General Discussion

The Biggest Mistakes When Starting A Webcomic?
ozoneocean at 8:38AM, Aug. 4, 2014
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This is a topic for a future Quackcast!
I read this article on the subject the other day:
http://io9.com/the-biggest-mistakes-people-make-when-they-start-a-webc-1614779817
-And I had some problems with it.
The trouble is that it's mainly focussed on someone who wants to go straight for the “pro” side, jump right in and make it BIG right away… But I thing there's WAAAAAAY more to the subject than that!
 
I've seen thousands of webcomics come and go over the years, most fizzle out in the first few weeks or months for a whole lot of reasons.
But even the ones that have staying power still run into many issues at the begining.
 
So what were some of the issues you faced when starting out with a webcomics? What things made you quit? (if they did). How did you overcome them? (if you did). What are some of the biggest issues you've seen aflict other people's webcomics?
And basically anything else you can think of on the subject :D
 
Kota at 8:59AM, Aug. 4, 2014
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1) Make sure your concept is something that will carry itself. I can't stress this enough. Coming up with one gag or story will not translate to a webcomic. You'll start it up and it will fizzle out inside a month.
2) Don't expect people to get your inside jokes. The way your friend yells “Oh, my ass!” might be funny to you. Word balloons don't convey that. Saying “grapefruit” during a movie is funny to you for a number of reasons I'm sure, but no one else is going to get that. Ask yourself if it's legitimately funny.
3)Start small. Don't throw people into an extremely complex story with nothing to latch onto. Start small and personal. Even in a gag a day strip, take time to establish the chracter before you run into the story and it will work out better in the long run.
These are, of course, up for debate but they're rules I try to live by after 14 years and the embarassment that is Kota's World.
Kota Otan
http://www.drunkduck.com/Mailbox_Rocketship/
and
http://www.drunkduck.com/The_Errant_Apprentice/
-
“If Jeff Bridges is stupid enough to do this, I'M stupid enough to do this!”
ozoneocean at 9:08PM, Aug. 4, 2014
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Some ones I've noticed:
 
1. Making it up as you go along:
The creator doesn't know the world their character inhabits, the other characters in the comic, their relationships, what they like to wear, what colours things should be… nothing. They start out with a basic premise and expect everything to fit into place afterwards, only to be set adrift in a void of mental emptiness when they find nothing will come and instpiration dries up when they actually try to do their 3rd page.
  
2. Over preparing:
The creator has planned extremely hard! They have detailed backstories for every character going back 4 generations, maps of the world, a huge synopsis of what happened before their comic is supposed to take place, drawings of every single main and side character and all their alternative outfits and hair styles etc.
That sort of thing can lead to a situation where you're crushed by your own detail so that you find the weight of all that detail too intimidating… or even that your true interest is only in crafting those sorts of setups but you have little interest or stamina for doing the actual comic.
 
3. Planning out too much:
When the creator plots out an epic story that takes up 50 chapters… at least. They run out of steam after the first 2 or 3 because with such a massive story you realise that it can't really get to anything important or interesting till about chapter 25 so they get bored and quit.
 
4. Not planning enough:
They have good characters and a great premise, but no clue what should happen in the second chapter… so after a couple of attempts the story ends there.
       
5. Biting off more than you can chew:
When artwork designs are too complicated for character outfits and backgroungds, or the colouring style takes too long, or even the drawing style takes too long (like complex inking and crosshatching), or you're drawing stuff you're crap at like figures, cars, weapons and so on, the comic will quickly run into problems. They either have to retool and simplify or just struggle on and peater out. Most peater out.
The same thing happens when you're not up to the task with story writing as well- when mystries, dramas, complex character interaaction or even just jokes or normal dialogue are beyond you.
 
6. Lack of commitment:
You have lots of great ideas that you LOVE, really cool ideas that you're SURE would make brilliant comics that everyone else will LOVE too… only by the time you do the first two pages you're bored out of your effing skull with that old idea and another WAY better one has already taken its place.
And so on into infinity.
 
7. Life circumstances:
Life gets in the way of EVERYONE'S work all the time and we all realise that, but most of us still manage in some fashion anyway. However, for some comicers starting out they do it at a moment in their lives when they just happen to have lots and lots of free time, like school holidays for example, and their comic is built around the assumption that that situation will continue always, they have no concept of the fact that things will very quickly drastically alter and they won't be able to devote the same resources to their work.
So when that temporary tropical island of free time sinks back  under the waves of life responsibilities their comic ends forever.
 
8. No encouragement:
For many people a lack of early positive encouragement will kill their work: no compliments or comments or even an indication that anyone appreciates it aside from themselves can kill all momentum to continue.
The same with overley harsh or badly delivered amatuer critisism: it can crush the spirit.
 
9. Not enough flixibility:
When the creator is overly reliant on things being “just so” in order to make their comic.
Maybe their computer is set up a specific way with specific programs, tablet etc.
Maybe they have a special pen, a favourite type of bristle board and a special drawing room or spot on the couch in front of the TV.
Maybe they have an artist who they have a special understanding with…
Whatever the situation, the point is that when something comes along to mess it up just a little; they're sunk. The comic stops for good because they can't adapt or change  to circumstances.
 
last edited on Aug. 4, 2014 9:22PM
kawaiidaigakusei at 1:38AM, Aug. 5, 2014
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I can only speak from my own early mistakes when I began making webcomics.

THE USE OF COMIC SANS FONT
I was guilty of this, I used Comic Sans because it had the word “comic” in the name. Please, do yourself a favor and watch the Gary Hustwit film, Helvetica. Learn how install new fonts on your computer. Blambot still has some free fonts available that will make your comic look amazing!!

USE MS PAINT TO EDIT PAGES
I was also a victim of MS Paint and I destroyed many pages by saving as a JPEG on this program. The default image compression is horrendous and there is no way to change the settings. Solution: Find an older version of photoshop on Amazon for less than $5 and you will get to use software that is worlds better than MS Paint.

HAVING THE READERSHIP INFLUENCE THE STORY
This is not a problem if the comic is meant to have audience participation. However, if the plot trails off from the original story because of comments from readers, then there is an issue of breaking the fourth wall between the storyteller and the audience. It might make sense on DrunkDuck if the comic makes a nod to a reader through the comic. But it will make very little sense on another site or if the comic goes to print.

DRAWING UNDER THE INFLUENCE
I had recently turned twenty-one when I entered the webcomic world and my comic host of choice had the word “drunk” in the title. I thought it was normal to drink wine while making comics, but looking back, it is much easier to focus on drawing when sober.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS FOR UPDATES
In the early days of a comic, the comic might make promises of a frequent update schedule, like seven days a week. Real life time management eventually catch up and the comic switches to sporatic updates or even goes on a hiatus. It is better to have a buffer for those busy times.

STARTING TOO MANY NEW PROJECTS
It is easy to brainstorm new comic ideas once a new one pops into your head, but it is a bad idea if this happens while concurrently working on a principle comic. If the regular comic is always on hiatus or plagued with infrequent updates, tacking on a new project in addition to it will only guarantee a longer hiatus and more infrequent updates.
last edited on Aug. 5, 2014 10:23AM
usedbooks at 6:08AM, Aug. 5, 2014
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Making a comic for the wrong reasons or with no direction.
 
I keep seeing some sad attempts at webcomics where the creator states flatly that they wanted to make a webcomic or be popular so they just started one. Like Oz said, encouragement can keep you going, but that's not a good purpose for any creative endeavor. Whether it's art or writing, the creator's passion and purpose should be in what they want to show/tell. Encouragement is great, but the artist/writer that is on a mission to “create” will be driven solely by that mission even if it is to an empty room or to their own eyes.  That passion rubs off on others, and readers will feel it and follow it (eventually). Even someone with little natural talent will be able to hold his own if he has the drive to produce, to tell his story.  The personal drive is more important than outside support at the onset of a project. Audience is something that has to be built. It won't be there in the beginning. You have to be your own audience (and it helps to have a couple buddies as personal cheerleaders too).  If you are making something you don't care about or enjoy all by itself, you won't succeed.
 
I have dropped comic projects in the past (or gone on indefinite hiatus). For one, I ran out of ideas. For both, I lacked the time to keep up with them while working on my main project Used Books. One was a wordless comic based on a short story I wrote for my mother. It was called “The Quiet Field,” and I got through one chapter before taking a “break.” It was fun, and oddly, it had more readers/commenters than UB. (Gelotology ALWAYS had more. Heh.) That comic was a challenge because of the nature of it, turning a words-only story into a pictures-only one. I liked the challenge at times, and the material was all there and complete, but I lost interest anyway. I think it was because the story was ALREADY told, and it didn't seem so pressing to turn it into pictures. Somehow, pictures seemed to lessen the story. Words had more power, especially to a writer who stumbles with art.  Gelotology was fun, but it was an issue of lack of time/ideas.  That project had more followers, but my passion in UB makes it priority – even at times when I'm presenting it to an empty room. (The only reason I uploaded it initially was to have a digital back-up.) I wouldn't call Gelotology a mistake, I drew it until I ran out of ideas, and I drew it for a purpose (again, it was my mom). The purpose was fulfilled. No amount of readers or acclaim would affect its run one way or the other.
 
 
Another mistake I've made:
Depending on others
 
Other people let you down. :P Maybe
it's just a personal experience, but I've had people approach me about
collaboration projects a few times, and I've been excited to be part of
it (esp.artists saying they'd like to draw a story for me – yeah,
that's happened). They all ended after two pages, if that.  If you are
working with another person, better it be someone you know in real life
or a business partnership in some fashion. Or if both of you have known
each other for a while. Casual collaborations don't survive.
bravo1102 at 8:45AM, Aug. 5, 2014
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Been through most of the ones Ozone lists.  The great monument to my biting off more than I could chew is still here on DD in it's incomplete form to remind me of all the mistakes I made in doing it.


If you are  discouraged the best advice I can give is have everything done before you post one comic. 
The script, the layouts, even the basic images and all you gotta do is put the finishing touches on it and post. 
After the on again-off again disaster that was Go a Viking I was only able to do another comic by having all the major production work done before I posted one panel.  
 I split all the tasks into small bite sized chunks to avoid discouragement. 
I had lots of check-off lists so I could check off tasks as they were completed.
I had the ending firmly in sight before I began so there could be the satisfaction of saying “FINISHED!”
Schedules with easily defined achievable goals.  
Realisitically evaluate your limitiations and Work within them.
As you get better working within your limitations you'll build up the skill set to transcend them and set the goals further out.
It's okay to fail.  Don't beat yourself up.
It's okay, there can be no successes without a whole pile of failures.  Look at Edison and his lightbulb.
It's mostly about perserverance and seeing the first one through rather than grand concepts and plans.
simonitro at 8:49AM, Aug. 5, 2014
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Time and life… those two things do get in the way. I have a daily job and
it's 8 hours a day and it pretty much eats up my time. I still have the
passion for it because I keep coming up with ideas, doodling the
characters, rethinking plot-points, etc… but once you reach in the mid-20's, life itself starts changing around you. Hence, I'm from the Lebanon, Middle East. We have wars, wars, and
more wars around the borders. That also could distract me.

I could say don't give it up… you might come back to what you like when
the time is right. I haven't stopped per say. I'm still managing some
time issue etc…
However, I have another problem. It's my right arm. It's not 100% and it is somewhat injured of overworking. There was a time I was working 12 hours a day to a point I exhausted myself and I had to reduce my workrate. I still love my comics Billy Learns To Rock and The Burnhams but sometimes, you need to find that time to be able to come back.


Enjoy… Las Vegas-y
last edited on Aug. 5, 2014 8:51AM
Zac at 8:51AM, Aug. 5, 2014
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Someone once left a comment on on of my comics that had stagnated in updates that said something along the lines of: “You can only focus on 3 things in life at a time, be it God, family, friends, or your webcomic”. I'll let you deduce your own moral from that anecdote.
Kota and Oz make superb points.

I think the biggest thing I've learned over the years of doing comics is know what your own personal goal is and have the whole story fleshed out. Know your limits as well. I was always “I know the beginning and the end of the story, I'll just fill in the details”, but it presented more roadblocks than anything else.

Don't do it to be recognized either, do it because you enjoy what you're doing.
ozoneocean at 7:34AM, Aug. 6, 2014
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Thanks guys! Keep this stuff coming!
It's really interesting, way more valuable than the original article!
 
From Justin Kennard, AKA Anubis, author of Blood Bound:
What would I do differently? not start… its taken over my life… there is no me … there is only…. BLOODBOUND.. (kidding but seriously Id write out things rather than making it up on the fly)
 
bravo1102 at 10:08AM, Aug. 6, 2014
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I don't like to talk about my right wrist and elbow problems.  I usually just put on the wrist brace and continue working.  For my elbow it's a compression bandage and lots of ice.  Fortunately the elbow hasn't been nearly as persistent a problem as the wrist.  The wrist is the unspoken reason I don't draw any longer comics.  I can do 3-6 pages but no more without a long rest in between.  I even tried a three panel strip and had to stop after 14 strips because of the wrist.  

And I ran out of ideas worth pursuing. The jokes got way too inside and even I couldn't figure out what I was referring to when it came time to draw them from the script.   Yeah the script had me in stitches while writing and then I'd come aorund to drawing it a week later and I was like “What the hell does that mean?”

That's another big problem with starting a webcomic.  It's already been touched on.  Your inside jokes may be really funny to you, but don't count on anyone else getting them.  I've indulged in a bit of inside humor but I never really expected anyone to get the gags and they were just there for me.  And I also like totally random WTF bits in comics.  It's just there and never explained.  Keeps it interesting for me.  What crazy detail can I add that no one will care about but I know it's there?  (Like the “Help wanted” sign in the engine room in Interstellar Blood Beasts or all the warning signs in Attack of the Robofemoids being complete gibberish, that Bill is reading Doll House magazine in Battle of the Robofemoids)  Keeps me working.
KimLuster at 8:29AM, Aug. 7, 2014
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Hmmmm… I've started only one webcomic and I'm still making mistakes… so…
* I guess a biggie I've experienced is you should have a decent grasp of the resources your artstyle is going to require.  Changing mediums constantly, how ‘realistic’ you want it to be and how long it takes you to make a page…  These are all things I didn't have a firm grasp on when starting (and still sorta don't  - I'm changing styles regularly still haha), and they can really slow things down.  It's not so bad for me, as I went into this project with the notion that this was also ‘Art School’ for me, a way to learn and get better while producing, but it has its aggravating moments and I can see how someone who isn't ready with a style could give up early.
* Thinking you're gonna be a star.  Some of the best artists and writers in the world are living on foodstamps.  Your stuff is likely not as good as theirs.  In a way, doing a webcomic has to be sort of its own reward, because the only payment most of us get is people liking and commenting.  And you have to be aware that your subject might not be as popular as you wish.  My comic, the Godstrain; I decided to make it feel ‘real’, how I think people would really act, and I try to make the art as realistic as my abilities will allow, and the result is…  comics with lots of gratuitous sex and wacky situations get more likes and comments than mine.  Which is fine! You can't take it personal.  Lots of people looks to webcomics as sort of an escape, and don't necessarily care for your great sweeping tragic drama.  
I'll try to think of more, but everyone is covereing this pretty well already
Kota at 1:25PM, Aug. 8, 2014
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I agree with Kim Luster about not setting your sites to high when you start out. To quote the old army song “You'll never get rich - you son of a bitch - you're in the army now”. The reason to start it and keep it going is because you want to do it and you have a need to do it.
Another thing is not figuring out how much money it will cost you. Figure out if it's in your budget.  Do you want to go digital and save money in the long run? Good paper, ink, and pencils are expensive as hell. Digital ink is free.
Kota Otan
http://www.drunkduck.com/Mailbox_Rocketship/
and
http://www.drunkduck.com/The_Errant_Apprentice/
-
“If Jeff Bridges is stupid enough to do this, I'M stupid enough to do this!”
bravo1102 at 2:03PM, Aug. 9, 2014
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You know the biggest mistake when starting a webcomic is the very act of starting the webcomic. ;-)

Turn back before it's too late.

Too late.
KimLuster at 7:13PM, Aug. 9, 2014
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bravo1102 wrote:
You know the biggest mistake when starting a webcomic is the very act of starting the webcomic. ;-)

Turn back before it's too late.

Too late.
lol probably the best advice on the thread!
ozoneocean at 2:24AM, Aug. 11, 2014
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Too late, we already recorded it! :D
 
ironhand at 2:59AM, Aug. 19, 2014
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Might be a little late to this one, but I thought I'd drop by. I've done several webcomics over my time here (many were either lost in ducks crashing, or I deleted because they were god-awful) so I sort of have experience on making mistakes.
I could give a very long list of the mistakes I have made and mistakes I have seen others make, but I think a lot of it you guys above have covered. But I think the biggest one is something people seem to try and shy away from sometimes.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Without making them, you'll never learn what it was that you did wrong. Sometimes it really is best to just get going on your story. Working out every little detail of the plot and making sure everything is as perfect as you want it to be will most likely lead to your comic never actually getting off the ground, because the biggest critic of your own stuff is usually yourself. Sometimes, it pays off to just get stuck in and learn along the way…you can look at some of your dialogue or art and say “this didn't work” or “I could use something like this again”…making mistakes is what makes you get better at the stuff you're doing. It really does pay off to make mistakes.
Stop looking at my signature and read my comics!!
irrevenant at 9:15PM, Aug. 28, 2014
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Just discovered this thread. I realise I'm too late for the podcast, but hopefully you guys can help me with something.

I started a webcomic to develop myself. And there's nothing like a webcomic for that! You learn to write, draw, script, do composition, colour… I'm sure I'm forgetting some. I'm currently learning Inkscape as a side effect of my webcomic.
I have the story in my head, I've scripted enough to get going but not so much it's intimidating. 

The basic problem is that I'm really freaking slow.  If I'm dedicated it takes me over a week to produce one page of comic.  I have a few pages in the bank, but simple math says once I start posting at a rate of one page per week (which seems to be about the maximum one can get away with) I'm going to start running out of backlog.  (Doesn't help that, following a rewrite, those pages have been moved to the middle of the issue. But that's an aside). 

I'm having a heck of a time coming up with a way forward that isn't demotivating. If I post pages irregularly as I get them done, it's far too easy to get distracted and let it fall by the wayside. And if I set a more challenging schedule, it's too imposing to face. 

How does someone without sufficient skill/experience to produce pages at a decent pace pull off this webcomic thing? 
strixvanallen at 9:45AM, Sept. 3, 2014
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I know that I'm waaay too late for this topic, but @irrevenant's question reminded me so much of the first times of my comic.
I'm doing it for 7 years now. The first 4 were the most difficult, and Year 4 almost killed the comic for sheer lack of updates. The issue was precisely the time that took me to make each comic. Year 1 was made exclusively by hand, and the style was light-years behind what I could pull off, but I had to compromise: if I drew the strips in my better style, it would take a time that I didn't have. If I kept this simple style, I could produce more.
I also thought that I wouldn't have ideas to keep the strip running. Each new strip could be the last. What I couldn't foresee is that, once started, the comic gained momentum and went almost by itself. The feedback of a few friends and family helped a lot and, when I had 50+ strips completed in one year, I knew it was time to get serious.
My style became better, but the production dropped dramactically, because it took so much time to finish each strip. Yet, I kept going, and I'm glad that I did: today, it takes me less than half an hour to do something that, in Year 2, would take more than two hours. Today, it takes me a couple of hours to finish a strip, from the pencils to the finished product, but I do so much more than before. As you mature, you find new tricks, new shortcuts and just get used to your routine, and the pages start to take less time and effort to be ready.
At first, I was so embarassed by Year 1 that I drew it again in a better style. Still, it was not the mistake I thought it was: yes, the style was terrible, but if I hadn't compromised to make more comics in less time, I would NEVER keep doing them and getting better.
My advice based on my mistakes and issues is to either hone your skills first, so you can pull pages faster (I should have done that, in hindsight) or compromise and make a simpler art to get pages faster. After all, if you don't have the free time and the motivation to make profissional-grade pages, maybe you should start small and make your art better as you get feedback in what you already posted.
Jaymzeecat at 9:47PM, Sept. 23, 2014
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Not Writing/Following a Script
When I started working on Willem, I had all these ideas for the story and just started drawing pages that loosely aimed in the direction I wanted to go with the series. I figured, having brainstormed about the story for about a decade, what was the point of writing it down? But now when I re-read Willem I find the story unfocused and hard to follow, because of this it doesn't really hit it's stride untl about page 50. This is problematic when trying to get new readers, who may give up before the story gets a little better and also poses a problem if I ever decide to print a full length Willem book. I'm stuck wondering if I should rewrite/redraw the first 50 pages so the story makes more sense. I regularly write scripts for Willem now, and I think the comic has improved dramatically (it helps also that my artwork is better too, haha). 
When I started working on Split Screen, I wrote an entire script for the series and that comic flowed a lot more smoothly from the very beginning and was a lot more popular with readers than Willem. I still went off script from time to time, but it was great having something to turn to when I wasn't sure where the story should go. I'm doing the same with Devil Spy now that Split Screen has ended. I have a full script for Devil Spy that I am following. I wish I had a full script written for Willem, but I plan for that series to be ongoing so it would have to be an infinite long script, haha.
Two books I would highly recommend when starting out in webcomics would be How to Make Webcomics and The Webcomics Handbook by Brad Guigar. Both books have a wealth of information not only on making webcomics but also marketing and tabling at conventions if you decide to sell books. 
irrevenant at 8:51PM, Sept. 25, 2014
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For what it's worth, I like Willem a lot and wasn't put off by the beginning. I guess it was kind of unfocussed, but you have an interesting enough concept that I didn't notice. It just felt like we were spending some time hanging and getting to know the characters. I'm not sure it really *needed* a stride at that point. 

One of the things a webcomic has going for it is an archive. Webcomics can (and often do) become popular after they've been going for a while. Which means that new readers are reading the back archive not waiting days for each page. I went through those first 50 pages in around 20 minutes and, read like that, they were paced fine. 

None of this is to say that scripts are a bad idea, though. :) 

And thank you for the comments, strixvanallen. They clarified things a bit for me. 
Jaymzeecat at 4:55PM, Sept. 28, 2014
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Thanks, irrevenant, that's actually pretty awesome to hear. I honestly haven't received a lot of feedback on any of my comics so a lot of the time I'm just kind of left wondering why more people aren't interested in reading them (then of course speculating that it is because my art/story has failed somewhere, haha). I'm glad that you are enjoying the series, I have hope that I will be able to publish a Willem book someday. :)

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