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 🙂

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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 🙂

Three Tips For Taking Inspiration From Other (Web)Comics, Whilst Keeping Your Webcomic Original

Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy making a webcomic mini series for late February.

So, I though that I’d give a few tips about how to apply the proper techniques for taking inspiration to making webcomics, whilst also ensuring that your webcomic is still an original webcomic.

1) Humour styles: One of the best ways to take inspiration from other comics and webcomics is simply to read multiple (seriously, more than one!) other webcomics/comics until you start to get a sense of how the humour in these comics “works”. To get a sense of what the “rules” are for the humour in the webcomics you’ve read. To see what they have in common and what differs from webcomic to webcomic.

Once you’ve got this, try to think of a different situation or a different subject for your humour. Then, using the mixture of “rules” you’ve learnt from the webcomics you’ve read, try to see how you can turn this into something new that is also amusing.

Look at the general humour style in two or more webcomics and then try to find a way to apply the “rules” you have learnt from them to your own webcomic, using new subject matter and new jokes that are actually relevant to your characters.

2) Other inspirations: Even if you are mostly taking inspiration from one other webcomic, you can still make sure that your own comics are actually original by ensuring that you also take lots of inspiration from things that aren’t webcomics.

This will help to ensure that your inspired webcomics are still very much their own thing, even if they may be vaguely reminiscent of another webcomic.

Having other inspirations is also especially important with the art in your webcomic too, since this can help to give your webcomic a more unique and distinctive look, whilst also helping you to develop your own unique art style at the same time.

Of course, if you already have your own art style, then you don’t need to do this (although you should obviously always be on the lookout for techniques etc… you can use to improve your art).

3) Common sources: This is kind of the opposite of the previous two points on the list and it can work just as well, provided that you don’t mix it with anything else on the list.

Basically, look at a couple of webcomics and see what kind of general subject matter they tend to use in a lot of their comics (eg: videogames, politics, everyday life etc..) and then do some research about that particular subject.

Once you’ve done some research, try to come up with new jokes and ideas about the subject in question. This will help you to think of a topic for your next comic update and it will allow you to create comics that are “in the tradition of” your favourite webcomics. However, you should pay extra attention to making sure that the characters, jokes etc.. are different enough from your inspiration.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Improve Your Webcomic By Thinking Of Each Webcomic Update As A Whole – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about making webcomics again since I’m kind of busy making a webcomic mini series for late February at the time of writing. In particular, I’ll be talking about a couple of the basic ways that you can improve your webcomic by thinking of each webcomic update as a whole.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of one of my comic updates from the mini series I’m making at the moment. Yes, I also previewed part of this one yesterday – although I’ll need to show you a (shrunken) version of the full update to illustrate what I’m talking about here.

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 22nd February.

One of the first things that can help your comic updates to look better is to pay attention to the colour scheme of the whole update. Try to make sure that the predominant colour or colours in each panel goes well with the rest of the comic (reading about complementary colours might help you here), but that there is also some variety between the colours used in each panel.

For example, here’s another version of the preview with the approximate main colours in each panel highlighted. As you can see, it mostly uses both an orange/blue colour scheme and a black/purple one (with an orange/purple scheme in one panel and – although it isn’t included in the chart – a slight yellow/purple one in the first and last panel).

This is the whole comic with the (approximate) main colours in each panel highlighted.

Although the mixing of these colour schemes isn’t entirely perfect, it helps to add some visual variety to the comic, whilst also avoiding any of the panels clashing with each other too much.

Taking a step back and thinking about your comic update as a whole can also help you to save time with the art too. If you look again at the preview that I’ve shown you, only three of the panels have detailed backgrounds. In case you can’t see it, here’s a chart:

This is a chart showing the level of background detail in each panel.

Because the detailed panels are spread out between both horizontal “rows” of the comic, this allows me to make a more manageable number of detailed backgrounds whilst still giving the impression that the whole comic is more detailed than it actually is.

After all, the reader never has to go more than one or two panels without seeing a detailed background. So, the comic seems more detailed than it actually is – especially when read quickly. Doing something like this also helps to avoid the visual boredom that can come from seeing lots of undetailed backgrounds next to each other.

Those were just a couple of the ways how looking at your comic update as a whole can improve your comic. You can make your comic updates more instantly visually appealing through the choice and placement of colours, and you can save time by varying the level of background detail in sneaky ways. But, these things only work if you consider each comic update as a whole.

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

Three Ultra- Quick Reasons Why Filler Content Matters (In Webcomics)

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making a webcomic mini series that will appear here in late February. Although the mini series is going reasonably well, my main reason for making it was something along the lines of “I should really make some comics for February!” more than any sudden moment of inspiration. In fact, the mini series will even contain a remake of an old comic, but there will still be original comics – like in this preview:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 22nd February.

In other words, next month’s mini series could possibly fall into the category of “filler content”. But, although filler material often has something of a bad reputation – it can actually be a good thing. So, here are a few reasons why filler material matters:

1) It keeps you creating: Even if you’re feeling so uninspired that the idea of remaking your old stuff or making random doodles of your characters seems like an excitingly good idea, then making this filler content is still much better than making nothing at all.

Why? For the simple reason that you’re still making stuff. You are still creating things. One of the best ways to deal with uninspiration is just to keep making things, regardless of how good or bad they might be. Although this won’t instantly give you any new ideas, it will at least mean that you are still keeping up the momentum of creating things regularly. This will mean that when a good idea does appear, you won’t be out of practice.

Likewise, even making something terrible when you are feeling uninspired can still make you feel more of a sense of accomplishment than you would feel if you made literally nothing. This sense of accomplishment can remind you of what it’s like to feel inspired and can help you to gradually move back to a more inspired frame of mind.

2) It keeps your audience happy: Although some members of your audience might roll their eyes at a quick piece of filler content, they would probably be more annoyed if literally nothing appeared when they expected something to appear.

Posting filler content shows your audience that you still care about your webcomic, even if you are too busy or too uninspired to make full comic updates. More importantly, it also shows your audience that your webcomic is still current and that they should keep reading it.

In other words, it helps to avoid the appearance of an abandoned webcomic.

3) You can have fun with it: One of the great things about filler content is that it’s an opportunity to try something a little bit different. You can draw your characters in different styles, you can experiment with more minimalist comics, you can see what your old comics look like in your current art style, you can make parodies of other things (featuring your webcomic’s characters) etc…

In other words, filler content can be a chance to do things that might not “work” in one of your “ordinary” comics. So, try to see it as a chance to mess around and experiment a bit. Not only will this provide quick content that will interest and amuse your audience, but it will also make you think more creatively too – which might eventually lead to you feeling inspired again.

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

Three Ways To Make Your Webcomic Binge-Readable

Well, although I’m not currently making a webcomic (at the time of writing), I thought that I’d talk about making webcomics again. This is mostly because I had a rather interesting lazy Sunday afternoon that made me think about webcomics again.

Basically, due to feeling slightly drowsy after over-eating at lunch, I was in a somewhat lazy and unenthusiastic mood. Suddenly, I really felt like binge-reading a webcomic.
So, naturally, this made me think about how to make webcomics more binge-readable.

Most of the best webcomics often lend themselves well to binge-reading and it’s usually a sign of a good webcomic if you end up spending an hour or more enthusiastically binge-reading it after discovering it, or if you return to it occasionally to binge-read it. So, how can you make your webcomic binge-readable?

1) Make it easy to find and read: Many binge-readable webcomics tend to have their own dedicated website, which will often prominently display the latest comic on the front page, with an easily-accessible archive page and both “previous” and “next” buttons that allow the user to skip between comics quickly.

But, if you only make occasional comics (like I do) and don’t know how to set up a website like that, then there are other things that you can do to make your webcomics easier to find and read. The easiest thing to do is simply to create a page on your site that contains links to all or most of your comics (and/or information about upcoming comics).

If you use a site like DeviantArt to publish your webcomics, then create a dedicated gallery folder for your webcomic. Copy the address of this folder and add it to the description of any webcomic updates you post, so that readers can easily look at more comics if they happen to stumble across one that they like. Just remember to add each new comic update to the folder when you submit it to the site though!

Likewise, if you publish your webcomic updates in groups of daily updates, then create a compilation page (like this one) after you’ve posted each group of comics. Not only does this help readers to look at the comics in the right order (which is especially important in narrative-based comics), but it also means that it’s easier for long-time readers to catch up if they miss several comics. Likewise, adding links to previous comics in the group to the accompanying text of each new comic can also be a good idea too.

Plus, although this isn’t something that I do with my own comics, one good way to make your webcomics binge-readable is simply to include your site address at the bottom of each update (in addition to signing it with your initials). This is so that if anyone happens to discover one of your comics somewhere else on the internet, they know where to look if they want to read more.

2) Self-contained comics: Although I experimented with narrative-based comics (like this one or this one) for large parts of last year, I’ve moved back to mostly making self-contained comics.

This is, amongst other reasons, because self-contained comics tend to lend themselves to binge-reading a lot better. When someone discovers a new webcomic, this will probably happen because they happen to see one interesting-looking or well-written comic update and want to see more. However, and this is the important part, you have no control over which comic update that they will see first.

So, if all or most of your comic updates are self-contained things that can be enjoyed on their own, then this means that your readers will be interested in seeing more. They won’t be confused by reading the middle part of a longer story and – more importantly – they won’t feel like they have to read the whole thing from the beginning.

Yes, if they like your comic, they’re probably going to spend hours reading it anyway. But, self-contained comics give them the feeling that they have more control over the amount of time they spend reading your comics (compared to, say, having to read a longer continuous story). Ironically, this often means that they’ll probably spend more time reading your webcomic.

3) Quality: Simply put, the most important factor in whether a new reader will binge-read your webcomic or not is whether your comic is any good or not. If a webcomic is good enough, then nothing else matters. If a comic is good enough, it doesn’t matter how easy it is to access or even whether it follows the traditional “rules” of webcomics, readers will enthusiastically scour the internet for more comic updates because they want to read more.

Of course, quality is something that you can only learn through experience and practice. Remember, no-one starts out making even vaguely good comics. But, you will improve if you keep practicing and try to put out comics on at least a semi-regular basis.

If you only make comics occasionally, then try to keep up some other kind of regular comic-related practice (for example, I do daily art practice when I’m not making comics). For example, here’s one of the really early comics from my occasional long-running webcomic series. This was made in 2012, less than a year after I started practicing art on a daily basis:

“Damania – Freeview” By C.A.Brown [20th October 2012]

And here’s a comic update from one of my favourite mini series from last year. As you can see, the difference in art quality is immediately noticeable. Even though my comic-making practice was somewhat sporadic, my daily art practice has at least helped the comic to look better:

“Damania Resized – Virtually Banned” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, the best way to make your webcomic binge-readable is to practice (in some way) as often as you can and to try to make good comics. Yes, this takes time and effort. It isn’t an instant way to make your comic more binge-readable. But, over time, it can work wonders!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Ways To Know Which Comic Update Ideas To Use

Well, I originally wrote this article a while after I’d finished preparing the final comic update in a webcomic mini series that I’ll be posting here in mid-late January. I’m mentioning this because it’s relevant to the topic of this article, namely knowing which comic ideas to use.

Although it’s common to feel uninspired when making a webcomic, sometimes you can find yourself having the opposite problem – you’ve got too many ideas. Normally, this isn’t a problem (in fact, it’s a good thing). But, it can cause problems if you limit yourself to a certain number of comic updates and/or if the many ideas you’ve got aren’t that good.

I mostly had the latter problem with the final update of this mini series. Although I’d vaguely planned the whole thing, when it came to making the final update, I realised that my original plan for it wasn’t very good. It was more of a placeholder plan, a plan that was there if I couldn’t come up with a better idea by the time that I’d made the first five comic updates. And on the night before I made the final comic, I realised that I couldn’t come up with a better idea.

So, what did I do? Well, here are two of the things I considered when making my decision about the comic:

1) Themes: One of the best ways to come up with comic ideas is to have a common theme that you can use for a group of comics. If your comics revolve around a particular theme, then at least you’ve got something to start with when it comes to thinking of comic ideas.

Although I don’t always remember to come up with a theme, this upcoming mini series had the theme of “introspection and philosophy”. As soon as I remembered this, I realised why both my placeholder idea and another idea I’d come up with wouldn’t work.

They were basically political cartoons. The rest of the mini series had been fairly apolitical, so the ideas weren’t a good fit. Yes, it was easy to make cynical comics about politics and, yes, I had two pre-made ideas. But, this wasn’t what this mini series was about. So, even though I was still feeling uninspired, I realised that I had to find a new idea. And it had to be about “introspection and philosophy”.

Yes, it took me a while to find a good enough comic idea, but remembering the theme of the comic that I was making helped me to focus on making a better comic that actually fit in with the rest of the comics that I was making.

So, if you’re unsure of which comic idea to use, then look at the general themes etc.. of your webcomic and go with the idea that fits into those things the most.

2) Fun: This one is fairly self-explanatory. Go with the comic idea that seems like it will be the most fun to make. Generally, this will make you feel more motivated and will probably result in a better comic update.

For example, one of the things that I’d focused on with this upcoming mini series was paying more attention to the artwork. Since I had a bit more time to make comics, I wanted them to look good. I wanted to be able to do something a bit more creative with the art.

So, I knew that whatever idea I used had to be one that allowed me to show off artistically- because it’s fun to do this. And, as you can see from this preview, the art is a little bit more sophisticated than usual:

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

So, ask yourself “which part of my webcomic do I enjoy the most? Art? Writing? Humour? Characterisation?”. When you’ve got your answer, go with the idea that allows you to do that the most.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂