When you first started writing, drawing and posting your webcomic, you may not have given the idea of branding yourself as a creator much thought. You just wanted to CREATE a comic, tell a story, make people laugh, express yourself through sequential art. Maybe the idea that this could be a financially profitable business if handled correctly, never crossed your mind. Don’t get me wrong– it wasn’t supposed to be first priority. In fact, I would go as far as to say this was probably the best way to start a new endeavor like a serial comic; it allowed you to fully focus on perfecting your craft and left the business and promotional headaches for later. Well, for you maybe later is now.
What IS a “Brand”?
You may think of a logo, when I say brand. Or maybe a font or select colors, or even a message. Well, a brand is an all-encompassing representative of a product, including all of those things. That product can be tangible… like a line of sneakers, or a service… Like a tax accounting, or something artistic like a band, an animated tv series, or a comic book. A brand should give potential customers a general “feel” of what to expect from that particular product. It can be very obvious and direct, such as an all-natural food item featuring a leaf or wheat stalk in the packaging design or logo. Or it can be more subtle, using colors and font style to give a hint of the personality of the product, like the bright and cheery (red and yellow) yet casual McDonalds logo. The goal is for the branding materials to speak to the customer without any explaining.. Maybe not the finer details, but (for example) a shopper may see a clothing line’s logo and be able to determine “upscale & luxurious” or “casual and affordable”. This philosophy should apply throughout the entire branding process, with consistent use of colors, fonts, copy-writing, and imagery. I try to remember Disney theme parks and how their #1 goal is to never ruin the experience for their customers; that means sticking to the branding no matter what!
Here’s another great read about branding, compared to identity and logo… And how they all work together!
Branding: Your Comic
In drawing countless comics and honing in on your concept, maybe even piecing together tag lines and elevator pitches, your comic’s brand is probably already being developed just be being as immersed in your comic as you are. One of the biggest hurdles is logo creation. This could be difficult if you don’t have a graphic design background, so if that is the case, you may want to reach out to a designer you know or maybe a fellow comic creator who has experience in the graphic arts (there’s a lot of us). If you want give it a shot yourself, remember these 3 tips:
- It must work and be identifiable in black and white, and color
- It must reduce well (think of it fitting on a business card!)
- It must FEEL like your comic; convey some aspects of your comic’s atmosphere and personality, through colors, fonts, style, additional simple imagery/icons, but you don’t have to go overboard. Less is more; a heavy-handed logo can be just as damaging to a brand as an amateur thrown-together logo.
Check out your favorite Webcomics and study their logos. Some of the best ones decided to keep it simple, but you recognize it when you see it, even if just a portion of it, and it instantly reminds you of what you like about the comic itself. That’s the sign of a solid logo. Also, see this great article by Chris on the Anatomy of a Logo, or this one on logo design by Blambot.
But branding goes beyond just a logo. It’s the website design, which becomes the storefront that fades back and allows the product (comic) and it’s logo to shine. It’s how you design and layout your promotional materials like business cards, postcards, books, and more. Even how you set up your convention table space can be another outlet to show off solid branding. It may feel repetitive to keep using the same elements all the time but to the outsider who is just being introduced to your comic, cohesive and consistent branding is key to a good first impression. You can refer to some of Ken’s Brand-Aid articles to get some other great ideas, or even his 8 simple branding tips piece.
You comic’s brand is also it’s core message. Straying too far from the concept, targeted demographic, or characters’ personalities can also hurt your comic’s brand. Seamless consistency is key!
Branding: YOU as the Creator
I think it’s a natural progression to start out using your comic’s brand as “your” brand. Especially if it’s all you have done thus far and all you’re known for. And if your plan is to only do one comic and ride it out until you retire it and move on, you may be able to keep using your comic’s brand to represent you as a creator. However, most of us branch out. We start doing commissions at comic cons, wind up writing or doing the artwork for another project entirely, or offer other related services like design, video work, photography, or software programming. Suddenly, you are MORE than just a comic, and that’s when you should start thinking about using the same branding techniques you did for your comic, and develop a brand for YOU.
This may be a bit more difficult than branding just your comic, which can be broken down into a couple representative adjectives and genres. What you want to create is an umbrella brand that will “house” all of your creative endeavors and services. Depending on just how far out your services and talents stretch, you may even want to separate your own brand into different “umbrellas”, to be less confusing. Some aspects of a professional brand to consider are:
- What is it you do? List everything out, in categories if possible. Organization and proper hierarchy is important to nail down before you start this process.
- Is there an over-arching trait to your professional “style” that applies to everything under your umbrella? For instance, are your products always kid-friendly and cute? Do you have a more mature/adult style? Is your Illustration style very consistent across the board, and how would you describe it? Start collecting adjectives that describe the bulk of what you offer.
- Who is your demographic, as a creative professional? Will your identity, logo, and overall brand be able to convey #1 and #2 above to the common man in your demographic?
Again, you can start out with a logo design, and allow the branding applications to branch out from there. You may need a portfolio website (or maybe a Tumblr page?) to be a hub for everything you work on, using the same consistent design elements as your logo and conveying any umbrella styles that apply to all underlying products. Consider social media as well- your twitter handle, Facebook pages or groups, google+ pages and/or profiles; the more they match and stay consistent, the more professional your brand looks. Plus, you are easier to track down and your followers can find you on different social outlets. Like I said, so much more than a logo!
The Benefits of Having an Umbrella Brand
- You will have an identity to represent YOU overall, including but not restricted to, your comic. As other products (comics, freelance, group projects) come and go, your brand will remain the same providing some consistency.
- Having this identity to use for things like invoices, portfolio websites, business cards, an email address, and social media tie-ins displays your organizational abilities and professionalism to potential clients and customers.
- It provides a much more streamlined way of presenting yourself at a comic con or other event, especially if you are showcasing multiple different product lines, or even just supplementary items like prints, buttons or t-shirts that are not under your comic’s brand. As you can see below, without an umbrella brand, showcasing multiple products with no connection can be confusing and it divides what could be united about you as a creator.
This is no doubt a big decision that takes a lot of work, but an important one. If you think this is a reasonable step for you to take, plan in advance when and how you will roll it all out.
You should be proud of your first impression, and that’s all about carefully planned presentation.
Dawn Griffin is the resident “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her formative years either playing street basketball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the syndication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and you can find her portfolio site HERE. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.