Webcomic Making for the Fully Employed

A friend had asked me recently about the steps for getting started with webcomicing. I thought I’d put here the general gist of how I get this comic done while having a full-time job, and a few important resources and website I use.

I know mine is not considered a ‘successful’ comic in the terms of it actually being read by a lot of people, but I certainly consider it a personal success that I’m managing to update consistently and I’m actually telling the story I’ve been wanting to tell. I’m not going to try to tell you “this is how you make a successful wecomic”, because I’m still trying for that part, but I can try to tell you “This is how you might be able to tell your story despite being really busy”.

You see, if there’s one thing I learned in my industry, is that ideas are a dime a dozen. Ideas are the easiest part, and anyone who toiled over an idea knows how are even that part is. The thing is, if you have an idea that’s will be grand if made, but you never make it or let other make it, then it’s nothing more than thoughts in the ether. It’s one thing to have an idea, another to actually put in the work to make it come alive.

Now most of us have actual jobs, unlike those hard-working yet infuriatingly lucky few who can make a living from their comics. I have no idea how they do it, but I hope to learn it one day! As such, striking a balance between work and more work is a must. Burning oneself out working at your actual work and then expecting to be creative and enthusiastic won’t lead to a long-lived webcomic. Having your webcomic consume every ounce of free time is also bad, as life will always always always throw a curveball at you.

My Process:‘Cause why not

Seraphim updates twice a week. As such I need to do on average 8 pages a month. Instead of doing 2 pages a week, I make them in batches of 8. Each month alternates between Gilad and Clou’s tales, so I’m always ahead on both.

First I thumbnail 8 pages. This allows me to check the pacing and the flow of a batch, as well as make sure that the text sorta-kinda fits. As you might have noticed, I like my dialogue. WORDS-‘sposion!

Then I’ll go in and pencil the details into the small thumbnails. As each is about 1/4 of the final size, I can get detailed but I don’t have to make the pages HUGE and draw everything. I’m a very lazy artist and I hate drawing the same thing twice. I find that by penciling the 1/4 sized art I can go into detail in the inking without feeling I’m just tracing and getting bored.

Then I have an action in Photoshop that takes the penciled thumbnails and transfers them to my comic template (with bleed, trim and live) and sizes them to fit. Yeah, it’s a bit blurry, but that’s fine ’cause inking is next.

Next I ink (not in Photoshop– god, Photoshop is awful for it!) and also frame each cell. Framing here is important so that I know how far to draw and what will be seen.

After I’ve inked all 8 pages I start painting the characters and important elements that need attention. After that it’s back to Photoshop for lazy-ass background gradients and details.

Doing the text in Photoshop is relatively easy and I like using simple vectors for the balloons.

After that it’s slapping the texture on it all and exporting for web at about 33% of the original size in case I ever want to print it, which I do.

Buffer: “‘Cause you’ll eventually get sick”

I think this is vitally important for your webcomic’s health, your readers’ delight and your own peace of mine.

Something always happens. You will eventually get sick or someone will come to visit or a movie comes out or your computer explodes.

Start the comic with a buffer, and do your darndest to not eat through it unless you must. The buffer is not so that you can be lazy, but that if bad things happen your story marches on and no one needs to be the wiser. Each page you go through the buffer should be added to the amount you do that week/month. Always always have a buffer!

I used to have a 1 month buffer, so 8 comics, but I soon realized that I ate through the entirety of it when I went on a trip for a week. Somehow I hadn’t drawn a thing that entire month and was cutting it super close. That month I had to make 16 pages! That was A LOT.

Pacing: “Have a life”

Pushing yourself is fine, and taking it easy is fine, but don’t kill yourself and don’t have sporadic updates. They say one of the most important thing in webcomics is updating regularly. A comic might be amazing, but if people don’t know when to come by to look at new content, they just won’t. Or they’ll say “I’ll check it next week” and forget.

Fine what works for you. Once a week? Twice? Three times? Whatever is comfortable with you. Make a few pages before you start posting and see how many you can reasonably make in a certain amount of time and leave enough time for you to have a life, go see a movie, see friends and get sick.

Seraphim updates twice a week, so I need to make 8 pages a month. Sometimes I’ll make more, and sometimes unfortunately I’ll make less, but that’s the average and the goal. 8 pages is a bit hard on me, but definitely doable. Sometimes if I finish my quota early I’ll start early on the next, but sometimes I’ll stop myself and force myself to play games or read a book or do something that doesn’t strain the wrist quite as much. Remember to keep an eye on your drawing wrist and shoulder! Over working it can cause real damage.

Transcribing: “Whatever works for YOU”

Comic book scripts are a real thing. There are ways to write out your story to organize it into pages and panels; how to mark down sound effects and how to tell an artist what it is you want to see in each panel. However, always remember to do what works for YOU and your team, if you have one.

I write, thumbnail, pencil, ink, color and letter all on my own, and I suspect many of webcomic artists do as well. As such I write my comic like a story. I describe scenes and write out dialogue as though I’m simply writing a book. I worry less about repeating words or making it amazing, and more concentrate on drawing the mental image of what I want that part to look like. Personally I find writing proper scripts draining and uninspiring, so I don’t do it. Sometimes I’ll have [[remember to draw X]] or something if I need to remind myself of an important artistic point.

As I work through the story I color the background of the text so that I remember where I’ve left off in that story.

I also write it all on Google Drive, so that I can access it anywhere and it won’t be lost.

Story: “If you’re bored writing it, you’ll be bored drawing it”

Regarding the story, a tip I’d like to give you if you’re doing a continuous story: Those parts you can’t wait to draw? Force yourself though the slow parts to get to them! If you start with the coolest things you can’t wait to draw, then you won’t have the motivation to work on the duller stuff. At least, that’s how I work. As I said, I’m a lazy artist.

Also, when you’re writing a scene and you’re not inspired by it, if re-reading it doesn’t make you want to draw it, change it! I feel that passion comes through in the art, and if you aren’t feeling the scene, people will notice. Even if it’s just plain dialogue, if you’re inspired by it, keep it. Otherwise find another way of telling that! A flashback? Narration over a single image? Can you re-write it for make it more interesting for the type of thing you like drawing?

Celtx used to be the go-to free program for script writing for comics and TV, but it looks like they went pay now. Sorry!

Hosting: “Don’t go with GoDaddy!”

Remember that “Hosting” and “Domain” are two separate things. You probably know that, but I’ll go over it quickly anyhow:

A host is a server you can put the files on, domain is the “.com” or “.org” name you buy for yourself that points to that server.

There are plenty of relatively cheap and free hosting options, and of course it all depends on what you’re looking for, what you’re expecting to use and what you’re willing to pay.

A lot of free hosting locations will add their host name to your domain. So if you’re just starting up and want something cheap as can be, those could work. Note that their ‘up’ time isn’t always stellar and there might be periods of time when your site in inaccessible. Still, for free they’re not bad.

I was going to recommend ATB Hosting which I used a long time ago, but they’re dead now. >_>

For relatively cheap and ethical and nice options, I recommend FatCow hosting for the new webcomic artist. They’re professional, nice and deal with the world ethically, unlike GoDaddy which I advise against. Look them up online, if you want, but just remember they supported SOPA, which was not ok.

Web Design: “There are options for the CSS unsavvy”

If you’re using WordPress you get ComicPress and you’re pretty much set! There are a lot of wonderful themes out there for free and some you can pay for. You don’t need to know anything about web design or HTML or CSS in order to get started. Once you’ve gotten your feet wet you might want to find a tutorial or a friend to help you.

Installing WordPress for the first time can be daunting, but take it easy and take the time to read their instructions. Even just mimicking what they tell you without any clue of what any of it means can get you going. If you have a friend who knows their stuff get them to help you. You’ll pretty much just need to do it once and you’re good.

If you want to update manually, like in the olden days and you don’t want a database or comments or any of that, you’ll need to know the basics of HTML in order to update pages. The web design itself can be done with tools online like WIX and others like it. Those can cost money, but if that’s what you want…!

Licenses: “Because you don’t want your stuff stolen, so don’t steal from others”

“Free” doesn’t always mean “Free to use for your own money-making”. Always check the licenses of things! The most common culprit for these are fonts. Many of them are “free” but they’re only free to use if you’re writing your mom’s birthday card or something, and not for any work you hope to make money on in the future. It’s a niusance, but always read it. Images taken from online, fonts, backgrounds… All of these people had to pour their own time into and want to be compensated.

Think about it like this, if you don’t want someone to make money off your time and creative energy, why would you do it to someone else?

If you’re worried about fonts, fret not; a champion has risen among us to lead us to font-salvation. Go to Blambot and all the free fonts there are free for webcomic artists to use so long as you don’t work for one of the major comic book publishers. He’s a professional letterer so you’ll be getting the very best in quality and with a clear conscious. He also has some fantastic articles on word balloons and comic creation. Read it!

Copyright: “Friends now doesn’t mean friends later”

If you’re working with friends on this or any other project; SIGN something. I kid you not. Even something as simple as how the money will be split if even a dollar comes in, or what happens if a person doesn’t want to continue. What happens if you have a fight?

I know all of the above seem unlikely, but if any of you remember my short-lived webcomic The Threat Within, you’ll want to know that it died for exactly that reason. The co-creator and I were fast friends, but life happened and we had a falling out and suddenly I couldn’t work on it anymore because it’s was also their’s and they didn’t want me working on it. So it died just like that. Don’t let that happen to you. The worse that can happen is that you make this little document (it doesn’t have to be lawyer-talk) that you both sign and never use ever. I know it seems like nothing can separate you and your friend, but life has a way of happening. Protect your creative work, at least.

Backup: “You don’t want to redo it all, do you?”

BACKUP.

What more do you want me to say? Whether it’s on an external drive, or on “the cloud” or on another computer, make sure you BACK IT UP. Back up the PSDs, or whatever you use. You can derive the finished goods from those. Back up your actions in Photoshop if you use them, and back up your swatches and brush presets.

Backup the bookmarks for the good tutorial sites and resource sites and back up the fonts you’re using. Keep a list somewhere of the settings such as what font you’ve been using for text or titles or chapter breaks or anything so if all is lost you can restore things quickly.

If you’re using a WordPress setup make sure you backup your site and your database, too. Sometimes bad things happen to good servers and you don’t want to be without anything if that goes down. You don’t even need to know anything about servers to do this, as there are plugin aplenty on the WordPress repository that’ll do it for you!

Just for the love of god backup often and backup in multiple locations, if you can.

If you think I missed something obvious here, or have ANY questions about setting up your own site, just ask! I’ve done it several times by now and you should be able to use what little wisdom I have gleaned.

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2 Responses to Webcomic Making for the Fully Employed

  1. Stig Hemmer says:

    I am way too lazy to actually make a webcomic myself, but I think it is awesome that you share your experience here. I hope somebody who needs it reads it!

    From experience in other fields I would like to repeat your last advice: BACKUP!

    • Anat says:

      Thanks! I hope someone reads this or refers a friend to it. I’ve been doing this for a while, so here’s hoping my experiences can be of use to anyone. 🙂

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