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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Three Lazy Ways To Include Fight Scenes In Your Webcomic (If You Don’t Usually Include Them)

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As regular readers probably know, I’m busy with making this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing. As such, I thought that I’d talk about making webcomics again. Today, I’ll be looking at lazy ways to include elements from the action genre in your (web)comics, if you haven’t had much practice at this.

Although action scenes in comics are designed to be read quickly, they are probably one of the most difficult things to draw well. After all, you’ve got to work out how to draw your characters standing in all sorts of dramatic-looking poses and you also have to clearly show a complex series of events using just a few panels.

Yes, technically, you should probably practice drawing anatomy. You should learn how to draw every type of perspective. You should probably carefully study lots of action scenes in other comics and learn techniques from them. But, you’re making a webcomic and you’re on a schedule. So, you could always, you know, cheat.

But, a word of warning, these “lazy” techniques will only work if you include action scenes infrequently in your comics. A small number of “lazy” action scenes, coupled with lots of funny dialogue, interesting artwork etc.. can be overlooked by readers. But, if you’re including lots of action in your comic, then you should probably study how to draw these scenes properly.

But, that said, here are some lazy ways to include action scenes in your comic:

1) Gunfights: If you are inexperienced with the action genre in comics, then you should probably try to stick to including gun-based combat in your comics if the story allows it.

Not only is it easier to learn how to draw someone holding or firing a gun (eg: a few poses, as opposed to the hundreds of possible poses needed to draw a realistic fist-fight, sword-fight etc..) but, due to the especially deadly nature of guns, it can mean that the fight scenes in your comics can plausibly be over within the space of a couple of panels at the most. In other words, there are fewer complicated combat-based panels to draw.

Of course, you shouldn’t include guns in comics where they would look somewhat out of context. So, this technique isn’t a cure-all for being inexperienced with drawing action scenes. But, if you have to include other weapons in your comic, then….

2) Posing: If you need a lazy way to give the impression that your comic contains lots of action, without actually including that much action, then one way to do this is to include as many (or more) scenes of characters holding or brandishing weapons than scenes where they actually use them. Just make sure that you only include this in contexts where your characters would realistically be expected to be brandishing weapons.

For example, my Halloween comic from last year is set during a zombie apocalypse (eg: a context where the characters should probably be armed) and it contains something like eleven or twelve panels where characters are holding or brandishing a variety of unusual weapons, but not using them. On the other hand, there are only something like five or six panels in the entire comic where the characters actually use those weapons.

In other words, although the characters are visibly armed for large parts of the comic, there are about twice as many panels showing the characters not using their weapons.

Doing this sort of thing gives the impression that the characters are in a dramatic and dangerous situation (why would they be armed if they weren’t?) whilst also allowing you to include a minimum of complex action scenes in your comic.

3) Implication: As ironic as it sounds, self-censorship can actually be your friend when it comes to drawing action scenes when you have little experience. Whilst a well-drawn action scene in a comic should show both an act of violence and it’s direct consequences (eg: someone swinging a punch and the punch connecting with whoever they are hitting), this requires a bit more planning and artistic knowledge to do well.

So, one lazy way to get around this is to use implication. For example, one panel of my upcoming Halloween comic shows the main characters being theatened. The next panel consists of nothing more than a melodramatic illustration of one of the main characters firing a machine gun (whilst saying a witty line of dialogue).

The “action” in the scene is conveyed entirely through “sound effects”, dialogue, dramatic lighting etc… But, it’s basically just a picture of the character standing still and firing a machine gun.

But, most critically, the panel after this one is just a dialogue-based panel. The “fight” is implied to be over through the more relaxed demeanour of the characters, and the more puzzling aspects of this scene (eg: where did the machine gun come from?) are addressed through dialogue.

Yes, it’s a lazy way to handle a scene like this but – because there won’t be that much violence in the comic (well, there will be more than usual, but less than in many more action-based comics) and because the comic is meant to be more of a comedy horror comic than a “serious” horror or thriller comic, then hopefully it won’t have too much of an adverse effect on the quality of the comic.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Adding “Rest Pages” To Your Comic

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Well, since I’m still busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk briefly about something that can make longer comics projects slightly easier.

As regular readers probably know, I tend to have something of a short creative attention span. It is, for example, why I release my occasional webcomics in mini series of 6-17 daily comic updates (well, more like 6-12 updates these days).

So, making a full-colour A4-size Halloween comic that will be 12 pages in length (including the cover) is something of a stretch for me. But, as I’m learning, it’s certainly possible. So, I thought that I’d talk about one of the techniques that I’m using to reduce the amount of effort that this project requires, in case it’s useful to you.

This technique is simply to include the occasional low-effort page within my comic. If this is done well, then it can be barely noticeable to the audience, whilst still giving you a chance to rest slightly at the same time.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of page three of my Halloween comic (which I made the day before writing this article):

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 23rd October.

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 23rd October.

This is an example of a low-effort comic page. One of the first things that you might notice is that it only contains six panels (page one contains seven panels and page two contains eight).

Likewise, as I discussed in yesterday’s article, many of the backgrounds are simple interior locations that contain a minimum of detail. There’s just enough detail to make the backgrounds look like convincing locations but, the overall detail level is still fairly low.

In addition to this, the dramatic-looking lighting in the third panel helps to distract from the low levels of detail in most of the artwork. This is further disguised by the fact that the comic features multiple background locations, which adds some visual variety to the page without using too much effort in the process.

Finally, there’s also the fact that it is – for the most part – a “talking head” comic. This is a comic update where the characters just stand around and talk to each other. If this isn’t done right, then it can look lazy or boring. But, I’ve disguised it somewhat by adding a couple of simple action-based panels to the comic (eg: the two panels showing the television screen) and by showing a close-up of a video player in the third panel.

So, although it might not look like it at first glance, this page was a lazy “rest page” that I created in order to conserve effort for other parts of the comic. If you’re making a longer comic and you tend to have a fairly short creative attention span, then learning how to do this kind of thing can be extremely useful.

There are lots of other ways to do something like this, and I don’t currently have time to list them all here, but hopefully this article will have at least pointed you in the right direction.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Two Sneaky Tips For Making Longer Comics Look More Detailed

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As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing. So, I thought that I’d talk briefly about detail levels in webcomics today.

This was mostly because, when I tried to make the failed mini series that was posted here recently , I went for more of a ‘back to basics’ approach with the art. In other words, I tried to reduce the level of visual detail to the minimum that I could get away with. This was an interesting experiment, but it sucked some of the “life” out of my comics.

On the other hand, in the mini series that will appear here in early October, I did the exact opposite. I made larger comics that contained slightly more visual detail than many of the ‘detailed’ comics I’d posted earlier this year. This was a lot of fun, but it also meant that the comic-making process was a lot slower. Of course, whilst this was perfect for a short six-comic mini series, it wouldn’t be practical for the longer narrative comic I’d planned for Halloween. So, what did I do?

1) Mix high and low detail backgrounds: This is one of the oldest tricks in the book (I’ve mentioned it before, but recently learnt how to use it in a slightly better way) and it can be barely noticeable if done well.

For example, the pages of my upcoming Halloween comic contain a few detailed interior and exterior locations. But, these often appear for only one or two panels. Most of the time, the backgrounds are slightly less detailed – but this is disguised in a few clever ways.

For example, here’s a preview of one of the less detailed backgrounds in page one of my Halloween comic:

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

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

If this had been a scene from my failed “back to basics” comic project, then I’d have just used a plain purple background. However, although most of the background is solid purple, I’ve also added the corner of an old computer monitor and an undetailed poster to it.

Although both of these small details were fairly quick to draw, they give the impression that the scene is taking place within an actual room. So, a couple of tiny and quick details can make an undetailed background look like a detailed one.

Another good trick to use is to draw a few detailed “establishing shots” of a new location and then to add less precision and less detail to most of the other drawings of this location. Since your audience will have seen the more detailed drawings first, they’re probably just going to “fill in the gaps” when they see the less detailed drawings of the same location a little while later.

2) Clever recycling: First of all, I’m not talking about directly re-using backgrounds. Although, if you’re making your comic entirely digitally (and are skilled with using layers), then you can obviously do this. But, I’ll be talking about something far more subtle and much less noticeable than that.

This technique works best if you also do regular art practice, have a good visual memory and/or have made lots of comics before. But, all you have to do is to use something that you are familiar with drawing for your background. Not only does this save you thinking/planning time, but it means that you’ll be able to add a lot of detail more quickly for the simple reason that you already know what to do.

For example, the first page of my upcoming Halloween comic features a detailed outdoor location. Since the comic’s location is loosely-based on Aberystwyth, I already had plenty of pre-made ideas for outdoor locations. On top of this, I’d previously made a sci-fi painting (which will be posted here on the 10th October) which was based on this old photo of Aberystwyth high street that I took in 2009.

One interesting feature of the photo was that the bank in the background had been undergoing renovations at the time and was covered in scaffolding. Likewise, the top of the building next to it looked a little bit like something from “Blade Runner“.

Needless to say, both things were a part of my sci-fi painting. But, since I’d already worked out how to draw them when making that painting, they were surprisingly quick to re-draw when I wanted to add a detailed outdoor location to my Halloween comic:

 Again, the full comic update will be posted here on the 21st October.

Again, the full comic update will be posted here on the 21st October.

This outdoor location isn’t exactly the same as either the photo or my sci-fi painting but, since I was drawing buildings that I’d practiced drawing recently, I was able to add a lot more detail to that panel a lot more quickly.

So, if you find some way to draw what you know, then it’ll be easier to add detailed backgrounds far more quickly.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Two Random Thoughts About Comic Cover Design

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Well, since I’m busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk briefly about cover design in comics. This was mostly because the cover for the Halloween comic was somewhat hit and miss. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size cover artwork will appear here on the 20th October.

The full-size cover artwork will appear here on the 20th October.

This was probably the first time I’d tried to draw a comic cover in landscape, rather than portrait. So, it was something of an experiment as much as anything else. Still, like all creative experiments, I’ve learnt a couple of things from it.

1) Colours: This was one of the first times where I tried to use a consistent colour scheme for the cover of one of my comics. Unless you are trying to make more “realistic” cover art, it can often be a good idea to use a complementary colour scheme of some kind for your cover.

Limiting the number of colours you use and combining them in the right way can really make your cover artwork stand out. Likewise, try to choose colour combinations which suit the mood that you are trying to create.

For example, the preview image I showed you earlier mostly uses a red/green/blue colour scheme. This is intended to be reminiscent of old CRT television screens and, by extension, the 1980s too. If I wanted to emphasise the horror elements of the comic, then I’d have probably used more of a red/black colour scheme. If I wanted to give it more of a sci-fi horror atmosphere, I’d have used a red/blue/black colour scheme etc…

The best way to learn which colour schemes are appropriate for different moods, genres etc… is simply to look at as many comic covers, DVD covers, album covers etc… as you can (the “image search” feature in many search engines can be useful for this) and take careful note of the colour combinations that are used. Once you’ve done this, see which ones tend to be the most common.

2) Layout and composition: This is probably the most important part of any comic cover, and it’s probably the thing that I messed up in my cover. This is probably because I’m more used to making comic covers in portrait than in landscape but, since the comic itself will be in landscape, it made sense for the cover to be in landscape too.

Likewise, I used a fairly boring composition for this cover and just drew the four characters standing in a line. This was mostly done for time reasons, and as a reference to the cover of last year’s Halloween comic. Whilst this composition shows the audience all of the main characters, there isn’t really much happening in it.

In retrospect, I should have probably spent longer planning the cover. I probably should have added more action and/or less detail to it.

So, yes, planning is important when it comes to cover design. Whilst this was probably more of an issue with print comics (where the cover is always the first, and possibly only, thing people will see), it still matters in comics posted online (even though people are just as likely to see a random page from your comic before they see the cover).

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Sorry for the short and rambling article, but I hope it was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Two Things To Do When You Abandon A Comic Plan

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The day before I wrote this article, I finished planning this year’s Halloween comic. The interesting thing was that it actually took me two attempts to plan out the whole thing.

My first Halloween comic plan seemed interesting, and it was vaguely based on an idea I’d had earlier last year (eg: a parody of “Silent Hill), but it went in more of a Bangsian fantasy direction, with all of the characters dying in hilariously weird ways within the first two pages, and spending the rest of the comic in the afterlife.

This seemed like a brilliant idea – since I could include gruesome slapstick comedy, cameos from historical figures (eg: Herod, Edgar Allen Poe etc.. ) and some gleefully irreverent jokes about heaven and hell. It was all going so well…

But, after planning about four pages, I realised that I’d have to abandon this plan. There was very little conflict or direction in the story and, worst of all, the whole “comedy horror story set in the afterlife” thing has been pretty much done to death (eg: “Beetlejuice” and “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” spring to mind for starters). So, I started planning another comic, which turned out slightly better.

But, how did I do this and what should you do when you abandon a comic plan?

1) Look for the best parts: One of the reasons why I was able to come up with another comic idea so quickly was because I looked over my abandoned plan and noticed that one scene in particular seemed especially amusing. Whilst the rest of the comic plan was filled with rather clichรฉd and predictable humour, one scene stood out:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This was the best part of the rough plan for my first Halloween comic idea.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This was the best part of the rough plan for my first Halloween comic idea.

Needless to say, the finished plan that I made later ended up revolving around the “video nasties” moral panic from the 1980s (well, sort of…). But, I’d have never come up with that idea if I hadn’t made a failed comic plan beforehand. So, failure isn’t an entirely bad thing.

Generally, if a failed comic plan lasts for more than a couple of pages or so, there’s usually the beginnings of a good idea hidden somewhere in there. After all, you wouldn’t have kept planning a comic for that long if there wasn’t something in there that appealed to you.

So, look over your failed comic plan and see if you can find the best parts of it. Then use those parts as the basis for a new and improved comic idea.

2) Take a break: Surprisingly, I spent about a day not planning comics between my first abandoned plan and my finished second plan. Although I hadn’t planned to do this, it probably improved the final comic plan.

One of the reasons why it’s a good idea to take a short break after abandoning a comic plan is that it prevents you falling into the trap of trying to repeat the same idea straight away. Giving yourself a bit of time to think about how and why the plan went wrong will allow you to come up with a different and better idea for a comic plan.

Likewise, if you try to start another comic plan immediately after abandoning a failed one, then there’s a good chance that you might not be in the right mood for it. Since you’ll probably feel disappointed about abandoning a plan that you’ve put time and effort into, you’re likely to be in a slightly dispirited and dejected mood. Needless to say, this kind of mood isn’t the best mood to be in when planning a comic.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was useful ๐Ÿ™‚