In case you aren’t already familiar with webcomics, a “story arc” is a collection of separate comic strips that either tell a short story or revolve around a single situation. Most story arcs in traditional “newspaper comic”-style webcomics usually last for between 2- 12 comic strips, although they can be longer.
Even though some webcomics tell a single continuous story (where the story arcs are nothing more than sub-plots), I’ll only be discussing story arcs in “newspaper comic”-style webcomics in this article, since story arcs need to be handled in a very particular way in this style of comic.
There are many reasons why people who make “newspaper comic” style webcomics might choose to include a story arc in their webcomic. It allows us to make several jokes about a single event, theme and/or location. It makes it easier to think of comic ideas for the next few updates. It also allows for slightly more in-depth storytelling and characterisation than you would usually find in a single 3-6 panel comic strip.
However, there is one problem that every webcomic maker will face when they start a story arc. This is, of course, what to do about new readers. Since “newspaper comic” style webcomics are designed to be read in any order, they can attract new readers a lot more easily and quickly than webcomics which tell a continuous story.
After all, if you see an interesting “newspaper comic”-style webcomic update – then you don’t need to have read 100+ previous comic updates in order to understand it. Although this is one of the strengths of traditional-style webcomics, it can also be something of a weakness when you decide to write a story arc – since it’s easier for new readers to get confused if they discover your comic in the middle of a story arc.
So, how can you solve this problem?
The most simple way to do this is to briefly introduce the premise of your story arc at the beginning of every update in the story arc. Sometimes, this can be done with a small comment within the dialogue (eg: “I honestly expected time travel to be more exciting”, “So, you’re still teaching yourself how to keep bees?” etc…) or it can be done by adding a small description to the top corner of the comic (eg: “Meanwhile in America…”).
Not only that, each comic update within your story arc has to work as a single self-contained joke. If you’re referring to the events of a previous comic, then you need to add a brief explanation to the dialogue. After all, your readers might miss some of the comics in your story arc or they might read it in the wrong order.
Here’s a short example of this technique in action from my old “Damania Resurgence” webcomic mini series, which contained a two-comic story arc:
In case you didn’t notice, I actually displayed these two comics in the wrong order. But, hopefully, they were both still fun and understandable because of the techniques that I mentioned earlier in this article.
So, remember to make each comic in your story arc a self-contained comic.
Sorry about the short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂