Making Webcomics – Getting Started
My first post on webcomics, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Post about this stuff. Now I can. Woot!
Anyway, I’ve been making webcomics for years, I started way back in the beginning before webcomics were a big deal. Back when the idea was still novel, and having your own website was all the rage. Today, it has evolved into a highly competitive content industry where people can actually making a LIVING doing it. But how do you get started? This is my first in a series of posts about making webcomics. 🙂
Contrary to popular belief, making a webcomic really isn’t hard. The essence of the thing is make some sequential art and post it on the internet. With services like DrunkDuck and SmackJeeves, its dead fucking easy. You don’t even need to know HTML or anything. Sign up for a service, click upload, upload comic jpg, and voila, instant webcomic.
However, making a GOOD webcomic that’s going to stand out in today’s increasingly crowded webcomic landscape is a completely different question. And with the wealth of increasingly awesome comics out there, unlike just a scant five years ago, you really have to kick up your game and have a plan if you want to get noticed.
As a potentially aspiring webcomic creator, you may be wondering, if you want to put your best foot forward, how the heck do you get started?
Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance
In the case of webcomics, and indeed anything you intend to go anywhere with, its best to have a plan. If you are going to start a business, you start with a Business Plan. If you were going to make a movie, you’d start with a script at the very least. When you plan a trip, you get out a road map. Making a comic is no different. You should have a plan. At the very least, a script or summary with a direction you want to go.
If you are just sort of futzing around with the idea, you may be interested in making money at this point, but just publishing for exposure or for the love of sharing your stories/art. This is a different goal than making a marketable webcomic you can make a living off of. Both require different sorts of planning. One is less involved than the other, but both so require some thought. Lets address the more hobbiest aspect of the craft, and we’ll worry about the heavy stuff where money is involved a little later. After all, if you can’t handle webcomics at a hobby level, you probably won’t make it at the money level.
At this point, when you’ve decided to make a webcomic, you need to consider a few more basic parameters:
Format – Is this going to be a strip type comic or a serial manga? Both have their own challenges associated with writing and production.
Medium – Digital or traditional? Color or black and white? These factors will affect how you make your comic and how you get it on the internet.
Frequency – how often can you produce a completed page? This becomes important when you decide how often you can update.
Place – Do you want to put it on a domain you already own as a subdomain? Do you want it to have its own domain and hosting? or do you want to be a part of a free site? or a free site with your own scripts? This will affect how people find you, and how you can advertise your site and what sorts of promotional tools you can use and access. Your technical knowledge of the internet, php, html, rss, and other interesting techie acronyms will be tested here. Can you even design a website?
How long? – How long do you want to be doing this? Is it a one shot deal? A single story with 30? 50? 200 pages? Is it an ongoing strip with no real beginning or end? Is it a finite story with multiple books? Is a series of short stories? Deciding how long or short your story is gives you the ability figure out timelines. If this is your first webcomic, I tend to suggest a shorter format before working on your opus, as it seems 98% of long form webcomics are never finished. I’d say less than 50% live past 50 pages.
Artist or Writer? – Usually, most people who do webcomics are one or the other. Not to say that if you are an artist you can’t become a writer or vice versa, but knowing your strengths lets you also address your weaknesses. If you can’t draw, but write well, you will probably have no trouble coming up with a story, although you may run into trouble turning it into a comic script, as you really have to cut down your words. The other problem you will probably have is actually creating visuals. You are going to have to learn to draw, hire an artist, use a program, or create some kind of crutch to get by. Artists learning to write can produce the visuals, but their stories are often not that well thought out, crude, and not always well executed. Since a lot of the draw of a comic hinges on the story, the artist would benefit taking the time to properly develop their story and script (and have it proofread & revised a few times by actual writers) before setting to creating visuals.
Recruit help – Even the most seasoned, awesome, amazing webcomic creators need a little help from their friends from time to time. Most become involved with the webcomic communities online in some way or another. Be it advice on plot, to help with webdesign, to artistic tips and tricks in photoshop, there’s lots of help to be had to anyone who asks. Places like the drunkduck forums are a good place to start if you are new. I’ll update this area with more resources as I track them down. But the long and short is, if you need help, don’t be afraid to use google and ask. Most creators are happy to share advice or point you to people who can help.
Equipment – You will need some actual STUFF to make comics. If you are working traditionally, you’ll at least need access to a scanner to get things into the computer. Many creators start with a pen and paper, and then scan it in and add text and such later. I’ll cover artistic process in detail in the next article. Some artists prefer an entirely digital route using an input device such as a Wacom tablet. Many use programs to aid this, including some such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter, and MangaStudio. Others use free programs such as GIMP or Pixia. I’ll work on providing a more complete list in another article.
Once you’ve made the above decisions, acquired equipment and connections, and you’ve got yourself a script in hand, its time to actually start making comics. Unfortunately, this takes time and work. I highly suggest that you make a buffer of comics before you consider putting them online. I use a guideline of 30 comics before debut, but you could probably start with 10, but I wouldn’t launch a comic site with anything less. Doing 30 comics gives you a good chance to get to know your own work speed, and to do refinements. Once its up, its up, and people see it. If you make a spelling mistake or need to change it, its easier to do it BEFORE you’ve launched to the world. (although the nice thing about the web is you CAN change it, as opposed to dead tree format, where you can’t.)
( I will update and flesh some areas out more as I get more articles written. 🙂 )
hi shadowmyst, as a frequent reader of ur webcomics: shifters (my number one fav) and Brymstone (second fav), i decided to make a webcomic of my own. U really inspired me to do something this creative. This tutorial and ur other one actually helps big time. Thank u very much.
How I got started:
I spotted Humon’s amazing comics on deviantArt. I noticed she did not have a website. I pitched her an offer. I build her a website: http://humoncomics.com/
Sometimes just uploading your comic to a gallery is enough to get people interested in you 🙂
Great post! Covering what one needs.
I’m heading in that direction, but I’m just starting to explore, and wondered if you could help out with one answer… I’m assuming you know about wordpress and comixpress… otherwise, my apologies.
I’m hosting a webcomic jam on my wordpress hosted blog, and having a hard time with the navigation (up to know I’ve used it to blog about my art).
Do you know if there’s an alternative that would bring the navigation benefits of something like comixpress to a blog hosted on wordpress.com? I don’t want to have to start paying up a host just yet, especially if I’m just experiementing. I know there’s services like drunk duck, and the like, but I’d like to keep the personal control over navigation, etc.
I really appreciate your time reading this, and would be really happy if you could answer.
Thanks so much for sharing this information.. your post is great, and inspiring (believe me… I see myself heading that way).
Wondering if you know the answer to this.
By the way, I appreciate all the great
Sadly I’m not overtly familiar with wordpress.com blogs, but from what I’ve been able to discover is that really, its much like blogger or any free site in that they don’t permit much customization or special access that things like Comicpress need. Ultimately ComicPress is simply a custom theme, but it has special permission folders for setting up the various navigation schemes for comics. WordPress on its own is just not really great for setting up navigation for comics. You could manually set up navigational links if you have them before hand, I have seen people (particularly in the older days..) Just set up a text link above and below the comic saying “First | Previous | Today | Next” and linking them manually to the post in question. Its time consuming and fiddly, and not at all dynamic, but it does work. But as far as an automated solution, I don’t think they’ve got anything really for comics there, as that’s not really the purpose of wordpress at its purest form.
I’m not sure what you mean about control over navigation not being available at a service like drunkduck. They basically just run the scripts, look and feel can be dictated by a template you choose or coded yourself if you want/have the skill. You can decide how you want it to look and placed (icons? text? Its totally up to you). They do not censor or own your content in anyway. If you mean in terms being able to set up certain styles or different/multiple storylines, you’re going to probably have to suck it up and get a 10$ a year hosting account from godaddy.com or some such and do a proper wordpress/comicpress install as there really isn’t anything but comicpress that has that kind of functionality.
Its a trade off between free and templated (less flexibility/less choice) and pay and freedom (more flexibility/more choice).
I have a mirror on drunkdunk for both my comics as well as wordpress/comicpress setups for them both, and I haven’t found it to be detrimental in anyway to them. It may be worth trying out. You can always delete your account if you hate the service. Since its free, its easy to do that sort of thing. Although ultimately all people who are getting into webcomics, and even artists, find it beneficial to have their own domain and hosting. Free services simply do not provide the control that most of us crave.