Three Basic Tips For Creating A “Realistic” Setting For Your Webcomic

2016 Artwork Interesting webcomic setting article sketch

Chances are, if you’re planning to start a webcomic, then you’ve already worked out where it will be set. In fact, the setting is probably one of the first things that people think of (after the characters, of course) when they’re coming up with an idea for a webcomic series.

But, in the event that you’re not sure what the setting of your webcomic should look like, I thought that I’d offer a few tips (learnt by making some of the comics in the “2016” section of this page) that will help you to come up with an interesting and/or practical “realistic” setting for your webcomic.

Anyway, let’s get started:

1) Base it on a real place: Note here that I didn’t say “set it in a real place“.

Although there probably aren’t any rules about setting your webcomic in a real town or city (however, using real shops etc.. is a bit of a complicated issue though. Generally, it’s a good idea to either change the name or cover up part of it), it generally requires a lot of research and it can also place some limitations on the kind of stories you can tell, the kind of jokes you can include etc…

So, set your webcomic in a fictional location that is heavily inspired by real locations – but which also gives you the flexibility to include “unrealistic” locations if the comic demands it.

This is the approach that I’ve taken to many of the “exterior” scenes in the modern incarnation of my occasional “Damania” webcomic mini series. Although the comic itself isn’t set in Aberystwyth, many of the locations have been loosely-inspired by parts of that wonderful town. Here’s a picture of some of the Aberystwth-inspired locations from past comics.

If you haven't been to the town, these will probably just look like generic locations. If you've spent some time there, you might recognise a few places.....

If you haven’t been to the town, these will probably just look like generic locations. If you’ve spent some time there, you might recognise a few places…..

But, since the comic isn’t explicitly set in Aberystwyth, I can also include a plethora of “unrealistic” locations too – like a paintball range, a very Portsmouth-like market, a laser tag arena (in one of December’s comics) etc…

So, if you’re going to use a real town or city, then only use it for inspiration.

2) Keep it simple: Although my webcomic includes a few outdoor locations, many of the comics take place in various rooms on the same floor of the characters’ block of flats.

Whilst there are a few recurring background objects, what this mostly means is that I can include plain backgrounds and just change the background colour depending on which characters are in the room. Here’s a chart to show you what I mean:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] The corridor also doesn't appear often because it's a corridor.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] The corridor also doesn’t appear often because it’s a corridor.

Making webcomics to any kind of deadline can sometimes be a more demanding task than many people think. Not to mention that there is nothing more monotonous than re-drawing the same highly-detailed background over and over again. This is a mistake that I made in my very first finished webcomic (in 2010) and it’s one I’ve been sure to avoid since then…

So, keeping the level of background detail as low as you can is a good way to save time and prevent boredom. However, your art will look slightly less impressive though – but this isn’t as much of an issue as you might think….

In fact, if you look at a lot of syndicated daily newspaper cartoons, you’ll see that many of them include as little background detail as the artist can get away with. This is mostly for time reasons, but it’s also a testament to the fact that the emphasis of a good comic update should be on the writing and the humour. If these things are good enough, then the audience won’t really notice or care about the lack of a detailed background.

3) Generic settings: One of the easiest ways to come up with a setting for your webcomic is to set it in a generic town or city. This allows you a lot of creative flexibility, but it can also run the risk of making your setting look … well… generic.

However, if you keep at it for a while, then you’ll probably eventually come up with a few interesting recurring settings that will help to give your webcomic a bit more individuality.

Even if it is just somewhere like a cafe or a pub that your characters visit regularly, you’ll probably still end up coming up with distinctive recurring locations even if you start out just using a generic town or city as a setting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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