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Getting Your Comic Started (QuackCast 17)

skoolmunkee at 3:32PM, March 9, 2011

Some cliff notes about getting up and running - more than you need really!


(5 star average out of 2 votes)

Getting Your Comic Started
This writeup is not so much a tutorial as a guide, and an easier-to-reference version of the QuackCast topic.

Everyone is going to approach their new comic in their own way. There are two levels, beginners and more advanced. Everything here will probably apply to more experienced people, but some of what we mention will be beyond a brand-new-beginner. When you’re reading you’ll have to judge for yourself where you’re at and what you’re prepared to do, whether something applies to you or not. Some of this will cross over with things we’ve talked about in the QuackCasts so most of it won’t be explained exhaustively.

Some of this is “general comic advice” but it’s stuff you’ll run into right away, so you should think about it early. We’ve tried to avoid talking too much about general comic-making advice to focus more on the beginning stages.

Drunk Duck specific advice
This is stuff you’ll want to know if you’re setting up shop here on Drunk Duck!

You’ll need a user account, and from there you can make a comic account. DD’s current “comic search” won’t find words of 3 letters or less. If you want your comic to be searchable, make sure to use some words which have at least 4 letters… at least when you’re titling the comic on DD. For example, your comic is named “The End,” you could title it “TheEnd.”

Give it a real description. We come across a lot of comics which have a description of “this is a temp description” or “my webcomic” or something equally uninformative and unappealing. This is a chance for you to make your comic sound interesting, like something someone should look at! Don’t ignore it.

Set up your passive advertising. Avatars, thumbnails, forum sig images, profile text, etc. This should be engaging but also “honest,” no fantastic-looking color thumbnails if your comic is a pencilled black and white thing.

Get the word out, but not TOO early. Post your comic in Hey Everyone Look What I Did (Drunk Duck’s self-promotion subforum), make useful contributions to threads, good comments on other people’s comics, etc. If you only have one or two pages posted, there’s not much there for people to see when they visit, so don’t go overboard trying to get people’s attention right away. A good opportunity when you hit 25 pages, 50 pages, etc is to let skoolmunkee know you’ve reached that milestone, and she will include it in a newspost!

Updating at odd times of day can sometimes keep you on the main page longer. The automatic update system is nice, but it means you’re updating at the same time as hundreds of other comics, which means your thumbnail is probably not going to show up in the “this just in” column of the main page. Updating at a less-trafficed time of day means it should stick around for at least 5 minutes or so. A small thing, but something people do!

Consider your comic’s HTML template. The default template looks boring and doesn’t compliment anyone’s comic very well. Choosing one of the custom ones or even creating your own can make a nice “setting” for your comic, looks a little more professional, etc. And choosing one of the templates is easy! Just note that not all the templates are suited to all comic types, so try out a few before you decide on one to go with. If you’re going to create your own HTML, create a dummy comic account to work on it so you’re not messing up your main page. And ALWAYS keep a copy of your custom html saved on your computer! Don’t just keep it in Drunk Duck.

Technical advice

Image sizes, file types, file sizes
JPEG is still the best format for complicated artwork online. It has the best balance of compression/filesize/image quality. People don’t like to have to wait for comic pages to load up when they’re reading! They HATE it! You might think that doesn’t matter so much now that speeds are faster and most people are on broadband, but that doesn’t change the fact that DD is often quite a slow site and people’s online speeds are only as fast as the slowest connection in the chain. Viewing the web on mobile devices is also more popular now than ever- these things have slower specs than ordinary computers so that’s another reason to keep file sizes in mind.

A comic page on the web does not have to be photo quality! In fact it’s better if it isn’t- keep the hi rez stuff to yourself so that when you consider printing it for sale, people have a reason to buy it. If your pages are already print quality on the net it just makes it so much easier for bad people to steal your art and use it in their own print projects or claim it as their own.

There are always exceptions: Spriters mostly use MSpaint and in that program PNG is the only format that saves their art without messing it up. This is because of the saving presets in MSPaint, NOT because of the types of formats- although a index colour format such as GIF or 8bit PNGs are better for simple pixelated images because they keep colours distinct and avoid blurring.

Useful resources:
Artist file type export guide, by fox-orian - provides a great summary of types, which is appropriate for what, etc.
PNGcrush is an open-source (and free) program which is well-known for taking a png file and making it the smallest possible filesize with no loss in visual quality.

Common “mistakes” that will turn people away from a new comic
- “hey welcome to my webcomic” (yes, we know it’s a webcomic, get on with it!)
- bad spelling, grammar, etc. (looks low-effort)
- hiatus/guest weeks/filler within the first few months
- comics that require explanations in the author comments
- “I update 3 times a week!” and you only update once or twice on random days
- direct ripoffs of other, more popular comics
- site issues: bad navigation, ugly design, long loads, MUSIC, lots of Project Wonderful ads worth 0.00, “Donate!” buttons when there’s only 5 pages, gigantic title pics in the header which shoves the comic off the visible screen area
-badly sized comic pages: too huge or too tiny. Too tiny and they can’t be read easily. Too big and they also can’t be read easily. Comic pages should generally stay between 750 to 1000 pixels in width for a normal comic- unless you’re doing something clever and creative with the format. Never make someone scroll sideways to read your comic (again, unless you’re doing something clever.)
-Bad fonts! STAY AWAY FROM COMIC SANS. Stay away from Arial and Times New Roman… generally. You can get some marvelous fonts on Blambot.com! There are reasons comic fonts are comic fonts and typesetting fonts are typesetting fonts.

Useful resources:
How do you make people read your comics?

Starting the comic itself
Ideas and considerations. Once you’ve got an idea for a comic, spend a little while developing it before you devote too much effort to it. Brainstorm some ideas to make sure you can carry on with it beyond the initial inspiration (unless you only intend to make 3-4 pages). Consider how much time you’re willing to spend on it, or if it’s just a fun idea you want to try (nothing wrong with that!)

What do you want to get from the comic? Before you get too far down the road you’ll probably want to decide where you’re going. Do you want to make money from merchandise? Make sure you have a marketable comic. Put in elements you can take advantage of. Is it to practice certain elements of your writing or art? Do you intend to go to print? Basically, look ahead, and see if there’s anything you need to do to move in that direction. This can help you capitalize on any sudden attention you may get.

Research and planning. Whether it’s fun or work, it can greatly help to have planned out character designs, future plots, various designs, etc. If you know you will be using a type of theme, setting, etc then be sure to collect any references or resources along the way. Most true creators keep a big, big file of references (which they may never use) just to have all kinds of info on hand in case they need it. Photos, books, have a folder for jpegs, watch Youtube vids for reference, do reference sketches, you can even buy or create props (like a pair of boots or a sword or something) which can better help you visualise aspects of your work. You may not ever need to use it all or even much of it, but just the act of collecting it and viewing that info can help inspire you and inform your work later on. Some people spend a LONG time researching and referencing before they ever start- how much is up to you of course, but you don’t want to be kicking yourself later because you based something important on a completely wrong fact.

Work large. It’s better if the original art is as big as possible because when you shrink it down to put on the web it looks much nicer- more detailed, tight and clean. You may lose some detail though so don’t go crazy. And when it comes time to print it’s even better- the minimum dpi for good-looking print work is 300.

Materials Just a consideration, but often people who use art markers, paints, etc end up spending a lot in the long run. So make sure to choose materials you can work with, and are willing to use for a while - unless you’re otherwise willing to change materials at some point. Computer art (using a tablet) is such a popular choice for a lot of online artists because it saves on materials, space, and cuts out most of the steps you have to go through- pencils, inks, and colours can all be done with the same tool. Another advantage is that you don’t lose colour quality between stages (scanners NEVER properly record colours), and you can save every stage meaning that there’s less chance of losing important stuff.

The disadvantage is that much computer art tends to look very similar (smooth perfectly flat swathes of colour, perfect gradients, extra black blacks, super white whites…) and the fact that you always have an “undo” function means that you perfect your work TOO much. For this reason artists can easily differentiate themselves by working traditionally these days! Good gritty, natural looking art with mistakes intact, texture and faded natural colour actually has a big advantage now and can grab the eye more than perfect digital art.

Just bear in mind that there are no “right” ways to do things though. Webcomic art like everything else has its trends and fashions and you don’t have to keep up with those. Work in the way that’s most comfortable to you and best for your project- whether that’s sprites, 3D models, stick figures, manga drawings, brush painted comic strip art etc, decide what’s best for you.

Useful resources:
Ultimate Digital Artist's resource on a shoe string (or no string) budget
Tips for the budget studio
[] Link/Tips to Everything: Poses, Guides, Anatomy, Fonts, Reference, Tutorials, etc.

General advice
It’s ok to start small. If your very first idea is a huge epic, best do something else to work out the kinks and get practice first.

Consider networking (have some pages up!) This one is probably more relevant to experienced creators, but if you want any kind of audience, you have to go find them. Other websites, forums, communities, etc. Try not to be spammy! Look for places where you’re specifically allowed to plug your work.

Consider the members of a comic forum to be a useful resource! You can ask them for advice about setting up your comic on their site (if it’s a hosted comic) because they’ll be veterans, very well aware of how things run. They can also give great general advice on how to make comics, how to manage HTML and all the rest.

One of the very best things with DD is that it has a great, open, helpful, friendly community where people are always willing to lend a hand. Some other communities are occasionally a little closed and not so welcoming to the new guy- bear in mind that not everywhere is the same- try and respect the locals in that case, it’s their “home turf”.

Attitude

Start small! Don’t expect an instant audience, don’t get discouraged if you’re not getting the fans or comments you had dreamed of. Everyone has to start somewhere. Even very good comics can have zero audience if they don’t network or let anyone know their comic is there to be read. Just putting a comic online won’t make it successful, and you’re competing with hundreds of thousands of other comics.

Be positive about your work. Saying “my comic is crap” makes people want to ignore you or agree with you. If you don’t think highly if your own work, why should anyone else? It also can come off as fishing for compliments. People get tired of writing pity comments. And if it’s high quality work saying that just makes you look a little arrogant. It’s ok to be critical of your own work, but you don’t have to publicise your dissatisfaction or apologize for perceived flaws.

Feel good about what you’re doing, but look for ways to improve. If you hide hands or feet because you think they’re hard to draw, practice! Your readers will notice if you’re continually avoiding something. Backgrounds can take a lot of work and many people skip them, but HAVING backgrounds can really elevate your work. Even the very best writers and artists feel the need to improve.

Accept criticism if it is given, even if you don’t intend to do anything with it. Criticism is (usually) given in an effort to help someone improve. Don’t ask people what they think of your stuff and then get mad if they say something which isn’t praise. If you really, really don’t want to hear anything potentially negative about your work, make that clear. (Of course, that may just annoy people who believe it’s their job as a reader to give you criticism.) If you really don’t want to know what people think of your work, why are you posting it on the internet? You can’t control what people say, but you CAN control your reaction to it.

Don’t get too caught up in “the right way” or “having everything planned.” Sometimes you just gotta go with it, even if you know it won’t last. Over-planning or wanting everything to be perfect can sometimes make the project unfun or bog it down.

Strategies for maintaining momentum early on. Possibilities: keep up a backlog, give yourself deadlines, public update schedules, avoid using filler!

If you want to make money from your comic you have to have a plan. You can’t just put up a donation button or merch store and expect it to bring much in. Everyone dreams of making money from their comic, but for 99% of people that takes a lot of work.

Engage with your readers. Usually if people feel appreciated or included as fans they will be much more loyal/involved. Getting new readers is nice, but having a core of loyal fans can’t be beat.

Special Considerations for Collaborators

Respect your collaborator, they may or may not be paid but they should be considered a co-creator!

Set up an efficient working process (regular meetings, agreed-upon deadlines, skype calls, google docs, schedules, categorise your e-mails, chat programs etc)

Agree on roles/responsibilities/expectations, beyond just who’s the writer or whatever. For example: who will do maintenance to the site, do what advertising where, respond to emails, etc. Is anyone in charge/who is driving it? Who does the project “belong” to if someone leaves?

comment

anonymous?

Luccia at 9:33PM, April 15, 2013

Is customizing the comic background old Duck, too. Because I have yet to find out how to do that. I've looked, but I'm not seeing it.

SLK8ne at 11:33AM, Aug. 30, 2012

Nice tut! But, some of the links are dead. I think they're pointing to the old Duck. Thought I'd mention it.


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