On Campus

It’s a wonderful time to be a cartoonist. Web comics allow us to get our work in front of an audience. Cartoonists of the past had to go through newspapers or traditional publishers, which was difficult to achieve and might force you to make artistic compromises.

As wonderful as it is to publish comics with the click of a button, however, it can also feel overwhelming to put your work on the internet. I would know; I recently started On Campus, the web comic I’d dreamed of making for a decade but was somehow always too scared to start.

I’m glad I got started, and I want to help other aspiring cartoonists have the confidence to do the same. I’ve created a series of questions to help you, the Hopeful Future Famous Web Comics Creator, get a handle on just how to begin your series.

Ask yourself the following questions…

What Am I Waiting For?

I waited years to start On Campus. I feared wasn’t good enough or a “legitimate” artist. This is actually nonsense. Most popular web comics begin with a homemade web site, no built-in readership, and one passionate artist cranking out pages in their spare time.

If you feel inadequate to the task, I encourage you to kick that attitude to the curb, do a little web comic research, and just go for it!

What Do I Need?

Practical items for running a web comic:

Idea: Do you want to do stand-alone jokes or a story format? What genre of story? Whatever you choose, make sure you love the idea enough to invest plenty of time in it.

Scanner: Many artists recommend scanning between 600 and 1200 dpi. Most desktop scanners don’t fit pages much bigger than computer paper, so I shelled out the big bucks for a nice flatbed scanner (do your research and compare prices). Some people scan large pages at Kinko’s or similar stores. Some use a scanner at work, at school, or at a friend’s house—just make sure the scanner’s owner is okay with your regular usage.

Beta Reader: Just like novelists need editors, comic writers need a second set of eyes on the script before the drawing begins. Are the jokes funny? Does the story make sense? You might think so, but if a trusted writer friend spots a problem, you’ll be glad you asked.

Web Site: WordPress offers a few themes specifically for comics (I use Inkblot). Alternately, you may have a friend who would design a site for you. Check out other web comics to see how they organize their pages.

What Are My Tools?

What kind of art supplies should you use to make the actual pages? Well, it’s complicated.

Most artists use some form of Bristol board paper, pencils for sketching, a ruler, and some brand of art pen for inking. Beyond that, literally everything is up for grabs.

What brand of art pen? Felt tip, or brush-and-ink? Should you use digital tools for shading and coloring? If not, should you color and shade using markers? Watercolors? Your little cousin’s crayons? The answer to these questions depends on the artist.

I suggest you try various tools and get really honest with yourself about what feels best. You may love the look of images colored in Photoshop, but if you hate the coloring process, will you even enjoy making it? That expensive art pen set looked nice in the store, but you’ve used the ballpoint and Sharpie much more often. Just remember, you are about to marry your design process and spend entire evenings with it.

If you want some guidance from a ridiculously low-tech artist: I use a tabletop art board, Deleter manga paper, regular pencil, a Pentel pocket brush for inking, Micron art pens for details, and Sharpies for coloring in. I do the lettering digitally because my handwriting does not look human, and I downloaded a font called “Back Issues” that’s free to indie comic artists.

What Is My Style?

Draw inspiration from favorite artists, but don’t fixate on making your work look just like theirs.

As a kid, I wanted to draw like Bill Watterson, creator of “Calvin & Hobbes.” In college I dreamed of making manga. My own drawing skills continually disappointed me.

Yet within a week of starting On Campus, I received several compliments on my drawing. A lifelong friend said she would recognize my style anywhere.

Practice drawing enough and your style will find you. Don’t force your hand to draw someone else’s picture.

What Now?

So you have your idea and your tools and your site. What next?

Read other web comics, comment on them, and interact with their creators on social media. You need networking and examples to learn from, not to mention friends to exchange links with.

Research how to market your comic online. Google has endless resources on that.

Make a “buffer zone” of completed pages before you start posting. I can’t stress this enough. You need at least several, if not a great many, pages for the future already prepared to post, because you will have days and weeks where you can’t work. You’ll get sick, or a forgotten deadline will come up at school, or a friend will need an emergency ride two hours away on your free Saturday.

However much buffer you think you need, double it. You’re welcome.

I hope this helps you, Hopeful Future Famous Web Comics Creator, to believe that you, too, can do this fabulous web comic thing! You won’t find overnight success (none of us do), but if you stick to it, there’s no telling how far your comic could go. At the very least, you’ll know that you shared your artistic creations with the world in a way that generations of artists before you weren’t able to, and that is an amazing gift.