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Starting a Webcomic

starting a webcomicHow to Start in Webcomics
A scientific essay by Rebecca Burg

Hello, dear artist!  Are you interested in webcomics?  By George, you have come to the right essay!  This written material goes through a sort of  "checklist" of things you should consider before diving off the deep end!

So, you got this cool story, you like drawing stuff, and you got all the time in the world (not really, but let's pretend you do)!  What better way to spend your time than making silly comics for the internet?  Now, now, dear artist, let's not get too hasty with this!  Here's the first thing you should think about before even lifting a pencil.

NUMBER ONE: DO I REALLY WANT TO DO THIS?

You think, "Boy, what a dumb question!  Of course I do, or I wouldn't be reading this!  Stop being dumb!"  Well, I'll be as dumb as I please, but listen here: webcomics take a lot of work.  Like, an abnormal amount of work.  I spend 10 hours a week doing A Loonatic's Tale, and that's just the art alone.  You may not take as long, or you may take even longer, depending on the project.  Webcomics are time-consuming.  Just think: you probably can't even get a profit off this until years later!  This is time and effort you won't be getting paid for.

Why do this?  Think about webcomics as you would think about puppies.  They're fun and relaxing (well, most of the time) to have around and brings you joy in life.  But you got to deal with the poop, feeding it, and the fact the puppy probably doesn't pickpocket well.

Really, the reason you should be getting into webcomics is because you really enjoy the act of making it.  Don't be making it if you're looking for the attention and money that some people rack in.  You are probably not going to make money on this starting out.  Sure, years later when you have books and the like, you can totally sell those at conventions.  But books take a lot of time to make, and that's not even including the bonus material you'd want to have in it (if you're doing webcomics, spend a lot of time on bonus content).  But for right now, you aren't going to get any money and you aren't going to have many fans (save for maybe your friends).

A Loonatic's Tale has currently been in production since 2007, so we're approaching five years now come January 2012.  There were snags throughout that time, stuff to deal with, and I'll tell you that I can't make a living off it in its current state.  Yes, we always at least break even at conventions, but that's a lot of profit considering we've only been to three so far.  I estimate that I have maybe fifty or so active fans on DeviantART.  Actually, on other sites, A Loonatic's Tale hasn't broke 100 in terms of fans (together, yes, but at each, no).  Crossbones has, and has netted me a lot of attention.  Crossbones is done, though.

Yeah, tough shit, right?  Well no, I do love doing the comics.  Real life has been crazy lately, what with me recently graduating, trying to find a job, getting an apartment, and everything is topsy-tervy.  What do I do to relax?  I write and doodle.  If I get mad or stressed, I find writing for the comic and doodling the characters very relaxing and gets my mind off issues.  I love not worrying about problems I can't fix and instead creating problems for fake people.  It's a great challenge to try to come up with something new for each character, even after I made them over eight years ago.

I adore art, and doodle compulsively.  I love making comics and find it relaxing when I sit down and do it (especially coloring).  Yeah, there are days I just flat out don't want anything to do with the comic.  Everyone has those days.  Most days, though, I enjoy my work.

This is a long part, but this is the most important question.  Do you have time to dedicate to this?  Do you really love the story you're making (you'll be thinking about it 24/7, trust me)?  Are you willing to take criticism and improve your craft?  This is the internet, people will say if they don't like something.  Are you doing this because you love your story so much you're willing to spend at least 10 hours a week just dealing with that?

If you answered, "I think so, YES, definitely, and I already do," then you're probably ready for step two.

NUMBER TWO: WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE I START POSTING THIS FOR THE INTERNET?

Here's a laundry list of tasks you should do before you even post the first page:

* Have your story's beginning and ending planned.

So, you have your story and you think you know what you want to do.  One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is plan out your ending.  You probably have a beginning in mind.  After all, you wouldn't be so excited to start if you didn't.  Here's the thing: beginnings are cool, but after that, what do you do?  A lot of webcomics suffer severely from meandering.  Someone gets started on their project, but suddenly has no ideas what they want to do after they're done with their initial "super rad" ideas.

Now, I'm not saying plan everything ever in your story.  The middle will fill itself out if you think about the ending.  Where is the ultimate goal of this story?  How has the characters changed by the end?  If you know this, it leads into doing the middle stuff.  Let's say I ultimately want a character to achieve flight.  That is the final goal in the comic: this dude is going to fly.  Well, how is he going to do that?  Plane?  Jetpack?  Flapping his arms like an idiot?  See, just knowing what you want the character to do by the end opens questions of how to get there and material for your story.

This way, you can lead the character along towards the ending, and not spend several chapters doing nothing to advance themselves or the ultimate plot.  Each "chapter" should do something story-wise.  It can be character building, where we spend a day studying how a character acts.  It can be story building, where we advance the main plot.  Just don't spend a chapter where the character HAS A SUPER AWESOME RAD BATTLE WITH THE VILLAIN and by the end, nothing has changed.  Every big plot point needs a point.  What will this SUPER RAD battle do for the character?  Is he confronting an internal issue they need to deal with?  What do they learn from this experience?  Why is there a SUPER RAD battle in the first place?

Here's another thing people run into when first getting into webcomics: they really want to get to the exciting battle parts, but have to spend months on that oh-so-boring exposition and build-up.  Don't think in terms of, "Man, I'm never going to get to that super cool part at this rate!"  You will, don't worry about it.  You won't get there any sooner by not doing the comic.  But there are cool things that happen that aren't a super awesome fight.

You may have two characters just talking to one another.  Oh, BORRRINNGGG, talking scenes.  Well, think of it like this: you aren't getting the cheescake right away, but hot damn you're getting some mad rad pizza!  It's not cheesecake, but it's pretty good to eat.  What can you do to make the "boring" talking scenes fun?  Chances are, if you try to make it more fun with say, snappy dialog or expression through body language, your readers are going to think it's pretty fun, too!  If you think you're doing something boring and draw it being bored, your readers are going to think it's boring too.

* Write out everything about the environment and the characters.

Now, most people in webcomics love drawing characters.  They don't like doing the boring backgrounds.  I was like that too.  Here's the trick: think of the background as another character.  Don't think of it as, "Eh, they're at the park."  Well, is it a nice-looking park?  Is it seedy and filled with drug dealers?  The environment speaks a lot and should be thought of as a character itself.  Maybe the character is talking to another about how great the area is, when there's a murder going on in the background.  See?  Funny, and speaks about the location.

With this, you should know everything about your character.  Their history, their personality, their habits, and so on.  Remember, once something's in the story, you should consider it canon.  If you say something to cover up the fact you didn't explain it, you can't go back and do it again.  I've done this before.  Trust me, it's a crappy thing to have to do.  You don't advance the story and you're redoing everything you already did (and should've planned better to start with).  Now, you will get cool ideas later on to add to characters.  That's fine, but it has to fit in and not leave questionable gaps.  If you got a milkman character, and you get this rad idea that they also are a stunt-car driver, what happens then when earlier, the milkman had no license?  That's weird.  You'd think the guy would have a license.  For all you know, I've changed a character's backstory multiple times.  If I do, I have to consider if it still fits in-canon with the pages I already have.

* Iron out your art

Characters all need designs: front, back, undressed, dressed, normal clothes, night clothes, and so on.  You need to figure out how tall everyone is compared to one another.  You need to figure out perspective.  You need to research about the environment you need to draw.  You need to research about how the characters you have would dress appropriately for their time period (even if you're making up time periods).  You need to learn anatomy and foreshortening.

OH MY GOD, I'LL NEVER GET STARTED!  Don't sweat, a lot of this comes from actually doing the comics.  But you should at least know what the characters and environments are going to look like.  We all start somewhere, and we always strive to improve.  Here's my tip: get the simple things ready, but don't fret over not being Da Vinci.  Improvement in art comes from actually doing art, so you'll start off rough one way or another.  Just remember, people will say what you're doing wrong.  Don't cry and take it personal.  Think of it like...

SCIENCE.

You're doing an experiment, and the results don't match the hypothesis.  No big deal, make a new hypothesis.  You're learning, man!  Knowledge is power!  You are not the best artist ever, despite what your friends say.  You will always and forever more have something wrong with your art.  That's not a big deal, man.  We're human.  It's just when you don't listen to criticism where it becomes a problem.  When you don't change the hypothesis.  If you're an artist, you need to learn how to learn.  Remember, people will compliment you too, so don't feel so bad.

NUMBER THREE: WRITE A SCRIPT FOR YOUR FIRST STORY SECTION

Oh boy, you have your idea and what they're going to do in this intro!

... Is it written down?

No?  No, it's just all in your head?

Um...

Well, here, write it down.

Why?  Sometimes you'll write something that seems cool, but you find runs into an issue later in the story.  Sometimes you skim over the dialog without writing it, and thinking critically what and how a character says things.  You need to have a sense of pacing for the story.  Sometimes people go way too fast or way too slow.  They even do combinations!  If you write it out and have someone who is not your bestest friend in the world read it, they can tell you if they were bored or confused at certain points.

Remember, ask someone who is willing to critique you.  This may not be the website to be doing this.  DeviantART is a fun place for artists, but it's also a lot of ass-patting.  You may need to find another place to get feedback when you're trying to iron out things.  Remember, figuring out something that's a plot hole or dull as a rock now will save you hours of work later.

Also, make sure your characters are ironed out too.  Take online Mary Sue tests.  Take online Mary Sue tests.  If your character's only flaw is "clumsy," you go back to step two.  People hate someone who's always right and always wins.  Why?  Because it's boring and people can't relate.  These characters are not your children.  They are actors.  Characters need the ability to make a bad choice and learn from it.  Don't be a proud parent.  Be the director.

NUMBER FOUR: YOUR COMIC FORMAT

First off, draw thumbnails before you begin.  Know exactly what happens on the page before you touch it.  Where are the dialog blocks?  What's going on in each panel?  Where are we?  Who's there?

Are you drawing this with pencil or on the computer?  Here are some things to keep in mind when doing your webcomic: do you intend to sell books?  If yes (which you probably are answering), REMEMBER, EITHER SET YOUR SCANNER OR PHOTOSHOP FILE TO 300 DPI.  MAKE SURE THE PAPER IS 8.5x11" OR BIGGER INCH WISE (DON'T MEASURE BY PIXEL).  DO THIS.  MAKE SURE YOU DO THIS.  DON'T NOT DO THIS.  DO THIS.  You CANNOT PROPERLY PRINT BOOKS if you don't have a high enough dpi.  What does this "dpi" mean, anyways?

Dpi refers to "dots per inch."  How many dots are in every inch.  In other words, how detailed your pretty picture will be.  If you have it set for web (as low as 72 dpi), it's perfectly fine to view on the web, but it's way too small to print.  PRINT IS BIGGER THAN WEB.  Remember, you can always scale down, but you can't scale up.  If your image is too small, it's just too small.  There isn't really anything you can do to fix this.

So, when you scan/draw with your tablet, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE PROPER SETTINGS.  300 DPI, BIGGER THAN 8.5x11 INCHES.  It will save you so much time if you listen to me right now, and ask if you don't understand.

I also highly recommend working bigger than 8.5x11".  It's a lot easier to draw and it looks a lot better (since you have extra space to draw).  I personally work at 11x17".  If you got a tiny scanner, remember you can just scan twice and put it together in Photoshop.  Want to know how to do this stuff?  Ask me if you want further information.  I will answer and do I screenshot tutorial if you want to know something.

So, you have your giant file open on your computer!  SAVE IT AT THE BIG SIZE.  Make a new file and save it at the small size for web.  That way, you got the nice big copy to print out, and the little copy to plaster onto the internet.

NUMBER FIVE: SO I DID THE FIRST PAGE.  NOW WHAT?

Keep doing it.  Really, you don't have to post five times a week to keep a comic going.  Once a week will work fine.  Just make sure you update.  People don't really care if you don't update more than once a week.  They do care if you have a habit of missing updates.  Remember, real life happens, so sometimes you just can't update.  But also remember that real life doesn't usually butt in every week.

Have a procrastination problem?  I'd say make a schedule and plan on exactly what days you're drawing/inking/coloring.  Are you a really bad procrastinator?  Find a friend who will badger the hell out of you if you don't get the work done.  Give them explicit permission to bother you if you really want to get into this.  Do it with multiple friends, in case the first one procrastinates telling you not to procrastinate.  Sometimes people just need to know that people care about the story, so badgering them into it is a nice way to get someone's ass in gear.

Also, consider where you'll be hosting your comic.  I personally recommend posting it anywhere and everywhere you can.  DeviantART, SmackJeeves, ComicFury, DrunkDuck, wherever.  Don't have your heart set on just one place (unless they're paying you to do it at their place).  The more the merrier.

Always remember: this is going to take time out of your day.  If you want to get started on your comic, don't burn through it in a few days.  Take the extra few weeks to prepare and set-up.

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