How Many Panels Should Your Webcomic Updates Have?

2016 Artwork Webcomic panel length article sketch

Well, I’m still in the mood for writing about webcomics today, so I thought that I’d look at how long a webcomic update should be.

Traditionally, syndicated cartoons in newspapers have been three panels long. I’ve heard this format best described as “premise, set-up, punchline” or something like that. In newspapers, this format works reasonably well for the simple reason that it’s compact, it’s quick to read and having a fixed structure might also make the writing process slightly easier sometimes.

However, webcomics have none of the limitations that traditional syndicated newspaper cartoons do. After all, there aren’t really any limits on how long a webcomic update can be. The upside of this is that it can allow webcomic creators to include more sophisticated characterisation, more dialogue and more sophisticated jokes.

The downside is that it can be very easy for a webcomic update to become bloated and/or exhaustingly long if you aren’t careful. Keeping the number of panels in each update relatively low forces you to make each panel matter more and to pay more attention to the pacing of the comic.

Yes, this can make the writing process a bit more challenging if you have a frequent update schedule, but it has the advantage of ensuring that your webcomics are likely to be of a higher quality and that they will be more consistent to read.

My personal approach to this problem is to decide upon a general length for all of the updates to my occasional webcomic series, but to leave a small amount of room for flexibility too (if one particular comic needs slightly more panels).

Most of the time, I try to limit myself to four panels per update. This allows me to keep some of the fast pacing of traditional three-panel comics, whilst also giving me a bit more room to develop the premise, set-up and/or punchline as necessary. This reduces some of the writer’s block-related problems that can come with three-panel comics, without losing too much of the concise pacing.

In addition to this, a four-panel set up also allows me to do some cool things with the formatting too. With a three-panel comic, the natural layout for it is in a traditional rectangular comic strip. However, with four panels, they can also be arranged into a square too. This square format might look slightly bulky and unwieldily when seen on a printed page but, when placed online, it allows for a higher display resolution when seen on websites that automatically re-size images.

 "Damania Revived - Post Mortem" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Revived – Post Mortem” By C. A. Brown

In addition to this, the square format also allows me to easily fit in 1-2 extra panels (if necessary) without altering the overall size of the comic, in the way that it would do for a traditional rectangular comic. Like this:

"Damania Resurgence - Film Night" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – Film Night” By C. A. Brown

At the end of the day, you need to find a comic length that works for you and allows you to tell the best jokes in the minimum possible amount of space. Personally, I’d recommend using just four panels most of the time, although this obviously depends on the type and style of comic that you are making.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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