The disclaimer here is that I’m no expert. I just want to share my experiences starting this here webcomic so that you can cleave some information that will be useful to you. There’s no right way to go about this, but there must be options that are more conducive to faster growth and more effective comics. I won’t claim to know what these are all the time, but through this blogging experience, maybe those truths will come to light!
The main thing to remember
With that said, there’s one principle above all that I stay true to. Draw for fun. That’s the gist of it. We started drawing as kids because we loved it, and thanks to our nurturing and circumstances we continue to draw because we love it. Doesn’t matter what kind of drawing you do, if you love it, that’s what matters. If your intention is business and bucks then you’re off-kilter from the get-go, and that can ruin the experience entirely. Sure you can make some money in the long run (at this point I’ve made 8 dollars with AdSense in 2 months), but don’t let it chew at your more noble intentions.
Ok, so the first step’s ladder?
For me, the first step in creating a webcomic was deciding to do it in the first place. It’s a lot of work. You have to first have a defined style (I didn’t), then you need to build a website and maybe some social media channels. Then you need to update your website regularly with new material, and likewise actualize all those other media as well. It’s a hefty amount of work, especially if you’re already swamped with studies or a career or family.
So I kind of group the launching of your webcomic into the first step, which involves setting up all these things. Hence the ladder, because it’s a lot to surmount.
I want to address each one of these things in dedicated articles, and within each might have a few dozen articles all to themselves, interlinked like a good Wikipedia page.
Here, I’ll start things off by talking about style.
How I defined my webcomic style
You may not know this, but before I started Things in Squares I experimented with styles through the launch of a totally different kind of website. It was called “Week Cartoons”, and its home was the now defunct domain weekcartoons.com. I had called it cartoons because at first I only did single-panel stuff that reflected a style not dissimilar to what you see on the New Yorker.
The cartoons were really, really diverse in terms of humor, and the style was all over the place. Some were cute, like this one:
Others were inflammatory, which was interesting because it created serious comment storms on meme content mills like memecenter.com. This one was pretty controversial:
Some cartoons were more serious, like this one targeting the NSA:
So you can see that the styles differed significantly. And the humor I used was all over the place. I meant it to be that way so that I could let all my varied jokes find expression there. But at the same time I noticed that the internet rewarded creators who stuck to a niche. A webcomic like Things in Squares would be more successful on the internet than a cartoon archive like Week Cartoons (I still keep a cartoon archive 🙂 ).
I started to read more webcomics rather than stand-alone cartoons. I liked the idea of multiple panels, because I’ve always been a storyteller, and though a story can be told in 5 words, it’s more enveloping when it’s more profound. (Neither is better than the other, but I do believe multiple panels are better for internet consumption because they keep eyes on the page for longer, which is a rarity on the web).
Finally, I established Things in Squares after playing around with some early long-version comics. I stopped updating Week Cartoons and gave all my time to setting up TIS. I’ll write more about further steps in later articles.
Did I have a style, then?
I’d say that I had something figured out, but as you can see from early comics, my style fluctuated with new characters. A lot of webcomic artists will give the piece of advice that you should decide upon the style from the beginning. But if you take a look at your favorite webcomic’s archives, you’ll see that more styles have shifted over time.
My first comic included my main character, Rupert. The first drawing I made of a Rupert-esque character was for Week Cartoons:
I chose to go ahead with this character style because it’s simple. I think that a simple style is easier for gag comics because the point is to get everyone to laugh or think/laugh, and if they can relate to the character then maybe they’ll laugh harder. So, fewer features is better. Have you ever seen XKCD? Of course you have. They’re stick figure comics, and XKCD is the most successful webcomic of all time. Randall’s wit is the main reason, but it’s not beyond anyone to suggest that the style is perfect for mass-consumption: anyone can imprint their likes on black and white lines.
Then there’s Ryland, the squares and circles, animals and the people with noses. Sometimes Rupert has eyes, and sometimes not. I think it’s a failure on my part not to decide, but then again, it has become a style unto itself; eyes or no eyes.
Once you decide the colors that you’re going to use, I think your comics should maintain the same hue and saturation. I chose to use mostly pastels. I’ve strayed from that decision, but I generally come back to my base baby blue, which you see all over the place here. What’s more, Rupert is recognizable because he has a pink shirt.
Just recently I started to add shadow. I’ve always drawn with shadow and I think I let myself be too inspired by fellow webcomic artists who employ uber-minimal styles. But shadows are my roots and so now they’re newly incorporated into my comics.
A bit of film terminology for an article about the first step to a webcomic? Why not.
Your style is also defined by the stuff that exists alongside and behind your characters. Are you going to give them places? Will you draw the background always? I think this is a malleable decision that you can play with without fracturing your readers’ understanding of your style. For instance I can have a really involved comic like this one:
But I can also publish simpler ones:
And I can do this all within the “confines” of my style.
Finally, a style is naturally evolving, so it’s ok to allow it. I have the feeling that I still haven’t cemented my own style for Things in Squares. The style you choose for your webcomic is not your only style. But it is important to stick to the style you choose within the boundaries of your project if you want to grow a following.
That’s all for this first post. Leave some comments for other readers if you have something to say that will benefit the conversation.
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