I don’t need to remind you that I’ve been doing webcomics as a side gig – mainly for fun and practice, and also to share my stories with folks who dig my style and subject matter. This article is geared towards the average joe who is trying to get better at creating webcomics, and don’t really have aspirations of becoming the next biggest thing in comics online.
Have a seat, and let’s talk shop.
The Relaxed Approach
I’m going to assume that you’re one of those folks who aren’t in it for the glory or for the green. I think that’s absolutely fantastic that you’re excited to tell stories to the masses and looking for no reward or return – just knowing that you’re entertaining someone out there is good enough for you, right?
I wish that were true. Deep down, everyone has that little dream where your comic will get noticed by someone of importance in the industry, pass it along to their peers like it was a hidden gem, praise it, and then all of a sudden it would catch on like wildfire and spread virally to all corners of the Internet, where people come knocking down your door with cash in hand to buy your work, and you could quit your day job and retire at 30 and so on.
Keep dreaming. You could carve out a niche for yourself and be self-sustaining, but be realistic – it takes years of hard work and persistence to earn that type of notoriety and success. If you don’t have the time to put into it, maybe you should consider doing it for a different purpose – for yourself.
This is where the relaxed approach comes in. You take your time to craft a story that is well-written and lends itself well to being drawn in sequential format. You let it marinate for a while, then come back to it and rework and tweak the piece until it is just right – much like a stew.
Then you thumbnail your sketches and work it out in a dummy format to get the right flow. Perhaps you’re looking for a different way to display your visuals and create a style of storytelling – just like a director of a movie. You can tell the differences between Guy Ritchie, Christopher Nolan, Brian dePalma and Francis Ford Coppola because they sought different ways of presenting the subject matter on camera. You can do the same on paper – find out what your signature storytelling style is and put it to some creative visuals – but take the time to craft it. Genius is something that can’t be rushed.
Develop an art style that is comfortable and complements what you’re doing. Don’t try and force a cartoony style into a serious, dark story – the juxtaposition may not be right, and you risk discrediting all the hard work put into the storyline. Make all of these pieces work together – story, visual flow from event to event and then art style.
Notice that I left out a strict schedule? There’s no “write 5 scripts for the week, then do all of your pencils, followed by your inks, then colors and dialogue then post to your website, create a blog post” and OH MY GOD… so much stress….
Do it when it’s convenient for you, not when it’s forced. You’ll find when you’re relaxed, the best ideas are easy to manipulate into the stories you want to tell. Working under the gun over an extended period of time can lead to some half-assed work. We don’t need that. This is one advantage the hobbyist has over the creator that feels obliged to post on a set schedule.
Take your time and do it right. If you’re going to work on a schedule (because some people NEED schedules in order to feel productive) then try this:
- Conceptualize your story
- Write a rough outline
- Let it sit for a few days
- Come back to the outline and rework it
- Develop some characters
- Develop the world they inhabit
- Develop their backgrounds
- Visualize some of the scenes
- Thumbnail these scenes
- Take a break and come back to it (you may need this step to solve problems)
- Finalize your scripts and dialogue
- Assemble your scenes into a full story and adjust how they flow
- Begin the process of rendering your work
- Complete work
- Post your work
- Tell a few people (or a lot of people) about your work
It seems like a lot of work, but its a pretty laid back approach. No deadlines, no stress, just complete works to entertain and fulfil your creative desires.
Don’t Stray From the Path
It’s very easy to be tempted into making your work something that you can pump out on a regular basis in order to keep the masses satisfied and interested. This is good if you’re a cartoonist and can rip out a series of strips. If you feel inclined, the transition might be as harsh. But if you’re doing a longform, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of extra work and stress because you’ve put yourself on a strict deadline.
The point was to keep this light and easy – so get those thoughts of disappointing others and obligations to your fans out of your head. This may sound selfish, but the key to being a successful creator who does these things as a hobby and feels fulfilled creatively is to be selfish and block out all the responsibility that comes with providing content for the masses.
If there was a pecking order for distributing content when you’re a hobbyist, it goes like this:
I know this completely goes against what you’re taught if you are to be a successful cartoonist, illustrator, etc. But you’re not doing it for the fortune and fame, remember – you’re doing this as an expression of you and your abilities. That’s where you’re going to show the most pride, and learn the most from your peers. If you don’t want this to turn into a day job, and enjoy the freedom of creating without the shackles of financial need and consumer obligation, then take it easy and go at a comfortable pace.
You’ll see that it isn’t always about screaming the loudest to be heard. Sometimes all it takes is appeasing your inner voice. You’ll find a strong connection to your work if you’re a bit more selfish at times.
Stick your fingers in your ears so you can’t hear…
Now working as a hobbyist has its pitfalls – you set yourself up for people to coax you into providing more content with less time in order to appease their need to indulge in your work. Also, you’ll attract people who simply complain that your method of content delivery doesn’t fit well with their rate of consuming it.
Remember when I said, “Too Bad, TOUGH!” ? Well it applies here in a different context – It’s too bad for those other people, because you’re doing this with one goal in mind: to tell your story in your style on your terms. Whether it takes too long, the story is too short or the comic doesn’t look appealing is irrelevant. You are the only thing that matters when it comes to hobby styled comics.
This is a vanity project, and don’t let anyone else tell you what to do with it. You have to be consistent and learn to block out the criticism and the negativity and the desire to produce more than what you feel necessary because others need to have their cravings and desires fulfilled. You do it for you – so stick plug your ears, avoid the comments, reviews and emails, and get to work.
As a hobbyist, it’s really important that you realize WHY you’re doing it as much as HOW you’re doing it. In complete contrast to the folks looking to become successful, your need is only filled by doing what you want creatively, how you want to do it, and when you want to do it. By taking a relaxed approach, staying true to your goal of just you and blocking out all the surrounding noise until you’re able to move on and let your work stand on its own, you’ll lead a healthy and happy creative life as a hobby comic creator.
Who needs to be miserable fretting over Project Wonderful and merchandise sales when you’re happy producing killer content and have a social life? Think about that the next time you find yourself chained to your desk, and ask yourself if you’re really fulfilled. You may want to consider a hobby.
Andrés ‘ Drezz ‘ Rodriguez is the author of the neo-noir Online Graphic Novel El Cuervo. He provides WA readers with periodic articles (like this one) to help improve their comic skillz so they can pay their bills. Feel free to follow him on Twitter at @DrezzRodriguez