Three Reasons Why Music Festivals Are Such Awesome Settings For Comics, Stories etc..

2017 Artwork Music festival comics article

As regular readers probably know, at the time of writing, I’m busy making a webcomic mini series that will be set in a music festival. Although it won’t appear here until the beginning of June, I thought that I’d talk about some of the reasons why music festivals are such awesome settings for stories, comics etc.. But, first, here’s another preview of the new mini series:

The full mini series will start appearing here in early June.

The full mini series will start appearing here in early June.

So, why are music festivals such awesome settings for comics, stories etc…?

1) They’re both awesome and crap at the same time: If you’re making a comedy comic, then music festivals are one of the best settings for the simple reason that they are both awesome and crap at the same time. Although I’ve only been to three of them, and that was a few years ago, they really have a strange duality to them.

Yes, there’s the mud, the grim bogs, the overpriced food, the crowded campsites etc… but at the same time, they’re the kind of place where you can watch heavy metal bands every day. They’re the kind of place where wearing dark clothing is the norm rather than something very mildly unusual. They’re the kind of place where, when your 2am party is interrupted by the people in the next tent, they’re probably just going to ask to join in or bring more drink rather than complain about the noise etc..

They’re places dedicated to joy, self-expression and fun. And, in our dour modern society, this is always a refreshing thing – even if the only places they can happen is far away from any kind of civilisation.

So, festivals are filled with dramatic contrast. And, if you’re writing comedy – then dramatic contrast is an absolutely perfect source of humour. After all, you’ve got thousands of people paying for and actively volunteering to spend a weekend in a squalid field somewhere. It’s hard not to see the comedy value in this.

2) Eccentricity: One of the awesome things about festivals is that, like on Halloween, strangeness is almost the norm.

They’re the kind of places where you can see people wearing all sorts of bizarre outfits in the middle of the afternoon, they’re the kind of places where bizarre running jokes can just spontaneously appear amongst a gigantic group of total strangers within a single day. They’re the kind of places where the audience for a concert can look like an army on a medieval battlefield, due to the sheer number of giant flags and other random objects hoisted in the air.

They’re the kinds of places where not being at least slightly drunk by the early evening is probably a little bit suspicious. They have “villages” of stalls that can sometimes look a little bit like something from “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” at night.

If you’re an artist then, needless to say, they are one of the most fun types of places to draw. Not only that, if you’re making a comic, then they provide a lot of opportunities for background jokes and/or art-heavy webcomic updates.

3) They’re a rite of passage: Although there are some awesome people who go to festivals literally every year, the most I managed was two years in a row. But, this is part of the charm of festivals -they’re something that most people should probably go to a couple of times, if possible. They’re places that fire the imagination. They’re almost a rite of passage in some way.

And, yet, they’re real things. Even if your comic has some vague pretence of being “realistic” (which my own comics gave up quite a while ago), then you can still set several comic updates at a festival.

Basically, setting your comic at a festival means that you get the chance to put your characters in a “rite of passage” kind of situation without the kind of serious dramatic weight that might come with more “old fashioned” situations of these types (eg: warfare, religious rituals etc…). In other words, it’s an instant source of drama and/or comedy.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Very Basic Ways To Give Your Webcomic A Consistent Look (Without Being Boring)

2017 Artwork Webcomics consistency article sketch

Generally, many great webcomics can be recognised instantly at a glance. Even though the comic updates may include a variety of different locations and characters, they are always instantly recognisable as being part of one particular webcomic.

However, the look of your webcomic will always change over time. This is because, by it’s very nature, making a webcomic involves lots of regular drawing practice. As you improve, so will the look of your art. If you don’t believe me, then just find a famous long-running webcomic and compare the most recent update to the very first update. They will look different, and this is good.

But, this aside, how can you make your own webcomic look as consistent as possible? Here are two very basic ways:

1) Art style: This is the obvious one. If you take the time to develop your own unique art style, then your webcomic will instantly stand out as something unique. However, if you just use commonly-used art styles (eg: manga, American comic book art etc..), then your webcomic won’t be quite as distinctive.

But, how do you come up with your own art style? I’ve written about this many times before, but it basically just involves finding other art styles that you like and borrowing techniques from them. It also involves a lot of regular drawing practice too. If your art style looks simplistic or childish, then all that means is that you need more practice.

But, even if your own art style looks fairly simplistic or is obviously influenced by another style, the fact that you’ve put the effort into using an original style (rather than a commonly-used one) will make your webcomic stand out from the crowd a bit, whilst also giving it a consistent look.

2) Location design: If you have consistent principles for your location design, then your webcomic will also have a consistent look.

This includes things like using similar colour schemes, using similar types of lighting, using similar types of weather and having a common set of inspirations for your location designs. Basically, if you have a set of principles that you can apply to most of the locations in your webcomics, then your comic will have a consistent look to it even if it includes a lot of different settings.

To use an example from my webcomics that have been posted here this year and will be posted here in the next couple of months, many of them use some variant on a blue/orange/green/purple colour scheme. Likewise, many of them feature gloomy lighting, dramatic sunsets and/or rainy weather. Likewise, the location design is sometimes inspired by films like “Blade Runner” and old computer games too.

Although I haven’t been able to do this in all of my comics (eg: it wasn’t possible in “Damania Requisitioned” or “Damania Renaissance“), here’s a chart showing how this has given some of comics (including a few that haven’t appeared here yet) a distinctive look, despite the fact that they’re set in wildly different locations. If you want to read the comic found in the bottom right corner of the chart, it can be read here.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] - As you can see, the locations are all different from each other, yet they all look similar at the same time because I've followed a consistent set of design principles.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] – As you can see, the locations are all different from each other, yet they all look similar at the same time because I’ve followed a consistent set of design principles.

So, yes, work out a set of design principles and your locations will look fairly consistent.

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

Four Basic Ways To Recycle A Webcomic Story Arc

2017 Artwork Recycling story arcs article sketch

Well, although it won’t appear here until early June, I started making another webcomic mini series shortly after finishing the first draft of this article.

This mini series will be slightly similar to an older webcomic story arc of mine from 2013(which can be seen here, here and here). Here’s a preview of the new mini series:

The mini series should start appearing here in very early June.

The mini series should start appearing here in very early June.

Since this could potentially be one of the closest things I’ve done to remaking my old comics in quite a while, I thought that I’d talk about several of the ways that you can recycle your old comics into new ones.

1) Keep the premise, ditch everything else: One of the best ways to keep a remake of one of your older comic updates or story arcs fresh is to keep the basic premise of it but change everything else. If your story arc revolved around your characters visiting somewhere then keep the location the same but change what happens there.

If your previous story arc was from a few years ago, then set your current story arc in the present day. If you’ve introduced new characters since you finished the old story arc, then add them to the new version of it (if it works in context, of course).

Basically, keep the basic theme or premise, but change almost everything else.

2) Add a full story, or don’t: The simplest way to make a webcomic story arc is just to place your characters in an unusual situation and see what happens. Sometimes, this can lead to a detailed and continuous story, sometimes this can lead to a collection of stand-alone comics that only have a few things in common with each other.

If you’re remaking something like this, then just do the opposite of what you did the first time round. Or don’t, if the original structure went really well. But, try to change the pacing or the panel layouts or something like that.

3) Time gaps and clean reboots: First of all, don’t assume that your readers have read the old story arc that you’re recycling.

If your webcomic has been going for long enough to merit recycling a story arc, then it’s likely that you’ll have picked up new readers who won’t have the time to read every old update. In other words, either make every update of your new story arc totally self contained, or make sure that all of the updates in your new arc tell a totally new self-contained story.

Yes, this might have an effect on the continuity of your webcomic (eg: a character seemingly encountering the same situation for the first time twice etc…) but this can often be covered over by either distracting members of the audience with a few subtle references to the old story arc, or by making the moments in question especially funny and/or dramatic.

4) The obvious way: If you need to take a break from planning comics and you want a quick webcomic project, then you could always just do a “traditional” remake where you do literally nothing more than update the art and streamline the writing slightly.

This obviously works best when it happens in webcomics that don’t tell one continuous story, when your remake is openly declared to be a remake and where the old story arc is old enough that there’s an immediately noticeable difference in art quality.

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

One Unexpected Benefit Of Not Planning A Webcomic Properly

2017 Artwork Fringe benefits of not planning webcomics

First of all, I should probably point out that it’s always a good idea to plan your webcomics properly before you make them. Proper planning allows you to refine your ideas, to test out parts of the comic that you aren’t sure about, to work out how long your comics will be and to avoid experiencing writer’s block halfway through making your comic.

However, despite the basic wisdom of all of this, I actually ended up making a webcomic series that I didn’t plan fully (I probably only planned 50-60% of it). And, despite some problems, it turned out surprisingly well. Even though it won’t appear here until mid-May, it ended up being fairly different from my usual webcomics as a result of this decision.

One of the most significant differences was that I started using more creative panel layouts and slightly more inventive artwork that I usually do. Whilst most of my webcomic updates have precisely four panels, some of the updates in this mini series ended up having between five and seven panels. Here’s a reduced size preview:

The full-size version of this comic update will appear here on the 14th May.

The full-size version of this comic update will appear here on the 14th May.

The delays caused by having to make things up as I went along meant that there was more incentive for me to cram as much into as small a number of comics as possible, before my enthusiasm for the comic ran out. This resulted in all sorts of interesting new panel arrangements, as I tried to squash what is basically a 10-12 comic mini series into just eight comics.

Likewise, since I was having to find ways to tell one and a half times the story in the same amount of space, this also often resulted in me including more detail and/or action in the artwork – since I had less space for dialogue in each panel of most of the comics.

Although this meant that the average time it took me to make and edit each individual comic update was somewhat longer (close to three hours!), it gives many of the comics more of a “cinematic”/”traditional comic” kind of look to them.

Of course, there were a lot of downsides to not fully planning the mini series – I was racked by indecision about how to end the mini series (and only came up with a way to finish the series an hour or two before I started making the final three comics), I often had to do more post-production dialogue editing than usual, I wasn’t able to include literally everything I wanted to in the time I’d set aside to make the mini series etc….

But, I think that the thing that allowed me to actually finish this mini series was the fact that I’d had so much experience with planning and making other comics. This was one of those mini series that I finished despite a relative lack of planning, not because of it. I’d learnt how to get around writer’s block, I’d learnt how to arrange comic panels, I knew my limits for how long I could work on a mini series for (and was able to adjust the length accordingly) etc… and I had to put that knowledge to full use.

When I made a lot more comics back in 2012/2013, I virtually never planned these comics and this would often result in similar problems to the ones I’ve mentioned – but the overall result would often be a lot worse, for the simple reason that I had less experience. I’d spend longer frozen by writer’s block, I’d make parts of the comics needlessly convoluted, I even had to leave comics unfinished on one or two occasions etc…

So, if you’re experienced, then only partially planning your comics can help you to think on your feet and to try things that you don’t usually do in your comic. But, it’s kind of like increasing the difficulty settings on a computer game – it’s a fun challenge if you know what you’re doing, but it’s likely to end in failure if you don’t.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Is It Possible To Make A “Director’s Cut” Of A Webcomic?

2017 Artwork Webcomic directors cut article

Whilst editing part of a webcomic update from a mini series that will appear here in mid-May, I ended up thinking about whether you can have a “Director’s Cut” of a webcomic in the same way that you can have in a film.

Basically, the last two panels of this comic update originally contained about 20% more dialogue than they did when I’d finished editing. Some of this dialogue was removed for pacing reasons, some of it seemed slightly out of character and one joke accidentally gave away a plot twist. Yet, there was a version of that comic update that contained more dialogue than the finished update did.

Since most webcomics are made by just one or two people, there’s no large studio to interfere with the webcomic before it is published. So, the people making the webcomic are often free to choose what to include and what not to include (and, yes, it’s possible to have “deleted scenes” in a webcomic).

As such, most webcomics already are a ‘director’s cut’ in the strictest sense of the word, since the people making them have the final say on what’s included in the comic.

But, it could be argued that there’s often a lot of material that is left out of webcomics – lines of dialogue trimmed for pacing/plot reasons, unused comic strip ideas, alternate artwork etc… So, it’s certainly possible to have an extended version of a webcomic, but not a traditional “director’s cut”.

Still, the closest thing to a “director’s cut” that can probably be done in a webcomic is when an artist and/or writer revisits some of their old webcomic updates and remakes them in something closer to their modern style. Still, this is more of a “remake” than a “director’s cut”, even if it can involve changes to a webcomic update’s dialogue and art.

Plus, one thing that often prevents webcomics from having “director’s cut” versions is the very format of a webcomic itself. Whilst many webcomics (mine included) are divided up into several segments, traditional webcomics are often continuous things.

But, if there’s one word that can be associated with making a webcomic, then it’s “fast”. Webcomics are often expected to be published in regular instalments and this often means that the creators have to work on them continuously and/or make a large number of comics in advance.

This often means that webcomic makers often don’t have the time to revisit old comic updates in the way that a film-maker might be able to revisit one of their films in order to make a “director’s cut”.

In a way, the only way that a webcomic maker could possibly make a director’s cut is if they went back and removed comic updates that were mostly made to fill the schedule or to bulk up an otherwise short comic. I mean, there are at least two webcomic mini series of mine which would have probably been better with fewer comics (eg: “Damania Resolute” would have been better if it was half as long and “Damania Retrofuturistic” could probably be improved by removing 2-4 comics).

But, for the most part, it’s pretty much impossible to make a “director’s cut” of a webcomic because, most of the time, this is what a webcomic already is.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Ways To Deal With Production Troubles In Webcomics

2017 Artwork Webcomic production troubles

A few hours before I wrote this article, I was reading random articles about classic movies that could have been different if not for production troubles. Sometimes, this results in improvements (like the famous scene in one of the “Indiana Jones” movies where Indy shoots a sword-waving villain, because Harrison Ford was too ill to film a long sword-fight). Sometimes it doesn’t.

Yet, there seems to be a strange romanticism about the whole thing when it comes to films. It makes me think of directors having to think on their feet and/or editors having to salvage greatness from the ruins of a movie. It plays into old-fashioned notions of greatness coming at a price. It plays into the idea of directors and actors telling “war stories” about troublesome movies etc…

And, yet, whenever I’ve had production troubles with one of my webcomic mini series, I’ve rarely felt this sense of noble endurance or fast-paced thinking. Most of the time, it just results in feelings of frustration, grim determination and/or despair.

Still, it’s not really as bad as it used to be and I thought that I’d share some techniques that have worked for me. This article won’t really cover how to get inspired, but how to deal with some types of practical issues that might get in the way of making a webcomic or a webcomic mini series.

1) Change the format: There’s a good reason why I also said “webcomic mini series” in the previous paragraph. This is mainly because, after being completely burnt out on making comics by the end of 2013 and taking pretty much all of 2014 off from making comics, I was only able to start making comics again by changing the format that I made and released them.

Instead of making a single comic continuously until I’d run out of endurance, I now tend to make shorter self-contained groups of 6-17 daily comics (with a break in between groups). I go all out on these mini series in the same way that I used to do with my longer comic series, but I finish before my enthusiasm for the medium of comics itself has run out. It’s an unusual way to make and release a webcomic – but it allows me to bypass some of the problems I used to have.

So, if you’re experiencing production troubles with your webcomic, then look at what you can change to lighten the load. Reduce the number of updates per week, make mini series instead, increase or lower the number of panels in each update, make your updates even further in advance than usual, switch from self-contained comics to short story arcs, reduce the colour palette etc…

2) Lazy art tricks: Yes, you probably shouldn’t cut corners when making the art for your webcomic – but, if you have a choice between a finished webcomic update and an unfinished webcomic update, always go with the finished one.

There are plenty of ways to cut corners with the art in your comics that aren’t immediately noticeable. For example, when a character is saying something dramatic, you could just use a plain black background for that panel. Likewise, once you’ve established what a complex background looks like, you can get away with a slightly scribblier and quicker version of it in subsequent panels of that one comic update.

Sometimes, this can be worked into the design of the comic itself. For example, the mini series that is being posted here at the moment started out well but, due to a sudden heatwave a day after I started preparing it (quite a while ago), I found that I had much less energy and enthusiasm than I expected. Fortunately, the comic was set outdoors during the summer. What this meant is that, for many panels in the later updates, I could just use a quick clear blue sky as the background – allowing me to focus my limited energy on the characters and the dialogue.

3) Edit mercilessly: Short, finished and good is better than long, unfinished and terrible. As such, don’t be afraid to cut away anything unnecessary if you feel that it will help you to actually finish your comic updates. This is obviously best done at the planning stage, but it can still be done whilst making a comic (albeit with more difficulty).

Likewise, if your comic is divided into mini series, chapters, story arcs etc… then think realistically about how long you’ll be able to make each one. Remember, it’s always better to plan something short and expand it (if things go well) than to plan something longer and leave it unfinished because of production troubles.

For example, a narrative mini series of mine that will appear here in early May will only be eight comics long. The idea behind it is really cool and it’s really fun to make but, I’m glad it’s only eight comics long. This is mostly because of the fact that the detailed backgrounds take longer to make than I expected and because of everyday stresses that I didn’t anticipate. Still, with only eight updates, it’ll get finished and it’ll be reasonably good. If it had been 12-14 comics long, I wouldn’t be so sure about this.

So, don’t be afraid to sacrifice length for completion, quality and/or your own sanity.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Instant Sources Of Webcomic Story Arcs (Plus, Comic Previews :) )

2017 Artwork Webcomic story arc ideas article sketch

Well, although it won’t be posted here until early May, I’ve started yet another story arc-based webcomic mini series (the preview is at the end of the second point on this list). So, I thought that I’d talk about story arcs in webcomics.

Story arcs are useful for webcomics for the simple reason that they’re easier to write (since you just have to follow one story, rather than coming up with lots of self-contained jokes) and, although they have their advantages and disadvantages, they can be really interesting to make.

However, coming up with an idea for a story arc can be challenging. So, I thought that I’d give you a few tips for how to do this:

1) Choose your type: Story arcs fall into two categories – realistic and unrealistic. The latter is the more interesting and imaginative of the two, but it’s more difficult to write for the simple reason that you have to find a vaguely plausible in-story explanation for why your characters are suddenly somewhere different etc…

So, you can either prepare your audience for this by including a few subtle “unrealistic” elements in earlier instalments of your webcomic (so that the unrealistic story arc is just about a plausible part of the series as a whole). Or, you can do something a bit more obvious like setting the unrealistic story arc within a dream, within a computer game etc…

But, if you do this, then you need to openly declare this fact as soon and as often as possible! This is because “it was all a dream!” is the worst plot twist possible and your audience won’t like to see it! Here’s an example of how to do this from a mini series of mine that will appear here in April:

The full mini series will appear here in early April.

The full mini series will appear here in early April.

If you’re creating a realistic sub-plot then you can look to films and soap operas for inspiration. But, the basic principle is that something dramatic/tragic/shocking has to happen to one of your characters.

2) Find a sub-genre: One of the easiest ways to come up with a webcomic story arc is to find a fairly specific sub-genre (of one of your favourite genres of stories) and then to use this as the basis for your story arc.

This also has the advantage of allowing you to include all sorts of parodies and references to your favourite stories, comics, games, TV shows, movies etc… from this sub-genre too.

Of course, the real trick is finding an unusual and specific enough sub-genre to make your story arc stand out. However, you can do this by looking at several things that you consider “cool” and seeing if they have anything in common.

For example, the webcomic mini series which will appear here in early May is set on board an abandoned space station, after I realised that a lot of cool things in the sci-fi genre that I like have used settings like this. Here’s a preview:

This mini series will start appearing here on the 1st May. And, yes, that's a "Doctor Who" reference.

This mini series will start appearing here on the 1st May. And, yes, that’s a “Doctor Who” reference.

3) Consequences: Another easy way to come up with a story arc is to have one of your characters do something strange/unusual/foolish (as long as it’s vaguely within character for them) and then just think forward from that and show the hilarious/dramatic/scary/thrilling consequences of that action.

This can be used for both realistic and unrealistic story arcs. The trick is, of course, to think of a suitably strange or interesting action.

For example, the short daily webcomic mini series that started appearing here recently involves one of the main characters stealing a H.M.S Victory – like museum ship for a series of pirate-themed adventures. Here are the first two comics from it:

"Damania Requisitioned - Grogbottle" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Requisitioned – Grogbottle” By C. A. Brown

"Damania Requisitioned - Evidence" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Requisitioned – Evidence” By C. A. Brown

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂