Make Your Filler Comics Fun (To Make) – A Ramble

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series. However, due to being busy with lots of other stuff, I had to work out a way to make a series of comics quickly and with relatively little effort. In other words, if I wanted to avoid an annoying webcomic hiatus, I needed to make some filler comics.

After thinking about making a series of studies of historical paintings (but with the characters from my long-running webcomic in them), I eventually settled on the idea of making a somewhat non-canonical series of large digitally-edited monochrome single-panel cartoons featuring my webcomic’s characters.

Once I thought of this idea, I suddenly planned out the first five comics (of a planned six-comic mini series) within the space of about fifteen minutes. Here’s a detail from the first comic update:

The complete comic update will be posted here on the 21st August.

The one thing that surprised me the most was just how much fun this comic update was to make. Initially, I was worried that the much more limited format would result in a disappointing comic update. A piece of obvious filler content that was barely better than posting no comics at all. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Since I didn’t have to worry about lots of complex digital editing (since digital editing is much simpler with monochrome art) and since I could make comics quickly, I suddenly found that I felt some of the spontaneity that I used to feel when I made much more primitive comic updates back in 2012/13. Knowing that I could make a comic update within the space of less than an hour felt liberating – and this had some positive effects on the comic.

For starters, the fact that I’d switched to a single-panel format meant that I had to rely a lot more on character-based humour. Since I couldn’t rely on longer set-ups for each joke, I had to focus more on the characters’ eccentricities when planning the comics. This gave these planned comics a lot more personality than many of my 4-8 panel comics from the past 2-3 years have had.

In addition to this, the single-panel format also meant that I had to focus more on things like visual storytelling and implied storytelling. Although this seemed like it would add extra complexity (and time) to the comics, it actually allowed me to do things like include different types of jokes and to come up with slightly sillier premises for each comic. This silliness also reminded me a lot of the comic’s earlier days too, and the joyous spontaneity and randomness that the comic had back then.

So, what was the point of all of this? Well, the best way to come up with good filler content for your webcomic is to go for whatever feels fun. If you can find a way to make your filler comics fun to make, then this will result in better comics.

Even if your filler content is somewhat “lazy”, then this won’t matter as much as you might think if it is fun to make. This is a bit difficult to describe, but fun can be an infectious quality. If your filler comic has badly-drawn art, but the humour and personality that comes from just relaxing and having fun, then the audience is more likely to overlook any visual downgrades you might apply to the art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Four Very Basic Tips For Adding Foreshadowing To Detective Comics

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making a comedic detective-themed webcomic mini series that will appear here later this month. Here’s a preview of one panel from it:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st July. The mini series starts on the 20th.

Although the comic isn’t really a “serious” detective story, I thought that I’d talk about how to add “clues” to your detective comic. After all, one of the basic features of the detective genre is that there should be at least a couple of small hints about who did it before the criminal’s identity is revealed. This technically gives the audience a chance to solve the case before the detective does. But, when done well, these clues are often only really noticed on a second reading.

So, how do you foreshadow the ending of your detective comic? Here are four very basic tips:

1) Plan it first: This is obvious, but be sure to plan out the entire story before you start making the comic. The main reason for this is that, if you know how the story will end, then you can go back and add a few subtle clues to your comic plan before you start making any comics.

For example, after planning out the ending of my upcoming webcomic mini series, I suddenly realised that I could add a clue to an early part of the comic purely by changing one tiny visual detail. This was the sort of thing that probably won’t be noticeable until you know how the comic ends, but it seemed like a cool little detail.

So, yes, if you plan your comic first, then it’s a lot easier to add subtle foreshadowing to your comic.

2) Think procedurally: Simply put, the easiest way to add subtle clues to your detective comic is simply to think about the events of your story in practical terms.

Think about what would have changed about either the criminal or the surrounding area after the crime had been committed, but before the detective discovers the culprit. Then just subtly show this without giving an explanation (until later in the comic).

A good way to learn how to come up with things like this is to read some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. Since these stories focus a lot on physical evidence and logical deductions, reading a few of them will make you think about the subtle knock-on effects of any actions that the criminal characters have taken.

3) Red herrings: Red herrings are “clues” that are either totally unrelated to the case or which have some other innocent explanation.

Often, the best way to hide a real clue is amongst several false ones – the real clue is technically still there, but it is up to the reader to work out which clues are real and which ones aren’t. And, since they’re still learning about the events of the story, this reduces the chances of the reader guessing the solution before the story finishes.

So, just add a few subtle visual details which look like they could be clues – but which are actually just random background details, easter eggs etc… This will distract the readers from the actual clues that you’ve also added.

4) Background details: One of the great things about comics being a visual medium is that it’s a lot easier to hide stuff in the background. Because comics tend to be read quickly on a first reading and because your audience’s attention will probably be focused on either the dialogue and/or the events of the story, this means that it’s very easy to hide subtle visual clues in the background that will only be noticed when your comic is re-read slightly more slowly.

In other words, be sure to use misdirection. If something dramatic, funny or interesting is happening in one panel of your comic – then this is the perfect place to hide a subtle clue in the background. After all, your audience will be too busy reading the dialogue, laughing at the joke and/or wanting to know what happens next to really pay attention to small background details.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Not Every Webcomic Update Will Be Stellar… And That’s Ok – A Ramble

Well, since I’m busy making next month’s webcomic mini series at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about quality variations in webcomics today.

This is mostly because, although the second update in the upcoming mini series certainly isn’t a “bad” comic update, it didn’t end up being quite as funny or artistically detailed as the previous comic update was. Here’s a preview of it:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 23rd May.

Even if you only make webcomic updates occasionally, you’ll probably run into this problem too. Sometimes, the only good idea for a webcomic update isn’t quite as good as the idea you had last time. Of course, in these situations, the only sensible thing to do is to… make the comic update anyway.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Make the comic update.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, a mediocre finished webcomic update is still better than a hypothetical “great” webcomic update that you haven’t made. For starters, it means that your audience gets to see something. Even if they aren’t impressed by the comic update, they can at least feel reassured by the fact that you’re still making comics (and sticking to your schedule).

Secondly, you are almost certainly your own worst critic. If you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even one of your “bad” comic updates might still be considered acceptable or even good by the standards of other people. If you haven’t been making webcomics for long, then you need the practice – so make the update and post it for your own sake. Remember, even the best webcomics weren’t as good during their early days.

Thirdly, even if you only publish six comic updates a month (which seems to be my thing at the moment), you’ve still got to make multiple comic updates within a relatively short period of time. This is especially true if you want to make a long-running webcomic.

You’ve got to come up with comic ideas on a regular basis and, as such, there are inevitably going to be slight dips in quality occasionally. No-one’s imagination runs at 100% efficiency all of the time. Your audience probably understands this too and are more forgiving then you think. At the very least, if you stick to your update schedule then this means that they won’t have to wait that long for the next comic update (which might be better).

Fourthly, a mediocre webcomic update can be more inspirational than you think. After all, if there are any aspiring webcomic creators in your audience, then they are probably going to see the mediocre comic update and either think “I can do better than that! I’ll finally start my own webcomic!” or “Whew! I’m not the only one who has off days with my comic sometimes!“. So posting a mediocre comic update might actually help out other people.

Finally, and most importantly, if you care about the fact that your latest comic update isn’t as good as the one you made before it, then this means that you care about making webcomics. It means that webcomics still matter to you. It means that you still feel motivated to make webcomics. It means that you aren’t giving up in frustration or anything like that. It means that you want to make better webcomic updates. And this is a good thing!

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

Four Basic Tips For Finding A Distinctive Comedy Style For Your Webcomic

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making next month’s webcomic mini series. Anyway, one of the things that I sometimes worry about before starting a collection of comic updates is that I don’t have my own distinctive style of humour. Then again, everyone probably does this.

Still, if you’ve seen a lot of other things in the comedy genre, it can be easy to think that everyone else has their own unique “style” of humour and you don’t. Again, this isn’t true. But, here are a few ways that you can rediscover your own unique style of humour.

1) Your favourite comedy: This is a fairly obvious one, but look at all of your favourite things in the comedy genre. All of the things that really make you crease up with laughter. Your own style of humour is a mixture of all of the types of humour found in these things.

If you’re not sure about the humour type of your favourite things in the comedy genre, just read or watch as much of them as possible. You’ll soon start to notice patterns, styles of jokes etc… Yes, most good things in the comedy genre will contain a mixture of different types of humour, but there will often be one or two that stand out more than the others.

These types of humour might include things like character-based humour, “shock value” humour, political/social satire, parodies, cynicism, slapstick humour, clever wordplay, subverted expectations, amusing narration, old things in modern settings etc…

The trick here, of course, isn’t to directly copy any one thing – but to try to find the types of jokes that you want to tell. Once you’ve found a few types of humour that you really like, then come up with your own jokes that use this style and include them in your webcomic. The thing to remember is that distinctive comedy styles come from a unique mixture of pre-existing types of humour.

2) Don’t be afraid to experiment: One of the reasons why I sometimes worry that I don’t have my own “style” of humour is that I tend to experiment with different types of humour from time to time. For example, this comic update of mine combines cynical humour with more philosophical elements:

“Damania Reflection – Mind, Body & Spirit” By C. A. Brown

Whereas, this comic update of mine is more like something from a gaming webcomic:

“Damania Regression – Community” By C. A. Brown

I could go on for a while, but part of finding your own “style” of humour is experimenting with lots of different types of humour. And this usually involves taking inspiration from lots of different things along the way. So, if your humour changes every month or two, then it just means that you’re adding more stuff to your repertoire. It means that you are improving or refining your own unique style of humour. It’s a good thing!

3) Look back: If you’ve been making webcomics for a while and you’re still worrying that you don’t have a unique type of humour, then just look back at some or all of the comics that you’ve made in the past.

When you look at comic updates that you haven’t seen in a while, you’ll probably have a slightly more distanced perspective. And there’s a good chance that you’ll start to notice at least some hints of your own distinctive style of humour lurking in there too. And, since you made these comic updates in the past, it means that you already have a unique style of humour. You just needed a reminder.

4) Your perspective: I’m usually sceptical about people who tell you to “write from experience”, since they’re often the kind of annoyingly extroverted people who seem to think that everyone else should be just like them. No, a much better piece of advice is to “write from your own perspective”.

I don’t mean that you should make your webcomic autobiographical, but that you should take a look at the way that you think about the world.

Take a look at the topics and ideas that interest you. Take a look at anything you’ve seen or read recently that had some kind of emotional or intellectual impact on you. Take a look at your dreams and daydreams.

Once you’ve thought about these things, try to find a way to make them (or things like them) funny. This will instantly give your comedy a certain level of personality and uniqueness.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂