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Question: what does a webcomic author need to know?
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jducoeur
Okay, here's one where I suspect that some of my friends have useful ideas.

Some of you know the_resa from her earlier career -- under the name Teri S. Wood, she was responsible for a bunch of great comics, particularly her long-running strip The Cartoonist in Amazing Heroes, and her epic science fiction story Wandering Star. Resa is dipping her toe back into the comics waters, starting with her biweekly webcomic Yet Untitled. (A humor strip about coping with life in Forks "Yes, really, we existed before Twilight came out", Washington.)

I'm trying to help her understand how modern webcomic-publishing works; we spent a bunch of time today talking through RSS, how it works and why you want it for your webcomic. But it occurred to me that my knowledge of webcomics is fairly shallow, and others here might know more. So I'm throwing the question out: what should an aspiring webcomic author -- specifically one who knows traditional comics quite well, but is new to the webcomics world -- learn about? What are the opportunities and challenges that she may not have thought about yet? Who should she meet and talk to, to learn more? (And does anyone have a good guide to the nuts and bolts of getting started with RSS?)

Resa's a friend, and I'd like to see her succeed in this -- frankly, giving her a way to get back into comics would be great. So I'd appreciate any and all tips and pointers here, and please spread the word if you know others who might have useful information...
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Here's what comes to mind immediately as the things which aren't quite right yet.

Aspect ratio.

A webcomic needs to be large enough to be clear, and small enough to fit on screens without scrolling -- or needs to be clearly designed for scrolling,
so that the reader doesn't have to move back and forth in order to "get it".

Contrast.

Everyone who is looking at a webcomic has a color screen. At a minimum, it shows about 240 colors pretty well, but it very likely can handle thousands or millions of colors easily. But there are only 16 to 256 pure greys available. The two pages I've seen before felt low-contrast. Pure black and white might be an improvement.

Timing.

2 weeks between updates? One page updates? I can't decide whether I'm interested based on the amount of material available, and I don't think I'm going to remember that this site exists in two weeks. I'm not going to add it to my RSS reader unless I really like it, and odds are I'll never get to that stage. It would be better to either keep quiet and build a storyline or archive of a few dozen pages, and then open it up, or else commit to pushing out a page every day for a few weeks.

(Deleted comment)
Yeah, this where a lot of webcomic authors decide to join forces in companies or coops. First that comes to mind: TopatoCo, http://topatoco.com/hey/apply

Yay! I can't help with any web comic questions, but it is good to see Resa's art again. I enjoyed Wandering Star and Darklight back when they were published.

Just wanted you to know that I'm reading and paying attention!

To expand a bit, for anyone who reads through the comments and finds this.

I'm not concerned at this point about generating income. So no worries there. For me, this is practice, to see how well I deal with a very loose deadline.

I know twice a month is not enough content in the long run -- but I figure it's getting me started. I haven't sat down regularly to do the work in a long, long time, and this is retraining the work ethic. I want to make sure I can do this before I expand outward. If I get far enough ahead, it'll go to every 10 days, then once a week, and so on.

The comment on the grays is daunting, and something I'm going to have to consider. I Love the grays, and my comic color work ... icky. I may have to think hard on this.

And THANK YOU, I deeply appreciate all of your help and advice!

Hi Teri!

For myself, and from what I've seen on the 'net, the most important thing is keeping a regular schedule of updates. Twice a month is fine, as long as there is never a break without:

a) Filler - write a couple ahead and store them for later emergency use. Pull out some sketches from Darklight.
b) Guests - Neil has to owe you a few for the early Sandman plugs .
c) Explanation - If you need a break, just post that you need a break, and when you expect to come back.

There's nothing that kills a web comic faster than constantly visiting the site and seeing no change when you expected one. It's why I love Megatokyo, but only read it once every six months, and why I just can't get to the end of 10k Commotion (it stopped for almost a year about 1 story arc from the end).

Note, it's also what Phil and Kaja Foglio got _right_ on Girl Genius...Phil was notorious for the long waits between updates on his print comics. They stuck to a schedule for Girl Genius, updated precisely at midnight every M-W-F, and I think that's a part of their success. Also, Kaja probably has a large mallet or a comic in reserve (don't feel like drawing? Then I publish...this!)


Yes, this! This is the basic philosophy in which I'm currently running YU. Keep the deadline. Keep ahead of schedule. And only increase frequency when you can keep your buffer going too.

I just finished #11, and I have only #2 up. In my mind, I'd like to be ideally 6 months ahead of schedule always. And honestly, I'd like to be a year ahead.

oh...don't tell us that! Then we'll just want them now .

Heheheh. If it helps, it's painful not to show them too.

Re: Just wanted you to know that I'm reading and paying attention!

The comment on the grays is daunting

I'm afraid I have to second that comment. Maybe it's my bad eyes, but the grayscale just looks muddy to me. I suspect this is a difference from printed comics: if I'm reading a comic book, I'm prepared to take a little more time to focus in on its look, because I'm going to read the whole book. If I'm reading a single page of a webcomic, I want to be able to parse it quickly, enjoy it, and move on.

The aspect ratio is another big problem. I just looked at your two pages, and I had to put Firefox into full-screen mode to fit the whole page on my monitor. (20" screen, 2048x1536.) That's a pain. On my handheld, which is where I usually read comics, it'd be just about impossible (4" screen, 800x480). I make the effort for Girl Genius, but I'd been reading Girl Genius for years before it went online; I was already sold. Starting out online, you need to give a lower barrier to entry.

One small point: your navigation arrows should conform to the webcomic pattern: First, Previous, Next, Latest, in that order. First is essential; getting new readers depends heavily on making it easy for them to browse the archive and get hooked. If they have to go back one strip at a time to find the beginning, you'll lose them.


Re: Just wanted you to know that I'm reading and paying attention!

Huh -- the arrows. I'll make sure to add that in with the 3rd installment. Good point, and one I had forgotten.

Still pondering the gray thing, as I personally love the gray shading. But perhaps there is a way to clean that up some. Hm.

The page layout is also something I need to consider. I'd been wondering about creating a alternative set of web pages stripped of their css for other devices. That might be a solution, as they are still quite readable, nice enough to look at, if plain. Any opinions on that?

Re: Just wanted you to know that I'm reading and paying attention!

The best thing a webcomic can do in terms of navigation is to be physically consistent. That means that when a reader hits the Next button, she shouldn't have to move the mouse at all to hit the new Next button.

Re: Just wanted you to know that I'm reading and paying attention!

Sounds good to me!

Re: Just wanted you to know that I'm reading and paying attention!

The cleaner pages would certainly be a help. I'd still be coping with the fact that the image would be twice as tall as my screen.

My device isn't very common, but consider iPhone users (3.5" screen, 480x320). I just resized bigfoot2.jpg to be the same physical size on my screen as it would be on an iPhone, read in landscape. In landscape, it's readable, but it's nearly three times as tall as the screen. In portrait, it's only about twice as tall, but it's too small to read.

I know it must suck to have people pointing out UI problems that would require reworking your artistic design; I just think you should know about the problems, so you can decide. I've given up on some webcomics because of poor UI. I remember one in particular, which had won an award for "best use of infinite canvas"—which turned out to mean putting the comic into an iframe so the user had to scroll horizontally. Worse, the iframe itself was wider than my screen, so I had to scroll the page horizontally, too. I never went back.

Re: Just wanted you to know that I'm reading and paying attention!

We live in a world of way too many devices. (shakes head) And that may be one problem that's almost impossible to solve. I'd actually love a bigger layout myself, but then it'd be impossible to work within the framework of most smaller devices. Gah.

Still, I appreciate the heads up.

I also hate scrolling. And if it's more than one direction, I'm so gone. I can deal with one, but I don't want to have to go back and forth.

Sighs.

Input from the Webmonster for Saijiki Stories ...

The nuts and bolts side of things is fairly uncomplicated these days. While I rolled my own code* for Saijiki Stories, you don't have to these days. The easiest choice is WordPress, using the ComicPress plug-in to start. Because WordPress already has RSS support, you don't have to worry about that at all. (Some webhosting companies have easy installs for WordPress; we use DreamHost, and I'm using WordPress for my blog.)

The hard part about webcomics is attracting an audience. Readers who've been on the 'net a long time have already chosen their webcomics, and the only reliable way you're going to reach them is to have an existing webcomic artist write a glowing review of your comic. The brand-new readers -- the ones with a lot of time to hunt for webcomics, and the time to read them obsessively -- are generally around college-age, so writing a comic that appeals to them is a plus.

So your choices for gaining an audience are really either (a) deliberately tailoring your product for young adult tastes; or (b) going to the right conventions to get in on the webcomics clique. Unless your own tastes lean towards (a), I wouldn't recommend it -- you want to have fun drawing your strip, which makes reliability easier. As for (b) -- I hope you're on the East Coast, because the big network of webcomics conventions is there (leading off with Connecticon). If you're on the West Coast, there's nothing -- ComicCon swallows everything else up (except for a few anime conventions), and it's too big to make an impact at.

I can't stress the "have fun" part enough -- do this because you want to, not because you expect to make money at it.

*I'd offer to shoot you a copy of the PHP code I wrote, but it's not independent of my display-and-archiving code. I'm not sure it would do you any good. If you want to learn RSS on your own, I'd start here.

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