Today’s Art (19th September 2017)

Well, today’s digitally-edited “1980s horror novel cover”-style painting ended up being slightly more minimalist than I expected. This was mostly because I was feeling slightly uninspired and, after failing to make another painting, ended up making this one fairly quickly. I’m still not quite sure why the magazine is in French though – it seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Late Reading” By C. A. Brown

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Two Very Basic Tips For Dealing With Webcomic Exhaustion

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Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy with this year’s Halloween comic. But, I noticed something rather worrying whilst making pages seven and eight of it. I was starting to get a mild case of what I call “webcomic exhaustion”. The art seemed less fun to make than it had been, the project felt endless (despite only having a few pages to go) and I felt myself running low on enthusiasm.

This isn’t as bad as feeling burnt out (eg: the “I need to take a year off from making comics!” kind of feeling), but it can lead to that if you aren’t careful. So, what should you do when you start feeling webcomic exhaustion? Or, even better, before you start feeling webcomic exhaustion?

1) Plan ahead: Although this might drain some of the “spontaneity” out of making webcomics, always be sure to plan ahead –especially if you’re making a narrative comic! Having a plan for the whole comic and/or for the next 5-20 updates before you start means that any feelings of webcomic exhaustion won’t have too much of an effect on the quality of the writing in your comic.

Plus, if you have some experience with making comics, then you can account for exhaustion when you are planning your comic. If your comic is slightly on the longer side (like my upcoming Halloween comic is, relatively speaking), then including more simple interior locations in the later parts of the story – to save drawing time – can be a good idea.

Likewise, making a comic plan in advance also means that you know how many pages are left – and have more of a chance of actually finishing the comic as a result (since it doesn’t seem like a potentially endless thing). As counter intuitive as it sounds, it’s often better to finish a comic (even if the art quality starts declining etc..) than it is to leave a comic unfinished. Not only does this give you a sense of accomplishment (which can help you get back into comics after taking a break), but it also means that the audience will get some resolution to the story too.

Plus, if you start to feel exhausted, you can just look at your plan and tell yourself “I’ve only got [however many] pages to go!“. For example, my current webcomic exhaustion isn’t too bad (compared to, say, the exhaustion I felt in 2013) for the simple reason that I only have about three and a half comic pages to go.

2) Breaks, experience and structure: After experiencing a whole year of webcomic burnout during 2014 (where I produced next to no comics), I tend to be a lot stricter with myself about comic length. What this usually means is that I’ll make “mini series” of 4-17 comic updates (well, it’s more like 6-12 updates these days). Then, I’ll switch to doing daily art practice for a few days to a few weeks before making another mini series.

These regular breaks can be a great way to stop webcomic exhaustion in it’s tracks, whilst the daily art practice helps to ensure that I don’t fall out of the “rhythm” of making things regularly (it also improves the art in my webcomics too!).

From experience, I’ve been able to learn more about my limits when it comes to making webcomics. For example, I knew that the Halloween comic was going to be a longer and more ambitious project than my usual comics are. So, I was actually able to prepare myself emotionally for the possibility of webcomic burnout. I was also able to limit it to twelve pages (including the cover) whilst planning it, because I knew that this was about the upper limit of what I could produce.

Unfortunately, the best way to deal with webcomic exhaustion is to learn your own limits… from experience. But, one less stressful way to learn this might be to start with shorter comics projects and then gradually increase the length until you start to feel like it’s turning into a chore. Once you’ve reached that point once, you’ll know to keep your comics below that length.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art ( 18th September 2017)

Well, this is the next digitally-edited painting in my “1980s Horror Novel Cover” art series. I was quite tired when I made this painting, so it probably ended up having more of a 1990s computer game kind of look to it (and, yes, I had to change the character design whilst sketching, since I realised that, in my sleep-deprived mind fog, I’d inadvertantly sketched Jill Valentine from “Resident Evil 3”).

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Crypt Of The Diabolical Devotees" By C. A. Brown

“Crypt Of The Diabolical Devotees” By C. A. Brown

Three Random Tips For Making Occasional Webcomics

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Ah, occasional webcomics. Although they might not have the same degree of regularity or prestige that “traditional” webcomics do, they can often be a good choice for a number of reasons.

The first is that they allow you to make other artistic projects when you aren’t focusing on webcomics. The second is that they allow you to spend more time planning your comics (so, writer’s block is less of an issue than with a “traditional” long-running regular webcomic). The third is that they tend to be more fun to make than long-running regular webcomics do.

Since I’m still busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing (you can check out last year’s one here, and find lots of other comics here), I thought that I’d give you a few random tips about making occasional webcomics:

1) Occasional webcomics are still webcomics!: Yes, traditional regularly-updated long-running webcomics require a lot more effort and endurance to create. But, occasional webcomics are still webcomics. They’re just as valid as regularly-updated webcomics are! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

If anyone looks down at your webcomic because it is only released occasionally, then show them “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree. This is one of the most intelligent, well-drawn and well-written webcomics on the internet. It is also an occasional webcomic. Although he updates it fairly infrequently, Rowntree uses the occasional format to full advantage.

Because he doesn’t have a regular production schedule, he doesn’t have to cut corners with the art. He makes comic updates that are literally tens or hundreds of panels long. He spends a lot longer planning the dialogue and refining the ideas behind each complex, novelistic webcomic update. Once you’ve read a few of the more recent updates to “Subnormality”, you’ll probably find it hard to argue that occasional webcomics “aren’t really webcomics”.

Or, if you want another example of a great occasional webcomic to show people, then show them some of the more recent updates to “Hark! A Vagrant!” By Kate Beaton. Although the art is a lot more minimalist than the art in “Subnormality”, these are quirky occasional comics that mostly focus on history and literature. Since Beaton doesn’t have to put out three updates a week every week, the comics tend to be a lot more well-researched and will often focus on all sorts of interesting parts of history.

2) Scheduling: In order to make an occasional webcomic series that really works for you, you need to find a schedule that works for you. Some people prefer to just make comics whenever they feel like making them. This gives the webcomic a sense of spontaneity and it ensures that only the best ideas make it into your comics (since, why would you make a comic if you didn’t have a good idea?). But, on the downside, the audience never knows when they can expect a new comic.

Personally, I’ve taken inspiration from television and usually release my own occasional comics in “mini series” of daily updates (typically 6-12 updates these days). This isn’t a very common release schedule, but it has the advantages of both a long-running webcomic and a “spontaneous” webcomic. Yes, it has a few of the disadvantages too (eg: updates can be rushed slightly, the art can sometimes be a bit simpler etc..) but these are less of an issue than in long-running webcomics.

In addition to this, the “mini series” format also allows you to switch between traditional “newspaper comic”-style comics and more narrative-based comics more easily – since each mini series is a small (and usually partially self-contained) thing that can either tell one story or can contain several stand-alone jokes.

Whilst the timing of when each mini series will appear is slightly random, the audience can expect daily updates for several days when a mini series does appear. So, this is a good approach to take if the idea of making webcomics literally every day or week seems too overwhelming, but if you are at your best when you include some element of regularity in your creative work.

It took me a bit of trial and error to discover this release schedule, and it might not work for you. So, be sure to experiment with different release schedules until you find one that works well for you.

3) Versatility: If you’re making an occasional webcomic, then you need to be able to include lots of different things in it. After all, since it’s something that you’ll only be making occasionally, you need to be able to bring your comic “up to date” with whatever inspires you at any given time.

Some comic creators do this by making every one of their occasional webcomic updates a totally new self-contained thing, with new characters and new settings. Whilst this allows the audience to jump into your comic a lot more easily, it means that you have to spend more time thinking of new characters etc.. every time you want to make a comic update. It also means that you have to rely more on things like your unique art style and writing style to make your webcomic seem unique and distinctive.

Personally, I have a central cast of four characters. But, apart from this, everything else about the comic can change. There are comic updates set in the real world. There are comic updates set in all manner of strange locations. There are comic updates about gaming, films, music, books etc.. There’s slapstick comedy. There’s cynical observational humour. There are comic updates with varying numbers of panels. There are longer storie and there are self-contained updates.

There are all sorts of different things in this one occasional series, but I’ve found that using a common cast of characters in all of these comics both saves planning time and also helps to give the series more of a sense of continuity. Yes, it’s slightly harder for new readers to get into, but it also means that it has some of the familiarity that a longer-running series might also have without sacrificing too much versatility in the process.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (17th September 2017)

Well, I’m still in the mood for making “1980s horror novel cover”-style art. Originally, this digitally-edited painting was going to have rain effects, but it didn’t really work out that well – so, I went back to an earlier version that didn’t have them and did the last part of the editing on that version instead. Still, I really like how it turned out 🙂

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Ghost Image" By C. A. Brown

“Ghost Image” By C. A. Brown

Making Comics Vs Writing Fiction – What Are The Differences?

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Well, although I’m busy making this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about some of the differences between making comics and writing fiction.

Although I come from a writing background (eg: I’ve studied creative writing etc..), most of the storytelling that I’ve done over the past few years has been in comic form. Even though I got back into writing short fiction last year and wrote an interactive novella the year before, I’ve probably had more webcomic-making experience than writing experience within the past couple of years. Still, I’d like to think that I know enough about both mediums to be able to compare them.

So, here are a few of the major differences:

1) Art vs written descriptions: Whilst this sounds like a really obvious difference, it’s worth looking at. This is mostly because art and written descriptions both have their fair share of strengths and weaknesses. Although they fulfil the same role (eg: letting the reader know what everything looks like), they can do this in radically different ways.

The main strength of art in comics is that it allows the audience to instantly see what is happening. In addition to this, it also allows you to give your comic a unique atmosphere by using an “unrealistic” art style. When people read books, they usually tend to imagine the settings and characters in a fairly “realistic” way – regardless of how unique the author’s narrative voice might be. But, with art, you have the freedom to make everything and everyone look a bit more stylised.

Likewise, being able to alternate between art and dialogue in a comic gives you a greater level of control over the pacing of your story. If you want a scene in your comic to be slightly slower-paced, then you can add lots of dialogue and/or intricate art. If you want a scene to be faster, you can cut back on the dialogue and background detail slightly, and focus the reader’s attention on the actions that are taking place.

The only downside to all of this stuff is that, unless you hire an artist, you’ll actually have to learn how to draw and/or paint. This is worth doing, but it can take quite a bit of practice to get even close to good at it. In addition to this, you need to be at least vaguely competent at visual storytelling (eg: hinting at a story through visual details) because art lacks one of the strengths that written descriptions have.

That strength is that written descriptions can contain a lot more depth than art does.

For example, if you see a painting of a city, then you can only see whatever is in the painting. If you read a good written description of a city, then you might learn some of the city’s history, you’ll be told what life in that city is like, you might meet a couple of people who live there and/or you’ll get to take a close look at a few parts of it. In other words, you’ll get a much deeper understanding of the city.

Another strength of written descriptions is that they allow a lot more room for audience interpretation. A painting looks like whatever the artist wants it to look like. A description “looks” like whatever the audience imagines it to look like. By giving the audience a bit more control, it means that they are more emotionally invested in the story that you are trying to tell. After all, even though they might be following your instructions, they’re still building it for themselves within their own imaginations.

2) Dialogue: Dialogue in comics and dialogue in prose fiction might seem similar on the surface, but they are two radically different things that require two radically different skills to write well.

Due to the limited space in each comic panel, comic dialogue often has to be a lot shorter and more “functional” than dialogue in fiction does. Whilst there are some notable exceptions to this rule (eg: a webcomic called “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree), most lines of dialogue in comics are often only about 1-3 sentences long.

You need to be able to do things like showing a character’s personality through phrasing and word choice (eg: the difference between “That was good!” and “Absolutely splendid!”) within a relatively small space. Likewise, you can sometimes use the dialogue for storytelling too (but beware of wordy descriptions standing in for things that should be shown via the artwork).

Comic dialogue is short, minimalist and functional. It has to be almost haiku-like in order to work well. After all, it’s only there to tell part of the story since you can also use the art for storytelling too, In many ways, it’s probably closer to writing the dialogue in a movie or a TV show than writing dialogue in prose fiction.

Prose fiction, on the other hand, gives you a lot more freedom with the dialogue. As long as it’s relevant to the plot in some way, your characters can have much longer and more naturalistic conversations. It’s easier to show a character’s personality through the dialogue and there’s a lot more freedom to use the dialogue to convey background information and story information. It’s easier and more intuitive to write than comic dialogue is.

On the other hand, unlike comics, prose fiction is read one word at a time. A comic panel might allow the reader to, say, read a line of dialogue and look at the art at the same time. With fiction, the reader can only read dialogue or descriptions at any one time. So, you have to pay a bit more attention to getting the mixture of dialogue and descriptions right.

3) Time and complexity: Comics are designed to be read quickly. A single webcomic update can be read in seconds, whereas a short story might take a few minutes to read. Since comics have less of a time cost, they can often be more attractive to audiences.

For example, last Christmas, I read a really cool 50-100 page graphic novel called “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Dust To Dust” by Philip K. Dick, Chris Roberson & Robert Adler. It was the second half of a longer story and I blazed through the whole thing in the space of about twenty minutes.

That Christmas, I also read a 243-page novel called “Brighton Belle” by Sara Sheridan. It took me about 4-6 hours, spread across several days, to read it. Even accounting for length differences, the comic was a much quicker read.

The irony is, of course, is that the time differences are reversed when you are actually making comics or writing fiction. A single webcomic page that shows a small part of a slightly simpler story might take you 1-2 hours to make if you’re inspired. A 500 word segment of a written story (that tells a slightly more complicated story) might only take you 20-30 minutes to write if you’re feeling inspired.

Likewise, because of all of the things that I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, prose fiction is more well-suited to telling more complex stories. Comics, on the other hand, are at their best when they are telling slightly more focused and streamlined stories.

Both mediums require at least a slightly different approach to storytelling and, like with writing dialogue, these two types of storytelling require surprisingly different skills. A story that works well in a novel might not work well in a comic and vice versa. They really are astonishingly different mediums, despite some similarities.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (16th September 2017)

Woo hoo! Unlike when I made yesterday’s painting, I actually had a good idea for a “1980s/90s horror novel cover”-style painting this time. Surprisingly, this painting ended up being set in the present day though – mostly because I wanted to include a reaction on the laptop screen.

Yes, this painting required slightly more digital editing than usual, and I’m still not sure whether this will turn into an art series or not, but I really like how this one turned out 🙂

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Skeleton Service" By C. A. Brown

“Skeleton Service” By C. A. Brown