Three Basic Tips For Adding Sub-Plots To Your “Newspaper Comic”-Style Webcomic

2017 Artwork Webcomic sub plots article sketch

Although I talked about story arcs in “newspaper comic”-style webcomics recently, I thought that I’d talk about something subtly different today – sub-plots.

Unlike a story arc (which is either a single continuous story or a series of connected webcomic updates), a sub-plot is a smaller continuous story that runs in the “background” of your webcomic (in metaphorical terms, not in artistic terms). It’s there to reward long-term readers of your webcomic and to add a small amount of extra depth and complexity to your webcomic.

Each update might be about something different but, when read in order, your readers will also notice that there is also a continuous story there too.

So, how do you add a sub-plot to a “newspaper comic”-style webcomic? Here are a few tips:

1) Plan it!: When I ended up adding a sub-plot to an upcoming webcomic mini series that will appear here in February, it was almost unplanned. It was only after I’d made a joke in one of the comics that I suddenly realised that I had to turn it into a sub-plot (or just an elaborate running joke).

This resulted in some last-minute rewriting for the next comic, which left it looking somewhat clunky and convoluted as a result. Fortunately, the other comics in the mini series haven’t been affected by this, but suddenly adding a sub-plot to your comic can have knock-on effects on the rest of the comic.

So, if you’re going to add a sub-plot to your webcomic, then make sure that it is planned out in advance, in order to avoid mistakes like this!

2) Reminders: If possible, include a small “reminder” about your sub-plot in every webcomic update. This doesn’t even have to be a line of dialogue, since it can just be a very small visual background detail. The important thing is that it’s there.

For example, here’s a panel from my upcoming series – unless you look very closely and know what to look for, you’ll probably miss the sub-plot reminder in this panel:

Hint: It's the guy in the distant background. There's a more obvious reminder later in this comic, but spoilers...

Hint: It’s the guy in the distant background. There’s a more obvious reminder later in this comic, but spoilers…

The reason for doing this is that it helps to keep your sub-plot “current” (so, your audience won’t forget it) whilst also allowing you to make comics about different subjects too. Not only that, it also provides an interesting “easter egg” for long-term readers who take the time to carefully inspect each of your comic updates.

3) Don’t turn it into a main plot: This goes without saying, but if you’re making a “newspaper comic”-style webcomic, then each update needs to be either totally or mostly understandable on it’s own. After all, when new readers find your webcomic, they’ll probably start by reading the latest update, rather than reading the whole thing in order.

In other words, if you include a reference to your sub-plot in a webcomic update then it must either be explained (for totally new readers) or it must be a small detail that won’t affect new readers’ enjoyment of the comic. If your comic works perfectly well even without the sub-plot stuff, then this is usually a sign that you’re doing something right.

Remember – your sub-plot is meant to be “added value” for long-term readers. It isn’t meant to be a mandatory thing that all readers of your comic have to understand in order to enjoy your comic.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂


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