Well “Bean” has officially hit the 4 year mark (568 pages, 3 graphic novels, and working on the 4th). I am pretty pleased with how it has evolved and the direction it continues to go in. Has it been easy? Honestly… Yes and No. Over the last two years of figuring out how to make this webcomic work, I have found a wide variety of things that have worked and some that do not, and still others that I am just trying to figure out.
I figured though that it was time to chat a little bit about it and hopefully add a little encouragement to those that are just contemplating starting out and/or are in the beginning stages.
1. Realizing it’s more than a hobby- Many webcomic artist start their projects for a variety of reasons. Most of the time, it is looked at as a hobby and then treated as such. This usually results in boredom after a few years or even a few months and the idea forgotten. Lack of deadlines and general lack of commitment can kill a webcomic pretty quick. There is huge potential for webcomics out there it’s just what are the creators willing to put into it. With the era of newspaper comics coming to a end, and yes it is ending, the value of webcomics will increase in a few years. Those that take the opportunity seriously will do very well, those that cannot commit will struggle and make excuses, that simple.
2. Keep your schedule- The worst thing that can happen to me in the world of webcomics, is to come across a fantastic comic with a strong story and art, and that it is on hiatus. This kills me, I know that I am not alone here. It also shows poor planning by the creator. I believe creators need time off, I take time off all the time, yet my readers will never know it, and this why….
the Buffer- Newspapers require 6 weeks of backlog. Even before they start pushing it, the artist must have a reserve for them to draw from. There is wisdom in this. 6 weeks of updates gives you cushion, it allows you to take breaks over the holidays, it allows for problems. I recommend you keep this reserve stocked. I have enough bean strips to last to 5 months at 3x a week updating schedule. If building the reserve means, holding off on launching the comic, then it is well worth the wait.
auto updates- I use easil for my comic platform. It allows me to automate my updating on the comic. I usually update 30 to 40 strips at a time in an afternoon. I love it. This allows me to take time off, without affecting the updating schedule for my fans. I recommend it. It comes back to your initial promise to them, that you would update on these dates regardless…once you start missing, your audience starts to falter. Not a lot, but over time it can be an issue and your rep can suffer.
3.Committing – this one is personal. I do not know how many artist tell me they just do not have the time. That usually means only one thing, you really don’t have the heart to do this. That’s a harsh statement, yet it is true. If you want it bad enough – show us… put the effort in. I have 5 kids, a good wife, a great art career that does not involve bean, and still I make time to make my story happen. It comes down to a few things-
Finding time- If you look at your day, you might wonder how do I find the time to create a great story. It really can be a unique balance and sometimes, there is a lot going on. Yet how much of that time is spent socializing, game playing and tv watching. There is a place for that, yet if you want to do a webcomic, you need to limit it. You will realize that time is there. Stay up a little later, draw during lunch in your car, or at the dr.office. Make the time and you will be surprised how much you can get done.
4. Positive influences- Webcomics get flack, sometimes even telling someone you draw a webcomic, will get you a raised eyebrow of skepticism, due to the amount a low quality work out there. Yet, as more and more pros start to realize the incredible potential of webcomics to market their work, the stigma that the web is a place for 2nd rate illustrators who couldn’t make it in the real world is fading and beginning to fade rather quickly. There are some incredible webcomics out there, by a generation of incredible artist who get it. They are committed, they put the time in and they are open to helping one another out. They understand. You might not get the support at home or from your friends and peers, but there are places where you will get support- you just got to show up and ask. Don’t be pushy and be willing to give as you receive. The worst thing is for an artist to just take and take and never be willing to help another. A incredible forum is makinggrahicnovels.com. They have everything there, from design to cons. They get it and are willing to help out.
5. Getting Traffic- This one is unique. You have to find those that will be interested in your work.
the Audience- You need to know your audience, learn them and cater to them. If your story is all ages, then keep the art to all ages and the comments appropriately. If people expect one thing and end up getting something else, they leave. Your art should match. Promoting a kids comic, and then plastering semi-naked cheese cake in your gallery, will prob slow your traffic way down. That’s because you don’t understand your audience.
tracking software- I prefer google analytics, but there are other programs out there. It allows me to see where traffic is coming from, how many unique hits, what pages are viewed and sooooo much more. There is power in this information, that will allow you to better build your site and make your comic more productive.
Top web sites- I have mixed feelings. I am not a fan of ranks based on traffic- That’s not important to me. I have a link, you can vote, but you want people to stay on your site and most of these links take people away from comic. So I have scaled the voting aspect way back. Yet these sites have huge advertising potential. Topwebcomics has a fantastic advertising system for webcomics. It’s low costs and it is effective. Sometimes if you want to grow you need to be willing to spend a little.
Power of invitation- Some of the best advertising comes from fellow creators or fans, be willing to reward them- more art, link exchanges even a review of their work. If people like your work, your story and your continuity they will promote you, but you have to be committed and if you miss updates and such, they talk.
There are many more ways to bring people to your worlds, these are just some aspects of it.
6. Good Art, Good Story, Good Presentation– Learn your craft- Learn from other successful webcomic designers and see what works. You gonna have a few trials along the way but roam a bit and find layouts you like and then adapt them. One thing I am working with is fixing the Art section and archives of my site. That is an area I have struggled with and now I think I have figured out how to fix the art section, I feel better about the direction of what is going on. This takes a little learning and it is trial and error, but there are many who have figured it out and you can learn from them. Using the layout of a successful site is fine, the building blocks, taking the art design is not cool SO DON’T DO IT!
Don’t be afraid to break the formula. There are a lot of how too books out there, with good information. Yet, every comic, and every dream is different. A lot of these books come from a print aspect of comic creation. The web opens doors for so much in design and layout.
7. Why constant updates are better than one-shot web graphic novels. The serial comic, which can be produced into a graphic novel later, allows the reader to keep coming back. The Web-Book Graphic novel, where the whole thing is put up at once, is old school print mentality. One book, one month etc. You want people to continue to visit your site. You want them to keep coming back. If you update a page or two or three a week, then they have a reason to come back. Fans become comfortable with you. A web-graphic novel kinda limits interaction and when on a monthly or bi-monthly updating schedule… it is easy to be forgotten. Your are always struggling. If you want your traffic to grow, give them a reason to stay, to hang out, to enjoy your creation, which in turn motivates you to continue.
A serial can always be converted to a graphic novel at a later date. These make for better reading in my opinion and is one reason why I chose to bean as a serial epic than a monthly graphic novel.
8. Failure is not bad – Failure happens. You can do two things – Quit or use it as a building block. I prefer the later. Bean went through 4 different variations before I finally found success. It was tough, tears were shed, and I wanted to quit. Yet there was a drive deep inside that would not let me. It was my baby, my dream and so I figured out a way. Be willing to adapt and make changes, just because traffic is low or no one comments, does not mean it’s time to throw in the towel. It means that it’s time to reevaluate and figure out how to fix it make it better. The cool thing about bean is I found way, it took 12 years to do it, but I found away.
The main thing is keep going, don’t tell me you want it show me, and pick yourself up when you fall. Because if you want it bad enough you will make it happen.
I know we talked about a different aspect of webcomics than the art part. Yet this is an extremely important part of the webcomic and making it successful. This is what I have found that works for me. Every situation is different, yet there is a key theme–– Show me you want it, don’t just tell me.
Well I have talked your ear off. I hope to see more creative storytelling there. Everyday I find something knew and I am encouraged by that. So if you thinking about joining the fun, then prep yourself to do it right and you will just fine.
Keep creating and let the magic flow.