Three Ways To Rush A Comic Update Well

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Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy preparing this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series. Although, annoyingly, I had to rush one or two of the comic updates. But, hopefully, this won’t be too noticeable when they actually appear here in mid-late December.

So, I thought that I’d talk quickly about the good ways to rush a comic update if you have to make one in a hurry. I’ve probably mentioned this stuff before, but I’m also writing this article in something of a rush too.

1) Don’t skimp on the writing:
Generally, audience members are more likely to overlook rushed art than they are to overlook rushed writing. So, if you have to focus on making only one part of your comic update good, then focus on the writing.

After all, if the audience are laughing or thinking because of the dialogue, then they probably aren’t going to notice any hurried parts of the artwork as much.

On the flipside, a comic with a small amount of acceptable-quality dialogue and lots of reasonably good art can also be a good way to make a comic in a hurry.

2) Have a plan: It’s easier to make a comic update in a hurry if you’ve planned it out in advance. After all, one of the huge time sinks when making a comic update is working out what the comic update will actually be about. So, if you have this planned out in advance, then you can get on with making the comic update straight away. So, try to plan as many comic updates as you can in advance.

But, if you don’t have a plan, then either just make some quick filler content (eg: a quick sketch of one of your characters and a brief explanation that you didn’t have time to make a comic) or use something like a previously-established running joke, or possibly make a more art-based comic or something like that.

But, if you have a plan made in advance, then this can be incredibly useful if you have to make a comic update in a rush.

3) Backgrounds: If you have to hurry, background detail should always be the first thing to go. For example, when I was making the comic update that originally inspired this article, my original plan was for the whole comic to be set in an outdoor location. But, since this was a Christmas comic, I realised that this would mean that I’d have to digitally add falling snow to every panel (which is a fairly time-consuming process).

So, I set the first panel in an outdoor location (because the events of the comic required it to be set outdoors), then I just showed the characters returning home in the next panel (and spending the rest of the comic there). This just meant that I had to draw a simple hallway in the background of the rest of the comic, with no snow effects required. Like in this preview:

Yes, this scene was originally supposed to take place outdoors. But, due to time reasons, I used a simple interior location (The full comic update will be posted here on the 23rd December)

Yes, this scene was originally supposed to take place outdoors. But, due to time reasons, I used a simple interior location (The full comic update will be posted here on the 23rd December)

Yes, I had to make a slight change to the punchline of the comic to account for this change of setting – but, surprisingly, this actually improved the comic. Plus, I also saved a ridiculous amount of editing time too 🙂

So, if you have to hurry, then make sure that the first thing you do is to make the backgrounds as undetailed as you can get away with. After all, most of the time, the audience are more focused on the characters, events and dialogue than the backgrounds.

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

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How Many Panels Should A Webcomic Update Contain?

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Well, since I’m busy making a webcomic mini series (that will appear here in late November/early December), I thought that I’d look at one question that can be slightly confusing to anyone starting a webcomic. That question is “how many panels should a webcomic update contain?

The simple answer to this question is “as many as you need”. After all, unlike print comics, there are no space limitations on how large a webcomic update can be. I mean, if you look at a webcomic called “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree, you’ll notice that some of the comics contain a ridiculous number of panels. So, in theory, there aren’t any rules.

However, in practice, there are several factors that you need to think about when deciding how many panels each webcomic update will contain.

The first one is, of course, time. If you’re making a long-running webcomic that updates either every day or every couple of days, then you want to keep the number of panels per update relatively low. After all, cranking out 20+ panel epics every day or two would exhaust even the most determined webcomic maker. On the other hand, 1-5 panels per update might be more manageable.

Likewise, you also need to think carefully about pacing too. If your comic updates contain too many unnecessary panels, then they can become bloated and boring to read. If they contain too few panels, then you’ll be severely limiting the range of jokes and stories you can tell. So, each panel has to be relevant to the comic in some way or another. If a comic idea is four panels long, then use four panels. If it’s two panels long, then use two. I’m sure that you get the idea.

The idea that the “standard” panel number is three comes from the old newspaper cartoons and it isn’t really relevant to webcomics. Having a standard comic size meant that newspaper editors could easily assign a certain amount of physical page space for comics. Webcomics don’t suffer from this limitation.

However, the advantage of the old three-panel format is that it made writing comics a lot easier. Most syndiacated comics follow a well-known formula of “premise, set-up, punchline”. What this means is that the first panel sets the scene, the second panel makes the reader expect something and the third panel subverts that expectation in an amusing way. This level of consistency makes it easier to think of comic ideas, and it’s also a good way to learn how to write comics concisely if you are a beginner.

But, with webcomics, you can do a lot more than this. If you like the consistency of a standard size, then keep the overall comic size the same, but allow yourself some leeway about how many panels you fit into that space. For example, the mini series I’m making at the time of writing consists entirely of A4-size comics. But, the four comics I’ve made so far have varying panel counts (eg: one has seven panels, two have six and one has ten!).

At the end of the day, working out how many panels each one of your webcomic updates should contain is something that you learn from experience. Once you’ve had enough practice (and have read quite a few other webcomics too), you’ll just kind of “know” how many panels a comic idea needs.

But, as I mentioned earlier, starting out with three-panel comics can be a good way to learn how to make concise comics that don’t waste any panels. But, once you’ve learnt this, don’t feel like you have to stick with the (rather limiting) three-panel format. After all, some comic ideas require more panels than this.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Top Ten Articles – September 2017

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Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for my usual list of links to the ten best articles about art, making comics, writing fiction etc… that I’ve posted here this month. As usual, I’ll include a couple of honourable mentions too.

All in all, even though there were more reviews than usual, this month’s articles turned out fairly well. Since I was busy with a couple of creative projects at the time of writing these articles, it meant that I had more things to write about even if, for time reasons, there was a lot of recycled title art in this month’s articles.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – September 2017

– “Why The Cyberpunk Genre Is A Genre About Creativity Itself (And Why It’s Good For The World)- A Ramble
– “Three Random Tips For Writing A Short Story Collection
– “Four Quick Tips For Never Leaving A Comic Unfinished
– “Nostalgia vs. Memory – A Ramble
– “Making Comics Vs Writing Fiction – What Are The Differences?
– “Three Random Tips For Making Occasional Webcomics
– “Two Very Basic Tips For Dealing With Webcomic Exhaustion
– “Failed Paintings Happen. Here’s What To Do.
– “Three Ways To Make Things That Will Inspire Other People
– “Four Reasons Why Prose Fiction Being “Uncool” Is A Good Thing

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three Things That Books Could Learn From DVDs
– “Three Lazy Ways To Include Fight Scenes In Your Webcomic (If You Don’t Usually Include Them)

The “Rules” Of A Comic Or Story – A Ramble

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A while before I wrote this article, I was watching this Youtube video about game design which included a part showing how a modern videogame broke it’s own “rules” in order to make a dramatic point. It was really interesting to watch because usually this sort of thing is an absolute no-no in gaming, but it seems to work well in the example given.

It also made me think about some of the problems I encountered with this year’s upcoming Halloween comic (that I finished preparing a day or two before writing this article).

Although I don’t want to spoil the story too much, there was one part of the ending that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with. And, thanks to that video, I now understand why. I’d broken an established “rule” of my story. A rule that I’d introduced a bit suddenly in the later parts of the story.

Yes, I’d broken the rule for comedic effect. And, it works as a strange joke, as something for long-time fans of the comic and as a subtle movie reference. But, it was still something that I felt a little bit uncomfortable with for the simple reason that I’d introduced said rule somewhat later in the story. This made the rule in question seem slightly contrived. In retrospect, the rule was something that I probably should have established much earlier in the comic.

This, naturally, made me think about rules and storytelling. Since, although there are very few “formal” rules about storytelling (eg: grammar, spelling, the order of speech bubbles in comics etc..) stories, like videogames, rely very heavily on rules.

However, most of the time, the author or comic maker gets to create their own rules. However, this also means that they have to stick to them and/or establish them properly. They also have to think about how these rules will affect the events of the story too. They also have to think about how the characters will interact with these “rules” too.

For example, one reason why my Halloween comic’s story was let down by introducing a “rule” later in the story is that it was the kind of rule that any logical person would have exploited at the first available opportunity. Yes, I tried to cover this up by including some comedic dialogue and character-based explanations for why the characters didn’t… [you’ll have to wait for the comic].. much earlier in the story. But, nonetheless, this part of the story comes across as slightly contrived because I didn’t establish the rule properly.

In other words, even if your story is set in the distant future, the distant past or in some alternate dimension, you need to have rules. “Realistic” stories have an advantage here, since they can just focus on the ‘rules’ of real life (eg: physical laws, legal laws, social conventions etc..). Likewise, some genres tend to be more tolerant of rule-bending (for example, the thriller/action genre can depict combat in unrealistic ways, because it looks more dramatic). But, less realistic stories still need to have rules.

To use a cinematic example, there’s a brilliant low-budget sci-fi movie from the 1980s called “Trancers“, which is about time travel. One of the gadgets that a character from the future has allows him to create a “long second”, which can freeze time for ten seconds. This device is introduced early in the story and – more critically – it is explained that it can only be used once before it’s battery is depleted.

So, when this character uses it to escape danger a bit later in the film – the scene doesn’t seem contrived. Plus the rule about using it once means that it doesn’t allow the characters to use the device in every dangerous situation. So, the film is able to maintain a decent level of suspense and drama.

So, yes, not only do stories need rules but you also need to establish the rules as early as possible, and construct them in a way that prevents anyone saying “well, why don’t the characters just do this instead?

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Quick Tips For Never Leaving A Comic Unfinished

Sorry about even more recycled title art, but I was fairly tired at the time of writing this article.

Sorry about even more recycled title art, but I was fairly tired at the time of writing this article.

Although I finished preparing this year’s Halloween comic the night before I wrote this article, the last few pages were considerably less enjoyable to make than the rest of the comic was. But, despite feeling my enthusiasm for the project waning, I was still able to finish it.

In fact, since I got back into making comics in 2015, I’ve never really left a comic unfinished (eg: even though this mini series has a slightly open ending, it still has some resolution to the story in the final two pages). But, back in 2012-13, I still used to leave comics unfinished occasionally.

So, what did I do to stop myself from leaving comics unfinished? Here are a few very brief tips.

1) Plan first: One of the easiest ways to avoid unfinished comics is to plan out your comic before you make it. Just make a mock-up of your comic with extremely rough scribbled artwork.

If you lose interest or get severe writer’s block whilst making your plan, then either change it, take a break or try planning a different comic. This alone will help you to avoid comic ideas that are doomed to failure.

If you’re worried that planning will take some of the spontaneity out of making comics, then just remember that comic plans aren’t set in stone. If you think of a better panel arrangement, something else to add etc.. when you’re actually making the comic, then by all means do it. Just think of your plan as a backup that can come in handy if you get writer’s block.

2) Length: A shorter finished comic is better than a longer unfinished comic. So, when you’re planning your comic, try to be at least slightly conservative when working out how long it is going to be (not doing this to the right extent was one of the problems with my Halloween comic).

Remember, if your comic is going well, then you can always find ways to expand it beyond your original plan. It’s easier to expand a shorter plan whilst making a comic than it is to cut things whilst making a comic.

So, plan a short comic and – if it goes well – maybe make it longer.

3) Segmentation: This obviously won’t work for all comic projects. But, if you can make things that consist of lots of self-contained segments (such as stand-alone “newspaper comic”-style comics, short stories etc..) then the risk of leaving the project unfinished is a lot lower because, if you find that you are running out of enthusiasm or ideas, then you can just finish your current segment and leave it there.

Since each segment is self-contained, then there will be some kind of conclusion to your project even if you abandon it before making as many segments as you’d originally planned to make.

4) Endings: An abrupt, rushed, random and/or slightly open-ended ending is better than no ending. Any kind of resolution to your comic, no matter how sudden or badly-written is better than no resolution.

So, if you need to end your comic, then end it. Even if you rush the ending, then it’s still better than leaving your comic unfinished.

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

Two Very Basic Tips For Dealing With Webcomic Exhaustion

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Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy with this year’s Halloween comic. But, I noticed something rather worrying whilst making pages seven and eight of it. I was starting to get a mild case of what I call “webcomic exhaustion”. The art seemed less fun to make than it had been, the project felt endless (despite only having a few pages to go) and I felt myself running low on enthusiasm.

This isn’t as bad as feeling burnt out (eg: the “I need to take a year off from making comics!” kind of feeling), but it can lead to that if you aren’t careful. So, what should you do when you start feeling webcomic exhaustion? Or, even better, before you start feeling webcomic exhaustion?

1) Plan ahead: Although this might drain some of the “spontaneity” out of making webcomics, always be sure to plan ahead –especially if you’re making a narrative comic! Having a plan for the whole comic and/or for the next 5-20 updates before you start means that any feelings of webcomic exhaustion won’t have too much of an effect on the quality of the writing in your comic.

Plus, if you have some experience with making comics, then you can account for exhaustion when you are planning your comic. If your comic is slightly on the longer side (like my upcoming Halloween comic is, relatively speaking), then including more simple interior locations in the later parts of the story – to save drawing time – can be a good idea.

Likewise, making a comic plan in advance also means that you know how many pages are left – and have more of a chance of actually finishing the comic as a result (since it doesn’t seem like a potentially endless thing). As counter intuitive as it sounds, it’s often better to finish a comic (even if the art quality starts declining etc..) than it is to leave a comic unfinished. Not only does this give you a sense of accomplishment (which can help you get back into comics after taking a break), but it also means that the audience will get some resolution to the story too.

Plus, if you start to feel exhausted, you can just look at your plan and tell yourself “I’ve only got [however many] pages to go!“. For example, my current webcomic exhaustion isn’t too bad (compared to, say, the exhaustion I felt in 2013) for the simple reason that I only have about three and a half comic pages to go.

2) Breaks, experience and structure: After experiencing a whole year of webcomic burnout during 2014 (where I produced next to no comics), I tend to be a lot stricter with myself about comic length. What this usually means is that I’ll make “mini series” of 4-17 comic updates (well, it’s more like 6-12 updates these days). Then, I’ll switch to doing daily art practice for a few days to a few weeks before making another mini series.

These regular breaks can be a great way to stop webcomic exhaustion in it’s tracks, whilst the daily art practice helps to ensure that I don’t fall out of the “rhythm” of making things regularly (it also improves the art in my webcomics too!).

From experience, I’ve been able to learn more about my limits when it comes to making webcomics. For example, I knew that the Halloween comic was going to be a longer and more ambitious project than my usual comics are. So, I was actually able to prepare myself emotionally for the possibility of webcomic burnout. I was also able to limit it to twelve pages (including the cover) whilst planning it, because I knew that this was about the upper limit of what I could produce.

Unfortunately, the best way to deal with webcomic exhaustion is to learn your own limits… from experience. But, one less stressful way to learn this might be to start with shorter comics projects and then gradually increase the length until you start to feel like it’s turning into a chore. Once you’ve reached that point once, you’ll know to keep your comics below that length.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Random Tips For Making Occasional Webcomics

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Ah, occasional webcomics. Although they might not have the same degree of regularity or prestige that “traditional” webcomics do, they can often be a good choice for a number of reasons.

The first is that they allow you to make other artistic projects when you aren’t focusing on webcomics. The second is that they allow you to spend more time planning your comics (so, writer’s block is less of an issue than with a “traditional” long-running regular webcomic). The third is that they tend to be more fun to make than long-running regular webcomics do.

Since I’m still busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing (you can check out last year’s one here, and find lots of other comics here), I thought that I’d give you a few random tips about making occasional webcomics:

1) Occasional webcomics are still webcomics!: Yes, traditional regularly-updated long-running webcomics require a lot more effort and endurance to create. But, occasional webcomics are still webcomics. They’re just as valid as regularly-updated webcomics are! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

If anyone looks down at your webcomic because it is only released occasionally, then show them “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree. This is one of the most intelligent, well-drawn and well-written webcomics on the internet. It is also an occasional webcomic. Although he updates it fairly infrequently, Rowntree uses the occasional format to full advantage.

Because he doesn’t have a regular production schedule, he doesn’t have to cut corners with the art. He makes comic updates that are literally tens or hundreds of panels long. He spends a lot longer planning the dialogue and refining the ideas behind each complex, novelistic webcomic update. Once you’ve read a few of the more recent updates to “Subnormality”, you’ll probably find it hard to argue that occasional webcomics “aren’t really webcomics”.

Or, if you want another example of a great occasional webcomic to show people, then show them some of the more recent updates to “Hark! A Vagrant!” By Kate Beaton. Although the art is a lot more minimalist than the art in “Subnormality”, these are quirky occasional comics that mostly focus on history and literature. Since Beaton doesn’t have to put out three updates a week every week, the comics tend to be a lot more well-researched and will often focus on all sorts of interesting parts of history.

2) Scheduling: In order to make an occasional webcomic series that really works for you, you need to find a schedule that works for you. Some people prefer to just make comics whenever they feel like making them. This gives the webcomic a sense of spontaneity and it ensures that only the best ideas make it into your comics (since, why would you make a comic if you didn’t have a good idea?). But, on the downside, the audience never knows when they can expect a new comic.

Personally, I’ve taken inspiration from television and usually release my own occasional comics in “mini series” of daily updates (typically 6-12 updates these days). This isn’t a very common release schedule, but it has the advantages of both a long-running webcomic and a “spontaneous” webcomic. Yes, it has a few of the disadvantages too (eg: updates can be rushed slightly, the art can sometimes be a bit simpler etc..) but these are less of an issue than in long-running webcomics.

In addition to this, the “mini series” format also allows you to switch between traditional “newspaper comic”-style comics and more narrative-based comics more easily – since each mini series is a small (and usually partially self-contained) thing that can either tell one story or can contain several stand-alone jokes.

Whilst the timing of when each mini series will appear is slightly random, the audience can expect daily updates for several days when a mini series does appear. So, this is a good approach to take if the idea of making webcomics literally every day or week seems too overwhelming, but if you are at your best when you include some element of regularity in your creative work.

It took me a bit of trial and error to discover this release schedule, and it might not work for you. So, be sure to experiment with different release schedules until you find one that works well for you.

3) Versatility: If you’re making an occasional webcomic, then you need to be able to include lots of different things in it. After all, since it’s something that you’ll only be making occasionally, you need to be able to bring your comic “up to date” with whatever inspires you at any given time.

Some comic creators do this by making every one of their occasional webcomic updates a totally new self-contained thing, with new characters and new settings. Whilst this allows the audience to jump into your comic a lot more easily, it means that you have to spend more time thinking of new characters etc.. every time you want to make a comic update. It also means that you have to rely more on things like your unique art style and writing style to make your webcomic seem unique and distinctive.

Personally, I have a central cast of four characters. But, apart from this, everything else about the comic can change. There are comic updates set in the real world. There are comic updates set in all manner of strange locations. There are comic updates about gaming, films, music, books etc.. There’s slapstick comedy. There’s cynical observational humour. There are comic updates with varying numbers of panels. There are longer storie and there are self-contained updates.

There are all sorts of different things in this one occasional series, but I’ve found that using a common cast of characters in all of these comics both saves planning time and also helps to give the series more of a sense of continuity. Yes, it’s slightly harder for new readers to get into, but it also means that it has some of the familiarity that a longer-running series might also have without sacrificing too much versatility in the process.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂