One cool thing about both regular art practice and making occasional webcomics (released in mini series of 6-17 daily updates) is the fact that the former tends to make the latter look a lot better.
Here’s a comparison chart of panels from past and future comics to show the improvements that have happened over about a year:
As you can see, I’ve put more effort into the backgrounds, character actions, events, digital editing, digital effects, panel layouts etc.. in the new comic panels. But, this rapid improvement (thanks to the additional art and comic practice) comes at a cost though.
Basically, most newer and upcoming comic updates (except in “Damania Requisitioned” and “Damania Reverie” – which I designed to be quick) can now easily take almost double the time to make as they used to. Whilst I used to think of webcomics as lean, efficient, streamlined things where the emphasis was more on the dialogue than the art, I now see them as being art and fiction projects as well.
This also usually leads to more planning time and a greater focus on story arcs, rather than on stand-alone jokes. In other words, making a webcomic mini series isn’t really as much of a spontaneous thing as it used to be. It’s still a lot of fun, but it’s more exhausting and it requires more structure and planning.
So, what can you do if something like this happens to you?
1) Scale back: Although I used to advocate quantity over quality a few years ago, my attitudes have become a bit more nuanced.
Basically, if you’re just starting out, then you need to make as many comic updates, drawings etc… as possible (regardless of quality), in order to get the practice. Even when you’re more experienced, you still need to keep practicing regularly – even if your previous practice has given you the ability to make more sophisticated things.
What this means is that, when you’re making webcomics, regularity should still be a priority. Although some truly great and very sophisticated webcomics (like Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality“) follow an irregular schedule and must take literally hundreds of hours per update to make, webcomics often tend to work best when they are produced and released regularly. So, find ways to scale back.
Amongst other things, you can do this by either changing your release schedule (eg: releasing comics 1-2 times per week, rather than 3-4 times), reducing the length of each webcomic update (although this can require better writing/planning to do well) or, if you release your comics in series, reducing the length of each series (eg: in the next two months, all of my upcoming mini series will only contain eight daily comics, rather than 10-14 comics).
This will still allow you to focus on art quality, additional planning etc… but it will also mean that you won’t fall behind schedule or end up spending too much extra time on your comics.
2) Let the changes happen: One major change between most of the webcomic mini series I’ll be posting here this year and the ones I posted last year is that most of the new ones either tell a continuous story or revolve around a single theme.
This change happened gradually and it caught me by surprise, given that I used to be a firm advocate of stand-alone “newspaper comic” style comics. But there were good reasons for it. A single story or theme makes comic updates easier to plan (since all you have to do is ask “what happens next?“) and it has also allowed me to set comics in imaginative new locations, without worrying about confusing the audience as much.
When you improve, you’re probably going to find that changes will happen to your webcomic. These can often happen completely unconsciously. You’ll want to make comic updates that allow you to produce more interesting background art, you’ll want to cut down on planning time etc… Your comic might change in all sorts of ways.
Don’t fight these changes! Go with them! Yes, some of your audience might prefer the older comics – but, if it comes down to a choice between still being enthusiastic about making webcomics and wearily forcing yourself to make webcomics that are no longer suited to your skills, then go with the former every time.
3) Don’t rest on your laurels! Keep practicing!: I can’t emphasise this enough! Just because your webcomics look better than they used to doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep making them regularly. Yes, you’ll need to scale back and change a few things for practical reasons, but you should still try to make them as regularly as life, time and inspiration allow.
If you can only think of a few good ideas for comic updates per month, then practice making art on the days when you don’t have the energy or inspiration to make comics. Always stay on the lookout for new inspirations (eg: new types of art, TV shows that inspire you etc..). Just, whatever you do, don’t rest on your laurels and only make rare and irregular comic updates “when you feel like it”.
Why? Because the reason you got as good as you did at making webcomics was through practice. If you don’t keep it up, your webcomics won’t get any better (although they probably won’t get worse either).
Although your improved skills might make you feel over-confident, it’s very important to remember that, in a few years or months, your “amazing comic updates” from today will eventually become “yesterday’s crappy comic updates“.
This isn’t a bad thing! After all, you’d never have got to the point you are at now if you hadn’t made those crappy early comics a few years, months etc.. ago. So, keep practicing!
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂