden yourself from manga/anime style. Sure, it was a great starting point, but you need to grow as an artist.

Look for other inspiration in the art work aside from anime and start to build your own individual and unique style. Try to find new, original ways to apply your ideas, talk to peers, other creators, and work on the fundamentals of writing and drawing to build a strong foundation for your skills as an artist. Be inspired by your peers, and work hard to do something no one has seen before rather than just copying what’s already been done.

1. Irregular updates

Problem: You’re a busy person, your family is annoying, your dog is sick, you’re tired, you’ve got school work/homework/ work work to do, etc, etc. There are any number of excuses, but the reality is your comic just doesn’t make it online with any regularity. This is a big problem as readers are creatures of habit. While many webcomic readers are surprisingly persistent despite artists disappointing them again and again, people cannot abide by continual disappointment for long. Its just a reality of human nature. You can’t keep promising and not delivering or people will stop listening to you, believing you, and stop reading your comic, or at least wait very long times before coming to visit.

Solution: There are a lot of ways to solve this, however, most of them involve a certain degree of planning ahead of time and scheduling yourself and your time appropriately. If you want to be sure you never miss updates, make sure all your comic pages are done before you ever bother to post anything online. If you are more impatient, try to build up a substantial buffer of at least 2-3 months worth of comic before you launch, even if you don’t complete the whole thing. If you are working week to week, make sure you pick a schedule you can viably keep and manage your time appropriately. If your situation changes, communicate that to the readers, and rework your schedule to accommodate it. Should you lose too much time, scale back your update days, or take a break, but give readers a time frame and STICK TO IT. if you are going to promise them something, deliver on it. Communicate, and keep your promises. Take more time than you need and build a buffer if you can. Take scheduled breaks between chapters, manage your time and don’t let yourself fall into the procrastination trap.

 

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