Four Basic Ways To Downgrade Your Webcomic (To Stay Inspired)

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Although the webcomic mini series I’m posting here at the moment has fairly detailed art and a slightly elaborate storyline, the next mini series will experience something of a downgrade when it appears here in early September. Here’s a preview:

The full comic update will appear here on the 4th September. As you can see, it looks and reads more like one of my "old" comics from 2016.

The full comic update will appear here on the 4th September. As you can see, it looks and reads more like one of my “old” comics from 2016.

Why? Well, it was mostly because, when I was preparing August’s daily art posts, I was extremely reluctant to make comics. After all of the effort I’d put into the mini series that’s being posted here at the moment, making comics started to seem like an arduous, time-consuming thing. It was only when I noticed that I hadn’t included a single comic in any of August’s art posts that I realised that I was in danger of succumbing to comics burnout (like I did for pretty much all of 2014). So, drastic action had to be taken.

In other words, I began to make a fairly heavily downgraded short mini series for September, as a way to ease myself back into making comics. But, how can you downgrade your webcomic if you need to stay inspired, if you have less time, if you have less enthusiasm etc…

1) Comic type: There are two types of webcomics – webcomics that tell continuous stories and webcomics where each comic update is self-contained. Both of these comic types have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to ease of writing.

Different people find different types of comics easier to make. So, if you want to downgrade your comic, then just choose the type that you find easiest. Interestingly, this can work both ways- I switched to “continuous story” comics for the comics I posted earlier this year because I felt that it was easier than having to think of new ideas for each comic.

However, after a while, coming up with suitably interesting plot ideas became more difficult. So, during my recent downgrade, I switched back to self-contained comics. So, yes, it can be something of a cyclical process.

2) Art downgrade: The easiest way to save time and energy if you need to downgrade your webcomic is to simplify the art slightly. There are literally loads of ways to do this.

For example, you can switch from colour artwork to black & white artwork. Yes, knowing how to make good black & white artwork is a skill that has to be learnt but, if you know how to do this, then you can save a surprising amount of time.

Or, you can do what I’ve done in my upcoming mini series and simply reduce the level of background detail in each comic. Whilst most of the comics I’ve posted here this year tend to feature detailed outdoor background locations, the next mini series will go back to mostly featuring simple interior locations. This means that, for most of the backgrounds, I often just have to draw a single wall or two – rather than, say, an elaborate cityscape.

This allows me to keep the overall “look” of the comic, and the writing within it, at a reasonably good level whilst also saving me a large amount of time. In addition to this, I had a lot of practice with using simplified backgrounds during 2016, so it was a way to recapture some of the “spontaneity” that I used to feel when making those old comics.

3) Know what to downgrade: Have you noticed how I’ve only really talked about downgrading the art in your comics or changing the format you use? Well, this is because there’s one thing that you should never downgrade. I am, of course, talking about the writing in your comic. Don’t downgrade the writing!

I’ve probably mentioned this a few times before, but the writing is the most important part of a webcomic. Even if the art looks simplistic, a webcomic can still be interesting, compelling or funny if the writing is good enough.

So, don’t downgrade the writing!

4) Time and length: One ‘downgrade’ that I applied to my webcomics before I even made them was to release them in short 6-17 comic mini series. Whilst this is fairly unusual for a webcomic, it was a decision that I made because I’ve learnt from experience that there are limits to how long I can focus on a single comic for.

Likewise, one subtle form of downgrading that I’ve used in order to stay inspired whilst making webcomics over the past year or two is to vary the lengths of the mini series. If I’m not feeling hugely inspired, then I might only make a six-comic mini series. If the art was particularly detailed, or the story required a lot of planning, then I might limit myself to just eight comics.

In fact, this was probably why I had so many problems after I finished the mini series that is being posted here at the moment. Due to it’s artistic complexity, it should have been a 6-8 comic mini series. But, since I was having so much fun making it – even if it was a bit of a challenge – I overstretched and made twelve comics.

So, yes, don’t be afraid to do things like releasing comics slightly less often or reducing the length of your comics, if it keeps you inspired.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Things To Do When You Predict The Future Incorrectly In A Webcomic

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One of the oldest pieces of advice about making webcomics is to have a large buffer of comic updates prepared in advance. This is extremely good advice, but it can cause problems if your webcomic features occasional political commentary or occasional political satire.

After all, if you’re making your comic updates weeks or months in advance, then you’ll have to predict the future. And, if 2016 was anything to go by, the future can be an astonishingly unpredictable thing.

So, what can you do if you get the future wrong in your webcomic (before it’s actually posted online)?

1) Scrap or replace the comic: If your incorrect past prediction about the future is the kind of thing that is likely to cause controversy (or worse), then it’s usually best to either not post the comic or, even better, to post something else instead. This doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, and it can even be a quick filler comic, but it’s better than posting nothing.

For example, early last year, there was a controversy in Britain about the press. During the middle of the controversy, I had prepared a comic about it. However, the events in question went in a very different direction to the one I had expected. By the time that the comic was ready to be released, I realised that it would not only be out-of-date but could also be a bit too contentious too.

So, using digital editing, I took parts of the artwork from the original comic and – with some careful rewriting and manipulation- was able to turn it into a totally non-topical and uncontroversial comic about newspaper horoscopes instead:

"Damania Revived - Horoscope" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Revived – Horoscope” By C. A. Brown



2) Filters and notes:
One of the easiest, and more interesting, ways to deal with an incorrect prediction is simply to post the comic but to point out that it is out of date.

One easy way to do this is to use an image editing program to turn the comic greyscale (eg: just lower the colour saturation levels to zero), or add a sepia filter to the comic.

This instantly makes the comic look “old”, so it is less likely to confuse your audience. If your incorrect prediction was an optimistic one, then it also adds a sombre tone to the comic too.

For example, I did this with a comic that expressed optimism about Hillary Clinton’s chances in the 2016 US election. The original version of this comic was posted on DeviantART before the US election, but (due to scheduling reasons) the comic wasn’t scheduled to appear here until after the election. It was out of date, and depressingly poignant, so I ended up adding a sepia filter and a small note to the version that was posted here:

"Damania Regrown - Back In Time (alternate history version)" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Regrown – Back In Time (alternate history version)” By C. A. Brown

As you can see from this example, it can sometimes also be worth adding a small note to the comic itself in order to explain to your readers why your comic seems to be slightly out of step with the present day.

3) Alternate history: If your incorrect prediction forms a large part of the webcomic updates that you’ve already prepared for the future (eg: if it has knock-on effects on the rest of the story etc..), then it may be worth taking the bold step of declaring that your webcomic takes place in an alternate timeline.

Yes, this is normally the preserve of science fiction, but it can even work with “serious” politics too. For example, most of the US TV show “The West Wing” aired when George W. Bush was in office. Yet, the fictional president in this series is from the opposite party to Bush. It still took itself seriously as a political drama, and there were no sci-fi elements (which is a shame, because a “West Wing”/”X-Files” cross over would be awesome!). But, the events of the story basically take place in a parallel universe where the 2000 US election went differently.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Make A Change To Your Webcomic Series (Without Alienating Too Many Of Your Readers)

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Although this is an article about making webcomics, I’m going to have to start by talking about TV shows for a while. As usual, there’s (almost) a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

The day before I wrote this article, I started watching the second season of “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“. Even from the opening credits alone, I knew that this season was going to be different. Everything in the opening credits had a much more gothic look to it, and the theme tune had hints of symphonic metal music in it. I was literally awestruck when I saw it for the first time.

When I started watching the episodes, I noticed that they’d gone from being intelligent sci-fi thriller episodes to being much darker and more complex political thriller episodes. Visually speaking, the set design in the first four episodes had a much stronger resemblance to both the original “Ghost In The Shell” movie and to “Blade Runner”. Needless to say, it was already my favourite season of the show after binge-watching a mere four episodes.

It’s an example of a change to a series done properly. And, since my own occasional webcomics have changed a bit over the past year or two (eg: I’ve moved more towards story-based comics etc..), I thought that I’d give some advice about how to make changes to your own webcomics. I’ve probably said some of this stuff before, but it bears repeating.

1) Have a good reason: As many users of a popular online art gallery site will probably tell you, change for the sake of change benefits no-one. In other words, you should only change your webcomic if there’s actually a good practical reason for doing so.

The main reason why webcomics change dramatically is because the change helps to keep the person making the webcomic inspired. Some people are able to make the same sort of thing repeatedly for years, and other people need to do different things in order to stay inspired. If you’re making webcomics, then staying inspired should be your top priority.

If you feel absolutely fascinated by a different type of comic, then make it! If your characters are developing in a way that you didn’t expect them to, let them develop! If you’re in a different mood to the one you usually are in when you’re making your comic, let your comic reflect that mood!

But, don’t make changes just for the sake of it, or to be fashionable. If a change doesn’t genuinely help you to feel more inspired, don’t make it.

Yes, inspired changes might annoy a few of your readers, but the higher quality that will result from these inspired changes will probably help you to keep readers or gain more of them.

2) Continuity: Even if you make a major change, try to keep some things the same. In other words, there should be something that regular fans of your webcomic will recognise instantly. This can be a similar style of humour, this can be recurring characters, this can even be a similar art style. Generally, changes tend to work best when they are part of a gradual progression – rather than a more abrupt change.

So, leaving parts of the “old” version of your webcomic in your new updates can help your audience to adapt to the changes you’ve made more easily.

For example, although I moved over to making more narrative-based webcomics (compared to more self-contained comics), many of my earlier narrative-based series included brief story recaps in the dialogue of each update, so that many episodes could theoretically be read on their own. Like this comic from “Damania Repressed“:

"Damania Repressed - Analytical Engine" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Analytical Engine” By C. A. Brown

Plus, in the mini series that will appear here in late July, I’ve been experimenting with including a better mixture of story-based updates and self-contained updates, in part to appeal to people who prefer the “old-school” versions of my comics. Here’s another preview:

The full comic update will appear here on the 23rd July.

The full comic update will appear here on the 23rd July.

Likewise, the switch to more story-based comics wasn’t too difficult to make since I’d already made occasional story-based comics before (like this one, this one or this one). Yes, I’d used a slightly different visual style and panel layout for them, but regular readers of the series will hopefully realise that story-based comics aren’t an entirely new thing for me.

3) Practice and improvment: Many of the best changes in my webcomics have probably been the less noticeable ones. In other words, the improvements I’ve made in both the art and dialogue in my comics over the past year or so. Here’s a chart to show you what I mean:

 As you can see, I've started using slightly more detailed art and more extensive digital editing.

As you can see, I’ve started using slightly more detailed art and more extensive digital editing. (Note: The release dates refer to this blog, rather than to DeviantART)

In other words, if you practice making art and/or making webcomics regularly, then you’re going to improve. This will, over time, lead to changes in the “look” of your webcomic. These changes will probably happen without you even really noticing them at first. It goes without saying, but these are the kinds of changes that your audience is least likely to complain about.

So, if you want to change your webcomic without changing it, then just keep practicing (even if you only make webcomics occasionally, do art practice as often as possible).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Make A Webcomic Update In A Hurry

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Although I talked about filler updates yesterday, I thought that I’d look at something subtly different today – namely, how to make a webcomic update quickly.

This is mostly because, the day before I wrote this article, I found that I had relatively little time to prepare the second of the two comic updates (to be posted as part of a mini series in late July) that I’d planned to make that day.

Luckily, I still made the comic update. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 26th July.

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 26th July.

So, how was I able to speed everything up? Here are a few tips:

1) Three panels or one panel: Most of my webcomic updates tend to have 4-5 panels per update, this comic update only has three – even if this is cleverly disguised by the unusual panel layout. Although this might sound like it would be more difficult to write (since there’s less space for dialogue and storytelling), it actually isn’t if you’ve had a bit of practice.

Whilst longer comics might require more complex writing or structure, three panel comics often just follow the rule of “premise, set-up, punchline“. The first panel sets the scene, the second panel creates an expectation (about the third panel) and the third panel then shatters that expectation in an amusing way.

When you’ve seen this done enough times (typically in newspaper comics) and have practiced it a bit, then it’s a very familiar and easy rhythm that can help you to come up with quick comic ideas when you’re in a hurry.

Likewise, the general rule with one-panel comics is to set up an expectation with the art or the dialogue, and then subvert it with whichever one you haven’t used already (eg: art or dialogue) to set up the expectation.

2) Recycling: If you’re in a rush, then you probably won’t have much planning time for your comic update. So, take all or part of an idea or a joke from one of your previous comic updates and try to find a new twist on it (or add something to it). Don’t repeat the joke or idea exactly, but borrow the parts that made it so good the last time you used it.

For example, when I was making the comic update that I previewed earlier in this article, I didn’t have a huge amount of planning time. So, since it was a science fiction comic, I borrowed elements from the joke from this old four-panel comic of mine about VR technology and then used a slightly different punchline.

Although recycling your own stuff isn’t the most creative thing in the world and it shouldn’t be done that often, it can be useful for actually making something when you are in a hurry.

3) Art tricks: There are probably too many of them to mention every one here, but it’s always a good idea to learn some tricks that make the art in your comic look better than it actually is. This will save you time, whilst also allowing you to make impressive-looking comic updates.

These tricks include things like giving the illusion of detail, using realistic lighting to distract from the lack of detail in other parts of the artwork, making the setting look larger than it actually is, using simplified backgrounds, numerous digital editing techniques etc……

For example, most of the art in the preview at the beginning of this article is in the large middle panel. In case you can’t tell from the preview image, most of the art in that panel was created digitally using a few image effects. What this meant was that the bulk of the update’s art could be created by just selecting a few areas of the picture and applying various image effects.

However, the other two panels are made traditionally using ink and watercolours (albeit with some digital image editing after I scanned them). Since the comic starts off and ends with a traditional panel, it still gives the impression that the comic update was mostly made traditionally. Even though only about 25% of the entire update was created by slightly more time-consuming traditional methods.

If you learn sneaky tricks like this, then they can come in handy when you are in a hurry.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Make Better Filler Episodes For Your (Story-Based) Webcomic

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Well, due to being extremely tired at the time, I ended up making a filler episode for a webcomic mini series that will appear here in late July. Since this mini series will have an over-arching plot, I thought that I’d look at making filler updates for story-based webcomics today.

Like all good filler episodes, the one I made hopefully won’t obviously look too much like a filler episode, but it allowed me to plan and make a comic episode with relatively little effort. Here’s a preview of one panel from it:

The full comic update will appear here on the 24th July.

The full comic update will appear here on the 24th July.

Anyway, how do you make interesting (and easy) filler updates for story-based webcomics?

1) Focus on the secondary cast: One of the easiest ways to make a filler comic is to focus on a background character (or background characters) who hasn’t had much “screen time” in your webcomic. Even if you use a fairly generic joke or if you just show the background characters discussing what the main characters are doing, then this can be a good way to make an interesting filler comic.

Why? Because these characters haven’t appeared too much in the rest of your webcomic, they’re probably slightly mysterious. So, even if they don’t actually do much in your filler comic, these characters will be interesting because your audience will probably want to learn more about them.

Likewise, even if you just show them discussing what your main characters have done earlier in the comic then this will add some depth to your comic by showing that the “world” of your comic is larger than just the characters who appear in most of your comic updates. Likewise, you can use these character discussions to either add some background details, move the story along slightly and/or foreshadow something that will happen later in the comic.

2) Recaps and flashbacks: Another sneaky way to make a quick filler comic to make a recap update. Not only will this help new readers to catch up on the story but, if you know a little bit about digital editing, you can also create one of these updates fairly quickly by directly copying important panels from your previous comics and collecting them together in a new comic update.

A good way to learn which types of panels you should include is to watch movie trailers and/or the short “previously on…” recaps that often appear before episodes of long-running American TV shows.

If you want some of the speed that making a recap update offers, but you still actually want to include some new stuff in your comic update too, then just include a flashback scene. This is where you show one of your characters remembering something from earlier in the comic. Like with a recap, you can just digitally copy the scene in question from one of your previous updates.

However, to make it obvious that it’s a flashback, it’s usually a good idea to use some kind of image effect on the copied panel. The classic way to do this is to digitally desaturate the panel until it looks like something from an old movie. But, you could also alter the hue of the panel too – for example, the flashback scene in my filler comic has a blue tint to it (which also went well with the colour scheme of the rest of the update).

3) Backgrounds: Another way to make your filler update quickly is to keep the backgrounds as simplistic as possible. So, set your filler update in part of your comic’s setting which is (relatively) quick and easy to draw.

For example, in the mini series I’m making at the moment, many of the comics are set in a rainy, neon-lit futuristic city. This usually involves time-consuming things like digitally adding rain to the comic in MS after scanning it etc… Sometimes, I can cut down on this by just showing the cityscape through a window in the background, but it still involves extra editing.

So, if you take another look at the preview at the beginning of this article, you’ll probably notice that whilst there’s still a window in the background, the blinds happen to be drawn. The rest of the background still looks a bit like the backgrounds in other comic updates from the mini series, so it’s still clear that it is taking place in the same city – even though it doesn’t actually include a detailed cityscape in the background.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Advantages Of Hyper-Detailed Art In Webcomics

....And, yes, I cheated and rotoscoped this picture from a photo.

….And, yes, I cheated and rotoscoped this picture from a photo.

Ok, before I list the advantages of detailed art in webcomics, I’ll start by briefly mentioning the disadvantages that I’ve found with using mildly more detailed art in my occasional webcomics.

Most of these disadvantages involve the extra planning, drawing, painting and/or editing time that goes into making more detailed webcomics. This can lead to shorter webcomics and/or it can lead to more infrequent webcomics. For example, the webcomic mini series which is appearing here at the end of the month will only be six daily updates long (rather than the usual 8-12).

Likewise, there will probably only be one mini series posted here in July (and, even then, it’ll appear later in the month). Here’s a preview of the first two panels of episode one:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 19th July.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 19th July.

Ok, that’s the disadvantages out of the way. So, let’s talk about the advantages:

1) They have instant appeal: The night before I wrote this article, I discovered a new webcomic by accident after an update from it grabbed my attention during an image search for pictures of Linux in the 1990s. It was an absolutely hilarious webcomic called “The Joy Of Tech” and it has been running for over a decade and a half, so it had a huge archive.

One of the things that really surprised me about this webcomic was the fact that even the older updates use a realistic, but cartoonish, art style and that the later comics almost look like they were rotoscoped from photographs. Since it’s a satirical webcomic, this added degree of realism makes all of the caricatures about twice as funny (seriously, the comics about Mark Zuckerberg are just too funny!).

Likewise, one of the things that makes my favourite webcomic – “Subnormality” – so fascinating is the sheer amount of stuff hidden in the background. Although the art in it is more stylised than the art in “The Joy Of Tech”, it’s the kind of comic which makes you look closely at almost every panel.

2) It shows the value of practice: If you look at any webcomic with hyper-detailed art, it can be easy to think that the artist has been gifted with some kind of special talent that you could never even hope to replicate. Chances are, they haven’t. They’ve just practiced a lot.

If you look back through the archives of many webcomics, you’ll find that the earlier updates often feature significantly less detailed or realistic art. In other words, the artist gradually got better at making art through regular practice. Yes, improvements can be slow – but they will happen if you practice regularly.

To show you what I mean, here’s an update from my long-running occasional webcomic series from 2012 (eg: before I even started this blog):

"Damania - Static" By C. A. Brown [21st October 2012]

“Damania – Static” By C. A. Brown [21st October 2012]

And here’s a comic from the same occasional series that appeared here a few days ago:

"Damania Revelry - Preparation" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Revelry – Preparation” By C. A. Brown

I didn’t instantly jump from one to the other in real life, there were something like 4-5 years of daily art practice (but not exclusively comic practice – in,fact, most of my practice included “ordinary” drawings and paintings) between these comics. And there’s probably still a lot of room for improvement. But, you’ll never improve if you don’t practice – and comparing the old and new art in “detailed” webcomics can be a good way to remind yourself of this.

3) It can cover up obscure humour and/or weak writing: In the “Joy Of Tech” webcomic I’ve mentioned earlier, there were some updates that I either didn’t find funny or just didn’t understand. Yet, I was more than willing to overlook this and keep reading. Why? Because the art looks awesome.

I mean, I’m not a fan of Apple computers and I don’t know where Cupertino is, but I was still absolutely awestruck by this comic because of the accurate re-creation of the Tyrell Building office from “Blade Runner” in the first panel. Some of the satire went over my head, but the art still made the comic worth reading.

Yes, the writing is the most important part of any webcomic – it’s why XKCD is so popular, despite featuring extremely minimalist artwork. But, highly detailed art can serve as a very good “backup” for the occasions when the writing fails to interest or amuse the audience.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Can Art And Webcomics Have Secondary Fandoms?

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Well, I thought that I’d talk about “secondary fandoms” today. This is the best term I can come up with to describe that bizarre experience where you find something really cool, that is a tiny part of something else (that you may or may not interested in).

For example, I’m not really a huge fan of the modern role-playing genre of computer games and my computer is probably considered “vintage” these days. So, I’m probably not going to play “Skyrim” and yet, thanks to numerous cover versions that I’ve heard on Youtube, I think that it’s theme tune is one of the most epic pieces of music ever invented. Even though I absolutely love the theme tune, I can’t exactly call myself a “Skyrim” fan. Hence, “secondary fandom”.

Although secondary fandoms don’t always lead to people joining the “main” fandom for something, they can certainly be a useful tool for building a fandom.

For example, I initially got vaguely interested in “Game Of Thrones” after I saw a really cool Youtube video of someone playing the show’s epic theme song using eight modified floppy disk drives as an instrument. When a relative later recommended the books to me and lent me one of them, I was curious enough to read the first hundred pages. Then I ended up watching some of the TV show, which got me interested in the books again, which got me interested in the TV show again etc… But, this may or may not have happened if I hadn’t heard a version of the show’s impressive theme tune on Youtube first.

But, it’s probably quite telling that the two examples that I’ve given have been computer games and TV shows. After all, due to the complex nature of these mediums, they’re going to contain many additional elements that can draw in a secondary fandom. After all, they also contain music, art (even if it’s just cover/ poster art), architecture/set design, costume design, catchphrases etc…

However, art and webcomics contain far fewer different elements. With comics, you’ve just got text and art. With art, you just have art. So, can these things actually have secondary fandoms?

In a word, yes. Although it’s probably more difficult than it is with things like TV shows and computer games.

With webcomics, you can probably gain a secondary fandom by producing interesting-looking stand-alone drawings or paintings of your characters. If this art looks like the kind of thing that people would want to use as a desktop background, the kind of thing that people would want to use as an online avatar etc… then there’s a good chance that you’ll gain a secondary fandom.

With art, the only real way to gain a secondary fandom is if your art appears in other contexts, or if one or two pieces of your art become more famous than the rest.

For example, I’ve been a massive fan of a band called Iron Maiden for at least a decade (after hearing one of their songs in a slightly old computer game when I was a teenager). Anyway, one thing that I loved about the band when I first discovered it was how cool all of the cover artwork for their old albums looked.

In fact, I even ended up accumulating quite a few Iron Maiden T-shirts purely because of the coolness of both the art and the band. However, it was only relatively recently that I learnt that all of the “classic” Iron Maiden artwork was made by an artist called Derek Riggs. I’d spent years being a fan of an artist whose name I didn’t even know!

Likewise, literally everyone knows what the Mona Lisa looks like. It’s widely considered to be one of the best and most valuable paintings ever made. And, yet, very few people can probably name or remember too many more of Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings or drawings (except possibly The Last Supper and/or the Vitruvian Man). Although the Mona Lisa is just one of many pieces of art that Da Vinci made, it has a level of appeal and popularity which means that it’s audience consists of more than just Renaissance art experts.

So, yes, art and webcomics can gain a secondary fandom – even if it is more difficult than it probably is for TV shows, games, films etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂