Four Basic Ways To Downgrade Your Webcomic (To Stay Inspired)

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Although the webcomic mini series I’m posting here at the moment has fairly detailed art and a slightly elaborate storyline, the next mini series will experience something of a downgrade when it appears here in early September. Here’s a preview:

The full comic update will appear here on the 4th September. As you can see, it looks and reads more like one of my "old" comics from 2016.

The full comic update will appear here on the 4th September. As you can see, it looks and reads more like one of my “old” comics from 2016.

Why? Well, it was mostly because, when I was preparing August’s daily art posts, I was extremely reluctant to make comics. After all of the effort I’d put into the mini series that’s being posted here at the moment, making comics started to seem like an arduous, time-consuming thing. It was only when I noticed that I hadn’t included a single comic in any of August’s art posts that I realised that I was in danger of succumbing to comics burnout (like I did for pretty much all of 2014). So, drastic action had to be taken.

In other words, I began to make a fairly heavily downgraded short mini series for September, as a way to ease myself back into making comics. But, how can you downgrade your webcomic if you need to stay inspired, if you have less time, if you have less enthusiasm etc…

1) Comic type: There are two types of webcomics – webcomics that tell continuous stories and webcomics where each comic update is self-contained. Both of these comic types have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to ease of writing.

Different people find different types of comics easier to make. So, if you want to downgrade your comic, then just choose the type that you find easiest. Interestingly, this can work both ways- I switched to “continuous story” comics for the comics I posted earlier this year because I felt that it was easier than having to think of new ideas for each comic.

However, after a while, coming up with suitably interesting plot ideas became more difficult. So, during my recent downgrade, I switched back to self-contained comics. So, yes, it can be something of a cyclical process.

2) Art downgrade: The easiest way to save time and energy if you need to downgrade your webcomic is to simplify the art slightly. There are literally loads of ways to do this.

For example, you can switch from colour artwork to black & white artwork. Yes, knowing how to make good black & white artwork is a skill that has to be learnt but, if you know how to do this, then you can save a surprising amount of time.

Or, you can do what I’ve done in my upcoming mini series and simply reduce the level of background detail in each comic. Whilst most of the comics I’ve posted here this year tend to feature detailed outdoor background locations, the next mini series will go back to mostly featuring simple interior locations. This means that, for most of the backgrounds, I often just have to draw a single wall or two – rather than, say, an elaborate cityscape.

This allows me to keep the overall “look” of the comic, and the writing within it, at a reasonably good level whilst also saving me a large amount of time. In addition to this, I had a lot of practice with using simplified backgrounds during 2016, so it was a way to recapture some of the “spontaneity” that I used to feel when making those old comics.

3) Know what to downgrade: Have you noticed how I’ve only really talked about downgrading the art in your comics or changing the format you use? Well, this is because there’s one thing that you should never downgrade. I am, of course, talking about the writing in your comic. Don’t downgrade the writing!

I’ve probably mentioned this a few times before, but the writing is the most important part of a webcomic. Even if the art looks simplistic, a webcomic can still be interesting, compelling or funny if the writing is good enough.

So, don’t downgrade the writing!

4) Time and length: One ‘downgrade’ that I applied to my webcomics before I even made them was to release them in short 6-17 comic mini series. Whilst this is fairly unusual for a webcomic, it was a decision that I made because I’ve learnt from experience that there are limits to how long I can focus on a single comic for.

Likewise, one subtle form of downgrading that I’ve used in order to stay inspired whilst making webcomics over the past year or two is to vary the lengths of the mini series. If I’m not feeling hugely inspired, then I might only make a six-comic mini series. If the art was particularly detailed, or the story required a lot of planning, then I might limit myself to just eight comics.

In fact, this was probably why I had so many problems after I finished the mini series that is being posted here at the moment. Due to it’s artistic complexity, it should have been a 6-8 comic mini series. But, since I was having so much fun making it – even if it was a bit of a challenge – I overstretched and made twelve comics.

So, yes, don’t be afraid to do things like releasing comics slightly less often or reducing the length of your comics, if it keeps you inspired.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Top Ten Articles – June 2017

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Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for my usual “Top Ten Articles” post. This is where I choose ten of my favourite articles about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction that I’ve posted here over the past month and link to them. As usual, there will probably also be a couple of honourable mentions too.

All in all, whilst this month’s articles started out well, I had some mild writer’s block near the end of the month – so, there were a few badly-written and/or repetitive articles. Still, hopefully, this will pass.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂

Top Ten Articles – June 2017:

– “Three Ways To Take Artistic Inspiration From Anime And/Or Manga (If You Don’t Use That Drawing Style)
– “Two Ways To Find Your Own “Version” Of The Cyberpunk Genre
– “Three Cool Art Tricks I Learnt From Films, TV And/Or Computer Games
– “Three Ways To Make The Lighting In Your Artwork Look More Interesting
– “Three Advantages Of Hyper-Detailed Art In Webcomics
– “Three Ways To Make Better Filler Episodes For Your (Story-Based) Webcomic
– “Three Ways To Make A Webcomic Update In A Hurry
– “Four Basic Ways To Preview Your Art (or Webcomics)
– “Four Awesome Advantages Of Watching DVDs Whilst Making Art
– “Two Basic Ways To Learn New Artistic Techniques

Honourable Mentions:

– “What GCSE ICT Taught Me About Making Art
– “Two Basic Ways To Cover Up A Failed Painting (Or Drawing)

Three Ways To Make A Change To Your Webcomic Series (Without Alienating Too Many Of Your Readers)

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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“:

"Damania Repressed - Analytical Engine" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Analytical Engine” By C. A. Brown

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:

The full comic update will appear here on the 23rd July.

The full comic update will appear here on the 23rd July.

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:

 As you can see, I've started using slightly more detailed art and more extensive digital editing.

As you can see, I’ve started using slightly more detailed art and more extensive digital editing. (Note: The release dates refer to this blog, rather than to DeviantART)

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).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Make A Webcomic Update In A Hurry

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Although I talked about filler updates yesterday, I thought that I’d look at something subtly different today – namely, how to make a webcomic update quickly.

This is mostly because, the day before I wrote this article, I found that I had relatively little time to prepare the second of the two comic updates (to be posted as part of a mini series in late July) that I’d planned to make that day.

Luckily, I still made the comic update. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 26th July.

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 26th July.

So, how was I able to speed everything up? Here are a few tips:

1) Three panels or one panel: Most of my webcomic updates tend to have 4-5 panels per update, this comic update only has three – even if this is cleverly disguised by the unusual panel layout. Although this might sound like it would be more difficult to write (since there’s less space for dialogue and storytelling), it actually isn’t if you’ve had a bit of practice.

Whilst longer comics might require more complex writing or structure, three panel comics often just follow the rule of “premise, set-up, punchline“. The first panel sets the scene, the second panel creates an expectation (about the third panel) and the third panel then shatters that expectation in an amusing way.

When you’ve seen this done enough times (typically in newspaper comics) and have practiced it a bit, then it’s a very familiar and easy rhythm that can help you to come up with quick comic ideas when you’re in a hurry.

Likewise, the general rule with one-panel comics is to set up an expectation with the art or the dialogue, and then subvert it with whichever one you haven’t used already (eg: art or dialogue) to set up the expectation.

2) Recycling: If you’re in a rush, then you probably won’t have much planning time for your comic update. So, take all or part of an idea or a joke from one of your previous comic updates and try to find a new twist on it (or add something to it). Don’t repeat the joke or idea exactly, but borrow the parts that made it so good the last time you used it.

For example, when I was making the comic update that I previewed earlier in this article, I didn’t have a huge amount of planning time. So, since it was a science fiction comic, I borrowed elements from the joke from this old four-panel comic of mine about VR technology and then used a slightly different punchline.

Although recycling your own stuff isn’t the most creative thing in the world and it shouldn’t be done that often, it can be useful for actually making something when you are in a hurry.

3) Art tricks: There are probably too many of them to mention every one here, but it’s always a good idea to learn some tricks that make the art in your comic look better than it actually is. This will save you time, whilst also allowing you to make impressive-looking comic updates.

These tricks include things like giving the illusion of detail, using realistic lighting to distract from the lack of detail in other parts of the artwork, making the setting look larger than it actually is, using simplified backgrounds, numerous digital editing techniques etc……

For example, most of the art in the preview at the beginning of this article is in the large middle panel. In case you can’t tell from the preview image, most of the art in that panel was created digitally using a few image effects. What this meant was that the bulk of the update’s art could be created by just selecting a few areas of the picture and applying various image effects.

However, the other two panels are made traditionally using ink and watercolours (albeit with some digital image editing after I scanned them). Since the comic starts off and ends with a traditional panel, it still gives the impression that the comic update was mostly made traditionally. Even though only about 25% of the entire update was created by slightly more time-consuming traditional methods.

If you learn sneaky tricks like this, then they can come in handy when you are in a hurry.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Make Better Filler Episodes For Your (Story-Based) Webcomic

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Well, due to being extremely tired at the time, I ended up making a filler episode for a webcomic mini series that will appear here in late July. Since this mini series will have an over-arching plot, I thought that I’d look at making filler updates for story-based webcomics today.

Like all good filler episodes, the one I made hopefully won’t obviously look too much like a filler episode, but it allowed me to plan and make a comic episode with relatively little effort. Here’s a preview of one panel from it:

The full comic update will appear here on the 24th July.

The full comic update will appear here on the 24th July.

Anyway, how do you make interesting (and easy) filler updates for story-based webcomics?

1) Focus on the secondary cast: One of the easiest ways to make a filler comic is to focus on a background character (or background characters) who hasn’t had much “screen time” in your webcomic. Even if you use a fairly generic joke or if you just show the background characters discussing what the main characters are doing, then this can be a good way to make an interesting filler comic.

Why? Because these characters haven’t appeared too much in the rest of your webcomic, they’re probably slightly mysterious. So, even if they don’t actually do much in your filler comic, these characters will be interesting because your audience will probably want to learn more about them.

Likewise, even if you just show them discussing what your main characters have done earlier in the comic then this will add some depth to your comic by showing that the “world” of your comic is larger than just the characters who appear in most of your comic updates. Likewise, you can use these character discussions to either add some background details, move the story along slightly and/or foreshadow something that will happen later in the comic.

2) Recaps and flashbacks: Another sneaky way to make a quick filler comic to make a recap update. Not only will this help new readers to catch up on the story but, if you know a little bit about digital editing, you can also create one of these updates fairly quickly by directly copying important panels from your previous comics and collecting them together in a new comic update.

A good way to learn which types of panels you should include is to watch movie trailers and/or the short “previously on…” recaps that often appear before episodes of long-running American TV shows.

If you want some of the speed that making a recap update offers, but you still actually want to include some new stuff in your comic update too, then just include a flashback scene. This is where you show one of your characters remembering something from earlier in the comic. Like with a recap, you can just digitally copy the scene in question from one of your previous updates.

However, to make it obvious that it’s a flashback, it’s usually a good idea to use some kind of image effect on the copied panel. The classic way to do this is to digitally desaturate the panel until it looks like something from an old movie. But, you could also alter the hue of the panel too – for example, the flashback scene in my filler comic has a blue tint to it (which also went well with the colour scheme of the rest of the update).

3) Backgrounds: Another way to make your filler update quickly is to keep the backgrounds as simplistic as possible. So, set your filler update in part of your comic’s setting which is (relatively) quick and easy to draw.

For example, in the mini series I’m making at the moment, many of the comics are set in a rainy, neon-lit futuristic city. This usually involves time-consuming things like digitally adding rain to the comic in MS after scanning it etc… Sometimes, I can cut down on this by just showing the cityscape through a window in the background, but it still involves extra editing.

So, if you take another look at the preview at the beginning of this article, you’ll probably notice that whilst there’s still a window in the background, the blinds happen to be drawn. The rest of the background still looks a bit like the backgrounds in other comic updates from the mini series, so it’s still clear that it is taking place in the same city – even though it doesn’t actually include a detailed cityscape in the background.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

One Cool Thing That TV Shows Taught Me About Storytelling In Webcomics

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As I mentioned yesterday, I’m busy making another webcomic mini series at the time of writing.

This one will appear in mid-late July and I’m planning on taking a slightly similar approach to the storytelling in it as I did in “Damania Retrofuturistic“, “Damania Renaissance” and “Damania Repressed“. In other words, there will be an overarching plot, but (hopefully) several self-contained updates too.

This is an approach to storytelling that I’ve learnt from watching numerous TV shows. Most recently, I’ve seen an absolutely great example of this technique in the first season of “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“. One really cool thing about this show is the fact that the episode title screen looks different depending on whether the episode is a stand-alone episode or part of the series’ main story arc.

Although television is a different medium to webcomics, they have more in common than you might think. They’re both visual mediums and they’re both released in an episodic fashion. Likewise, since they’re often produced in less time, on a lower budget and/or in larger quantities than films or novels are, there’s a lot more emphasis on characterisation and writing than there is on visual spectacle.

Anyway, the main reasons why a lot of TV shows use this structure is because, before the days of DVD boxsets, internet TV etc.. they couldn’t rely on their audience watching every episode in order. So, self-contained episodes provide something for people who have missed a few episodes and/or have started watching the TV show halfway through a season etc…

Even though most webcomics have easily searchable archives of one kind or another (like with the comics index page on this site), most people become interested in a webcomic by stumbling across just one episode of it by accident. So, if you include self-contained comic updates, then this makes your webcomic more easily accessible and it increases the chances of new readers being amused or intrigued by just seeing one comic update.

In addition to this, in television, these types of episodes also provide a bit of variety within the show itself. For example, a TV show with a depressing main plot might try to lighten the tone by including a few humourous or light-hearted stand-alone episodes in each season.

In webcomics, this sort of thing can allow you to include extra characterisation, to make jokes that wouldn’t fit into the main storyline and things like that. It gives you more room to try different things and to add more to your comic, without affecting the main storyline too much.

The trick to all of this is, of course, working out the ratio of self-contained to story-based episodes. Generally, if you include more story-based episodes, then you can tell a more detailed and complex story – albeit at the expense of making it more accessible to new readers. Likewise, if most of the updates in your comic are self-contained, then you’ll probably have to use a simpler story for the main plot.

Of course, if you’re really up for a challenge- you can include an over-arching plot in the background, whilst also giving each “episode” a self-contained sub plot. This is probably a lot more difficult to do in webcomics than it is in TV for the simple reason that you’ll only have 1-8 panels to work with in every comic update (as opposed to 45 minutes of screen time). But, the main advantage of this is that it makes your comic more accessible to new and/or infrequent readers than if you use a combination of self-contained comics and story-based comics.

But, yes, TV shows can teach you a lot about story structure in webcomics.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Top Ten Articles – May 2017

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Well, it’s the end of the month and, as usual, I thought that I’d post a list of links to my ten favourite articles about art, webcomics and/or writing that I’ve posted here this month. I’ll also include a couple of honourable mentions too.

Although there were more reviews and rambling articles than usual near the end of the month (and I almost missed including articles on two occasions due to scheduling errors when I prepared this month’s articles quite a while ago), I really like how at least a third of this month’s articles turned out 🙂

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – May 2017:

– “Three Ways To Find Your Own Aesthetic
– “Three Ways To Blend Different Genres Of Art
– “Three Things You Can Learn From Failed Comic Plans
– “Four Basic Ways To Give Your Webcomic A Visual Upgrade
– “Four Reasons Why Artists Don’t Always List Their Inspirations
– “Four Reasons Why Shorter And/Or Segmented Webcomics Are Awesome To Make
– “Three Sneaky Ways To Cram More Stuff Into A Webcomic Update
– “Four Basic Tips For Making Detective Comedy Comics
– “Three Ways To Make Better “Uninspired” Art
– “Three Basic Ways To Get More Out Of Your Image Editing Program

Honourable Mentions:

– “Five Free Sources Of Inspiration For Cyberpunk Artists, Writers etc..
– “Why “Detailed” Art Is Often Less Detailed Than You Might Think