How to create a (successful) webcomic
by Missy Ren
Webcomic advice: What do Penny Arcade, PVP and Questionable Content have in common? They're all a webcomic that's made it. These common-sense tips will ensure your webcomic makes it too.
Penny Arcade. Questionable Content. PVP. What do these webcomics have in common? They are all highly successful webcomics that have become so popular their creators do it as a full-time job. It's not easy to turn your hobby into a well-paid career but it's not impossible either. Read these tips to help get your webcomic off the ground.
Webcomic writing tip 1: Draw good
Sounds obvious, but you have to be able to draw! Admittedly even the above comics look a little lacking if you compare the early strips to the most recent, and we all love watching a webcomic artist's style evolve, but how many of us have been turned off by webcomics that reek of little effort? Yes, there is always room for improvement - but who's going to be following your webcomic that long if your webcomic is slapdash, difficult to read or just plain ugly to look at? We humans are fussy creatures and we like pretty things. The best gags in the world won't save your webcomic if you draw like a toddler holding the pen between his toes. Even stick figure webcomics like Cyanide and Happiness are professionally done. Think clean lines, bright colours and clear text.
Webcomic writing tip 2: Tell stories with good words. Is good. Boring bad.
Equally obvious, but even if you're a talented artist your webcomic career will be shortlived if you can't write dialogue or come up with a decent storyline. Often this is a harder skill to perfect than the drawing. After all, even if you can't draw you can get better with practice, but a good storyteller often has the 'knack'. It's not all bad though. There are plenty of people itching to tell stories who need an artist to help them draw their vision, and vice versa. You can always team up with someone who has the skill you lack, and have the best of both worlds. Such dream teams include Least I Could Do and _.
Webcomic writing tip 3: Have characters that don't suck. Unless they're meant to.
Likable, sympathetic characters are a must. Who's going to read your webcomic if they don't give a fig about your characters? Characters should be realistic and have both good and bad points. If Tracy is a selfish cow and Matt is an egotisical bigot, and they've literally got nothing else going for them, I'm hardly going to want to read about them, even if they do have some rather cool wacky adventures. The best webcomics are the ones where readers keep coming back because they care about your characters and want to see what happens to them. Be warned though - if you kill off your well developed character 300 strips into the story, you might have some peeved fans on your hands!
Webcomic writing tip 4: Avoid cliche. Oh yes.
Try to avoid cliches. Readers are always excited to see characters that represent little-seen groups - for example gay, ethnic or disabled characters. If you do this right, you will attract a whole new fanbase for your webcomic, but there's no easier way to lose your readers than making your character one big stereotype. It proves you haven't got a clue. We've all seen the busty, self-confessed slutty girl, the raving queen gay boy, the uber-depressed goth and the pervy old man. Make your comic memorable by giving rounded depth to your characters. Don't try to represent a large group of people if you don't trust yourself to do a good job and perhaps offer a new slant on things.
Webcomic writing tip 5: Don't do it tomorrow. Do it today. Your readers need you.
Above all else, always make an effort. If you're serious about making money out of your webcomic, you have to be serious about updating as often as you can. We all know real life can get in the way and this won't always be possible, but you still need to pay some respect to your readers. Keep them updated on why you can't post new strips (PC blew up, personal problems - you can be as detailed or as vague as you want as long as your readers know you're still alive). Sure... there might be the one idiot who will bitch at you for it, but the majority of your readers will wish you all the best until you return. Many a webcomic has lost almost its entire fanbase by disappearing off the face off the earth, only to come back years later and tell its one remaining, lonely faithful reader that she/he 'got bored'. If you ever want to do future projects you may well find that your original readers are unwilling to read them if they feel you have let them down. And without your loyal readers, what's the point?