Three Sneaky Tricks For Making Rushed Webcomic Updates Look Good

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series. But, since I’m busy with other stuff too, I haven’t got quite as much time for it as I had last year (so, it’ll be another four-comic mini series).

But, so far, it seems to be turning out better than the four-comic mini series I posted in January. So, I thought that I’d offer a few sneaky tips for making rushed webcomic updates look good.

And, yes, one of the classic rules of webcomics is that the writing is more important than the art. Still, if you want to improve the art without too much of a time cost, then these tips might come in handy.

1) Digital backgrounds: Although this can look terrible if not done correctly (and I’ll explain one possible way to reduce visual consistency problems a bit later), one way to make a good-looking webcomic update relatively quickly is to use a digital background.

If you’ve got any spare digital photos of scenery etc.. that you’ve taken (and own the copyright to), then this is the time to put them to good use. It’ll allow you to make comic updates that look like this panel from one of my upcoming comics:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st February.

Although the specifics of how to do this will vary depending on the image editing program that you are using, it basically just involves drawing the characters (and writing the dialogue) and then copying them onto the background image. Most image editing programs include a “copy” function and, if you mess around with the options a bit, you’ll probably be able to get your art to copy properly.

However, as I hinted at earlier, the contrast between cartoonish art and realistic photography can look a little bit jarring. So, it’s usually a good idea to choose photos that don’t contain people (since your cartoon characters will look even more cartoonish in contrast to them).

Basically, the more “generic” your digital photo looks, the less obvious the contrast between cartoons and photos will be. So, go for natural scenes, generic buildings etc.. And try to avoid using photos that include people, posters etc..

2) Vary the backgrounds: I’ve mentioned this technique before, but it is worth mentioning again. Basically, one of the quickest and easiest types of comic updates to make are “talking head” comics where two characters stand next to each other and talk. However, these can be quite boring to look at. So, how can you make them more visually interesting?

Simply put, vary the backgrounds. One classic technique is to include a detailed background and/or detailed artwork in one panel, whilst keeping the other panels relatively undetailed. This makes the detailed panel the focal point of the comic whilst also meaning that you only have to make one detailed panel (which saves time). It looks a little bit like this:

“Damania Reduced – Book” By C. A. Brown

Notice how the third panel of this comic contains dramatic, detailed art with more realistic shading etc… Whereas the other three panels feature two characters standing in front of a plain purple background. Yet, the three boring panels are slightly less noticeable because the detailed panel is more attention-grabbing.

Another way to disguise talking head comics is to either use “close up” pictures of one of the characters during some of the panels and/or to use a solid black background in panels that contain dramatic dialogue.

For example, the angry dialogue in the third panel of this comic update uses this technique to break up the monotony of the red backgrounds in the first and fourth panels.:

“Damania Reduced – Trance Metal” By C. A. Brown

3) Expressions: This is a little bit of a sneaky one, but one way that you can add some more drama and visual interest to a rushed comic update is simply to focus on your character’s facial expressions.

Showing your characters’ reactions to things might not look like an obvious improvement at first glance, but it can really help to add extra humour and/or drama to your comic, which can distract your readers from the more rushed elements of your art.

Not to mention that if you’re in such a rush that you have to re-use the same art for several panels (this, in itself, is another good technique for making good-looking comics quickly. If you can re-use one good piece of art four times or whatever, then your comic will look better), then using digital tools to change your characters’ expressions in each re-used panel can be a good way to make the recycling very slightly less obvious too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Tips For Building A “Buffer” Of Stories, Comics, Articles etc.. To Post Online (If You’ve Already Started Posting Stuff)

When I went through a phase of writing daily short stories last February-March, I foolishly didn’t bother to prepare a “buffer” of stories in advance. What this meant was that I’d have to write and post each story on the same day.

Needless to say, this was ridiculously stressful – especially when I got writer’s block a few times (which led to me churning out stories like this one), with my daily deadline looming just a few hours away.

For a while I felt overwhelmed, until I remembered that I’d been in exactly the same position with these daily blog articles back in 2013 when I’d just started this blog. Of course, these days, I’ve got a large “buffer” of articles prepared in advance (that I add to each day). Or, to put it another way, why do you think that I’m talking about last February-March instead of anything more recent?

And, remembering this, I was able to use a few tricks to create a little 2-3 day buffer for my short stories, which expanded to about 4-5 days during the later parts of the daily story series. But, how do you create a buffer if you’ve already started posting stuff online regularly?

1) Filler: One of the easiest ways to create a stress-reducing “buffer” of stuff to post online is simply to make the occasional filler article, comic etc.. whilst keeping up your usual schedule. This way, you can make two things in one day (eg: one piece of normal content and one piece of quick filler content) and then post them over two days – adding an extra day to your buffer.

But, how do you make filler content? One of the most subtle and unobtrusive ways to do this is simply to collect links to the stuff you’ve already posted and present them in a single online post, as either a handy guide or a retrospective or something like that. You can even turn this into a monthly or weekly feature (like with the “Top Ten Articles” posts at the end of every month on here, monthly “line art” posts like this one, or monthly round-ups of short stories like this one).

But, of course, you can just make something shorter and simpler, with a quick explanation for your audience attached to it. The trick here is to create something that quickly fills up a day’s worth of updates, whilst also allowing you time to make another piece of content on the same day.

2) Inspired days: This trick isn’t worth relying on, but it can come in handy. As the title implies, this just involves waiting (whilst still making stuff every day) for a day when you both have the time and the inspiration to make more than one thing, and then just making as much as possible on that day.

Once you’ve done this, you can spread what you’ve made out over several days’ worth of updates, allowing you to increase the size of your “buffer” slightly.

As I said before, this trick isn’t exactly the most reliable one in the world. But, when the time and conditions are right for it, then it can allow you to easily gain 1-2 days on whatever you are currently posting online.

3) Take a break: If worse comes to worse and you feel totally overwhelmed, then take a break from posting stuff online for a while, whilst still making stuff (at a slightly slower pace).

When you return to posting stuff, you’ll have all of the stuff you made more slowly during your break, which will give you a bit of a “buffer” that you can add to at a slightly less frantic pace in future.

Just be sure to post a quick explanation of what you are doing on your site, with perhaps a few occasional previews of what you’re making – so that your audience know that you haven’t abandoned your project.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

When Should You “Write From Experience”? – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d quickly look at the topic of writing from experience today. This is mostly because I’ve noticed it happening a few times, such as in a couple of the short stories that I posted here last February or in the second comic from the webcomic mini series that I’m making at the moment:

This is a preview. The full comic update will be posted here tomorrow.

So, does this mean that I agree with the idea that writers should “write from experience“?

Yes and no.

In short, experience can be a good source of emergency inspiration and/or a starting point if you’ve got no other ideas, and it can also occasionally come in handy for thinking of small “realistic” details too. But, experience isn’t the be all and end all of creativity. Even if you’ve got the experience, you still need imagination. After all, fiction and autobiography are very different things.

So, even if you use your experience as a starting point, then you’re still going to have to come up with a way to turn it into something different and imaginative. You’re still going to have to find a way to make it more interesting than real life. You’re still going to have to think of fictional characters, intriguing background details, a plot etc.. So, experience is a good starting point, but it isn’t essential.

Likewise, many genres of fiction usually involve things that people can’t experience in real life. Whether it’s science fiction, vampire stories, medieval fantasy or whatever, it is the impossibility of these stories that makes them so interesting. So, the people writing these stories can’t be writing from direct experience.

I think that a better way of looking at this subject is to think about writing what you are knowledgeable about, rather than what you have directly experienced.

For example, this short story of mine wasn’t written from direct experience – because I’ve never explored an abandoned shopping centre. But, I’ve been to a few non-abandoned ones (including when MVC shops still existed), I was fascinated by horror movies when I was younger and I’ve watched lots of fascinating Youtube videos filmed by people who have visited abandoned shopping centres. So, I know a bit about the topic. This then allowed me to come up with an interesting fictional story.

Likewise, this short story about a person who develops a psychic connection to the internet wasn’t based on direct experience. The initial inspiration for this story was having a dream which involved a situation where the internet wasn’t working (which, in that situation, saved the day) and then, upon waking, noticing that the internet was playing up. This bizarre coincidence made me think “what would happen if someone could sense whether the internet was working?“. After that, I relied on both my imagination and my knowledge of the internet to come up with a satirical sci-fi/magic realist story.

So, you’re probably seeing a theme here. Experience and/or knowledge can be useful starting points. But, you still need to use your imagination to tell a story that is more interesting than real life.

In other words, if you write about what you know, then you’re going to feel more inspired. You’re going to be more confident. Your story or comic will probably sound more realistic too. But, imagination matters more than all of this. Knowledge and experience are two tools that your imagination can use. They aren’t a replacement for your imagination.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Making Webcomics When You’ve Got Less Time

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy preparing this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series (which will start appearing here in about 4-5 days time). But, since I also seem to have got back into reading regularly and writing book reviews (and don’t want to fall out of the habit again), I’ve got slightly less time to make each webcomic update.

As such, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for making webcomic updates when you’ve got less time. Most of these are things that I’ve mentioned before, but they’re probably worth mentioning again.

1) Planning: As counter-intuitive as it might sound, setting some time aside beforehand to plan your next few webcomic updates will actually save you time in the long run.

Your plans don’t have to be ultra-complex. For example, here’s the plan for the first comic in my Christmas mini series. It was scribbled in a different notebook with a cheaper pen, and the art planning is kept to a bare minimum (because planning the dialogue and structure matters a lot more than planning the art):

This is the plan for the first comic update in my Christmas mini series. As you can see, the focus is on planning the dialogue and structure, rather than the art.

But, why does taking a bit of time to plan the next few comics save you time? Simple. When you get round to actually making the comic, you can just make the comic. Because you’ve planned everything out in advance, you won’t get slowed down by writer’s block when you’re actually making the comics.

2) Adjustments: Simply put, there are a lot of ways to save time that won’t affect the quality of your comic too much. For example, you can tweak the production or release schedule slightly (I mean, when I’m preparing comics, I usually prepare two per day. This time, I’m only making one per day).

Likewise, you can alter the length of each comic update slightly to save time (this is why, last year, I went back to making 4-5 panel comic updates after making 6-8 panel updates for a while). Plus, don’t feel too bad about adjusting your release schedule if you have to. As long as you are still following some kind of update schedule (and your audience know what it is), then your audience is likely to excuse any changes you have to make in order to keep making comics.

Or you can take the approach that I do, which is simply to release daily comics for a limited time (usually about 6-8 days per month, although this will probably drop to four days per month for future comics), and then do non-comic stuff (in my case, daily art – which is usually quicker/easier to make than comics are) during the rest of the time. This way, you get the advantage of a daily schedule, but it isn’t something that takes up a part of your day every day.

3) The art: I’ve said this many times before and it’s worth repeating again. The art is the least important part of a webcomic update. If you don’t believe me, then just look at a popular webcomic called “XKCD“, which uses stick figure art. This is a webcomic that is popular because of the writing and humour, rather than the art.

So, if you have to rush or downgrade any part of your webcomic in order to save time, then you should do this with the art. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the writing, characters, humour etc.. in your webcomic matter more than the art does. Not only that, if you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even a slightly “rushed” or “downgraded” version of your art will still look better than (or as good as) the art in your older comics because you’ve had more practice.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a panel from the first slightly “rushed” comic update for my upcoming Christmas mini series:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 19th December.

And here’s a “good” webcomic update that I made in 2015/16 (from this mini series) . As you can see, the modern “rushed” art compares fairly well to it:

“Damania Redux – Cyberpunk” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, if you have to save time, then rush the art rather than the writing/planning. Likewise, if you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even your current rushed art will probably look better than your “good” older webcomic art. So, don’t feel too bad about it. The important thing is to actually make comic updates.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why You Should Create Your Own Fictional Universe When Making Comics – A Ramble

At the time of writing, I was busy preparing this month’s webcomic mini series. Although it’s a series of writer’s block-induced remakes of some of my older comic updates from 2012/13, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of schadenfreude when I read this online article (reader discretion advised) last year (and, yes, I write these articles quite far in advance).

In short, in late 2017 Marvel Comics announced a “create your own comic” tool that contains a surprisingly onerous list of content restrictions on what could and couldn’t be included in the superhero comics assembled from pre-made parts.

Even though I self-censor far too much when making webcomics these days (eg: even my upcoming mini series is probably “PG-13” at the most), I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “how is anyone supposed to make an interesting comic with those rules?” But, although I’d planned to write an article about why comics need at least a little bit of rebelliousness, I thought that I’d look at the core issue here – creative control.

Because, the only reason why Marvel was able to get away with imposing ultra-strict comic censorship on aspiring superhero comic makers is because these officially-sanctioned fan comics use their characters and take place in their own fictional universe.

Although fictional universes of your own creation may not be as popular as the mainstream superhero-based comics that depressingly seem to be synonymous with “comics” these days, it does give you creative control and this is important for so many reasons.

Creating your own fictional universe means that you can make a comic that is uniquely yours. It means that you can include your own ideas and humour in the comics that you make. Even if the setting of your comic, like my webcomic, is loosely-based on the real world – it still means that you can include quirky “unrealistic” details from time to time. Like this:

“Damania Regression – Art House” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconnected – Campfire” By C. A. Brown

What this means is that your comic will be something uniquely, refreshingly different. It also means that you have the freedom to tell the stories and jokes that you want to (within reason). Yes, your comic should still be consistent with itself and should follow some over-arching story rules. But, you get to write those rules.

A brilliant example of why creative control is important can be found in an utterly amazing webcomic called “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree. The updates for this comic are often long, dialogue-heavy things. The backgrounds are crammed with quirky satirical details. The art style is totally unique. This is a comic that substitutes intelligent drama for mindless super-powered action. This is a comic that is both surprisingly realistic and imaginatively unrealistic. Now, could you imagine a comic like this being made in the old days of traditional print comics?

So, yes, even though you’ll have to do a lot of art practice and your comic might not be as famous as certain types of comics are, there is nothing more important than creating your own fictional universe. It gives you creative control, it allows you to make more unique comics and it reduces the amount of external censorship that you have to deal with.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Want More Originality? Try Some Emotional Variation – A Ramble

Although this is an article about writing fiction, making comics and/or making art, I’m going to have to start by talking about music for quite a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Shortly before writing this article, I found myself listening to a song called “Land Of The Free” by Gamma Ray for the hundredth time and I realised something about my own musical tastes – I prefer optimistic heavy metal music. And, yes, contrary to popular belief, optimistic heavy metal actually exists. And it feels great to listen to!

Not only does it encompass pretty much everything within the Power Metal sub-genre, but optimism also can be found in individual songs by bands in many other sub-genres of metal. I mean, there are even optimistic death metal songs out there (like this one [WARNING: The video contains FLICKERING LIGHTS] ).

Yet, when you think of heavy metal, “optimism” isn’t usually the first word that springs to mind. And, yet, this is what makes these songs so intriguing and appealing. They do something slightly different with a familiar genre, leveraging the strengths of the genre in order to achieve a slightly different emotional effect. They take the intense emotional catharsis that the genre is famous for and imbue it with a sense of joy, fun and/or hope that is often missing from more traditional heavy metal. And it is really something to listen to!

It also prompts all sorts of other interesting creative flourishes too. For example, the theme of optimism means that these songs have something in common with songs from other genres – which is why, for example, a metal band like Alestorm can make an awesome cover version of a (not entirely radio-friendly) rap song called “Hangover” by Taio Cruz. Many of Alestorm’s songs are about drinking, partying and having fun. Taio Cruz’s song is about this too. So, the cover is absolutely perfect.

Likewise, it can also lead to some unexpected thematic matter too. For example, although I’m not a Christian, I was quite surprised to realise that the “epic fantasy” story told in a heavy metal song called “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” by Helloween is, thematically at least, surprisingly Christian. It’s this story about someone who goes on an epic quest to defeat Satan by destroying things related to seveal negative qualities (eg: hate, fear, senselessness, greed and ignorance).

So, why have I spent several paragraphs talking about heavy metal music?

Well, simply put, one of the easiest ways to make something “orignal” within a familiar genre (aside from taking influence from things outside of the genre) is simply to look at the general emotional tone of the genre and then try to create something that evokes a slightly different emotional tone.

For example, one of the things that I’ve noticed whenever I’ve made cyberpunk art is that I’ll sometimes try to make it bright and cheerful, rather than gloomy and dystopian. Although this was initially because I absolutely love this genre and want to celebrate it, it does result in a slightly different “style” of cyberpunk to many things in the genre.

“Market Seven” By C. A. Brown

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

Adding a different emotional tone to a familiar genre not only makes your creative works more original, but it also allows you to explore themes that you might not be able to if you stuck to a more traditional version of the genre. I mean, part of the creative process behind some of my “optimistic” cyberpunk paintings was just curiosity about what everyday life in a 1980s-style cyberpunk future would actually look like. And, well, it’s probably not all doom and gloom.

So, yes, adding a different emotional tone to a familiar genre can be a really interesting thing to do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Things An Old Computer Game Can Teach Us About How To Add Some Heavy Metal To The Fantasy Genre

Although I have a weird love/hate relationship with the fantasy genre, I recently happened to find something really cool in this genre which made me think about how to add elements of the heavy metal genre to the fantasy genre.

Although I don’t know when or if I’ll review it properly, it’s a fantasy/action computer game from 2002 called “Enclave“. Although this game has somewhat clunky combat and was clearly designed for consoles rather than computers, I still absolutely love this game.

This is a screenshot from “Enclave” (2002).

Why? Because it is about as metal as you can get 🙂 Whether you’re playing as a chiselled barbarian-like knight or a scary halfling warrior (yes, there are other playable characters, but these two are the only good ones I’ve found so far), this game exudes badassery in every way.

Seriously, it’s like the epic fight scenes from the “Lord Of The Rings” movies, but with added gloominess, mindlessness and general epicness. Although the game includes a vaguely movie-like soundtrack, I found myself fervently wishing that “Tonight We Ride” by Unleash The Archers was playing in the background of some segments of the game instead. In other words, it’s a brilliant example of heavy metal-style fantasy.

So, what can this game teach us about adding some heavy metal to the fantasy genre?

1) Simplicity: Although the game has a lot of vaguely Tolkien-esque lore (with lots of unpronounceable names like Dreg’athar etc…), one of the reasons why it is so metal is because the story of the game is relatively simple.

I hope you like fighting monsters…..

If you play as the “good” faction, the story involves breaking out of jail, defending the city from orcs, going on an epic quest through some scary wastelands etc…. I haven’t played the “evil” campaign, but the fact that you can also play as the villians is pretty cool.

Both stories are suitably heavy metal, but why? Simply put, they’re simple and focused. They don’t get lost in the minutae of mythical politics or magical lore. Although all of this stuff is still there as a background detail, the basic story is just a simple goal-orientated thing that allows for lots of epic feats of combat and dramatic battles. It doesn’t require you to keep track of twenty character names, memorise seven family trees or anything like that, it’s just a thrilling story that is there to be enjoyed.

So, if you want to add some heavy metal to your fantasy story, comic etc.. then keep the basic underlying story relatively simple.

2) Lighting: One of the best visual ways to add some heavy metal to the fantasy genre is simply to focus on gloomy lighting and death/destruction-related imagery. Again, “Enclave” excels in this respect. So far, I’ve seen creepy old castles, a besieged city, a decrepit ancient temple and some kind of hellish underworld. All of these locations are lit by fire, magma and/or moonlight. And they look really metal as a result.

Seriously, this location is pretty much an album cover in it’s own right…

So, when making comics, art in the heavy metal fantasy genre, then make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of each picture is covered with black paint. Likewise, make sure to include lots of fire-based light sources too. If you need more examples of this type of art, then just look at some classic-style heavy metal album covers.

3) Character design: The character designs in this game provide some instructive examples of both good and bad heavy metal fantasy character design. The good examples, which I mentioned earlier, are the “Knight” and “Halfling” characters.

The knight looks more like a Roman gladiator (in terms of his spiked shoulder armour etc…) or a muscular barbarian than a traditional medieval knight. Likewise, the halfling has spiky blond hair, grins maniacally, has scary-looking facial tattoos and looks genuinely fearsome. Although her costume design (eg: dark trousers and a crop top) doesn’t include any armour, her character design still has a rather practical and rugged look that wouldn’t be out of place in a lawless wilderness or a 1980s heavy metal concert.

Yes, THIS is how to design a badass heavy metal-style character 🙂

And this Roman-like area just makes the Knight look even more like a grizzled gladiator too!

The common factor with both of these characters is that they look like hardened warriors. They look like they’ve been forged in the heat of battle and exist to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies. Their general character designs are meant to exude toughness and they seem like they genuinely fit into a harsh world that is ruled by the sword and the bow.

On the other hand, the “Druid” character is a terrible example of heavy metal fantasy character design. Simply put, she’s wearing a swimming costume.

I’m not exaggerating, this outfit is more suited to a beach party than an epic battle with the forces of evil!

Even though the game recognises the sheer absurdity of wearing something like this into battle (by drastically reducing the level of protection against damage she has), her design comes across more as blatant fanservice than actual heavy metal character design. In other words, she seems like she wouldn’t last five minutes in the game’s world. And this completely breaks the immersion for the audience.

So, design your characters with toughness and practicality in mind and they will come across as considerably more “metal” than if you aim for fanservice or ultra-stylised character design.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂