Should Your Webcomic Include A Group Of Recurring Main Characters ?

2016 Artwork Webcomics recurring characters article sketch

Well, I’m still in the mood for writing about making webcomics so, for today, I thought that I’d look at one of the basic structural decisions that every webcomic-maker has to think about before starting a new comic series.

I am, of course, talking about whether or not your webcomic should feature a recurring group of main characters or whether it should mostly feature random characters in every comic. There are several advantages and disadvantages to both types of webcomic.

Personally, after getting back into making occasional “newspaper comic”-style webcomics (like this one) this year, I’ve gone down the “main characters” route:

These are the four main characters from my long-running occasional "Damania" webcomic series (in chronological order, based on first appearance).

These are the four main characters from my long-running occasional “Damania” webcomic series (in chronological order, based on first appearance).

The advantages of having a central cast of recurring characters is that, once you’ve got to know the characters, writing the comics can become significantly easier (eg: since you know what the characters’ interests are, how they react to things etc…). Likewise, it also means that there will be someone familar to the audience in each comic, once they’ve read a few comics.

Character-based comics can also have a lot more depth than “random character” comics can. After all, you can spend literally hundreds of comic updates developing your characters and turning them into interesting, unique people that your readers will want to spend a lot of time with. You can’t do this if a character only appears in just one comic strip.

But, although large amounts of character development will reward long-term readers, this comes at the cost of confusing new readers. Personally, I’ve tried to keep the level of character development in my comic relatively low in order to avoid putting off new readers, but still rewarding long-term readers.

On the downside, creating and developing a group of main characters can take a significant amount of time (eg: I started this occasional series in 2011/2012 and the characters are still developing in subtle ways). So, these types of webcomics take a lot more planning and/or a lot more trial-and-error to create than webcomics that don’t include recurring characters.

In addition to this, if you’ve spent a lot of time around a particular group of characters, then it can often seem easier to keep using these characters rather than creating new ones. This is both a blessing and a curse.

For example, when I got back into making comics in 2015, my first two comics (here and here) featured “new” characters. However, virtually every comic I’ve made since then has just featured the same group of characters that I originally created in 2011/2012 for the simple reason that I know how to write these four characters better than any other characters. This has limited the types of comics I can make, but it has also made it significantly easier for me to make comics (which results in more comics).

On the other side, in webcomics where there are no recurring characters (or just a few of them), the emphasis is very firmly on the joke. Unless your webcomic features well-known historical figures, fictional characters etc… then there is also very little room for anything more than the most basic type of characterisation. As such, the emphasis of the comic has to be on the dialogue and/or humour.

One advantage of this type of comic is that they have a much more “universal” look to them (since, after all, the world is full of random people) and they are also a lot more instantly accessible to new readers. After all, you don’t need to know the characters and you don’t need to have read any of the other comics in the series in order to get the most out of each update.

Likewise, it’s easier to make comics about a much wider range of topics if you take this approach, since you can just add new characters who are relevant to whatever your next comic update is about.

For example, if you want to make a science-based comic update, then you can just draw two scientists talking. If your next comic is about the Spanish Inquisition, then you can make the characters in that comic members of the Inquisition etc…

On the downside, these comics can be more challenging to write (since you can’t rely on character-based humour). Likewise, although they can often gain a distinct “identity” through things like the artist’s style, the writer’s sense of humour etc… they can lack the instant recognisability that a comic with a main cast of recurring characters has.

Of course, there are comics that don’t fit neatly into either category (eg: comics with mostly random characters, but a couple of recurring characters). But, this is something that is worth thinking about when you are planning a webcomic series.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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