Getting Started – Schedules

So after last week’s column, I’ve decided I should put my money where my mouth is (All five cents of it, hah) and actually put up some advice that people starting up a new comic could use. I should make it clear that while I have been doing this for a few years, I am not in any way a professional. This is just coming off of observations, experiences and a few things others have told me that I find work.

To me, the most important thing is working out whether you could do a webcomic or not. Many creators start up, unaware of how much work is actually required to go into these projects, and soon give up because they can’t meet the schedule so why bother? So today we’ll be talking about an easy, initial test to see whether you can do the work or not.

Now I should point out that I am writing this column under the impression you have the comic in mind. You have the basic premise, characters and genre/tone all figured out. If you don’t, you should probably work that out because it’ll be less of a headache than if you’re planning to just make everything up as you go along. Also, I’m assuming you are both writer and artist. However these tips will also work for collaboration.

So first up, you need to know what writing style suits you. Before he starts drawing Questionable Content, Jeph Jacques writes up the script for the page. Randy Millholland actually has whole character arcs and story lines loosely planned so that he always knows what needs to happen. And then you have someone like David Willis who has everything worked out, but only in his head, including the comic’s script.

What you need to determine here is how much forward planning works for you. Are you someone who works better when things are vaguer and so you can shift and change the story if you have an idea you like better? Or do you prefer to have everything planned out so you don’t have to worry about not knowing what to do next? I personally work best with a bit of both, and have found my happy medium, but I can’t say that everyone will prefer it my way.

Secondly, we come to making the comic and when you can actually discover if you can meet the schedule or not. Step one in this part is setting a goal for yourself. Say, three updates a week. Now in order to know whether you’ll meet that goal, you need to actually create the comic, but not upload them. This section will not only teach you what your limits are, but also set up a nice buffer for you to work with.

And yes, I am aware of how many people say they don’t work with buffers. Unless you are doing a comic like Penny Arcade which is all about current trends in gaming and so need to keep up to date, you need to have a buffer. You never know when something will come up to prevent you from updating.

What you need to do is create as many comics as you can for two weeks. Don’t stick to the pre-planned schedule, just write and draw as many comics as you can in that time. Then, think about both weeks and figure out which was more like a normal week for you. The hours spent at work, spending time with friends and family, and any hobbies that cut into comic work. Now, count up how many pages/strips you made in that average week.

If you met the target, then you should be fine. If you made more than you predicted, well then you can decide whether you want to have more frequent updates, or stick to the original schedule and use the extra time to add more details and work to improve the strip.

On the other hand, if you made less than your goal, can you still get enough content out to keep readers invested? I find two full pages a week works, at least five panels in each. This allows enough time for the characters to develop at a reasonable pace. You could also move from full page to strips so you can do three/four panels an update three times a week.  If, however, you can’t manage that, then your comic will progress too slowly to keep readers invested unless it has a large archive or it’s just of exceptionally good quality. Otherwise, you have to work out how to update more frequently.

Is there something cutting into the time too much? When I was at my old job, there was a three hour round trip to and from work. However, because I took a train, I was able to get writing done. It could also be something as simple as you are still figuring out how to manage your time. In this case, I would suggest a day planner or something along those lines. You can work out which days you have more free time and use those to work on your comic, rather than trying to do the comic the day it’s supposed to come out.

Are you putting too much detail into the comics? In drawing, it’s not always about what you draw, but what you don’t draw that can make the difference. Sometimes cutting back on the line work or omitting a few things from the background can help. Do you really need to show a crowd of fifty or will just a few people give the right impression? Experiment with cutting corners and you can come up with a style that works for you and still makes a good comic. It’s the same with writing, some people try to include too much into too little time.

Or, did you find yourself putting off doing the comic because you weren’t that interested in it? I’m not talking about having to stop and take care of a kid or get some chores around the house done. And I don’t mean getting distracted while looking for a reference picture online. We all have lives and distractions are normal. No, I mean sitting down to create and then sitting there and doing nothing, not because of a block (Be covering that in a second) but because you couldn’t be bothered.

The problem I find a few creators have is they see a bunch of other comics getting all this money and fans and decide they want to get in on it, rather than for fun. A lot of publishers had to close down submissions because most of the time, the creators weren’t interested in making a comic, they were interested in the Hollywood movie deals. I’ve seen dozens of requests for artists talking about merchandising and movie deals without even bothering to talk about the comic itself. People, if I didn’t make it clear last week, I will say it again: Success does not happen overnight. If you want to make a comic, it needs to be because you enjoy doing it.

That is not always the case though, sometimes a person loves to do comics, but the one they’re working on isn’t working out. One time I had to work on a book that was all about the Nazis winning the Second World War. I had major trouble with it, mostly due to how boring and over done the idea was, with the rest of the reason being just how obvious it was the author had done no proper research into the subject. So maybe starting something else will work for you.

Unfortunately, everyone has a different situation so I can’t tell you everything you need to know. But hopefully this guide will help you onto the right track.

Posted on February 3, 2014, in webcomics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. That’s something that people don’t usually say when talking about buffers. Doing a buffer is not just a security measure for tight times. In the same way the buffer loading time of a streaming app is used for the software to figure out what rate it should use to maintain the smoothest playback, a buffer is the time you have to gauge how fast and frequently you can make a comic.

    By the time you’re done with the initial buffer, you have figured out a good frequency, you have probably figured out a process and you’re probably already in the rhythm. And then you don’t rely on the buffer. You should never rely on the buffer. On purpose, that is. The buffer is there to cover for downtime and allow a smooth recovery. Some people may complain that some comic genres that derive their plot from current news(hi almost ever gaming comic ever made) cannot afford to have a long buffer, but it’s frankly impossible that there are absolutely no non-time-sensitive jokes in your genre of choice!

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