Four Basic Ways To Recycle A Webcomic Story Arc

2017 Artwork Recycling story arcs article sketch

Well, although it won’t appear here until early June, I started making another webcomic mini series shortly after finishing the first draft of this article.

This mini series will be slightly similar to an older webcomic story arc of mine from 2013(which can be seen here, here and here). Here’s a preview of the new mini series:

The mini series should start appearing here in very early June.

The mini series should start appearing here in very early June.

Since this could potentially be one of the closest things I’ve done to remaking my old comics in quite a while, I thought that I’d talk about several of the ways that you can recycle your old comics into new ones.

1) Keep the premise, ditch everything else: One of the best ways to keep a remake of one of your older comic updates or story arcs fresh is to keep the basic premise of it but change everything else. If your story arc revolved around your characters visiting somewhere then keep the location the same but change what happens there.

If your previous story arc was from a few years ago, then set your current story arc in the present day. If you’ve introduced new characters since you finished the old story arc, then add them to the new version of it (if it works in context, of course).

Basically, keep the basic theme or premise, but change almost everything else.

2) Add a full story, or don’t: The simplest way to make a webcomic story arc is just to place your characters in an unusual situation and see what happens. Sometimes, this can lead to a detailed and continuous story, sometimes this can lead to a collection of stand-alone comics that only have a few things in common with each other.

If you’re remaking something like this, then just do the opposite of what you did the first time round. Or don’t, if the original structure went really well. But, try to change the pacing or the panel layouts or something like that.

3) Time gaps and clean reboots: First of all, don’t assume that your readers have read the old story arc that you’re recycling.

If your webcomic has been going for long enough to merit recycling a story arc, then it’s likely that you’ll have picked up new readers who won’t have the time to read every old update. In other words, either make every update of your new story arc totally self contained, or make sure that all of the updates in your new arc tell a totally new self-contained story.

Yes, this might have an effect on the continuity of your webcomic (eg: a character seemingly encountering the same situation for the first time twice etc…) but this can often be covered over by either distracting members of the audience with a few subtle references to the old story arc, or by making the moments in question especially funny and/or dramatic.

4) The obvious way: If you need to take a break from planning comics and you want a quick webcomic project, then you could always just do a “traditional” remake where you do literally nothing more than update the art and streamline the writing slightly.

This obviously works best when it happens in webcomics that don’t tell one continuous story, when your remake is openly declared to be a remake and where the old story arc is old enough that there’s an immediately noticeable difference in art quality.

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

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Three Instant Sources Of Webcomic Story Arcs (Plus, Comic Previews :) )

2017 Artwork Webcomic story arc ideas article sketch

Well, although it won’t be posted here until early May, I’ve started yet another story arc-based webcomic mini series (the preview is at the end of the second point on this list). So, I thought that I’d talk about story arcs in webcomics.

Story arcs are useful for webcomics for the simple reason that they’re easier to write (since you just have to follow one story, rather than coming up with lots of self-contained jokes) and, although they have their advantages and disadvantages, they can be really interesting to make.

However, coming up with an idea for a story arc can be challenging. So, I thought that I’d give you a few tips for how to do this:

1) Choose your type: Story arcs fall into two categories – realistic and unrealistic. The latter is the more interesting and imaginative of the two, but it’s more difficult to write for the simple reason that you have to find a vaguely plausible in-story explanation for why your characters are suddenly somewhere different etc…

So, you can either prepare your audience for this by including a few subtle “unrealistic” elements in earlier instalments of your webcomic (so that the unrealistic story arc is just about a plausible part of the series as a whole). Or, you can do something a bit more obvious like setting the unrealistic story arc within a dream, within a computer game etc…

But, if you do this, then you need to openly declare this fact as soon and as often as possible! This is because “it was all a dream!” is the worst plot twist possible and your audience won’t like to see it! Here’s an example of how to do this from a mini series of mine that will appear here in April:

The full mini series will appear here in early April.

The full mini series will appear here in early April.

If you’re creating a realistic sub-plot then you can look to films and soap operas for inspiration. But, the basic principle is that something dramatic/tragic/shocking has to happen to one of your characters.

2) Find a sub-genre: One of the easiest ways to come up with a webcomic story arc is to find a fairly specific sub-genre (of one of your favourite genres of stories) and then to use this as the basis for your story arc.

This also has the advantage of allowing you to include all sorts of parodies and references to your favourite stories, comics, games, TV shows, movies etc… from this sub-genre too.

Of course, the real trick is finding an unusual and specific enough sub-genre to make your story arc stand out. However, you can do this by looking at several things that you consider “cool” and seeing if they have anything in common.

For example, the webcomic mini series which will appear here in early May is set on board an abandoned space station, after I realised that a lot of cool things in the sci-fi genre that I like have used settings like this. Here’s a preview:

This mini series will start appearing here on the 1st May. And, yes, that's a "Doctor Who" reference.

This mini series will start appearing here on the 1st May. And, yes, that’s a “Doctor Who” reference.

3) Consequences: Another easy way to come up with a story arc is to have one of your characters do something strange/unusual/foolish (as long as it’s vaguely within character for them) and then just think forward from that and show the hilarious/dramatic/scary/thrilling consequences of that action.

This can be used for both realistic and unrealistic story arcs. The trick is, of course, to think of a suitably strange or interesting action.

For example, the short daily webcomic mini series that started appearing here recently involves one of the main characters stealing a H.M.S Victory – like museum ship for a series of pirate-themed adventures. Here are the first two comics from it:

"Damania Requisitioned - Grogbottle" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Requisitioned – Grogbottle” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Requisitioned - Evidence" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Requisitioned – Evidence” By C. A. Brown

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Quick Tips For Making Story Arcs For “Newspaper Comic”-Style Webcomics

2017 Artwork Webcomic story arcs article sketch
[Note: I originally prepared this article quite far in advance of publication. As such, some of the other upcoming comics listed on the comics index page will take a different approach to storytelling to the one mentioned in this article. But, this is still a good way to approach storytelling in webcomics].
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Although it won’t be posted here until early February, I’ve started making yet another webcomic mini series. But, unlike many of my webcomic mini series (apart from this one and this one) this one will actually form something of a story arc.

Well, that is to say that it’ll be as close to a story arc as you can get in a “newspaper comic”-style webcomic. Here’s a preview:

This is the first panel of the first comic in the mini series. The mini series will begin to appear here on the 5th February.

This is the first panel of the first comic in the mini series. The mini series will begin to appear here on the 5th February.

So, I thought that I’d give you some general tips about including story arcs in your “newspaper comic”-style webcomic. I’m sure I’ve talked about this subject before, but I thought that I’d discuss it again.

1) Come up with a general premise: Since good “newspaper comic”-style webcomics are designed to be read in any order, a story arc in one of these types of comics will usually consist of several self-contained comic updates that revolve around a common theme and/or premise. For example, you could show your characters exploring a haunted house, visiting a music festival etc…

The advantage of using a general premise rather than a specific story is that you don’t need to spend very long explaining the backstory to new readers. All you have to do is to either briefly show the premise (through visual details) in each comic and/or include a brief reference to it in the dialogue (in each comic!), and the audience will immediately know what is going on.

In addition to this, using a general premise also means that you have a lot more creative freedom too. In other words, instead of having to tell a single linear story, you can include a variety of vaguely-related comedic scenes within your story arc. This might make it either easier or more difficult to get inspired, depending on how your imagination works.

2) Come up with something fun: If you want to get inspired easily when making your story arc, then go for a theme/premise that actually interests you.

In other words, if you’re a fan of horror movies, then make a story arc set in a haunted house/ abandoned morgue/ hidden crypt etc…. You’ll be able to include all of the movie references that you want to, you’ll have lots of fun making the art and, most importantly of all, writer’s block will be less of an issue too.

The whole point of a story arc in a “newspaper comic” is to offer something fun and unusual for long-term readers (and something intriguing for new readers). The best way to do this is to come up with a premise that you actually think will be fun to write and/or draw. Think of it as a “holiday” from the normal fictional world of your webcomic.

For example, regular readers of this site will probably know that I’ve wanted to make a cyberpunk comic for quite a while. But, whenever I’ve even attempted to plan out a “proper” comic in this genre, it’s failed pretty quickly. So, when it came to thinking of an idea for a story arc for my long-running occasional webcomic series, it was an absolute no-brainer. In fact, because I’m so fascinated by this genre, I was able to plan out six four-panel comics in less than half an hour!

So, go for a theme/premise that is based on things that you like, and you’ll get inspired a lot faster!

3) Come up with an explanation:
Chances are, your story arc is going to be something wildly different to what normally happens in your webcomic. Although comics are often seen as an “anarchic” medium where literally anything can happen, they still have to follow the rules of storytelling. In other words, things should happen for a reason.

It doesn’t matter how strange, bizarre or contrived your “explanation” for why your characters are suddenly in a different location to normal is. All that matters is that there is an explanation and that it’s reasonably short (after all, you’ve probably only got 3-5 panels in each comic).

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Sorry for such a basic and repetitive article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

One Easy Way To Make Webcomic Story Arcs More Accessible To New Readers

2016 Artwork Webcomic story arcs stand alone article

In case you aren’t already familiar with webcomics, a “story arc” is a collection of separate comic strips that either tell a short story or revolve around a single situation. Most story arcs in traditional “newspaper comic”-style webcomics usually last for between 2- 12 comic strips, although they can be longer.

Even though some webcomics tell a single continuous story (where the story arcs are nothing more than sub-plots), I’ll only be discussing story arcs in “newspaper comic”-style webcomics in this article, since story arcs need to be handled in a very particular way in this style of comic.

There are many reasons why people who make “newspaper comic” style webcomics might choose to include a story arc in their webcomic. It allows us to make several jokes about a single event, theme and/or location. It makes it easier to think of comic ideas for the next few updates. It also allows for slightly more in-depth storytelling and characterisation than you would usually find in a single 3-6 panel comic strip.

However, there is one problem that every webcomic maker will face when they start a story arc. This is, of course, what to do about new readers. Since “newspaper comic” style webcomics are designed to be read in any order, they can attract new readers a lot more easily and quickly than webcomics which tell a continuous story.

After all, if you see an interesting “newspaper comic”-style webcomic update – then you don’t need to have read 100+ previous comic updates in order to understand it. Although this is one of the strengths of traditional-style webcomics, it can also be something of a weakness when you decide to write a story arc – since it’s easier for new readers to get confused if they discover your comic in the middle of a story arc.

So, how can you solve this problem?

The most simple way to do this is to briefly introduce the premise of your story arc at the beginning of every update in the story arc. Sometimes, this can be done with a small comment within the dialogue (eg: “I honestly expected time travel to be more exciting”, “So, you’re still teaching yourself how to keep bees?” etc…) or it can be done by adding a small description to the top corner of the comic (eg: “Meanwhile in America…”).

Not only that, each comic update within your story arc has to work as a single self-contained joke. If you’re referring to the events of a previous comic, then you need to add a brief explanation to the dialogue. After all, your readers might miss some of the comics in your story arc or they might read it in the wrong order.

Here’s a short example of this technique in action from my old “Damania Resurgence” webcomic mini series, which contained a two-comic story arc:

"Damania Resurgence - Undercover" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – Undercover” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Resurgence - Licenced Pyromaniac" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – Licenced Pyromaniac” By C. A. Brown

In case you didn’t notice, I actually displayed these two comics in the wrong order. But, hopefully, they were both still fun and understandable because of the techniques that I mentioned earlier in this article.

So, remember to make each comic in your story arc a self-contained comic.

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

Three Basic Tips For Writing Story Arcs In Webcomics

2013 Artwork Story arc article image

(If anyone is interested, the full comic in this picture can be found here)

If you’re writing and drawing a “newspaper comic”-style webcomic, then it can be fun to add the occasional story arc to your comic. You’ve probably seen these in syndicated newspaper comics every once in a while – for example where the characters visit a new location or try a new activity.

Story arcs tend to differ from running jokes in that they often have a beginning and an ending rather than being something that turns up every now and then throughout the entire comic.

There are several reasons for including these in your webcomic every once in a while. Firstly, starting a story arc can be a good way to avoid writer’s block if you know where your next few comic strips will take place and what the general theme of them will be.

Secondly, starting a story arc can be a good way to add a bit of variety to your comic if you feel that it is getting stale. Thirdly, story arcs can be a good way to add a small amount of characterisation to your webcomic too. Fourthly, they’re just good fun to write.

Anyway, if you’ve never written/drawn a story arc before, here are three basic which might be useful:

1) Length: Generally, story arcs in daily syndicated comics tend to last for about five or six comic strips at the most. The main reason for this is that it covers about a week’s worth of newspapers (since the Sunday edition of the newspaper may have a different comic, may not include comics or may include a larger comic).

Although webcomics don’t really have this restriction, it can still be useful to keep your story arcs relatively short. The main reason for this is that, if all of your comics have to take place in a particular location or stick with a particular theme, you might find yourself running out of good ideas after a few comic strips.

Likewise, a story arc is meant to be an amusing novelty and/or something slightly different for your readers. If you keep your story arc going for too long, then the novelty value will probably start to wear off after a while. Keep it going for long enough and you’ll either have a new webcomic or a spin-off on your hands instead of a story arc.

Not to mention that, if your story arc revolves around an event that would only last for a few hours or a couple of days in real life, then devoting more than a few daily comic strips to it might seem slightly unrealistic.

2) Every comic strip still has to be self-contained: Since people don’t always buy a newspaper literally every day, having a story arc with an “ordinary” continuous story meant that someone who only bought a newspaper during the middle of the story arc might have been confused by the comic strip in it.

Before the internet, people had no easy way of looking at previous newspaper comic strips, so it was pretty much an unwritten rule that every comic strip in a story arc had to be able to be understood and enjoyed on it’s own.

This also meant that story arcs in syndicated comic strips didn’t have to be published “in order”. It also meant that newspapers could leave a comic out if they wanted to, without ruining the entire story arc.

Even though people can easily look at the archives of your webcomic, you should still follow this rule. This is because if people are confused by the very first comic strip that they see, then they are less likely to go back through the archives and read the whole of the story arc. Likewise, if people haven’t read your comic for a while, then they might not have the time to catch up on previous comic strips just to understand your most recent one.

Don’t worry, this is fairly simple to do. Either just add a short note at the beginning of each comic explaining the premise of your story arc (for example, during one story arc in “Damania“, every comic started with the words “Meanwhile in America…”) or make sure that the premise of the story arc is briefly mentioned in the dialogue of each comic strip (eg: “So, you’re a window cleaner?”).

You can also make the premise of a story arc clear to new readers through the settings, character designs and background details if you don’t have space to include a note or add a description to the dialogue.

In addition to this, jokes in your story arc can’t rely on the fact that people have read the previous parts of the story arc in order to work. If you have to include the events of a previous comic strip in order to make a joke work, then at least add a short explanation in the dialogue.

3) Locations, vocations and vacations: Because of the other two things I’ve mentioned in this article, it’s usually a good idea to come up with a fairly “open” idea for your story arc which can accommodate several self-contained comics easily.

Generally, this tends to mean that story arcs often tend to revolve around three things – namely locations, vocations and vacations (annoyingly, the word “holidays” doesn’t rhyme well in this context). In other words, your story arc can take place in another location, it can involve a character briefly finding their calling in life (or trying out a new hobby or job or whatever) or it can involve everyone going on holiday somewhere.

Obviously, story arcs can involve other things too (eg: current events etc…), but if it is your first story arc, then you’re probably best sticking to the three things I mentioned earlier until you get a sense of what does and doesn’t work as a story arc.

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Sorry that this article was so short/basic, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Today’s “Damania”Comics (4th July 2013)

Well, I made five “Damania” comics today and I’ve also started another story arc too (the “American remake” story arc).

Four of today’s comics are part of this story arc too (This one was kind of interesting, since it was originally just going to be a one-off joke, but it seemed like too good of an idea to waste….)

As usual, these five comics are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND Licence.

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"Damania - Two Versions" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – Two Versions” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – Two Versions” was originally going to be a LOT more cynical…. but then I suddenly realised that it’d be quite a fun idea to draw an “American remake” of ‘Damania’. To my surprise, the alternate version of “Damania” actually looks just as good at the original – possibly even slightly cooler.

I’m still not sure exactly which part of America the alternate version is set in, although it’s probably somewhere in California – since quite a lot of American TV shows seem to be filmed there. Plus, quite a few good punk bands come from there too…

I also wasn’t sure what TV show Derek wanted to watch – it was originally going to be “The Rachel Maddow Show” or “Real Time With Bill Maher”, but I really didn’t have space to fit either of these titles onto the page, hence why he wants to watch South Park instead.

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"Damania (U.S. Remake) - Any Luck ?" By C. A. Brown

“Damania (U.S. Remake) – Any Luck ?” By C. A. Brown

“Damania (U.S. Remake) – Any Luck?” turned out really well and, in narrative terms, the improved artwork can be attributed to the American remake having a higher budget than the original (as remakes usually do). In actual fact … well… it’s a new story arc and I’m excited about it.

Since Harvey is a massive fan of old American detective movies, the alternate version of him hasn’t really changed much (although he now has a trilby hat and a shoulder holster). Originally, the alternate version of Rox was going to be heavily inspired by Abby from “NCIS”, but she quickly turned into more of a generic “hacker” character.

Originally, I was going to use an actual “V-chip” Television rating symbol in the corner of the first panel but, I eventually decided to make a slightly different parody symbol instead.

I’m also not sure what time period this story arc will be set in – it’ll probably be a strange hybrid of the present day and the 1990s (since quite a lot of great American music and TV shows came from the 90s).

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"Damania (U.S. Remake) - Buy The Ticket..." By C. A. Brown

“Damania (U.S. Remake) – Buy The Ticket…” By C. A. Brown

“Damania (U.S. Remake) – Buy The Ticket…” is my favourite comic from the “American remake” story arc so far. In fact, it’s probably one of my favourite “Damania” comics overall…

But, yeah, apparently the American version of Derek is a gonzo journalist for a magazine of some kind – although he has an even more limited knowledge of American music festivals than I do! LOL!!!

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"Damania (U.S. Remake) - Alien Conspiracy" By C. A. Brown

“Damania (U.S. Remake) – Alien Conspiracy” By C. A. Brown

“Damania (U.S. Remake) – Alien Conspiracy” turned out really well. But, yeah, if I’m making an ‘American version’ of “Damania”, then it just has to include at least one alien conspiracy…

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"Damania - No Exploration" By C. A. Brown

“Damania – No Exploration” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – No Exploration” was actually made before I started the current “American remake” story arc. Still, I really like how this comic turned out.

I don’t know, although I slightly prefer the old school type of FPS level design, there is something to be said for more linear level design (ok, not that much… but at least you don’t end up spending twenty minutes looking for keys).