Saturday, August 23, 2008

How Good is Your Webcomic?

I visited a comics forum the other day. Everyone was discussing how to promote their comics.

First one person would offer a technique, then someone else would say it didn't work. Something obvious would be named, and everyone would agree but you could tell they weren't going to do it. Then another idea, and another shoot-down. "That didn't work for me."

Everyone starving for traffic, most of them blind to doing what they must do to get it.

The conversation missed the point. Probably half of all webcomics are not ready for promotion, because the readers won't like what they see.

The real discussion should be, what's wrong with the comic?

With fingers crossed that a few people will re-focus their energy on their comics, here is a list of the glaring problems
I see every day. Are you ready to hold your comic up to these standards, confident that you can give a strong answer?


- The story has not been drafted, rewritten and polished.
- The author does not know the function of an editor, and either does not serve as one or does not have one.
- The text is sloppy or in a font that discourages some readers.
- Balloons are placed inside the action and stuffed with text.
- The author does not know when to use expository or explanatory story-telling.
- The amount of words has not been condensed to an amount suitable for the pace of the panels.
- If it's supposed to be funny, it's not funny enough.
- Phrases are tired, dialogue is full of cliches.


This is easiest to explain by example: It's a romance comic, and it's set in Portugal in the 1880s. Here are the common errors:

- Making historical and alien characters speak in a pompous way.
- Falling in love with the scenery, and relying on the mood it creates to make your story compelling.
- Doing a gimmick, like, say, zombies vs. UFOs.
- Seeing more of your character than is revealed to the readers. They can't see inside your mind. Don't let your affection for your characters blind you to the fact that they have to be interesting to others.


Examples: stick figure, minimalist, cartoony, super hero, black and white.

- Have you done your homework? For 95%, the answer is no. A few lucky ones went to art school and learned some things. The rest of us have to spend a significant amount of money and time buying and reading archives of comics in styles and themes we admire. Again and again, in the biographies I read of cartoonists like Charles Schulz or Robert Crumb, I learn that they spent most of their formative years indoors, copying and drawing cartoons, while everyone else went out to play. Lucky for me, I did that too, because my wife went to art school and copied and drew. Without all that practice, I couldn't be an equal half of our team. My opinion is that if you don't drool over certain artists, reading and re-reading them, with a deep understanding of their style such that you can duplicate it fairly well, then you are not likely to become a professional cartoonist, or even a popular amateur one. Unfortunately, there are exceptions -- people with dubious skill who are wildly popular, but most of them got there by winning the other categories listed here and squeaking by with an improvised style even if it is deficient in some notable ways.

There are also people who have a niche, like pixel artist R. Stevens. Now, it happens that he can draw, but even if he couldn't, he has found a method to express himself that brings 100,000+ visitors a day. So has Ryan North, with Dinosaur Comics. If you can find a niche, you can work around the traditional study and learn approach, but it has to be so clever and good that people will overcome their natural skepticism.


- Rushed, lazy, not done with care.
- Can't decide whether it is cartoony or realistic.
- Balance between black and white is off, and/or there is no contrast.
- Not good enough for black and white, too lazy to color.
- Artist never studied a color wheel.
- Artist doesn't know how to draw, and hasn't found an alternate approach.


- This is entry is for those drawing on a tablet. Have you looked at your brushes? Are you using brushes right out of the box? Do you know how to make a brush that fits your hand? Even some well-known comics are using appalling brushes, and their art has lousy lines.
- The web site design is horrible.

I write for people who are serious about closing the gap on these challenges. The rest shouldn't even be reading this blog -- they should be studying their role models and practicing their art, story boarding (like water boarding, only worse) their stories and attempting to show dramatic improvement. Otherwise they may as well go back to forum land and talk about their problems, looking for a magic bullet and dreaming.