After all my talk about layout stuff in my last post, I realized I should probably post an update schedule myself!
I will probably post on average between 3-6 posts per week. Usually. I mean, that’s just my estimated average, not a guarantee. Probably not more than one per day, as well. When I have finals weeks or stuff like that, I suppose I really can’t promise a ton of consistency either, but hopefully that will be the exception and not the rule!
Right now I’m actually one and a half weeks in on a two week “vacation” out of state. I’m not sure if this has affected my posting at all.
Anyway, I’ll be back in the next couple days with two new reviews and another article on layout! Thanks for tuning in!
In my reviews, I’ve talked extensively about site layouts, practically as much or more than the comic itself. Maybe I should be focusing on the comic more, but layouts are pretty important you guys! But I understand that the comic should be the most important thing, and also, all layouts aspire to be the same thing: smooth, fast, presentable, clean. Sure, there are tons of different types of layouts out there, but they all have the same goals in mind. Contrast this to comics, which have any number of different goals, from “tell a story” to “make a gag” to “show some furries having sex”. Whether you’ve got a one panel gag comic or a five chapter wolf-on-wolf romance, you still want the layout to work nearly the same! So instead of wasting time on every review talking about this kind of thing, I’ll just write up some articles on the issue.
So what does a good layout need to have? (Note: I am only talking about the front page.)
- The webcomic’s title
- The update schedule
- A small menu of links
- The author’s blog or announcements
- Buttons and other navigation
- oh and THE COMIC
I read this comic called Movies With Robots! by Robert Sifuentez because the author linked me to it on a forum! I admit that I had looked at it prior to this and decided not to even read it, but after said linkage, I did for this review. It ended up being a pretty good read.
That suggests a problem. The product (the comic) is good, but something else is unappealing. It doesn’t take much effort to figure out what it is: the layout. Think of it like a product on the shelf on a store. A camera, for example. You’ve got Brand X cameras, which are shitty and fall apart after 12 pictures, and Brand Y cameras, which are extremely excellent. They cost the same and you have no prior knowledge of the brands, just that the two boxes are next to each other. The Brand X box is flashy and exciting and aesthetically pleasing with tons of positive comments and descriptions of features. The Brand Y box is completely plain without any real pictures or descriptions or extras or anything. Like I said, you have no prior knowledge of the quality of the product, you’re just comparing boxes. Which one do you choose?
Most people will probably be attracted to the exciting looking one. Boring layouts and bare minimums just do not fly on the internet (with the occasional notable exception, which only works for certain reasons). The fact that this is a non-narrative comic also boosts the need for extras. There’s no storyline for readers to get hooked onto, there will not be dramatic character changes or shocking revelations, so there is no suspense or anxiety to check back when it updates. This is why everything else has to be smooth and appealing, to not give the reader any barriers to coming back. Having a graphic title and then smaller buttons, or a sidebar, or something, to get the comic a little further up on the screen, would also be nice.
An explanatory page would also be extremely helpful. Why is Robert doing a photo comic? It’s probably either because he can’t draw or he just likes taking photos better, and the fact that it’s the same photos points to the “can’t draw” line of thought–not that there is anything wrong with this! But his motivation, explained, would be nice to hear. Since, as previously mentioned, none of the characters will likely undergo any development since it’s not that type of comic (nothing wrong with this either!), character bios would also be pretty nice. They’re kind of taboo in narratives because revealing information should be done in-story for them, but for this kind of comic, it is totally super. I’m not sure if we need the twitter and the facebook boxes on every page in the archive- the homepage and the about page is fine for that, but you want the archive pages to load as fast as possible (of course, the ad is acceptable, but that’s expected).
So I have a few problems with the layout and the lack of additional substance beyond the comic, yeah. I think even if it means skipping the comic for a couple days, making the site a nice thing to look at is a good idea. Newspaper cartoonists never have to worry about “webpages” and “layouts” in terms of their careers, they have a limited space and they fill it up with their comic and that’s all they have to do. The internet, however, is not a newspaper, and there are a million more things to concern yourself with that will break your otherwise quality comic if you don’t.
Onto the actual comic.
Hey guys! So I found a new webcomic that I really like the other day. Let me tell you all about it. It’s called The Next Adventure and it’s by Francesca Buchko, who incidentally apparently goes to college at a school about an hour away from my hometown, possibly alongside friends of mine who also go there. Cool! But that really has nothing to do with anything, sorry.
I am going to link you to it TWICE:
Once to the friendly page hosted on Comic Fury over here.
And once to the thing on Word/Comicpress over here.
Let me start off by saying I’m really not sure why she has two websites for the comic. The CF one is really nice and cute and besides a couple minor issues (no real front page, could use a better title image that links, better archive, customized buttons- I am being pretty nitpicky here), it is a really cool site to go on. The clear downside is that (as of this writing) it has 18 pages while the WP one is up to date with 54! That is too bad because the CF site is way nicer and cleaner and real and proper and stuff while the WP one is just like “oh yeah hey made some comics” and not very professional at all. I really hope she gets the CF site up to date all at once (or over a couple weeks maybe, like one a day until she’s caught up) and then scraps the WP site because it’s just not very good!
It does have a nice header image though, while that’s what the CF one lacks… hmm…
BUT anyway. The actual webcomic. TNA is really cool! The layout is consistent and extremely publishable, but that doesn’t mean that it gets stale! The framing is very good and creates a moving picture sense in your head, somewhat more like a movie storyboard. (This story could also probably be a pretty interesting movie, for that matter.) Her artistic skill progression from the first to the 54th is clear, but even still, the first pages are still really good. Looking through her blogs and stuff it’s clear she’s a great artist and even in the relatively simplistic style she uses for TNA, I’d say it shows through.
I didn’t mean to forget about this blog… I just kind of did. Sorry. Maybe I’ll try to restart it! There are some things I’d like to review and stuff. Yeah.
Well, I’ll try to see you again soon!
So you’re a big fan of webcomics, and you’re thinking about starting your own. Great! As Scott McCloud says, “there are no rules,” but here are 20 AMAZING TIPS that I’ve discovered and collected over the years that are sure to help any budding webcomic creator out of a bind or two.
1. IT’S THE INTERNET– it’s not like it’s professional or anything! Let’s face it, you’re publishing online because (and solely because) you couldn’t get published in any real and respectable medium, like the funny pages of a local newspaper. Don’t take yourself too seriously! Nobody else is going to anyway!
2. In the same vein, DON’T WORRY ABOUT QUALITY. Nobody expects good free things on the internet, and who are you to try and start a crazy, doomed-from-day-one tactic like that? It’s already well established that comics on the internet are fourth- or fifth-string players in a medium that’s really only for children anyway. Put out whatever quality work you can do in a short enough amount of time and the internet won’t mind one bit.
3. When choosing your art style, FEEL FREE TO COPY OTHERS. Do you really like what, let’s say, popular webcomic XKCD by Randall Munroe is doing? Why, there’s no reason you can’t do it too! Just doodle some stick figures on graph paper talking about love and computers and scan it in. Mr. Munroe, a smart man, knows that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and might even give you some of his money if you’re really lucky. But remember, you can copy ANYONE’s style. Everybody knows that nobody owns things on the internet anyway.
4. So you spent a good ten minutes on that first panel- wow! Now here comes the second panel and you have to start all over again. But wait! Since this is a digital medium, YOU CAN COPY AND PASTE ALL YOU WANT. It’s okay! People do it all the time, and who can blame them? Your readers, if they’re even smart enough to notice, will recognize that the valuable time you saved by using this handy shortcut probably served you for far better things! Just don’t forget to change at least some of the dialog!
5. Since you’ve got a comic, you’re automatically pretty hot shit, instantly in the leagues of Watterson and Eisner (don’t worry if you don’t know the names!). You probably keep a blog of rants about how the world keeps dragging you down, well, MAKE THE COMIC DEPENDENT ON THE BLOG! This will encourage readers to seek it out and read it! As an extra bonus, you can let the blog disappear after a few weeks and the comic won’t make as much sense by itself, which will encourage readers to check back every day just in case they miss something! Now that’s “drawing power” (pun intended!!)!
6. Speaking of blogs and drawing power, one thing you want to avoid at all costs is WARNING YOUR READERS OF DOWNTIME. If you’re going on vacation for two weeks, don’t make an announcement about it! Just stop updating those two weeks without a word and drop out of contact as much as you can. This will bring readers back for the first few days out of continual curiosity, giving you hits, and as an added bonus, will make you seem much more mysterious and cool in their eyes too. And when you start up again, they’ll be all the more glad to see you back! Triple yay!
7. You might have heard about the new fad in webcomics, known as RSS, which stands for “Random Subscription System.” RSS is a lot like the moon landing- celebrated, widely respected, but actually just a big hoax! DON’T USE RSS! Let’s face it, only hippies and dinosaurs actually use RSS, and it’s on its way out. Update your comic on your own terms and don’t let some soulless system take away all your rsspect.
8. Time to design a website. One of the most important things: DON’T HAVE THE COMIC ON THE FRONT PAGE. (And in fact, don’t make the link to the comic obvious at all!) This will elevate the suspense of the reader tenfold, as he tries to find where the link is! Throw in some red herrings in the form of graphics that say “New Comic: Click Here!” but don’t actually link anywhere! Your readers will go crazy for this added layer of interactivity!
9. Use a free comic host, such as DrunkDuck or SmackJeeves, and besides any changes I mention, STAY WITH THE DEFAULT LAYOUT THEY GIVE YOU AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. It’s default for a reason, people! People like it, it’s standard, it fits in the mold. You don’t want to stand out with something crazy that people aren’t used to and don’t understand! The default layouts are how webcomics SHOULD look and you should make yours look exactly like it as best you can.
10. Some other RANDOM WEB-DESIGN TIPS: Use a blaring, ugly background, so your reader’s eyes get diverted to and stay on the comic! If your comic is taller than the screen, only have the navigation buttons above it OR below it, but not both! Use an intentionally confusing drop-down archive system so readers will be forced to look at a bunch of your comics before they find the one they’re looking for! If you can, use complex, “page turn simulation” animation between pages to give the feel of a real book- don’t worry if it compresses your image a bit small or makes the page slow to load, the effect is SO WORTH IT!
11. I see a lot of comics with “About” pages for explanations, and I always shake my head and sigh. DON’T INCLUDE AN ABOUT PAGE. Your comic should speak for itself! If your comic needs some extra page of description, you’re doing something wrong. You don’t need an “About” page for Garfield, do you? Of course not!
12. Here’s a fun little trick I’ve found. After number 11, you may surprised that I say that “Cast” pages are a good thing! But here’s the thing… HAVE A CAST PAGE BUT DON’T UPDATE IT! Write “coming soon” under each character description and use the oldest art for them that you can find. Potential readers will be drawn in by the mystery of who these people may be and be extra motivated to read your comic to find out!
13. Now, I’m not going to give you tips on what to draw, since your story is your own thing. But if you’re looking for a winning premise, there are a few you can’t go wrong with. Try FOUR COLLEGE AGE KIDS WHO LIVE TOGETHER, or perhaps A GROUP OF FRIENDS WHO EAT PIZZA AND PLAY VIDEO GAMES. If you want to really amp it up, make the college age kids play video games! There are a lot of these out there and can be very successful. If you want to add a little spice to your own, though, try adding a TALKING ANIMAL!
14. You might be wondering about what font to use in the dialog, too. There are a bunch of great free fonts out there, but the thing is, you don’t need them. USE COMIC SANS. It has “comic” right in the name! This is what it’s meant for!
15. You might have heard that people make money off of webcomics, enough to make a living, and want to pursue that kind of thing yourself. No problem! With a webcomic, YOU ARE BASICALLY GUARANTEED TO MAKE MONEY, especially with the tips I’ve given you! Include a “Donations” link on your site, that’s all there is to it! Just put your comic up and sit back and watch it flow in. It’s like magic, and you will truly be amazed!
16. Another excellent way to make money is by selling advertising space on your website. On the internet, space is still limited, which means that space is money–so CRAM IN ALL THE ADS YOU CAN GET! X-rated ads pay especially well, and sometimes they’ll pay you extra if you let them use complicated scripts for crazy animations and videos! Don’t worry if it slows down the site a few fractions of a second, this money is WORTH it. Feel free to include pop-ups, too, especially in your archive! Your readers will understand that it’s vital to support your comics!
18. Here’s more of a warning about making money, that I see so many of my favorite comics doing anyway. Don’t make t-shirts! YOU ARE NOT A T-SHIRT SALESMAN, you are a wannabe cartoonist! If you start making t-shirts (or any product) off of your work, soon you’ll be making comics based specifically around the merchandise, and that’s when you’ve really sold out. Keep your integrity, in this case, it’s better than tainted funds.
19. Speaking of what you shouldn’t do, DON’T LINK TO/ACKNOWLEDGE OTHER WEBCOMICS! You are not advertising for them, at least not for free! Let them buy space on your site like everyone else, if they must. But remember, readers can only read so many comics on the internet. You don’t want to link them to one that they replace you with, do you? Of course not!
20. Finally, some closing words. DON’T TRY ANYTHING TOO CRAZY. There are times and places to experiment with new things, and let’s face it, the internet is not on that list. The internet is some serious business, not your personal playground for silly little comics experiments. Stick to what you know for webcomics, and don’t be afraid to stay with the good old basic black and white three panel gag a day format, just like in newspapers. It’s worked for them for over a hundred years, it can work for you too. Comics are meant to entertain, as well as make money for their creators, and it’s extremely important that you remember one thing: comics are not art. Pretend all you want, but that’s the happy fact that has kept us going so far. Don’t try and change it now!
Well, that’s about all I’ve got to say on webcomics, though maybe if I collect more tips I’ll have enough to make another one of these! I hope it really helped. Good luck on your endeavors, and remember to keep your day job!