5 Things I Got Right

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Last week we all fessed up to our mistakes with the 5 things we’d do differently, and the lessons we’ve learned. So this time we’re taking a moment to recognize that reflection isn’t just for what went wrong, but for what went well! What are 5 things that each of us got right?

5 things I got right….

Byron

bw-6001. For the first two years I posted the comic anywhere and everywhere I could: MySpace, DeviantArt, LiveJournal, Twitter, ComicSpace and on and on. Spread the word religiously.

2. Forced myself to draw things I was not comfortable with. For example: I forced my characters to talk with their hands so I could learn to draw hands. Push your boundaries or you won’t grow.

3. Featured other comic characters in my own comic and let the creators know about it. Grew my audience from other comics. This is how I got to know Danielle Corsetto. “That guy…” (Inside joke there)

4. Forced myself to learn how to edit my own website using WordPress and ComicPress. Hanging with Phil Hofer (Frumph) helped a great deal. This is essential that you have a good looking site to go with your great comic.

5. For my first convention I did a MAJOR one instead of testing the waters with smaller cons. Sometimes it helps to just “jump in feet first” and learn from there. I met a great contact at Lucas Film in the final hour of the first con. Well worth the money and effort, even though I was nervous as hell. AND I did it with fellow artists and that’s how we started the Alliance up. So really worth it!!

Dawn

Creator_Bios_Dawn 1. I wasn’t afraid (then, or now) to look outside the box. In just 7 years with Z&F, I have gone through the newspaper syndication phase, the drunkduck.com phase, the find-a-collective phase, the self-publishing phase, the comic convention circuit phase, the podcasting & “Webcomic Alliance” phase, and continue to grow. If I had stuck to what I knew and ONLY what I read in books, I’d still be sending my comics to syndicates and getting rejected over and over… and my family would be my only readers.

2. I put my all into twitter and got back what I wanted. I only have so much time to devote to social networking (I’m not just talking promoting my comic, but getting INVOLVED) and I seized an opportunity with twitter. It’s still my #1 referrer, and I succeeded so far in getting follower interaction — not because they retweet my comic links, but because I share others work and post helpful material and interact WITH them. I’m not just “Dawn the Cartoonist” on twitter– I am Dawn the cartoonin’, dog-lovin’, geekster, liberal, analytical, helpful, crazy , Cleveland fan… and that’s why it works.

3. I’m SO glad I got an art degree in Graphic Design. Yes, I also majored in Illustration and my professors were a major factor in finding my “style”, but having a solid job to fall back on .. especially in this economy.. is essential. I’m still coming to terms with the probability of never being able to ditch my day job, but I’m grateful as hell for it. Plus, I have utilized my design skills in so many ways for my comic– from the books, to my con table, to the comics themselves.

4. This one is kinda weak, but it’s seriously the best thing I have bought since I started Z&F. I gave up on Apple coming out with their own tablet laptop and got my Gateway convertible tablet to sketch, ink, color, and create comics 100% digitally. Once Windows 7 came out and I could stick a fork in Vista, it was a near-perfect machine for my comics. I am SO glad I jumped on the deal when I saw it. The portability keeps me sane, and the level of sensitivity is perfect for my style of illustration. When this one dies, I’ll be getting another tablet laptop like it, no doubt about it. (and yes, I know of the crazy-expensive Modbook… if you wanna buy it for me, great!)

5. I never quit. Even when I retired my first comic, which was insanely hard to do, I still had the gears turning and the motive to come up with another comic. Despite family, friends, teachers and whomever else along the way giving me the usual “it’s a cute hobby, but when are you gonna give up on this silly dream and just be a designer?” run down, I stuck to comics. I may one day find my passion has dried up for the field, but it’ll be on my OWN terms. Not someone else’s.

Drezz

drezz_horns 1. Jumping in and DOING it – its one thing to enjoy comics as an artist Its another to actually DO IT, rather than talk about doing it. I had a blog where I featured tutorials on making comics but realized I didn’t have one of my own. So I made one. How hard was it to get started? Not hard at all – and I guess that’s why we see so many folks with their own webcomic out there. Low entry barrier, high product selection.

2. Making the switch from a weekly page reveal to a full chapter reveal. Sure, the updates are fewer and further apart – but the quality is higher and the anticipation is bigger, provided you put the time into promotion. For those folks who are doing long-form as a hobby and want to produce the best work to show folks, I highly recommend putting your best effort out there at a pace YOU are comfortable with. Unless you have aspirations of doing this full time all the time, there’s no sense in trying to shoe-horn yourself into that work environment. It actually makes things worse. The minute I stopped worrying about punching a clock, the quality of my work improved ten-fold.

3. Being ‘AT ONE’ with my drawing programs. At first, I started off using Photoshop, flipping over to Illustrator, inking in Flash and then finishing in Illustrator. Once the process was refined enough, I was able to produce a full 6-panel page in 90 minutes. Learn your keyboard shortcuts, create actions and brush presets, and do not be afraid to review every single step and cut out the ones that are redundant. Be a well-oiled machine and your work will improve.

4. Focusing on the production of the comic and less on trying to make the comic profitable. Time spent on advertising, networking and promotion became secondary to the production of the comic. Once I worried less about trying to get out to people WHILE working, I was able to work smarter and then ENJOY promoting it. Think of it this way: if you were an artist creating paintings, would you spend more time trying to promote a show before your work was complete? NO! You’d get yourself into trouble and stress yourself out more! Finish one thing, then move to the next, and you’ll feel a bigger sense of entitlement instead of assuming you can juggle 10 things in the air and keep them there. (Eventually, your arms get tired and the balls drop!)

5. Finding a place to be able to break and walk away from it. I had big plans for my comic, with a long and rich story that was set to span over years and volumes. When I realized it was a fool’s errand to try and pull that off with limited time and funds, I whittled the story down to the essential parts and ended up with something a bit more powerful. It gave me an achievable goal that I was able to reach. It also gave me something to look forward to when I felt the itch to put out a related project/chapter/bonus content after I had completed what I set out to accomplish. Walking away gives you the freedom to pursue a new endeavour, or finish all the aborted projects you abandoned – this happens when you have a sprawling epic and are tethered to it. Give yourself the ‘out clause’ with EVERY project you do. That way you can come back to it in time; give yourself that much needed breather, and give you a goal to meet. Otherwise you’ll always be chasing the goal and the light at the end of the tunnel – if your story is too big to cover, that light may be a locomotive ready to run you over. Be careful.

Chris

Chris 1. Before the first strip was ever drawn, I took the time to create animation “turn sheets” of the three main characters since I knew I would be drawing those three characters the most. I specifically designed them so they could be very easy and fast to draw.

2. I’m glad I just jumped right in with the first strip instead of having a “This is Marc”, “This is Joey” and “This is Roy” kind of “origin” strip. I figured i would do it like I sometimes used to write short novels… start in the middle and eventually work backwards in some way.

3. I never missed an update or had a filler the first year or so of the strip. Because of that, I was able to take my time and put together a really solid first book of strips that I’m really proud of – not just because of the strips but the whole book design as well. Starting the comic has enabled me to take full advantage of ALL of the skills I have acquired since going to art school and then later to a four year institution for my graphic design degree. Every day with Capes & Babes I’m utilizing some part of my education: drawing, design, all the creative writing classes I took at Radford University, marketing, cartooning, public speaking, drama, theater, photography, color theory, web design, class instruction, book design, newspaper design & illustration… all of those (and more) get utilized every day – and especially at conventions and doing panels.

4. When I was laid off for three months, I’m glad I took the advice of other creators and kept doing the strip. I could have easily quit and it could have easily been the death of Capes & Babes but it wasn’t.

5. I’m glad that I’ve always tried to be very open and genuinely honest with any knowledge I might have and accepting of so many people – otherwise, i never would have met Dawn and Ken in person and built up an online friendship with Drezz and byron like I’m doing right now with Robin. Without that attitude, I don;t think it would have been possible to eventually become a Webcomic Alliancer!

Robin

about_self_large 1. Focused on writing. I’ve dedicated a significant amount of study to improving my writing and I’m so excited by the progress I’m making. There’s still a lot that I have yet to master, and skills that are unrefined, but I’m constantly learning something new. It keeps things fresh and exciting for me, because each chapter feels like my best work to date!

2. Branching out. I love hosting my Original Character Tournaments and making videos/articles for WA. My OCTs let me connect with a whole group of creative people that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and many of them have become readers and friends. Judging entries has also been exceptionally beneficial to my own process. Giving critique forces me to specifically identify problems and develop suggestions on how they can be overcome. Often doing that for others helps me identify those same problems in my own work. This is also true for writing articles and making videos. I learn a lot by sharing information with others.

3. Redesigning the site to be comment friendly. About six months into LeyLines it was pointed out to me that part of the reason I was receiving very few comments was because my website design created a barrier to them. I began a comprehensive study of other websites, researched the impact of layout and color, bought books on design, and investigated ways to make the site encourage, rather than discourage, interaction. Overnight, my comments quadrupled, and it’s been very exciting to connect with readers and see the community grow!

4. Research and development phase for conventions before exhibiting at them. I attended lots of different local conventions as an attendee the year before I got a booth at Denver Comic Con. I spent hours interviewing the people exhibiting there, taking detailed notes. I sat in artist alley rooms and just watched traffic flow, seeing what worked and what didn’t. I studied advertisements and displays everywhere. I read books, articles, and blogs on how people respond to advertisements. I also didn’t have a booth until I had something to sell and be excited about. While I continue to learn something new every convention, and not every one is a record breaker, I’m also happy to report that I’ve paid back table and made profit every time.

5. Learning to be open with readers. I used to really struggle with the blog section of my site. I knew it was important, but I thought it had to be a lofty, earth-shattering essay every time. I was fixated on the idea of “adding value” and thought it had to be in a clinical, educational way. I talked about this anxiety at PaperWings and Henrike shared a thought that changed my life: “I think the value is in the relationships you build with your readers.” Suddenly I realized that forming a personal connection was VALUABLE. That I had value! I didn’t have to be a perfect super-woman. It was enough simply to be myself, and share that with others. This immediately removed the pressure of the blog section, and I felt free to talk about silly stories, personal musings, dreams, or my process. I’ve since had multiple people tell me that their favorite part of LeyLines is not the comic itself, but the discussion that goes with it. (Henrike was also the one that clued me in on by poor website design – Thank you Henrike, for helping me make so many positive changes in how I not only presented my work, but how I viewed myself!!)

What about you?

Take a moment to celebrate your own hard work! What are five things you got right?

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Posted in Conversations, Featured News, Helpful Hints.

28 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article folks! It’s really helpful! As you all know being a webcartoonist can be a lonely experience. It’s great to have a community of like-minded people and share the vistories and defeats with!

  2. Thanks for this guys. so here’s mine:

    1) jumped into the indie comic world as an artist and learned that while it is hectic and full of drama it is none the less fulfilling because there are so many awesome people out there that you meet at conventions and on twitter/facebook/google+ that want all the love you can give them with your art. that’s awesome! they give great feedback and help you elevate yourself to higher places. I’ve definitely done that this year as I see my art and my opportunities continue to rise

    2)Finally dug up the courage and nerve to try a webcomic again. this time without compromising myself or my art just to try and give people something they may like. I am almost done with the first chapter (thanks Drezz for this idea of chapter releases) and will be posting it in a few weeks (still ahve colors to do!) It will be a longform comic and yeah maybe these don’t do so great on the web but you know what? This story is awesome and I’ve been really pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone with the art so I think it will be worth it!

    3)Met face to face with a ton of creators at conventions and over social networks. got over my whole “OMG that person is a star so i can’t speak to them” attitude and realized we all put on pants one leg at a time. this has lead to some very interesting friendships being made and that lead to super helpful critiques and further improvement of my craft.

    4) Increased site traffic, social network followers and consequently my print sales and commission sales went from virtually nothing to an amazing amount per month. Enough for me to help pay rent and part of groceries! I’ll take it!

    5) Learned that it’s okay to be a wordy and opinionated SOB on twitter and Facebook as long as I’m not rude, call anyone out, and post LOTS of art and process shots! People love process shots. Process and art posts lead to people hitting me up for advice on what brush i used or what program i like best. It leads to people wanting to talk to me and get to know me on a personal level and that leads to all of the above. So art! hell yeah!

    • I love your phrase on how even famous people put pants on one leg at a time. I love the mundane element of that image, and how silly the alternative of someone managing to just leap into their pants would be!! I’m going to remember that at my next big con!!

      And congrats at using social media/site traffic to grow your business!! Rent and groceries is no small feat! Well done!!

      • Thanks Robin!Well i started doing illustration as my job 2 years ago since i was unemployed for 2 years already (bad economy) so for me, re-invention, re-prioritization was all i had. It is either make this work so i can help pay bills or…i don’t know. try my chances in the craptacular job market again? times are crazy bad everywhere and have been for too long i think. I not only refuse to give up, it’s not an option for me. Too much at stake. So even when I had monumental setbacks (and i am betting I will have them again often) the only thing I have left to do is get up and keep going

        • Wow! I’m getting creatively fired up!! What a fantastic attitude that is! I’ve seen too many people give up on themselves and hand over the reins of their lives to circumstance. They’re never happy with where they end up, and too quick to blame their surroundings for everything they don’t like. I love how you’ve gripped your life by the horns, defied the doubts, and decided to create even when the situation is bad! That’s amazing, YOU are amazing, and I am feeling super inspired!!! Thanks for sharing, and rock on!

        • I knew you’d be on your way to success. When I heard about your situation, I was worried that you’d fold up shop and move on in order to make ends meet – yet, here you are still plugging away.

          Good on you, hombre.

  3. ok, here we go

    1. I’ve stuck at my comic (1 year today)
    2. I tried to improve my art through copying and a lot of work most days
    3. When I needed to concentrate on school, I knew to walk away for a few weeks while I sorted exams
    4. I’ve started reaching out to people and have found some other artists who I get along with and have semi regular chats with
    5. I’ve started working on my scheduling better so I miss less updates and have longer to work on the comic

    • Happy 1year anniversary!! I’m particularly impressed by your ability to prioritize in a healthy manner. I’ve always had trouble putting things down when other aspects of my life needed attention. It’s something I’m trying to figure out to this day!! It sounds like you’re taking this at a steady rate and giving yourself the time you need to do well on your own terms!! Fantastic!!

  4. 1. Before I launched Sombulus, I was part of a 30-comic-pages-in-30-days community, and while it was great, it was a quick burst activity that wasn’t maintainable for a long-form webcomic. So I practiced for several months to see how many pages I could reasonably do in a week. The process really helped transform comics from a “thing I have to put everything else on hold for” into something that was part of my regular routine.

    2. I started with over 100 pages of buffer. I went back and changed a lot of them from all the things I learned about timing along the way, and I’m really glad I had the wiggle room to do that.

    3. I made style changes part of the story. I knew I wanted to practice a lot of mediums/brushes/styles, so rather than surprise people later, I let them know it was happening pretty early on.

    4. I didn’t wait until things were “perfect” to start. Just getting it out of my head in a way that other people could understand taught me all kinds of things I never learned with an audience of one.

    5. I didn’t stick with vector mouse-drawn lineart very long. Good God, that was time consuming.

    Here’s to learning more things in the years to come! =D

    • I learned the merits of a big buffer too – love the wiggle room! And making those style changes early was super smart. Learned the hard way that people don’t like a style change late in the game, but they’re fine with it if you introduce it as part of the story from the beginning. People hate change I guess!!

      Lots of great pieces of wisdom! Thanks for sharing them, and congratulate yourself for a job well done!!

  5. You folks are so right that we’re quick to find/name what we do WRONG most of the time when, at least once in a while, we should (like the old song goes) ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE!
    OK so here’s 5 things I got right:

    1. Created the perfect comic book and characters to tell the stories I want to tell. The Graveyard Gang is primarily a horror comic with 5 kids as the main characters. But because of the way I’ve set it up I have the ability to tell all kinds of stories from horror to humor to crime to romance to adventure to action to mystery to history.

    2. Figured out HOW to do my comic. I labored a long time to hone in on a style and method. I initially started working in PHOTOSHOP as most comic creators do these days. I finally decided to switch to ILLUSTRATOR since that is the program I use at the day job (making maps and charts). While still streamlining the process, I’m getting faster now that I have a ‘way’!

    3. Trademarked and copyrighted my work before I launched. I actually finished and printed my first issue and got all legalities done BEFORE I launched my website.

    4. Launched my website! I used my design experience to create a look for my home page but I had NO IDEA how to make it. I reached out to folks at webcomics.com and had tremendous help. While not even close to being an expert, I can manage to post blogs/comics and do minor adjustments.

    5. Reached out/made friends with other comic creators. After so many years of my art being a personal/private thing it was daunting to have it ‘out there’ for everyone to see. Fellow creators have been there with their praise and encouragement which has meant the world to me this past year. I must be doing something right!

    P.S. Here are some quotes that have helped me before AND after I launched my comic.

    Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly. – Robert H. Schuller

    You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do. – Henry Ford, 1863-1947

    Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic
- Anonymous

    An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s.
- J. D. Salinger

    Success doesn’t come to you…you go to it. – Marva Collins

    Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. – Albert Schweitzer

    A goal properly set is halfway reached. – Abraham Lincoln

  6. I responded to the “five things that I regret article” so I think I’ll respond to this one as well. Although I don’t have a webcomic (yet) I definitely have a few experiences I can be proud of.
    1) Joining up with the Calgary Drink and Draw. The encouragement and experience and community of other artists, helped me improve 1000%. As well as gave me a lot of help during my first convention. Speaking of..
    2) Taking the plunge and going into Artist’s Alley. This was an incredible experience, It finally helped me break through the barrier of “it isn’t possible, no one makes money at Art”. I made money, not a lot of money, but it at least showed me it was possible.
    3) Having a multiple of different styles and subject matter at my table. This was the only way to see what people really wanted. Only two prints sold, but they sold out! It was a good decision, and I’m glad I did it.
    4) Taking the time to learn digital. Going into Photoshop, enhanced my skills, and I’m very proud of the work I do.
    5) Failing at the right things. At my first Con, I had a terrible display, just the prints laid out horizontally on the table. I was too arrogant to have something that would catch people’s eyes. Next time I realize I need some better banners. But at least the art wasn’t the problem!
    That’s my five and I hope they help!

  7. 1. Created a vivid world that I have yet to run out of stories to fill it.
    2. One of my goals of doing my comic was to become a better artist. I thought by having a deadline it would force me a draw every week. When I look back at my old work I can really see how much I have improved over the years.
    3. My comic is all ages and I really think that there is no other audience I would rather be writing for. I mean don’t get me wrong, when adults are into my stuff that’s cool, but kids get so much more into it. They get so excited it’s contagious.
    4. I didn’t give up. After my first year, it felt like nobody was reading my stuff. I kept working and working though till people eventually caught on.
    5. I’ve never missed a deadline. In fact, I’ve never even been late by more than an hour or two.

  8. Dave Barrack

    I’ll just reiterate what I posted last time. 🙂

    1. Got my own domain instead of starting off on some site like drunkduck and then having to move it later. I also bought the most common misspelling of my domain and have it forward to the comic (girlpowercomic as opposed to grrlpowercomic) Minor points in the grand scheme of things, but sometimes little things add up.

    2. Went in with realistic expectations. Before I stated the comic, I listened to every episode of the short lived Penny Arcade podcast, and Webcomics Weekly. The PA Podcast helped with my writing and taught me that no idea is so precious that it can’t be scrapped if a better one comes along, and the WW podcast said repeatedly to only do it if you love doing it, you won’t get rich on it, and if you ever make money at it, it will be years before you start seeing more than a few cents profit. The other important thing I learned (which should be obvious but sometimes that stuff needs to be said aloud) is if you want more readers, make a better product. Quality trumps all. Begging for RT’s is fine, posting your comic on facebook is nice, advertising is nice, but all that stuff just brings readers in, it doesn’t keep them.

    In a way, low expectations is a double edged sword, I’ve been quite surprised by the success of the comic so far, but I could also be pushing myself harder in areas like merch. Expecting that little will come of it has probably prevented me from being more aggressive in a lot of ways.

    3. Engage with the readers. I get a lot of comments on my comics (a surprising amount honestly) but out of ~300 comments on a single post, 10-15 of them are mine saying thanks or answering questions and whatever. Now the comments section has turned into its own little community. On the comic I have up now, there are people (one of whom insists he has a PhD in genetics) discussing how super powers could be accounted for in the human genetic code, they’re talking about control and architect genes, recessive traits, junk DNA, it’s great.

    4. Built a huge buffer before I started. Not so much to have a buffer, but just to develop my start to finish process of making an actual comic, and to make sure I could keep to my schedule before I actually started publishing. The buffer has almost totally eroded now, but it was definitely the right thing to do.

    5. MAKING A COMIC. It sounds silly but for years I wanted to do a comic but didn’t. It’s hard to say why it took me so long to get started. I guess one year I realized that if I had started when I first had the thought, I’d have 500 pages done already. I can’t locate the source of this quote, but someone once said (something to the effect of) “The best way to start doing something is to start doing it.”

  9. 1) realizing that I don’t want to do this for a living. I like the security and peace of my day job, then I leave it behind, come home, and draw what I want when I want. All my cartooning is done out of love and nothing more. (I think the stress of freelancing would kill me!)

    2) creating something that I enjoy and I want to see, rather than deliberately trying to follow what’s hot — goes back to the “loving what I do” thing

    3) as a result of 2) — realizing that what I am doing now is not the sort of work that gains a mass audience, and therefore being prepared to not have a mass audience

    4) creating a solid buffer before posting the first page, and pushing to make that buffer bigger whenever I can — as I write this, I am in the middle of a three-week stretch where I am unable to draw — which crops up every year at this time. Knowing that I have fallow periods, and compensating for those right from the get-go, is the rightest thing I did.

    5) not letting what I did years ago define me, or constrain me from doing what I do now — being willing to try something new if that’s where my heart was leading me

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