Three Things To Do With Failed Webcomic Update Ideas/Plans

Well, since I’m still busy preparing a webcomic mini series for later this month, I thought that I’d write another webcomic-related article. In particular, I’ll be talking about what to do with the comic ideas that you don’t end up using. I’m sure I’ve talked about this topic before, but it seemed like it was worth repeating.

Needless to say, it’s incredibly useful to actually note these ideas down (or, even better, sketch them). And, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you’ve done this.

1) Make them (when you’re uninspired): A while before writing this article, I had to prepare a comic update for later this month. However, since this mini series seems to be one of my less-inspired ones, I was having trouble coming up with an idea.

Fortunately, since I ended up planning more comics than I actually made during my previous mini series, I was able to directly re-use an idea that I’d rejected whilst planning that webcomic. Although it certainly isn’t the best comic update in the world, it at least allowed me to make a comic update. And, if you’re making a webcomic, then actually making the updates is the most important part.

Here’s a preview of the comic update in question:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 25th May.

Another cool thing about recycling old ideas is that, if you point out that you’re doing this, then you can kind of turn it into a “deleted scenes” kind of thing. After all, it’s always interesting to see things that could have appeared earlier. So, as well as being a quick way to actually make a comic update when you’re uninspired, it can also be a way to give your audience a glimpse “behind the scenes”.

2) Use the basic idea: Whilst writing this article, I took another look at my preparatory notes and plans for my previous mini series and, to my surprise, I noticed an abandoned plan that was very mildly similar (in terms of structure, set up etc..) to one of the comics in my upcoming mini series.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This mostly-planned comic update was going to be part of “Damania Regression”, but I ended up abandoning it in favour of another gaming-related comic idea.

Yet, the comic in my upcoming mini series has absolutely nothing to do with old computer games. Yet, by remembering the basic idea behind this comic (albeit subconsciously), I was able to rework it into something a bit more sophisticated and amusing. Not only that, I could also take inspiration from other sources too.

So, if a planned comic update doesn’t work out, then you can always return to the basic idea behind it and find a new way to use it.

3) Work out where they went wrong: One other useful thing about failed comic update plans is that they can help you to improve your webcomic. Normally, if an idea fails, then there’s usually a reason for it. If you can work out what that reason is, then this will help you to make better comics.

For example, when planning the next update in the upcoming mini series, I was determined to make an update about the band Cradle Of Filth (since I’ve been geeking out about them a bit recently). Yet, every time I tried to plan a comic update about this, it seemed like I was either re-hashing tired old tropes about heavy metal music or making something that looked more like an advert for the band.

I was only able to think of a decent comic idea after I realised that this idea was too narrowly-focused. Instead, I took a step back and, after remembering something that happened earlier that day, I was able to come up with a more generalised comic idea about musical nostalgia and technology.

So, yes, asking yourself why an abandoned webcomic update plan failed can be a good way to come up with better comic ideas.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Not Every Webcomic Update Will Be Stellar… And That’s Ok – A Ramble

Well, since I’m busy making next month’s webcomic mini series at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about quality variations in webcomics today.

This is mostly because, although the second update in the upcoming mini series certainly isn’t a “bad” comic update, it didn’t end up being quite as funny or artistically detailed as the previous comic update was. Here’s a preview of it:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 23rd May.

Even if you only make webcomic updates occasionally, you’ll probably run into this problem too. Sometimes, the only good idea for a webcomic update isn’t quite as good as the idea you had last time. Of course, in these situations, the only sensible thing to do is to… make the comic update anyway.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Make the comic update.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, a mediocre finished webcomic update is still better than a hypothetical “great” webcomic update that you haven’t made. For starters, it means that your audience gets to see something. Even if they aren’t impressed by the comic update, they can at least feel reassured by the fact that you’re still making comics (and sticking to your schedule).

Secondly, you are almost certainly your own worst critic. If you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even one of your “bad” comic updates might still be considered acceptable or even good by the standards of other people. If you haven’t been making webcomics for long, then you need the practice – so make the update and post it for your own sake. Remember, even the best webcomics weren’t as good during their early days.

Thirdly, even if you only publish six comic updates a month (which seems to be my thing at the moment), you’ve still got to make multiple comic updates within a relatively short period of time. This is especially true if you want to make a long-running webcomic.

You’ve got to come up with comic ideas on a regular basis and, as such, there are inevitably going to be slight dips in quality occasionally. No-one’s imagination runs at 100% efficiency all of the time. Your audience probably understands this too and are more forgiving then you think. At the very least, if you stick to your update schedule then this means that they won’t have to wait that long for the next comic update (which might be better).

Fourthly, a mediocre webcomic update can be more inspirational than you think. After all, if there are any aspiring webcomic creators in your audience, then they are probably going to see the mediocre comic update and either think “I can do better than that! I’ll finally start my own webcomic!” or “Whew! I’m not the only one who has off days with my comic sometimes!“. So posting a mediocre comic update might actually help out other people.

Finally, and most importantly, if you care about the fact that your latest comic update isn’t as good as the one you made before it, then this means that you care about making webcomics. It means that webcomics still matter to you. It means that you still feel motivated to make webcomics. It means that you aren’t giving up in frustration or anything like that. It means that you want to make better webcomic updates. And this is a good thing!

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Four Basic Tips For Finding A Distinctive Comedy Style For Your Webcomic

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making next month’s webcomic mini series. Anyway, one of the things that I sometimes worry about before starting a collection of comic updates is that I don’t have my own distinctive style of humour. Then again, everyone probably does this.

Still, if you’ve seen a lot of other things in the comedy genre, it can be easy to think that everyone else has their own unique “style” of humour and you don’t. Again, this isn’t true. But, here are a few ways that you can rediscover your own unique style of humour.

1) Your favourite comedy: This is a fairly obvious one, but look at all of your favourite things in the comedy genre. All of the things that really make you crease up with laughter. Your own style of humour is a mixture of all of the types of humour found in these things.

If you’re not sure about the humour type of your favourite things in the comedy genre, just read or watch as much of them as possible. You’ll soon start to notice patterns, styles of jokes etc… Yes, most good things in the comedy genre will contain a mixture of different types of humour, but there will often be one or two that stand out more than the others.

These types of humour might include things like character-based humour, “shock value” humour, political/social satire, parodies, cynicism, slapstick humour, clever wordplay, subverted expectations, amusing narration, old things in modern settings etc…

The trick here, of course, isn’t to directly copy any one thing – but to try to find the types of jokes that you want to tell. Once you’ve found a few types of humour that you really like, then come up with your own jokes that use this style and include them in your webcomic. The thing to remember is that distinctive comedy styles come from a unique mixture of pre-existing types of humour.

2) Don’t be afraid to experiment: One of the reasons why I sometimes worry that I don’t have my own “style” of humour is that I tend to experiment with different types of humour from time to time. For example, this comic update of mine combines cynical humour with more philosophical elements:

“Damania Reflection – Mind, Body & Spirit” By C. A. Brown

Whereas, this comic update of mine is more like something from a gaming webcomic:

“Damania Regression – Community” By C. A. Brown

I could go on for a while, but part of finding your own “style” of humour is experimenting with lots of different types of humour. And this usually involves taking inspiration from lots of different things along the way. So, if your humour changes every month or two, then it just means that you’re adding more stuff to your repertoire. It means that you are improving or refining your own unique style of humour. It’s a good thing!

3) Look back: If you’ve been making webcomics for a while and you’re still worrying that you don’t have a unique type of humour, then just look back at some or all of the comics that you’ve made in the past.

When you look at comic updates that you haven’t seen in a while, you’ll probably have a slightly more distanced perspective. And there’s a good chance that you’ll start to notice at least some hints of your own distinctive style of humour lurking in there too. And, since you made these comic updates in the past, it means that you already have a unique style of humour. You just needed a reminder.

4) Your perspective: I’m usually sceptical about people who tell you to “write from experience”, since they’re often the kind of annoyingly extroverted people who seem to think that everyone else should be just like them. No, a much better piece of advice is to “write from your own perspective”.

I don’t mean that you should make your webcomic autobiographical, but that you should take a look at the way that you think about the world.

Take a look at the topics and ideas that interest you. Take a look at anything you’ve seen or read recently that had some kind of emotional or intellectual impact on you. Take a look at your dreams and daydreams.

Once you’ve thought about these things, try to find a way to make them (or things like them) funny. This will instantly give your comedy a certain level of personality and uniqueness.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Top Ten Articles – March 2018

Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for me to collect a list of links to my ten favourite articles about making art, making webcomics and/or writing fiction that I’ve posted here this month (plus a few honourable mentions too).

All in all, this has been a reasonably good month in terms of articles, even if I ended up writing more “critic”-style articles than usual (where I talk about a genre or something like that).

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – March 2018

– “Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics Are More Similar Than You Think – A Ramble
– “Nostalgia Is A Different Source Of Artistic Inspiration For Everyone – A Ramble
– “Good Horror Shouldn’t Linger – A Ramble
– “Finding The Right Type Of “Easy” Art To Make When Making Art Feels Difficult
– “What To Do If You Feel Creatively Inspired By Something You Don’t Like
– “Another Cool Thing Computer And Video Games Can Teach Artists
– “Three Quick Ways To Make “Retro” 1980s/90s-Style Art (If You’ve Never Made Retro Art Before)
– “The One Skill That Writing, Art etc.. Courses Don’t Always Teach Directly – A Ramble
– “Three Ways To Reduce Or Increase The Emotional Impact Of Fictional Violence
– “Three Quick Reasons Why Cyberpunk Art Is Easier To Make Than You Think

Honourable Mentions:

– “Two More Similarities Between Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics
– “Creativity As Variation – A Ramble
– “Three Reasons Why Novelty Art Supplies Are Awesome – A Ramble
– “Why It’s Important For Artists To Be Part Of The Audience Sometimes – A Ramble

Two More Similarities Between Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics

Well, since I still seem to be going through a bit of an animated sitcom phase at the time of writing, I thought that I’d write a follow-up to an article about the similarities between webcomics and animated sitcoms that I posted here about a week ago.

So, here are two more awesome similarities between animated sitcoms and webcomics:

1) Side stories: The day before I wrote this article, I was watching a second-hand DVD of season six of “American Dad” and happened to notice a really interesting episode. The episode is called “Rapture’s Delight” and it’s this 1980s-style religion-influenced sci-fi horror comedy thriller episode that is at least slightly visually and tonally different to the rest of the show:

This is a screenshot from “Rapture’s Delight” (2009/10). This post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror comedy episode of “American Dad” is very different to a typical episode of the show, and yet it works really well!

The episode is so wonderfully cheesy on so many levels, the “Doom” -style dystopian future, the 1980s-style electronic and heavy metal music, the stylised American Christmas scenes and the fact that it’s a cheesy sci-fi/horror/comedy/thriller story in the middle of a sitcom. Yet, it still works as an episode of “American Dad”. Not only that, it also made me think about webcomics too.

This is mostly because some webcomics will occasionally do something similar to this, where they will include a somewhat different side story in place of their usual self-contained comic updates. Although it’s been quite a while since I’ve really read it regularly, Holkins and Krahulik’s long-running gaming webcomic “Penny Arcade” will occasionally include more “serious” graphic novel style story arcs in place of the usual topical gaming comics.

These are two panels from “Sand” by Holkins & Krahulik (2013). The characters, visual style, subject matter and tone of this “wild west” sci-fi comic is significantly different from the usual videogame-themed “Penny Arcade” webcomic updates that they post on their site.

But, why do webcomic makers do this? Well, there are several reasons – but the main one is that it gives us a chance to try something a bit different. To break with routine for a while and remind ourselves of how fun making comics can be. It’s also something a bit different for the audience as well.

For example, my own occasional webcomics have featured things like science fiction story arcs (like this one, this one and this one), detective stories (like this one, this one, this one and this one), a zombie story and even a story arc set in 1990s America. In addition to this, I also recently tried to make comics that included no dialogue whatsoever. So, yes, this sort of thing happens as much for the sake of the webcomic creators as it does for their audience.

2) Historical cameos: One of the great things about any drawing-based medium is the fact that it is ridiculously easy to include amusing cameos from historical figures. After all, you don’t have to find actors or models who look like the people in question.

Although this sort of thing can also be done easily in prose fiction (John Kendrick Bangs’ “A House-Boat On The Styx” being the classic example), it obviously lacks the visual elements found in webcomics and animated sitcoms.

Anyway, a good example of historical cameos can be seen in an episode from season two of the animated sci-fi sitcom “Futurama” called “A Head In The Polls” which features a hall filled with the re-animated heads of many US Presidents, who have amusing conversations with the show’s main characters.

This is a screenshot from the Futurama episode “A Head In The Polls” (1999). Re-creating this scene in a live-action sitcom would be ridiculously difficult yet, since this is an animated sitcom, the creators of the show were easily able to include a scene like this.

This concept of historical cameos is explored a lot more comprehensively in Kate Beaton’s excellent “Hark! A Vagrant“, a webcomic which mostly revolves around history-themed comedy. Beaton’s comics often feature amusing meetings between historical figures and/or silly situations involving historical figures, and it is hilarious.

These are two panels from episode 213 of Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant!”. This comic update revolves around Jules Verne sending Edgar Allen Poe some obssessive fan mail, and it is one of many examples of historical comedy in this webcomic.

So, why do webcomics and animated sitcoms do this kind of thing? Well, the obvious answer is because they can. The more subtle answer is that it is a very good source of comedy, for the simple reason that history is often treated with a very high degree of seriousness and reverence. As such, it is perfect for irreverent humour. It can also be a good way to pay tribute to historical figures and/or to critique the way that history is recorded and remembered too.

Although this is something that I haven’t done that often in my own occasional webcomics, this mini series of mine features silly historical cameos from Ada Lovelace, Karl Marx and Jack The Ripper. I mostly just did this for the fun of it, but it certainly gave the mini series an extra something.

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

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Quick Tips For Making Webcomics In Adverse Conditions

At the time of preparing this article, I was busy making a webcomic mini series that will appear here in mid-late April. Despite the fact that there had been a heatwave for several days beforehand, and I’d been having a rather uninspired month, I was determined that there would be comics posted here in April. Here’s a panel from one of the upcoming comics:

The full finished comic update will be posted here on the 20th April.

So, how do you make webcomics in adverse conditions? Here are a few quick tips:

1) Downsize: Simply put, make smaller webcomics and/or fewer webcomics. For example, despite switching to 6-8 panel A4-size rectangular comics for most of the comic updates that have been posted here since last autumn, I decided to go back to my old four-panel square comic format for this mini series.

Although the comic updates are a bit smaller, shaving a couple of panels off of each comic update was a way to ensure that I actually made some comics. Best of all, since each update was smaller, this increased my feelings of confidence about actually being able to complete the project.

So, if the weather conditions etc… mean that it’s harder to work up the motivation to make webcomics, then don’t be afraid to downsize your comic a bit. Remember, a shorter comic update that is actually finished and posted online is a billion times better than a longer update that isn’t finished or posted online.

2) Shortcuts: When faced with adverse conditions, don’t be afraid to use every kind of sneaky shortcut that you can think of in order to actually get your comics finished.

For example, the preview I showed you earlier actually involved a lot more digital image editing than usual. What this meant was that the actual painting time for the comic update was a lot shorter and more manageable.

Here’s what a panel from the comic update looks like without any digital editing. As you can see, it looks a lot more “unfinished” than my comic updates usually do once I’ve finished the painting stage (but haven’t started the digital editing stage)….

Yes, this is what a panel from the comic looked like after I’d finished painting. This time, I decided to finish the comic update on the computer for time/effort reasons.

Since the image editing program I uses has a fairly decent “fill” tool, I could just fill in all of these areas digitally after scanning the comic update (and making all of my usual adjustments to the brightness,contrast, hue and saturation levels). Yes, this means that the physical copy of the comic update looks unfinished – but it also means that I actually had a finished comic update!

3) Inspirations: A couple of days ago, I talked about animated sitcoms. Surprisingly, these were also a key part of why I eventually worked up the motivation to actually start making a webcomic mini series for next month (despite the hot weather, the lack of enthusiasm etc…).

In essence, animated sitcoms were one of the many things that originally got me interested in the idea of making comics. So, watching some of them again reminded me of just how awesome cartoons can be. It reminded me of why cartoons are one of my favourite storytelling mediums. Likewise, it reminded me of how awesome it is that a few drawings can quite literally elicit laughter from the audience.

So, yes, if you are faced with adverse conditions, then go back to one or more of the things that originally got you interested in webcomics. With any luck, these things will remind you why you make webcomics and give you the motivation to make some more 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics Are More Similar Than You Think – A Ramble

Well, although I’m still going through a bit more of a nostalgic phase than usual, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about 1990s computer games to talk about one of the other “nostalgic” things that I rediscovered recently – animated sitcoms. In particular, I’ll be talking about what animated sitcoms can teach us about making webcomics (but, for time/practicality reasons, I’ll only be looking at two “immature” animated sitcoms here [eg: “South Park” and “Family Guy”], as well as a few webcomics too).

These two mediums have a lot more in common than you might think. Both tell stories using stylised drawings, both have to be made (relatively) quickly, both rely heavily on well-written dialogue, both have a limited amount of time and/or space to tell a story, and both are usually deliberately “unrealistic” in all sorts of inventive ways.

A good example of this can probably be seen in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “South Park“. This is a long-running animated sitcom where each episode is apparently written and produced within the space of about a week or so (in order to allow for more topical satire). As such, the show often tends to use a fairly primitive level of animation – where the emphasis is much more on the comedic dialogue and the amusing events of each episode than on detailed art or fluid/realistic animation.

This is a screenshot from season 7 of “South Park” (2003). As you can see, the art is deliberately undetailed. Likewise, the animation is done using CGI that emulates traditional “cut out” animation. This allows the show’s creators to make episodes quickly, albeit at the cost of less realistic and less fluid animation.

Sacrificing art/animation detail for speed is something that anyone who makes or reads regular long-running webcomics will probably be familiar with.

A good example of this has to be Zach Wiener’s “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal“, a daily webcomic which often uses undetailed backgrounds and very cartoonish art in order to maintain a constant daily schedule.

These are two panels from one of Zach Wiener’s “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal” comics from last year. Like with “South Park”, less detailed art is used in order to increase the speed and regularity that these comics are made.

Like with “South Park”, the emphasis of the comic is on amusing/ irreverent/ silly dialogue (or amusing situations). As such, the audience is more likely to focus on this than the level of artistic detail in each update. This also allows for daily comic updates too.

For comparison, take a look at Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” – this webcomic looks absolutely beautiful, but all of the hyper-detailed art takes a long time to make, so the comic only updates once every few months at the very most.

This is a panel from “muZeM” by Winston Rowntree (2015). As you can see, the level of artistic detail is considerably higher. However, one result of this is that the comic can sometimes only update 1-2 times per year (as opposed to every day or several times a week).

So, yes, the level of artistic detail in a webcomic depends heavily on factors like the update schedule, how topical the comic is etc.. Just like animated sitcoms.

Moving on to another TV show, I was lucky enough to find a cheap second-hand DVD of Seth McFarlane’s “Family Guy” (the DVD cover claims that it is season ten, but Wikipedia suggests that the episodes are from season nine).

Anyway, one interesting thing about this DVD boxset is that it contains an hour-long special called “And Then There Were Fewer“. This is a slight parody of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” and it is probably one of the most visually sumptuous episodes of “Family Guy” that I’ve ever seen (plus, having made an Agatha Christie parody comic of my own last year, I was naturally curious to see how “Family Guy” handled this topic).

This is a screenshot from Seth McFarlane’s “And Then There Were Fewer” (2010). As you can see, the art looks a bit more detailed than “South Park”.

Anyway, the reason that I mentioned this episode is because some parts of it use fairly obvious CGI effects (as opposed to more subtle CGI that imitates traditional animation).

For example, many of the establishing aerial shots of the mansion that the episode takes place within are quite clearly created using cel-shaded 3D models, rather than “traditional”-style animation. And, this is a good thing! It allows the show to do something that would be near-impossible with traditional-style animation in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost.

It’s also a good example of how webcomic creators shouldn’t be afraid to use whichever technologies make it easier and/or quicker to make better webcomics. I mean, it’s no coincidence that many regular modern webcomics will often use digital tools (for example, my own occasional webcomics use a mixture of digital and traditional materials) since they allow for things like the easy correction of mistakes, the fast addition/alteration of colours, the addition of digital effects and the seamless re-use of previously made artwork.

This is one of my own comic updates where, due to time limitations, I created the central panel using entirely digital tools. The other two panels are digitally enhanced ink/watercolour drawings.
(“Damania Replicated – Records” By C. A. Brown [2016/17])

And, no, this isn’t “cheating”. As long as it is your own original work, then there’s no rule against using whatever procedural shortcuts you need in order to get your comics out on time and/or make them look good. As cynical as it sounds, most readers will be more interested in reading your comic than working out how it was made, and most other webcomic artists will understand that shortcuts can be an essential part of making a webcomic.

So, yes, those are two things that animated sitcoms can teach you about making webcomics – the dialogue matters more than the art, and that you shouldn’t be afraid to use digital tools (if this makes your art look better and/or makes it quicker to make).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂