Why Your Webcomic Should Have Rules (With Four Examples).

2016 Artwork Webcomic Rules Article Sketch

Well, I thought that I’d talk about making webcomics again, given that I’m posting a short webcomic series on here at the moment (stay tuned for another comic tonight). For today, I thought that I’d look at one thing that can really help to give your webcomic a bit more individuality and depth.

I am, of course, talking about rules.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “surely the whole point of webcomics is to break the rules and do your own thing?“. As comic formats go, webcomics are one of the most anarchic ones. You have more freedom when making a webcomic than you do with making any other type of comic. There’s no editor or publisher to appease and, depending on where you post your webcomic, there might not even be any censorship rules.

So, if there are little to no externally-imposed rules, then what do rules have to do with webcomics?

Following a set of rules that you’ve come up with can be a very easy way to give your comic a distinctive “atmosphere”, since it affects the kind of humour that you can use and it also influences the worldview that your comic portrays too.

Not only that, following a set of self-imposed rules can be a good way to set up running jokes, and to give yourself a bit of a challenge too. Plus, when a rule has become well-established, you can shock and surprise your audience by breaking it every once in a while.

The best rules tend to evolve organically, since they’re often the sort of things that seem “logical” in the context of your comic. Likewise, many rules can also evolve for simple practical reasons. But, if your comic feels like it’s getting stale, then one way to liven it up again is to set yourself a series of interesting rules.

To show you how rules can influence a webcomic, I’ll show you a few examples of rules that I’ve applied to my long-running “Damania” webcomic series (you can see more of it here, here and here) and explain what effect they have had on the comic.

1) Ghosts don’t exist, but zombies do:
Although I didn’t really follow this rule in some of the earlier comics (on DeviantART), it turns up in at least a couple of the more recent ones:

"Damania Redux - Be Prepared" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Redux – Be Prepared” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Resurgence - Debunked (Censored Version)" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – Debunked (Censored Version)” By C. A. Brown

What this rule means is that if I include any horror-based humour in my comics then, exlcuding the occasional djinn, skeleton and/or mummy, it’s probably going to be zombie-related. This affects the kind of jokes that I can tell.

Why? Because both ghosts and zombies are different interpretations of the concept that a person can exist beyond death.

Because of the macabre and emotionless way that death is treated in zombie movies/comics/games etc.. zombie-based things are much more well-suited for dark humour, cynical humour etc.. than ghost-based things are. So, making the decision to include zombies instead of ghosts has had a subtle- but noticeable – effect on my comic.

2) Everything looks like an old movie when Harvey is alone: A long-running rule in my “Damania” comic series is that when Harvey is the only person in a panel, everything instantly looks like something from an old movie.

Since he’s an trenchcoat-wearing detective, it fits in really well with his character – as well as being a quick visual way to establish his character to new readers. It also allows me to make comic updates slightly more quickly too.

Although I’ve accidentally broken this rule at least once or twice (like in this comic about the EU Referendum last month), I’ve intentionally broken it in at least one of my comics to make a joke that rewards long-term readers of the comic, who have spotted this rule in other comics (it also includes references to one of the earlier comics in the mini series too).

"Damania Resurgence - A Calculated Risk" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – A Calculated Risk” By C. A. Brown

3) Character rotation: Generally, I try to make sure that all four of the main characters in my webcomic appear in roughly the same number of comics in each mini series.

I originally set up this rule in order to avoid a problem that I’ve sometimes seen in long-running webcomics, where a comic series will re-introduce an old character with relatively little explanation.

Although this is really cool thing for long-term readers, it can often be confusing and off-putting to new readers. So, when I made my own webcomic, I tried to make sure that my audience will have seen all four members of the main cast after they’ve read no more than two or three comics. Like this:

"Damania Restricted - Universal Language" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Restricted – Universal Language” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Restricted - But, Is A Smartphone Mightier Than A Sword?" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Restricted – But, Is A Smartphone Mightier Than A Sword?” By C. A. Brown

However, this has also had an interesting knock-on effect too. Unlike many syndicated newspaper cartoons like “Dilbert”, “Garfield” and “Nemi”, my comic doesn’t really have a single main character.

Although this means that my comic has slightly less focus and slightly less “personality”, it also means that I can place more emphasis on the relationships between the characters, and can make comics about a much wider variety of subjects by choosing which character (or characters) I want to focus on in each episode, rather than being restricted to just one character.

4) Idiotic censorship: Although I have broken this rule exactly once in the five-year history of my “Damania” webcomic series (on DeviantART, at least), one of the rules that I set myself for the comic series was that the characters can’t use a certain commonly-used four letter word without it being censored in some way. I’ll be the first to admit that this is a f**king stupid rule in this day and age, but allow me to explain further….

Originally, I set myself this rule for simple practical reasons. The sites that I post to often have content rules of some kind and, being a somewhat nervous person, I often tend to err wildly on the side of caution.

But, although this idiotic rule has meant that the dialogue in my webcomic is occasionally less realistic than it should be, it’s also been a useful source of humour too. Why? Because I either have to turn the censorship itself into a source of ironic humour, or I have to use clever wordplay.

For example, in a comic about social conservatism and over-zealous censorship in mainstream American TV shows, one of my characters gleefully tells someone to “F.C. C. off!”

"Damania Returns - American TV Censorship" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Returns – American TV Censorship” By C. A. Brown

This, ironically, seemed funnier than just including more realistic dialogue. The same is true for my decision to use the phrase “bovine excrement” instead of “bullshit”. It just sounded funnier and (along with the word “tizzy”) it also served to subtly imply that Rox – like all the main characters- is British, rather than American.

Although long-term readers of my comics will probably be more than aware of this (since I’m also British), I thought that I’d include it for the benefit of new readers.

So, those were are four examples of how setting myself rules has influenced the development of my webcomic. The thing to remember here is that the best rules tend to evolve organically and that your rules don’t always have to be set in stone.

——————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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