Monday, August 14, 2017

Guest Post: Sskessa and Comic Process

The process of making a long comic can be daunting. Words entered into a text editor, however long it took to think up those words, are easily changed as soon as the writer has a better idea. However, a single comic page represents hours or even days of work. What can it mean to edit the “first draft” of a comic, except to simply draw a whole comic and then re-draw it? I've been trying to solve this problem ever since I first started drawing comics ten years ago. Over 700 pages of comics later, I've come up with a process I'm satisfied with, and happy to share it with you.

The basic process:


Rough draft:
-Brainstorming/Notes
-Script/Concept sketches
-Rough sketch

Final Draft:
-Pencil/Ink/Color
-Final edits

I'll be using my current comic, Alethia, and in particular chapter 5, as an example.

My personal method is designed to maximize two things: flexibility and efficiency. The first three steps, brainstorming, script-writing, and rough-sketching are in loose chronological order. In practice, I cycle between these steps until I feel the story is really solid. Only then do I start penciling.

Brainstorming/notes:

This is the part of the process where ideas spontaneously occur to you, the “inspiration” part of the process.

All the raw material for the story usually comes from this stage, so it is a necessary, unavoidable part of the process, but how do you schedule it? Can you simply decide to be inspired? Though delicate, inspiration is not mystical or supernatural. There are things you can do to increase the probability that you will be inspired.

-keep a notebook and write down any ideas that occur to you whenever they occur.
-if you are working on a project but find yourself distracted by thoughts about another, consider putting aside the current project for a while and pay attention to the distracting thoughts. If something is exciting enough to be distracting, it might make a compelling story.
-go for walks to nowhere while listening to music
-think about your story ideas right before going to sleep/right after waking up. This is a fertile time for weird, new ideas.

(It wasn't until 2017 that this idea seemed to have potential. Glad I wrote it down)

Very important: Read new types of books that you'd never read before, go out of your way to talk to new and different people, visit new places (in your neighborhood, your city, or abroad; it's all good). You won't have new ideas if you don't experience new things.

Script:

The goal of this stage is to organize the main ideas.

At this stage I work out:
-the characters
-emotional arc of the story,
-main scenes and where they take place
-how does it end (my stories usually go through 3 or 4 ending changes before you see them)
-what does the whole thing mean?
-some dialog, but not much.

I don't worry about what picture goes on what page or how panels are arranged. Most of the details, unless they are the crux of the story, will come later. I usually work with both text and drawing at this stage: write the script, then draw character and setting concepts, then adjust the script based on new ideas from those sketches.


Because I'm the one who will draw the comic, the script style is not important. It tends to be very dry and resemble stage directions most of the time.

After I finish writing the first draft of the script, I solicit feedback, then write the second draft in the same text document, right under the first draft. Repeat until satisfied. Once satisfied, I write a brief summary of the whole story and then proceed to rough sketching.

Rough Sketch

The most difficult stage. The goal is to get all of the important information on paper, without any details

At this stage I work out:
-setting
-panel layout
-pacing
-flow
-camera angles
-staging
-more dialog

This is a lot to worry about, so thank god I already know who the characters are and what the main actions of the story will be from the previous stage.

This is the real “first draft” of the comic. I rough sketch the entire story or chapter, so usually 30-70 pages. These aren't thumbnails, just really ugly sketches in the same exact photoshop document that I will use for the final page. Zero effort is put into making it look good; save that for later. Some .psd files contain 4 or 5 rough sketches, on different layers, of the same comic page but laid out differently. Looking at the different options helps me choose the best one.




I draw the whole comic like so and then read over it multiple times, making adjustments each time. Because I didn't commit much effort to drawing these pages, it's easy to change or discard them. Last year I wrote an entire chapter of Alethia that was 80 pages of rough sketch, but I ended up rejecting it. Much less tragic than drawing 80 colored pages and deciding I don't like them.

Adobe Bridge becomes a crucial tool now. I use it to read over the current story before I start working each day, and also to reference settings and characters across the story without having to open each page in photoshop. Back when I worked with ink and paper, I used to tape the entire current chapter to my studio wall.

During this stage I solicit more feedback. Dialog is adjusted, but remains loose and open to change.


Pencil


Now the process starts to resemble the process of creating any other type of illustration. At this stage I:
-finalize character designs
-finalize set design
-add some details that were not crucial to the plot, including all background details
-finalize dialog
-finalize layout
-actually draw the comic

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It's true; sometimes I do wait until this step to finalize the character designs. Uncommon, maybe unadvised, I know, but I have my reasons. During the rough sketch stage, I had to draw a very rough version of the characters tens or hundreds of times, allowing me to get familiar with what expressions they are likely to make. By waiting until pencils to finalize their design, I go into the design with more information then I would have if I started with a final character design and tried to build a story around it.

I'm always willing to discard an old idea in favor of a new and better idea at any point during the process, so after finishing pencils, I read through the story again and make adjustments, sometimes adding more pages or cutting things. I like the freedom to change things as I go rather than plan every line of dialog and every camera angle in the script stage.


Ink


-add more details freehand
-ink comic
-add borders



This is the most relaxing stage.


Color


-come up with a coherent color scheme
-add more details freehand
-add interesting textures
-experiment



It's only in the last few months I've been happy with my colored comics. It's important to me that some form of experimentation is available even at the final stage of the comic-making process, otherwise I will feel bored. For this page, I hadn't know what I was going to do with the middle panel. I didn't decide until the coloring stage, but I knew the feeling I wanted to convey and I worked on it until the feeling was achieved.

Editing


-dialog is finalized
-spellcheck
-consistency in character design checked

You must find someone else to help you with this stage; it is impossible to spell-check your own writing.

And with that, the comic is finished. From initial conception to digital release takes roughly 4 months for a 60-page comic and that includes writing. My method has many benefits over other Western comics methods in that it is faster (Marvel comics take 3-4 people one month to make 20 pages of comic), provides better panel flow and pacing, and allows for maximum artistic experimentation throughout the whole process. Well, of course it all depends on if you like my results. Thanks for reading, I'm Kristina, creator of 14 Nights, Alethia, and Yasha Lizard.

Feel free to contact me with questions/comments/ranting.

Twitter: @sskessa
Comic website: alethia.kstipetic.com

Friday, August 11, 2017

Guest Post: Respheal of Galebound on Advertising Your Comic

Heya, I’m Madeleine Fehlman (aka Respheal) and I make a webcomic called Galebound. It’s a gaslamp fantasy about a vindictive Magician who kidnaps a stablehand, who can command Magicians against their will, in a plot to overthrow an ancient kingdom. I’ve been working on it for a little over a year and a half now and I like to think that in that year it’s grown a respectable audience, given all factors. To do this, I’ve advertised in various ways across various websites, and as a result I get asked a lot of questions about how and where to advertise and what’s effective. I am no expert on the subject matter, but in the name of science I ventured forth into investigating affordable comic marketing.
I’m going to go over a few of the avenues I explored, both free and paid, for advertising my comic along with some tips and tricks I learned along the way.

Know Your Audience

When you talk about marketing, the elephant in the room is always market appeal. The wider the market appeal of any product, the larger the audience. What this means is that given two comics with the same marketing approach, the comic with the wider appeal will naturally gain an audience more quickly. If you create a comic with a narrow appeal, you will need to work harder to build an audience. However, your audience may be stronger and more diehard―think of it like a cult classic, with a small but loyal fanbase.
What I’m saying here is you need to decide: Are you making comics to get an audience, or are you doing this for yourself?
Unless your story happens to also have wide appeal, making a comic for yourself is the harder road. It doesn’t mean that an audience doesn’t exist for a niche comic. There are 3.4 billion people on the Internet with a myriad of interests―the hard part is finding them.

Advertising Materials

Banners

To start off, you need to have some ad images. Any site you choose to advertise on will be able to provide you with their image sizes, but if you want to be preemptive about it, Project Wonderful provides a list of common sizes: Project Wonderful Ad Templates. I recommend making one of each size to start off with. If you host on Smack Jeeves, you likely already have the “banner ad” size prepared:
As for what images and text to populate that space with, knowing what to put on the ad is a mystery to me. However, I can offer a few sparse tips:
  1. Have at least one character shown. People are drawn to characters and your characters arguably are the comic. Show them!
  2. Keep it simple. A cluttered banner, at a glance, may just look like a blurry mess to a passerby. Keep words to a minimum.
  3. Keep it accurate. Don’t use artwork that doesn’t represent your series. The art in the banner should match the art in the comic.
In terms of “Click-Through Ratio” (which is the ratio of viewers:banner clickers), this was my most successful banner on Project Wonderful in the month of July, the banner-size ad:
(To be honest I’m a little salty about that because this is such old art―art I’m still rather proud of in ways, but old.)
This was my least successful of my current ads:
Definitely more crowded and honestly kind of meh.
Tip: Rotate out your banners occasionally. You may find that another banner image is more effective and changing the banners will draw fresh eyes to your comic.

Prepping Your Site

This is extra credit, but if you have access to edit your webcomic site’s HTML, I recommend setting up social meta tags. Social meta tags create a little preview of your webcomic site when it’s linked on social media such as Facebook or Twitter:
You can find information on writing social media tags here: https://css-tricks.com/essential-meta-tags-social-media/
If you’re hosting on Tapas it will auto-generate the preview for you. If you host on Smack Jeeves, you can use the {SOCIAL_META_TAGS} variable in your overall layout to auto-generate the tags.

Ad Placement

With your banners and images prepared, it’s time to find some spots to put them. One of the rules of advertising is the “Rule of Seven”: an ad must be seen or heard seven times before action is taken. This is also called the “effective frequency”.
What this means for you is that you need to be persistent and ubiquitous with your advertising. Find many spots that you’re comfortable advertising in for long periods of time. On average, someone will need to see your comic advertised seven times before they finally get intrigued enough to click the link.

Free Advertising

As in all things, you get what you pay for and free advertising follows that rule...in most cases. Free advertising may get less overall viewership, but the effectiveness of the advertising varies wildly.
The most effective form of free advertising (in terms of “advertisement gained a reader”) is word-of-mouth: people are more likely to trust a recommendation from a friend or trusted source (such as an established reviewer) and therefore more likely to check out the recommended webcomic. My two current favorites, Rumplestiltskin and The Property of Hate, were both recommendations from friends.
Unfortunately, word-of-mouth is an avenue creators have little-to-no control over, other than to create the best comic we can and encourage sharing it. Therefore, we’ll focus primarily on free advertising avenues that we do have control over:

Project Wonderful

Project Wonderful is an advertising service created by webcomic author Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics. It is an infinite auction service, meaning you can bid any amount you like for any duration you like (within a few limits) on websites with PW adspots. If you don’t win the bid for the time you chose, you don’t pay.
Project Wonderful allows site owners to offer ad space. When creating adspace, the owner of the site can decide whether to set a minimum bid on that space for any traffic region.
  • A site listing “No minimum bid” will accept bids of $0.
  • $0 bids have a maximum duration of two days.
  • You can have up to 200 free bids at once (each region counts as a single bid!).
  • Bids of $0.01 and up can go for any length of time or spending limit
  • There is no limit to the number of paid bids.
Once you’ve created your Project Wonderful ads, you can start searching for places to put them by logging in and navigating to Advertising->Search for new places to bid:
From here you can adjust your search as you please. For the most part you can leave options as their default values, but I recommend changing the following:
  • Bidding: To find free locations to bid, set the Minimum bid to $0-$0 and the current bid to $0-$X (X=0 if you want to find spots that are free right now, higher if you want to expand the search to cheap locations that might go down to 0 at some point).
  • Sizes and Categories: You made and registered images for ALL the ad sizes, right? Check All or just check the ones you have prepared. Then click the ‘Comics’ link in the Category Groups section to select categories relevant to webcomics. You may choose more categories if you feel your webcomic would be relevant to sites in that category.
  • Site description: For best results, you might ask that the sites you bid on include certain tags. For example, I might look for “Include tags” of fantasy, drama, manga, magic, etc. You may also set it to search for adspace on a specific site.
  • Ratings and Restrictions: Change the site rating to match your target demographic (e.g. I don’t want to advertise on Adult sites so I uncheck that). Change “Ads accepted” to the rating for your site. My comic is SFW so I pick “Include sites that accept any ad that’s safe for work.” I cannot pick “only ads rated safe for children” as my comic is not.
You can also change the Approval setting to exclude ad boxes where the owner of the ad box needs to manually approve the bid if you’re in a hurry to get the ads up.
Once you’ve got your results, you can start placing your bids. From the bidding screen you can choose which regions you want to bid in (each region may have a different bidding war going on and the prices are independent), how much, and for how long. Go ahead and place some bids, and…
Prepare to see this screen a lot. But never fear! Even though I lost the bid war here, my bid is still in place for two days. If at any point in those two days mine is the highest or only bid (or in the case of multiple $0 bids, the oldest), my ad will be shown.
Tip: The Project Wonderful ad searches are done in a way that if you find parameters you like you can bookmark the link to the results screen to regenerate that search on the fly. For example, here’s the link to search for American Smack Jeeves ad boxes.
Now say the $0 bids aren’t really doing it for you and you have some money to spare on Project Wonderful. You can put in a paid ad through the same search process, just changing the current or minimum amounts, or by putting in an amount greater than $0 on one of the free spaces. Project Wonderful will not charge you for times your ad isn’t shown (e.g. someone else outbid you) and you will not be charged more than what it took to win the bid war (i.e. if you bid $1 and someone else bid $0.02, you will only be charged $0.03 per day).
What I recommend doing is finding a comic that seems to get good returns from free advertising and putting a little money in to hold that spot for a longer period of time. For example, I have a bid set at $0.01 with a max duration of 100 days on a site that’s gotten Galebound more clicks than other ad spaces (perhaps we share an audience). At most I will pay $1 on this ad, but if there’s no other bidders I don’t pay anything. As of today the ad has been running for 70 days and I’ve spent $0.25 on it.
You can also choose to bid on spaces on comic sites that you enjoy, which has the double benefit of generating revenue for a creator you like and advertising your own comic. For example, you’ll notice that Nattosoup has two ad spots! Here’s a link to the Nattosoup ad spots in Project Wonderful.
Tip: Many webcomic artists host Project Wonderful ads on their websites. Project Wonderful ads are blocked by default, depriving creators of one of their sources of revenue. However, you can whitelist all Project Wonderful ads as instructed here: https://www.projectwonderful.com/adblock.php
If you wish to automate the purchasing process, PW will also let you set up a campaign that will automatically place bids depending on criteria you set. However, campaigns require funding (they cannot be free) and they’re generally less effective than manually finding places, but they’re good if you’re money rich and time poor.

Other Free Advertising Spots

Project Wonderful is the main “traditional” advertising avenue so I’m only going to go over the others in brief, but here are some other routes that I’ve found to be effective:
Twitter Chats and Comic Communities: Join in on Twitter in one of the comic hashtag events such as #webcomicchat, #comicbookhour, or #comicartistsunite or join a community of creators such as in Comic Fury’s, Tapas’, or Comic Book Hour’s website and forums. Being an active member of the comic community will draw attention to your comic, but these events and comic communities tend to be more heavily populated by creators than readers.
Incidentally, Twitter is why one of the earlier points in this post was to set up the social meta tags. Twitter posts are more likely to get clicked if there’s an image, which social meta tags can provide. If you want attention on a post, have an image ready for it!
You can also tag accounts such as @promotecomics and @supportcomics which may retweet your post.
Tip: If you put an actual image in the Twitter post, you can save space in the post itself by tagging users in the image instead of the post:
deviantArt: Spinning off the previous point, there are comic communities on dA. Similar to other communities, dA relies upon engaging with other creators to build an audience, but it is a slow growth and not recommended. You can join comic making groups, but read any group rules before making submissions. (Source: Kabocha)
Art Trades/Guest Art/Crossovers: If you’re in an existing webcomic community, taking part in exchanges and crossovers is a great way to introduce your audience to another webcomic and vice versa. Guest Art is also great because it introduces readers to a new artist and gives the creator a breather.
Reddit: Personally, I find that Reddit works best for gag-a-day comics. Your mileage may vary. You may also get some mileage by posting your comic in a relevant non-comic subreddit. For example, if your comic is about futurism, you might be able to post it in the futurism subreddit. Please follow all subreddit rules when posting.
TV Tropes: Having a TV Tropes page is considered a rite of passage. However, it is also an effective advertising tool. If you know that your comic contains a certain trope, go ahead and sneak in a reference on that trope’s page. For example, you can find Galebound hiding in the webcomics category of the Compelling Voice page.
Top Web Comics: TWC is a ranking website for webcomics, and one of the major stops for readers looking for new comics to read. As such, having a spot there is great advertising. It’s a good idea to encourage existing readers (or friends and family) to vote for your comic, and if you have friends who also make comics you can vote for each other to bolster your ranking.
Comic Directories: There are multiple places you can list your comics for free for increased visibility. Good ones to look into are the Belfry Webcomic Index, Comic Rocket (also a handy comic reader with ad space), and Piperka.

In Person

Even in real life, you may find opportunities to plug your webcomic. As someone who lives on the Internet, in-person interaction is terrifying, but if you’re like me, you live and breathe your webcomic and at some point someone in real life (perhaps at a convention!) is going to notice and maybe even ask about it. When this happens, you have 30 seconds to get them interested. You may have heard of this referred to as an “elevator pitch”. In screenwriting terms, it’s referred to as a “logline.”
If you ever have an opportunity to pitch your webcomic in person, you must have a logline ready. If you don’t have one prepared, be ready for your listener’s eyes to glaze over as you scramble to make one on the spot.
I started off this post with my comic’s logline: “A vindictive Magician kidnaps a stablehand, who can command Magicians against their will, in a plot to overthrow an ancient kingdom.” Personally I think that’s pretty solid if maybe a little wordy. The best advice I got for building a logline came from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. The key point recommended was that a logline should contain irony.
For my story, the irony comes from the idea that a Magician would kidnap someone who can magically boss him aroundsounds like a kidnapper’s worst nightmare (spoiler alert: it is).
Find the ironic heart of your story and build your logline around that. There is more to it, of course, but delving further is outside the scope of this post. Once you have your logline prepared, however, you will be a lot more confident introducing your webcomic in person.

Paid Advertising

After typing at length about the free options, I want to go over paid options in brief. Obviously for paid options, the sky is the limit―literally. If you can afford it you can probably hire a skywriter to write your comic’s URL in the sky. However, we are but comic artists, so I’m going to focus on the more affordable options I’ve found:

Top Web Comics

As mentioned in the free advertising list, TWC is a comic ranking site, but it also does offer some paid ad space. You can find their information on it here: http://www.topwebcomics.com/advertisinginfo
They have a skyspaper, square, leaderboard, and sponsorship ad. The daily rates for the first three vary and you’ll need to get a quote from them for the cost, but the sponsorship ad is currently $1 per day. They also offer discounts if you order a large number of days for one campaign.
Personally, I highly recommend their sponsorship ads. I took one out at the beginning of 2017 and had it running up to the middle of July to great effect. For the duration of the campaign, 51% of my overall traffic (9,141 sessions) and 58% of new visitors (2,909 new visitors) came from Top Web Comics. For a comic artist not even in her second year of comic publishing with a relatively niche webcomic, that’s a big deal.
I also tried out a leaderboard ad running Mon-Fri for two weeks in January. While I did see higher traffic from using the leaderboard ad in addition to the sponsorship ad (about a 50% increase), I didn’t feel it was worth the extra cost. However, if you can afford it, it is entirely viable.
Tip: TWC occasionally offers their higher-tiered ad space as prizes for competitions! Follow them on Twitter or Facebook for news of upcoming events.

The Webcomic List

The Webcomic List also offers an affordable paid advertising option. TWL is also a ranking site and comic directory, although it is a little outdated. However, it does feature adspots that are reasonably effective and cheaper than TWC’s for a month of space.
You can find their information here for the featured spots on top (which are not blocked by adblock by default!) here: http://www.thewebcomiclist.com/featured/getfeatured.php
They also have more expensive but larger ad spaces (which are blocked by adblock by default) which you can find information on here: http://www.thewebcomiclist.com/advertise/
I took out one of the featured spots for a month for $15:
$0.30 a click isn’t much better than Facebook (which I will go over next), but the users are guaranteed to be webcomic readers. Personally I thought these were pretty good results and may take out another ad here in the near future.
Facebook Ads
Save yourself some grief and don’t bother. I took out an ad on Facebook on May 21st with a spending limit of $10 to test the waters. I narrowed the target demographics to men and women in the 18-24 age range who live in the US, Canada, or Great Britain who speak English and have an interest in comics, manga, webcomics, and steampunk. Here are my results:
$10 for 20 clicks. Not worth it.

Google Adsense

I pride myself on being technologically-savvy. I am, after all, a system administrator by trade. However, Google Adsense eludes me and I wasn’t able to get an ad working there successfully. I’m sorry to report that I can give any recommendations for or against this, but if you can get it working, gale speed.

In Conclusion…

...Advertising a comic is only a portion of the, for lack of a better word, business of being a webcomic artist, but it is an important one if you are interested in growing your readership fast. Pick advertising avenues that work for you, but try to not spend too much time focusing on it.
Consider webcomics from the perspective of a reader: getting invested in a new webcomic is a risky proposal because, unfortunately, many webcomics don’t last. Some comics get rebooted, meaning readers need to wait to get new story content. At any point a reader, left hanging on the edge of their seat by the latest update, might get left hanging forever. Building an audience’s trust that your comic won’t do that is vital.
Starting out, I read a post that said that in order to get stable audience with a webcomic, you need to maintain the comic for at least three years; by that time you’ve shown readers that you are, in fact, here to stay. Advertising does help, but the most important way to grow and build trust with an audience is through consistency and persistence. Once you’ve got that down, advertising will help get your comic to the audience that’s been looking for it for a long time.

You can find me lurking around online as @respheal except on Twitter where I post as @galebound.
Galebound can be found at its main site at http://www.galebound.com/ and is a part of Ink Drop Café.