Starting From Scratch

So you’ve got a creative itch. You’ve been tossing around this idea you have for a comic and you have a great character you’ve been doodling for a little while and you just don’t know where to start.

A lot of us have been there. Actually, most of us who are posting our comics online have literally been there. No one starts out with a huge following, great art and is rolling in the dough. At least no one told me that there’s a way to do that because if there were, I’d certainly go stand in line for that.

Ahem…back to you.

Where do you go from here? Maybe you’ve been told you draw well since you were a kid, but you’re not sure or you haven’t picked up a pencil in years. Where do you begin?

Start drawing.

There’s nothing to be gained by simply thinking it over or putting it off. Start drawing. Good or bad, pen and ink or digital – just draw. It’s as simple as starting there, because you can work on everything else as you go along. You need to start drawing and more importantly – getting into the habit of drawing. Every day. Multiple times a day – for as long as you can. If you have even the slightest inkling of cartooning or comicking for a living, the best thing you can do for yourself is draw. Even if it’s only as a hobby now – you’ll be saving yourself so much time by drawing now.

I wouldn’t blame you if you just stopped reading this article and started drawing. I encourage it – there’s nothing more important.

Let’s say for the sake of argument, you decided to read on. I’ve been known to have a few bits of information or advice that may be beneficial so you’re not completely throwing your career in comics down the tubes.

As an aside, you see what I did there? I made that last paragraph about me, but I disguised it as being about you. Not like this paragraph which is purely for my benefit.

Since we last spoke a few paragraphs ago, you’re now drawing all the time. During the day in meetings, at night while you watch television, even in the shower. Good for you.

Now what?

Glad you asked. Now you need to build your story. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you had better make it compelling because ideally you’re going to have to write about this for a long, long , long time if you’re successful. I’ll be honest and tell you that the odds are against instant success, but you should still prepare as though it will. So compel the crap out of that storyline. Your creative brain will thank you time and time again.

Make sure your characters are engaging too. No one wants to read about a couple of jerks going around the universe “pantsing” unsuspecting people and aliens. Okay, maybe they do because that might be worth a chuckle or two, but hopefully you see my point. No one roots for the a-hole, they root for the Calvin’s and the Opus’ (Opii?) of the comic world.

Oh, and people should be able to relate to your comic as much as possible. No one’s going to read a comic about you, your friends and your inside jokes about farts. Okay, again, might be funny for a lol or two, but see the point.

To recap so far, first draw. Then follow up with drawing before you draw some more. Got it? Good. Then story, characters and relevance.

Once you’re there, you’re literally there. Now you can decide on a few more important things – some easy, some not so easy. Things to consider that we can touch on quickly: schedule, format, color and where.

How often will you post your comic? Some options for posting are daily (including weekends), weekdays (M-F), three days (M-W-F or any variation), two days (M-W or T-TH or any variation) or weekly. Although those are traditional options, nothing is set in stone and you can make your own rules. Once you do, the general consensus is make sure you make your posts. The worst schedule is “when I get around to it”. BOOOO!

Are you really ambitious and love the four panel daily strip format or do you think your comic will work best in a traditional comic book style long format? If your storytelling is verbose, you should consider long format. If you’re more of a gag a day style comic (like mine).

Color or black and white? Color looks great – and doesn’t cost more on the web – but it’s a helluva lot more expensive in print than good old black and white. This is important because you should consider that up front instead of having to go back and redo your color comics for a black and white book. YUCK!

Where are you going to share your comic? On the web? Cool? Keep reading all the articles on Webcomic Alliance or some of the other great sites out there. We’ve been doing this for a little while and have shared our trials and triumphs – all for free. My Webcomic Alliance cohort, Dawn Griffin will post an article soon about the tools you’ll need to get your comic online. Keep checking back. You can also add Webcomic Alliance to your RSS reader so her article will come to you. Will you publish straight to book or comic book format? Awesome, see the previous paragraph and heed the warning of costs of printing color…

If you’re the book readin’ kind, you should definitely check out the book that inspired me to put my comic on the web – ‘How to Make Webcomics’, now in it’s third printing.

If you’re leaning towards a long format based comic, I suggest heading over to Comixtribe.com – they do an excellent job over there. Definitely let them know we sent you!

I’d like to throw in a little reality check if you don’t mind. If you do, then I suggest you go draw, I won’t mind one bit.

Still here? Good. You stink. That’s right, odds are that your drawing, your comic and your income from them all stink to high heck.

That’s the bad news. The good news is it’s only gets better from here – if you want it to. You’ll need to put in the time doing that one thing that I think I may have mentioned before – draw. If you want to improve your art, there’s no substitute for experience. The same thing can be said about your writing. The more you do it, the better it’s going to get.

Now the income part, that’s not going to change – for a long time. Unless you’re über talented or get extremely lucky or are an extraordinarily engaging and social person. Still, don’t go out getting a realtor for your mansion just yet. My point is, be realistic. Things will be great, you’ll have loads of fun and you will learn a lot. Things will also suck, you’ll be wondering what the heck you were thinking and you’ll second guess yourself to no end. Stick with it. We’ve all been there and we will all go through it again. If you are doing this for the right reasons – starting with your own creative instincts and drive, then you will go as far as you can push yourself.

Pretty zen like, eh? Or is that Yoda like? Or is that the same person/thing/creature?

Anyway, enough from me, I’ve got my own creative itch to scratch – although I’m hoping there’s a cream for that.

Good luck and if you haven’t started already, get drawing!

Ken Drab sporting the thin faced lookKen Drab (me) has a small brain but a savant-like interest in branding, marketing and design. He better, that’s what he gets paid to do in real life. In make believe – he’s a Comic Artist.

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Posted in Drawing, Featured News, Helpful Hints, Writing.

18 Comments

  1. Very nice article, Ken. Thanks for being part of a team that puts together great content about making webcomics. Your time is appreciated, and the results are read.

  2. This is a great article. Good refresher for someone who’s been doing this for a while, too. Or someone that’s made a comic but wants to start a new one.

  3. The best way to start a webcomic: start drawing. In other news, water is in fact wet.

    This is something that seems so obvious to someone like me, because I’m what you’d call a “go-getter” but from what I’ve observed, people need to be told this. A lot of folks who come up with story ideas are very cerebral and the bad news about that is that they spend more time thinking and less time doing. I tried working with a writer like this; he frustrated me off the project because he wouldn’t get anything done and I ended up doing half his job.

    Anyway, to be more specific on the “start drawing” thing, I also recommend preproduction sketches. What do your characters look like? What sort of world do they live in? What props would they interact with? This is exactly the process I took (and still take) with Valkyrie Squadron. Do stuff. Planned stuff. Establish stuff. But mostly do stuff.

    Good article.

    • I also recommend preproduction sketches. What do your characters look like? What sort of world do they live in? What props would they interact with? This is exactly the process I took (and still take) with Valkyrie Squadron. Do stuff. Planned stuff. Establish stuff. But mostly do stuff.

      Excellent point Jules – I should have added that. Thank you!!

  4. Great Article Ken. I find myself drawing a lot more and even drawing with my kids, which encourages me to draw even more. Coming up with a story has been a road block disaster for me. I’ve tried a few angles but each time I always find that I’m puttering out before I even get started. So I just keep drawing and one day I’m sure that story will come to me and stick with me and I’ll actually start to post a webcomic, but until then I continue to draw and improve my skills.

  5. I had some lengthy ramble planned out in response to this, but oh god I need to get this page done. Instead, I’ll leave it at this–totally agree with planning beforehand. Some people are so anxious to actually put comics up that they don’t do a lot of planning and end up trapping themselves in miles-deep plot-holes or making something mediocre that could have been great.

    I planned for almost a year before I was ready to launch my current comic, and I actually wish I had taken a bit more time to do so, even just for refining my designs–I’m doing that *now*, but I have to do it subtly so that it isn’t too much of a shock for readers.

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