Webcomics can be the easiest and most cost effective method of spreading your stories to a large audience. The benefits are quite extensive – you have extremely low costs for operation, you have instant publishing features and a broader reach for potential readers. Producing comics online can prove to be a very successful endeavor, which pays off in nice dividends once you have established yourself as an artist/writer with a catalog of work in your portfolio.
But you have to start from somewhere, right? Here are a few tips to get you started on how to make a webcomic.
Step One: Translate your ideas into a story, character, place or theme
You’ve come up with a great idea for a webcomic. Your first order of business should be to fire up your word processing software or grab a pen and a notepad and start jotting down al the scenes that are playing out in your head. It doesn’t matter if the scenes are out of sequence or brief flashes or if it is just an idea for some attire a character is wearing – make a note of it. If you spend too much time trying to establish the image and committing it to memory, you may lose the thought.
Once you have taken down the idea, you can arrange it into categories – scenes, characters, plot, theme. From there, you can mix and match components to create a bigger story or add depth to your current story idea. The most important thing to note is you MUST get it down on paper or in a file for reference.
Step Two: Organize your elements and add details
Now that you have established a setting, some characters and a rough story or theme, organize your material to fill in the blanks. You should have a main character (or characters), a main setting, and a main theme established. You can develop more as you go along – but to begin, you should have all of your details worked out for your main elements first before you move on to the next step to make a webcomic.
Step Three: Character Sketches
Before you jump into drawing your webcomic, you should familiarize yourself with your main character(s). Create numerous character sketches from all sorts of angles and actions. If you consistently draw your character numerous times, your character drawings will develop into repetitive action and you will draw your characters in the same consistent manner.
Many webcomic artists often struggle with a consistent look to their characters due to the lack of practice sketching and development of repetitive action. Of course, you can draw your figures and continue refining them, but the key is to make sure they are always consistent when drawn.
Step Four: Write a script
A number of artists tend to jump right into their pages/strips without having a clear idea of where their comic may be headed. This works fine if you are simply doing random webcomics here and there, but it is difficult to establish any continuity for the future. You should have a plan.
The easiest and most efficient method of developing a script is through the use of point form. You don’t need an elaborate movie style script to develop your webcomics, but it does help. If you’re a one-man show, you may want to stick to 15-20 brief point form notes for each page as your guide. If you are anxious to get into drawing your webcomics, make sure that point form plan is in place.
If you have more time, consider extending the details in your script, and include dialog, pacing, and various visual cues/effects. A detailed script will help the artist visualize and render the artwork for the story properly.
Another tip – try to hammer out a script for at least 20 pages worth of your story. Once you have that many pages established, you can make edits ahead of time, rather than writing one page, drawing one page then repeating the process and trying to make it flow. You spend more time figuring out problems than producing the webcomic. Plan ahead, and you can modify things if they do not work to your satisfaction.
Step Five: Render your pages.
Another pitfall most webcomic artists encounter is a lack of updates once their site is up and running. If you have already generated a script for a story arc, try and render as many pages as you can prior to launching your website. Once the site is live and operational, you will already give yourself a bit of a head start if some unforeseen circumstance appears and you are unable to do your regular update.
My suggestion is to render a complete issue (roughly 20 pages) prior to launching your site. If you plan on doing weekly updates, this gives you 20 weeks of leeway and ample opportunity for script and drawing refinements. By having your pages in a ready-to-go status, you will also create the illusion of being dedicated (which you are) and a prolific artist (which you will become!)
Step Six: Set up your website.
If you do not have a website or domain name, you should decide on creating a site that is easy to navigate and memorable for your readers. This step requires an yearly investment, but now that hosting packages and domain names are abundant, the prices are a mere fraction of what they were years ago.
For domain names, visit NameCheap: http://www.namecheap.com – You can obtain a domain name for less than $9 a year. With coupon codes, it could be even less.
For hosting, you can’t beat Host Gator: http://www.hostgator.com – Hosting packages start as low as $4.95 a month, and they offer great technical support and loads of features.
If you can afford a yearly investment of $70 to $100, you will have full control over your site and its development. There are a number of options you can pursue in building your site – WordPress allows for blog styled setups, or you could create a Flash-enhanced site, or a simple HTML setup. The possibilities are endless.
For those on a tighter budget, you can try free alternatives for webcomics hosting such as:
Some of these hosting services require memberships and linkbacks to the main site, and ad banners placed in prominent areas of your pages. The upside is the support you receive from other contributors, as well as some pre-made templates to get you up and running quickly.
Your site can also double as your portfolio!
Step Seven: Launch and Promote
Many artists worry about readers and statistics right off the bat. With any new website that appears, it takes time before the masses stumble upon it and pass it on to their friends. Therefore, it is very important during your quest to make a webcomic to continually update and provide new content to your readers. Over time the content you have produced will continue to draw in newer visitors passively.
In order to get readers interested in your site, you will need to do some active promotion. The easiest way is to make allies and friends within like-minded communities on the web. If you are producing a sci-fi webcomic, then target the fans of sci-fi webcomics. Seek out communities and online forums, and contribute in their discussions and be a part of their community – once they see that you have valuable input and commentary to add, you can ask for their feedback on your project and have them visit your site.
A large portion of startup traffic comes from the cultivation of relationships with groups. If you do not have the benefit of a group to get you started, you will have to do some work in order to gain the respect of your peers. Be engaged in your targets interests and discussions. Support their projects and in time, they will reciprocate. Comment on blogs, give positive encouragement, jump into discussions and make friends – its the equivalent of networking in the first person. This activity is absolutely vital to expanding your reader base when you are just starting out.
Once people come to your site and experience what you have to offer, their word of mouth advertising will work for you and offer huge returns.
The key is to be patient, and not rush headlong into it. Avoid the common mistakes when you’re learning how to make webcomics, and you will become successful and ‘internet famous.’ Popular webcomics such as Penny Arcade, the Order of the Stick, xkcd, Applegeeks and countless others all started with a handful of readers. As the years passed, and based on the creators involvement with their readers, the comics and the site grew in popularity and referrals. Some of the artists have been able to make an honest living through their site, as well as additional side projects related to the webcomic.
You too can achieve that success with some careful planning and passion. Don’t ever quit when you feel it is hopeless – it’s a labour of love that pays off with perseverance. During your journey to become a successful webcomic artist, always remember this phrase: Those who quit following their dreams will never know how close they came to success.