A few hours before I wrote this article, I was reading random articles about classic movies that could have been different if not for production troubles. Sometimes, this results in improvements (like the famous scene in one of the “Indiana Jones” movies where Indy shoots a sword-waving villain, because Harrison Ford was too ill to film a long sword-fight). Sometimes it doesn’t.
Yet, there seems to be a strange romanticism about the whole thing when it comes to films. It makes me think of directors having to think on their feet and/or editors having to salvage greatness from the ruins of a movie. It plays into old-fashioned notions of greatness coming at a price. It plays into the idea of directors and actors telling “war stories” about troublesome movies etc…
And, yet, whenever I’ve had production troubles with one of my webcomic mini series, I’ve rarely felt this sense of noble endurance or fast-paced thinking. Most of the time, it just results in feelings of frustration, grim determination and/or despair.
Still, it’s not really as bad as it used to be and I thought that I’d share some techniques that have worked for me. This article won’t really cover how to get inspired, but how to deal with some types of practical issues that might get in the way of making a webcomic or a webcomic mini series.
1) Change the format: There’s a good reason why I also said “webcomic mini series” in the previous paragraph. This is mainly because, after being completely burnt out on making comics by the end of 2013 and taking pretty much all of 2014 off from making comics, I was only able to start making comics again by changing the format that I made and released them.
Instead of making a single comic continuously until I’d run out of endurance, I now tend to make shorter self-contained groups of 6-17 daily comics (with a break in between groups). I go all out on these mini series in the same way that I used to do with my longer comic series, but I finish before my enthusiasm for the medium of comics itself has run out. It’s an unusual way to make and release a webcomic – but it allows me to bypass some of the problems I used to have.
So, if you’re experiencing production troubles with your webcomic, then look at what you can change to lighten the load. Reduce the number of updates per week, make mini series instead, increase or lower the number of panels in each update, make your updates even further in advance than usual, switch from self-contained comics to short story arcs, reduce the colour palette etc…
2) Lazy art tricks: Yes, you probably shouldn’t cut corners when making the art for your webcomic – but, if you have a choice between a finished webcomic update and an unfinished webcomic update, always go with the finished one.
There are plenty of ways to cut corners with the art in your comics that aren’t immediately noticeable. For example, when a character is saying something dramatic, you could just use a plain black background for that panel. Likewise, once you’ve established what a complex background looks like, you can get away with a slightly scribblier and quicker version of it in subsequent panels of that one comic update.
Sometimes, this can be worked into the design of the comic itself. For example, the mini series that is being posted here at the moment started out well but, due to a sudden heatwave a day after I started preparing it (quite a while ago), I found that I had much less energy and enthusiasm than I expected. Fortunately, the comic was set outdoors during the summer. What this meant is that, for many panels in the later updates, I could just use a quick clear blue sky as the background – allowing me to focus my limited energy on the characters and the dialogue.
3) Edit mercilessly: Short, finished and good is better than long, unfinished and terrible. As such, don’t be afraid to cut away anything unnecessary if you feel that it will help you to actually finish your comic updates. This is obviously best done at the planning stage, but it can still be done whilst making a comic (albeit with more difficulty).
Likewise, if your comic is divided into mini series, chapters, story arcs etc… then think realistically about how long you’ll be able to make each one. Remember, it’s always better to plan something short and expand it (if things go well) than to plan something longer and leave it unfinished because of production troubles.
For example, a narrative mini series of mine that will appear here in early May will only be eight comics long. The idea behind it is really cool and it’s really fun to make but, I’m glad it’s only eight comics long. This is mostly because of the fact that the detailed backgrounds take longer to make than I expected and because of everyday stresses that I didn’t anticipate. Still, with only eight updates, it’ll get finished and it’ll be reasonably good. If it had been 12-14 comics long, I wouldn’t be so sure about this.
So, don’t be afraid to sacrifice length for completion, quality and/or your own sanity.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂