Web Publishing a Comic – Some Thoughts

This article focuses on some general thoughts about publishing a comic on the web. I plan to add to it over time by posting additional thoughts in future linked articles.

I laughed at a recent comment from a friend about the short attention span of most readers. That is never truer than on the Internet. You have to constantly work on eliminating anything that can possibly get in the way of communicating quickly. It’s a constant battle. Readers are hard to attract and they can be gone in a “click”. I regularly have to remind myself that visual is the fastest method of communicating, and speed and clarity is paramount. You have to boil it down as clearly as possible, being as concise as possible. Repetition is important and useful but also it is your enemy. There is a fine balance between using repetition for reinforcement and repetition that causes reader’s eyes to glaze over causing them to get bored and “click off”.

Using the Internet as a publication medium is a real challenge. It is very different from print media. I have spent a lot of time studying classical comic strips and one of the first differences I noticed between the newspaper world and the Internet world is the instant access a reader has to the cartoon archives. In the newspaper, you read a comic and if you want to refer back to a previous comic it is very difficult and time consuming. On a web comic it’s a “click” or two at most. So the web cartoonist has to have the confidence that new readers or even existing readers will scan the archives to refresh their recollections of what came before. I even go a step further and “tag” every comic post with key terms so that a reader can just click on a “tag” and get an archive page with visual links to every comic tied to that “tag” in chronological order. A couple of important lessons learned are (1) recaps and repetition should be minimal because interested readers can and will backtrack to update and refresh their knowledge of the strip and (2) archives are not an afterthought but an integrally important feature of  web comic publication. Easy location of material and easy archive navigation should be critical aspects of your publication strategy.

Rachel’s Booth at Anime Weekend Atlanta

Last week, I attended an Anime convention with my daughter to help her promote her own web comic Last Res0rt. It was the third time I have gone to a convention to help her. Each time, I learn new ways to communicate and improve on the results. It also reminds me of the nature of the attention span of an audience. When talking with people at a convention, you can just watch their eyes to see what’s going through their mind as you try to communicate. You have no way to get that kind of visual reinforcement with web comic visitors, but you do get some interesting and revealing statistics. I track trends like number of repeat visits, frequency of visits, time on site per visit, number of pages (comic strips) viewed per visit etc. It becomes a statistical way to follow the reader’s eyes. For example, most visitors to a comic site will not only look at and read the current comic; they also will click back to previous comics. So this reinforces the confidence that repetition in the individual strips can be held to a minimum and the reader will supply their own level of needed repetition. Reader comments are also strong sources of feedback. It isn’t so much what they say in their comment as it is the focus of the comment. There are some people who want to add to the humor with their own take on the subject, others want to comment on the layout or the style of the art and others want to discuss or amend the actual content. Listening to your audience is super important because it can tell you a great deal about what they are receiving and not just what you think they are getting from your work.

Renato Taking a Dive
Renato Takes a Pratfall

I am a big fan of action based visual humor. So I am trying to find a way to balance the word play and the visuals in my strips. I am constantly trying to improve my comic, so I have been doing a lot of thinking about it. I’m actually trying to do three things at the same time in Bug Pudding. First and foremost I’m trying to entertain my readers. So that is the role of the humor both verbal and visual. Second, I’m trying to be satirical, to provoke some level of thought by the reader. That is the role of the situations and interactions between the characters. And thirdly, I’m trying to tell stories. And that becomes the role of plot lines and casts of characters. So far I don’t feel I’m being totally successful on all these fronts. The satire is certainly there. And there is humor too. The story telling is not really crisp yet. I just have to keep looking for the right combination of elements and I’ve set very high standards for myself.

A Rare Shot of Me Not Drawing or Talking

I have been pleased with reader responses to my art work and to the artistic production values of the strip. That is both personally rewarding and important to attracting and retaining readers. Personally, nothing turns me off to a comic faster than ugly artwork. I find it almost impossible to focus on reading a comic if the drawings repel me. So the fact that I am getting  good reviews for my art, unsolicited from readers, is a big plus. Now I have to really focus on improving the content itself.

Just some basic thoughts, I’ll be writing more on this topic later.

Using Digitally Painted Backgrounds and Props

Animators normally think of characters, props, and backgrounds as separate elements. These distinctions are less formal in a sequential comic. But none the less, in the age of digital production, it is possible to composite comic strip panels similarly to the way we composite shots in an animated movie.  To apply this approach in my own comic, Bug Pudding, I have tried to do some of my props and backgrounds independently of the character drawings and then to composite my panels digitally. Here is an example of some background art which was created in SketchBook Pro and saved as a PNG with a transparent background then later placed into the actual strip in Photoshop.

Because the original painting was created in many individual layers, I am also able to extract and use just some of the picture elements from this painting, as seen below in this snippet from a Bug Pudding strip.

Even props like this old fashioned wash tub can be created as a digital painting and then merged with the characters in a finished strip panel.

Using Model Sheets

Model sheets are important not just for animation projects but for comic strips too. Even if you aren’t working with a team of artists, it is very useful to capture, for reference purposes, the way that a character looks. Of course, characters evolve and change the more that you draw them, but with the help of a model sheet you can keep them reasonably consistent. Unlike in animation, a comic strip character may not be drawn as frequently, sometimes weeks or months pass between appearances, so having a model sheet for quick reference is a great asset. This is one of my Bentley model sheets from my web comic Bug Pudding.

The Name Game

Coming up with a concept for a comic strip is an interesting process and I’ll be discussing some of that here on the Bristol Board and Ink blog. Today’s post is intended to give you some insight into the naming process for a comic. It certainly is not a formula or a science, but rather just an exercise in brainstorming. I had input from several cartoonist friends who were kind enough to allow me to bounce ideas around with them and provided me with thoughts of their own.

In my mind, potential titles for my comic had to meet several important benchmarks to be in the running for consideration. Not the least of which was that the URL for the domain had to be available. My criteria for candidates were, and not necessarily in this order, the name had to fit the concept of the strip, the URL had to be available.( It should show early in an alphabetical list of comics: meaning it needed to start with a letter like a, b, or c. It helps in web comic lists if your comic name isn’t buried in the pack too deeply.) It had to be easy to remember and really easy to spell. (you want someone who hears the name or sees the name to be able to type it into Google or their browser easily).

In my case, the comic concept was about life in a community of critters, bugs and plants and their interactions and experiences. So here is the list of potential candidate names which finally got me to BugPudding.

boroughofbugville

bugcritters

bugsandcritters

bugdumplins

bugberrypie

bugnoodles

bugpudding  **

bugcreampie

bugcritters

bugchuckles

bugtitters

crawlspacecounty

crawlspacemanor

crawlspaceborough(burrow)

crawlspacevalley

crawlspacemountain

crawlspacealley

crawlspacevillage

crawlspacecity,

crawlingcreek

crawlingcritters

crawlspacecomic

crawlspace

crawlspacecartoon

crawlspacetoons

crawlspacecritters

crawlspacecomic

crawlspacecounty

crawlspacecritters

crawlspacemanor

crawlspacemotel

crawlerscreek

crawlersmarsh

crawlersfarm

crawlersranch

crunchygreenfolks

crunchygreenlaughter

crudmound

crittertitters

inthecrawlspace

groundcrawlers

mudmound

slimetrails

turtleshellmanor

Comic Strip Character Sketching

As part of the layout process for my comic strip, Bug Pudding, I make character pose sketches. I work both traditionally with pencil and paper as well as digitally using SketchBook Pro, Illustrator, and Photoshop. (more on the process steps in future posts). Here are some recent sketches for the strip. These were drawn on paper and scanned into the computer. I typically rough sketch in non-photo blue and clean up using a darker color either blue, green or red. Additional clean up and adjustments are made during the inking phase in Illustrator.

A sketch of Clive, a swamp bird.

A sketch of Monroe, a turtle.
A sketch of Renato, a lizard.

A sketch of Slippery, a frog.

Deadlines and Commitments

This is my first post on this new blog. If you are currently doing a web comic or thinking that you might want to do a web comic, then you should find this blog interesting. I started out over a year ago with the idea that I wanted to create a comic strip for publication on the Internet. It took me a long time to make that happen. I’ll use this blog space to chronicle my experiences and hopefully you can learn from them and benefit. And it will also provide a place to exchange thoughts and ideas on the subject too. The most important thing that anyone planning to start a comic needs to realize, no matter what form or style, is that it is a significant commitment. If you are going to publish your work and attract and retain readers you have to produce your comic on a recognized regular schedule. And that means deadlines and commitments become a way of life.