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.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂