Three Things To Consider When Deciding How Topical Your Webcomic Should Be

2016 Artwork Topical Webcomics article

Well, I thought that I’d talk about making webcomics again today. In particular, I thought that I’d look at the subject of how topical your webcomic should be. Like with traditional syndicated newspaper cartoons, many webcomics include a mixture of both topical strips and “evergreen” strips. So, this isn’t really a stark “yes” or “no” decision.

Instead, it’s all about finding your preferred balance between topical and non-topical comics. Although I’ll be listing the advantages and disadvantages of both types of webcomics (and mentioning some of my own decisions about this subject), this shouldn’t be taken as an “one or the other” thing. In other words, it’s totally ok to include a mixture of topical and non-topical stuff in your webcomic.

So, what should you consider when deciding how topical your webcomic should be?

1) Your Buffer: Generally speaking, I tend to avoid including too much topical stuff in my occasional webcomic series (you can check out some of the previous instalments of it here, here, here, here and here). This is mostly because I tend to make these comics quite far in advance of publication, so any references to current events will be ridiculously out of date by the time they appear online.

Buffer size can, of course, play a role in how topical your webcomic should be. Although having a fairly large comic buffer can take a lot of the stress out of making webcomics (and it can mitigate the effects of writer’s block etc.. too), it also means that your opportunities for comments about current events are a lot more limited.

But, although your opportunities to discuss topical issues are more limited if you have a large comic buffer, this doesn’t mean that you can’t discuss them at all. It just means that you have to focus on long-lasting social trends and/or issues that appear in the media regularly.

For example, tomorrow evening’s comic update will be a humourous comic about the modern trend towards VR headsets in computer gaming. This has been a trend for quite a while and it shows no signs of slowing down, so hopefully this comic will still be relevant when it appears here. But, even if it isn’t, then hopefully it will also work as a funny comic about a short-lived fad. So, yes, you have to be a lot more careful about how you write “topical” comics if you’ve got a large comic buffer.

On the other hand, keeping your buffer very small (or not having one) means that you’ll be able to respond to current events a lot more quickly, albeit at the cost of having tighter deadlines and a higher stress level.

A good way to reduce this problem (whilst still remaining topical) might be to make a few “evergreen” comics and put them to one side for the times when you’ve got writer’s block and/or there’s nothing comic-worthy in the news.

2) Time and inspiration: One advantage of making non-topical webcomics is that they don’t tend to age as much when they’re viewed months or years later. In other words, your jokes will probably be funnier for longer.

Likewise, you have more control over your time when making a non-topical webcomic – since you can make lots of updates when you have the time and/or inspiration to do so, and then release them gradually. Since your comics have a longer shelf-life, you have a lot more control over when you make them and, more importantly, when you post them online.

However, one advantage of making topical comics is that it’s slightly easier to get inspired.

After all, you just have to look at the news when you want to find new comic ideas. Yes, you’ve still actually got to find a way to turn the news into interesting/funny/dramatic comics – but, thinking of the basic topic for each of your updates is considerably easier than it is if you’ve got to think of topics that will still be interesting several months or years later.

3) Character development: Character development is a slightly different process for both topical and non-topical comics. In more topical comics, the main focus is on current events and the majority of character development comes from how your characters react to these events.

However, with non-topical webcomics, the emphasis is on how the characters interact with each other. In other words, characterisation in these comics is more about conversations etc.. between the characters than about their reactions to outside events.

Of course, you can (and should!) include both interaction-based characterisation and reaction-based characterisation in both types of comic. However, if you have a preference for one type of character development, then this is something to consider when deciding how topical your webcomic will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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