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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Two Random Tips That Might Help You Plan Your Webcomic

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Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy preparing this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series. But, unlike one or two of my previous mini series, I actually planned this one a day or two before I started making it. This has made the whole process of making the webcomic run a lot more smoothly, as well as increasing the quality of the writing too(compared to slightly more unplanned mini series, like one that will appear here at the end of the month).

But, surprisingly, the planning process for this webcomic went surprisingly quickly. I literally planned the entire thing out within less than an hour (not only that, I was also fairly tired at the time).

Although I won’t be talking about the practical details of planning a webcomic here (since it’s different for everyone – I like making ultra-rough sketches of the comics, but some people prefer to do things like writing scripts etc..) I’ll be talking briefly about two things that can help the planning process go more smoothly:

1) Music: Unless you need absolute silence in order to think creatively, a good choice of background music is essential when you are planning a comic. Whilst only you know how your imagination works, it’s usually a good idea to go for music that sums up the theme and/or the emotional tone of your comic.

For example, when planning my Christmas mini series, I listened to “Anxiety” by Bad Religion on repeat. This is an ultra-fast, ultra-cynical punk song from the late 1980s, and it might not seem like a “Christmas song” at first. But, since my Christmas comics tend to take a more cynical view of the holiday and since Christmas also tends to fill me with retro nostalgia (usually for the 1990s, but occasionally for things made in the 1980s), this song seemed to encapsulate both things perfectly. Like in this preview of a panel from the upcoming mini series:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st December.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st December.

So, choosing music that sums up the emotional tone of your comic is probably more important than music that just fits into the theme of your comic. But, music that fits into the theme of your comic can still be useful when you need to get into the mood for planning a comic.

2) Have a vague idea (before you plan): I know that this might sound obvious but, comic planning tends to go best when you already have a vague idea of what sort of comics you want to make. Many of the times that I’ve gone into making a webcomic mini series without sufficient planning have been when I’ve thought “I should really make some comics, since I haven’t made any in a while. But, about what? Meh. I’ll make it up as I go along.”

Most of the times when I’ve planned a comic properly have been when I’ve at least had some vague idea that I could start with, such as “I want to make cynical comics about Christmas again, like last year“, “I want to make a cyberpunk comic“, “I want to make a comic that’s like something from ‘Sherlock Holmes’ or ‘Poirot’ “, “I want to make another cyberpunk comic“, “I want to make super-detailed large comics“, or ” I want to make yet another cyberpunk comic” etc..

So, although planning will help you to work out the details of your webcomic updates, make sure that you have a vague idea of the general concept of your comic before you start planning. If nothing else, having a basic idea to expand from gives you the confidence to get on with planning straight away (rather than just sitting in front of a blank notebook page uncertainly).

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

Three Last-Minute Inspiration Sources If You Don’t Have A Clue What Your Next Webcomic Update Will Be About

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Well, at the time of writing, I’m in the later stages of preparing a webcomic mini series (which will be posted here in late November/early December). One problem with this mini series was that I ended up feeling uninspired a lot more than I had expected.

Although this was mostly because I hadn’t planned the mini series in advance enough, regretting rushing into a comic mini series wasn’t going to help me finish the mini series. So, I thought that I’d go over some of the last-minute things to do if you don’t have a clue what your next webcomic update will be about. Of course, some of these will work best in some webcomics and some will work best in others. So, use your own judgement!

1) Culture: If you need an idea for a webcomic update in a hurry, then have your characters discuss films, games, books etc… These don’t have to be the latest up-to-date examples of these things. In fact, if you like something slightly more obscure and can write at length about it (without doing too much time-consuming research), then your comic update will be more distinctive as a result.

This is a good source of inspiration if you’re in a hurry for the simple reason that you probably have a favourite film, game, TV show etc.. or because you’ve probably encountered some kind of entertainment media within the past few days. Even if the only entertainment media you’ve seen recently is absolutely terrible or boring, then this is perfect source material for a cynical comic update.

Likewise, parodies (of films, games, TV shows etc..) are always a great last-minute idea if you aren’t feeling that inspired.

2) Art and an excuse: If you’re in the mood for making interesting art, but don’t have a good idea for what your next webcomic will be about, then one way to get around this is just to draw an interesting or unusual picture of your characters and then see if you can work backwards and extrapolate a comic idea from it.

At the very least, you can always use the old “it was a dream!” thing (this can work in very short webcomics, but it’s an abysmal plot twist to use in longer comics!). Or, even if that fails, then you’ve still got an interesting-looking picture of your characters that you can use as filler material to show the members of your audience who are expecting you to post something at the appointed time.

3) Opinions: Chances are, you probably have opinions that are either amusing in and of themselves and/or you have more serious opinions which can be expressed in an amusing way.

But, unless you specialise in making political cartoons, then having too many opinion cartoons in your webcomic series might annoy your audience. So, this is is best done occasionally at most. Likewise, make sure that the opinion actually makes sense in the context of your comic (and you don’t lecture the audience either).

The great thing about using opinions for inspiration is that, since you’ve already formed your opinions, the only thing you have to worry about is how to express them in comic form (eg: you don’t have to think of a totally new comic idea, just a way to use a pre-existing idea).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂