If you’ve read quite a few webcomics and are tempted to start your own, then I thought that I’d warn you about a few downsides to making webcomics that I’ve learnt from making occasional webcomics over the past few years.
This article isn’t meant to discourage you from making webcomics (because they can be really awesome things to make 🙂 ), but to give you a slightly more realistic impression of what making, starting and/or maintaining a webcomic can involve. If you’re still interested in making webcomics after reading this, then you’re really interested. And this is great 🙂
1) Comic updates take longer to make than you think: When you see a good webcomic update, or even a mediocre or terrible one, it can look like the kind of thing that the writer and/or artist made spontaneously in a short amount of time.
After all, it probably only takes you anything between a few seconds and a couple of minutes to actually read the update. So, it can’t take that long to make one, right?
As someone who likes to make things quickly, most updates in my more recent occasional webcomic mini series are often designed to be made as fast as possible. The art is slightly simpler than in my usual daily paintings, I’ll often include little to no background detail in many of the panels, and many of the comics use a standard four-panel format that gives them a familiar “rhythm”.
So, how long does it take me to make one ‘quick’ comic update?
Well, first of all, there’s the planning time. Depending on how inspired I am, this can take anything from a minute to an hour (or longer!).
Then there’s the line art and lettering, which can often take me anything between 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how visually complex the comic is (eg: this piece of line art took longer than an hour!). Then I have to add paint using watercolour pencils (which is usually relatively quick, and it usually takes about ten or twenty minutes at the most).
Once the paint has dried after a few minutes, I then have to scan and digitally edit the comic – which can take anything from a few minutes to over half an hour, depending on how much editing is needed (eg: altering the brightness/contrast/saturation levels in the image, correcting mistakes, altering the dialogue, adding visual effects etc..).
For example, the final finished version of the comic line art I linked to earlier needed a lot of editing after I scanned it. Even though the only noticeable piece of editing is the falling snow that I added using MS Paint.
At it’s absolute fastest, when I’m feeling very inspired and when the comic itself doesn’t contain too much detail, a “quick” four-panel comic can take me about forty-five minutes to an hour to make at the very least. Usually, it takes a little longer than this though. And this is in a webcomic that is designed to be made very quickly.
If your webcomic updates are longer, if you’ve had less practice and/or if you want the art to be slightly more complex, then it is going to take more time to make each update. Yes, if you have a really cool comic idea, then you’re probably going to look forward to spending time on it. But, if you go into making a webcomic expecting it to be even ten times as quick to make as it is to read, then you’re in for a shock.
So, if you’re making webcomics on a regular basis, then be sure to learn how long it takes you to make an average update (by making several practice updates before posting them online) and stick to an update schedule that gives you enough time.
2) Everyone starts off with crappy comics (and that’s ok): The very first time I put a webcomic online was in 2010. Before this, I’d tried to start a few webcomics, but they’d all failed the ten-comic test (eg: make ten updates before you post any online. If your series fails before then, then you need to change the idea, change the format etc…).
My webcomic from 2010 was terribly-written and even more terribly drawn. The less said about it, the better.
Even so, it was something that I really enjoyed making at the time – and I’d never have stayed interested in making webcomics if I hadn’t made that one.
Even when I finally found the idea for my current long-running occasional webcomic series (called “Damania”) back in 2011/2012, most of the writing and art in these comics wasn’t that great. Even when I continued the comic into 2013, the quality was only marginally better.
After pretty much taking a year off from making comics (see #4 on this list) in 2014, I returned to making occasional short traditional-style B&W narrative comics in 2015 (alternating with my usual daily art practice), and started posting occasional four-panel webcomics again in 2016 (again, with several day/weeks of daily paintings between each group of updates).
Here’s what one of my “really old” comics from 2012 looked like:
Here’s what my “marginally better” comics looked like in 2013:
And here’s what my comics looked like in 2016 (on a reasonably good day):
In fact, if you look at the archives of any long-running webcomic, you’ll quickly notice that many of the early comics are badly-drawn, when compared to the new ones.
Making a webcomic is something that requires a lot of practice (eg: art practice, writing practice etc…) but, if you don’t post the “crappy” early updates, then you’re never going to be able to post the “good” later updates.
3) You probably aren’t going to become famous (and it’s totally ok): This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you want to start a webcomic because you think that it will make you rich and famous, then you’re wasting your time. If you want to start a webcomic because you really love webcomics and you want to actually make one of your own, then you’ll probably have a lot of fun 🙂
But, don’t expect to become well-known, or even vaguely known overnight. Like any kind of online project, it can take time to build an audience. Since I only post webcomics in occasional 4-17 day mini series, I don’t know the total readership figures for my webcomics. But, they probably aren’t gigantic.
Even with this blog, I remember when about three or four years ago, getting 50 views in a single day was amazing! At the time of writing, this site tends to get 100-200 daily views. And that’s after a little under four years of regular daily posting. What I’m trying to say here is, don’t expect instant fame. Or even fame.
But, if “fame” is your only motivation, then I’d suggest doing something other than webcomics.
4) You can (temporarily) burn out if you aren’t careful: If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that I’ve talked about my own webcomics as being “occasional” webcomics.
This is mostly because I don’t seem to have the mental endurance for constantly-running webcomics. Seriously, if you meet someone who has been working on the same uninterrupted, regularly-updated webcomic for literal years, then be sure to congratulate them 🙂 They’re superhuman!
After spending a year or so making lots of comics (in 2013) and then trying to make an over-ambitious narrative comic (that ended up being unfinished and unpublished), I actually had to pretty much take a year off from making comics (seriously, I only made one “Damania” comic that entire year!) before I felt up to making comics again. Even then, I don’t make them too often (eg: less than half of a month’s daily art posts here will often consist of webcomic updates).
Comics burnout is an actual thing. It’s different from just being uninspired (although expect to experience this every now and then too if you make webcomics), it’s when you just can’t even stand the idea of making comics regularly. It’s when making comics goes from being both a magical and mundane thing, to being worse than mundane. It’s horrible! Avoid it at all costs!
Yes, you can ease yourself back into making comics again after enough time. But, prevention is better than cure.
In other words, don’t over-do it with your webcomic. Take breaks if you have to (even if you just make less-demanding creative projects, like paintings, during that time in order to stay in practice). Create an update schedule that feels completely manageable. Build up a large buffer of pre-made updates etc…
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 Good luck 🙂