[Note: This article was originally written (in advance) when I was fascinated by self-contained webcomics. However, there will be quite a few story-based webcomics posted here next year. Still, I’ll post this article for the simple reason that it might be useful if you’re interested in making self-contained webcomics.
But, as a bonus, this article will include the unedited version of a comic that I posted here recently (which is totally not because I forgot to update that part of the article).]
Although I’ve talked about a lot of this stuff before, I thought that I’d talk again about how to make “newspaper comic”-style webcomics “accessible” to new readers. We’ve all had the experience of finding an interesting-looking webcomic, only to find that there are long character histories, unfamiliar occasionally reccuring characters, obscure in-jokes etc.. and other things which can be fairly confusing.
Yes, if a webcomic is interesting enough, you’ll probably end up putting the time into learning the backstory and learning about the characters. However, this can sometimes be off-putting to new readers who just want to enjoy a comic for a few minutes without a large time commitment.
This is especially important for webcomics, for the simple reason that they are often read in a non-sequential order. So, making them instantly accessible is important.
To use an example from my own occasional webcomics – the mini series I posted last month should be as instantly readable as the one that finishes here tomorrow night and the very first mini series . All of these comics feature the same characters, but they don’t have to be read “in order”.
So, how can you make your comic instantly accessible to new readers? Here are a few quick tips:
1) Clear character design: If your main characters look different from each other and have distinctive personalities (reflected in their dialogue and actions), then your audience will be able to quickly get a sense of who they are -even without knowing their names or a lot of their backstory.
If you read the comics I linked to earlier, then you’ll probably know these four characters, even if you don’t know their names:
In fact, even if your characters just have fairly distinctive (and memorable) visual designs – whether realistic or unrealistic-, then this can go a long way towards making your comic slightly more accessible to new readers.
2) Character rotation: I’ve talked about this at length in another article, but it’s usually a good idea to ensure that all of the main characters appear fairly regularly throughout your comic. In other words, your readers shouldn’t have read more than a few random comic updates before they’ve seen all of the main cast.
In fact, if possible, it can sometimes be a good idea to make the occasional comic update that includes the entire main cast of your comic. Like in the unedited version (the edited version can be seen here) of a comic I posted here on Sunday:
By doing this, you avoid the problem of re-introducing old characters and confusing new readers. If possible, it’s also best keeping the main cast relatively small too.
3) Story arcs: If you’re going to include a short (and be sure to keep it short!) story arc in your “newspaper comic”-style webcomic, then make sure to briefly explain the premise of it at the beginning of each comic! Likewise, each comic in the arc should also contain a self-contained joke.
This can be as simple as having a character briefly explain the backstory during the first line of dialogue (eg: “Music festivals are a lot different than I expected”, “we’re halfway through the festival already?” etc…), to use a small title at the top of each comic strip (eg: “Meanwhile, at the music festival…”) and/or make the backstory very clear through visual details (eg: by drawing a music festival in the background).
This is a trick that you’ll often see in traditional newspaper comics and it’s important because not everyone reads a newspaper every day. As such, if someone only sees two random comics from a six-comic arc, then those two comics should be just as funny and as instantly readable as a “normal” comic is.
4) Organisation: If possible, it might be worth organising the “back issues” of your webcomic into something that makes it easier for new readers to jump between different points in the comic. The traditional “back”,”forward”, “first” and “latest” buttons on many webcomics are useful for looking at very recent or very old comics, but they aren’t so useful if – say- you want to see a comic from a few months ago.
There are lots of ways to do this – from a traditional “archive” page, to a calendar-based system. The best way to do it will depend both on your webcomic itself and on your own web skills. But, you need to have some way for new readers to easily navigate your comic if it interests them.
For example, since my webcomic is an occasional one (posted in mini series of 6-17 daily updates every month or two) and because I don’t really have that much knowledge about HTML etc.. what I usually do is to collect all of the updates from each mini series into a single post (eg: like this one) once that mini series has finished. Then, I post links to these collections on a larger index page – along with a short description of my thoughts about each mini series.
5) Self-contained comics: This one almost goes without saying, but each of your comic updates should be a self-contained thing that can be enjoyed on it’s own without reference to any other comics.
After all, many of your readers might read your webcomic in a random order, or they might miss several updates. So, making sure that each comic update is it’s own self-contained thing is vitally important to attracting new readers.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂