Although this is an article about making webcomics, I’m going to have to start by talking about TV shows for a while. As usual, there’s (almost) a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.
The day before I wrote this article, I started watching the second season of “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“. Even from the opening credits alone, I knew that this season was going to be different. Everything in the opening credits had a much more gothic look to it, and the theme tune had hints of symphonic metal music in it. I was literally awestruck when I saw it for the first time.
When I started watching the episodes, I noticed that they’d gone from being intelligent sci-fi thriller episodes to being much darker and more complex political thriller episodes. Visually speaking, the set design in the first four episodes had a much stronger resemblance to both the original “Ghost In The Shell” movie and to “Blade Runner”. Needless to say, it was already my favourite season of the show after binge-watching a mere four episodes.
It’s an example of a change to a series done properly. And, since my own occasional webcomics have changed a bit over the past year or two (eg: I’ve moved more towards story-based comics etc..), I thought that I’d give some advice about how to make changes to your own webcomics. I’ve probably said some of this stuff before, but it bears repeating.
1) Have a good reason: As many users of a popular online art gallery site will probably tell you, change for the sake of change benefits no-one. In other words, you should only change your webcomic if there’s actually a good practical reason for doing so.
The main reason why webcomics change dramatically is because the change helps to keep the person making the webcomic inspired. Some people are able to make the same sort of thing repeatedly for years, and other people need to do different things in order to stay inspired. If you’re making webcomics, then staying inspired should be your top priority.
If you feel absolutely fascinated by a different type of comic, then make it! If your characters are developing in a way that you didn’t expect them to, let them develop! If you’re in a different mood to the one you usually are in when you’re making your comic, let your comic reflect that mood!
But, don’t make changes just for the sake of it, or to be fashionable. If a change doesn’t genuinely help you to feel more inspired, don’t make it.
Yes, inspired changes might annoy a few of your readers, but the higher quality that will result from these inspired changes will probably help you to keep readers or gain more of them.
2) Continuity: Even if you make a major change, try to keep some things the same. In other words, there should be something that regular fans of your webcomic will recognise instantly. This can be a similar style of humour, this can be recurring characters, this can even be a similar art style. Generally, changes tend to work best when they are part of a gradual progression – rather than a more abrupt change.
So, leaving parts of the “old” version of your webcomic in your new updates can help your audience to adapt to the changes you’ve made more easily.
For example, although I moved over to making more narrative-based webcomics (compared to more self-contained comics), many of my earlier narrative-based series included brief story recaps in the dialogue of each update, so that many episodes could theoretically be read on their own. Like this comic from “Damania Repressed“:
Plus, in the mini series that will appear here in late July, I’ve been experimenting with including a better mixture of story-based updates and self-contained updates, in part to appeal to people who prefer the “old-school” versions of my comics. Here’s another preview:
Likewise, the switch to more story-based comics wasn’t too difficult to make since I’d already made occasional story-based comics before (like this one, this one or this one). Yes, I’d used a slightly different visual style and panel layout for them, but regular readers of the series will hopefully realise that story-based comics aren’t an entirely new thing for me.
3) Practice and improvment: Many of the best changes in my webcomics have probably been the less noticeable ones. In other words, the improvements I’ve made in both the art and dialogue in my comics over the past year or so. Here’s a chart to show you what I mean:
In other words, if you practice making art and/or making webcomics regularly, then you’re going to improve. This will, over time, lead to changes in the “look” of your webcomic. These changes will probably happen without you even really noticing them at first. It goes without saying, but these are the kinds of changes that your audience is least likely to complain about.
So, if you want to change your webcomic without changing it, then just keep practicing (even if you only make webcomics occasionally, do art practice as often as possible).
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂