Making a Web Comic Part I: Finding a Story
The first and most important thing to start a web comic is to have a story. You could be the best artist on the West side of France, but it won’t make a difference if your story sucks. People are grabbed first by good art and second by a good story. Art can only go so far; it is the story that will keep your readers reading. One fine example of this is Fox Tails by Fallon Willard. The art is lacking in quality, but the story is fantastic. This first part of “Making a Web Comic” covers the key elements of finding a story.
So, you know you want to do a web comic, but you’re lacking in ideas for a story. You have a few different options:
1. Find a writer who already has a story. There are a lot of writers out there with fantastic ideas, but lack the skills to express them in art. The best place to look for these writers is usually in the Projects forum. And if you can’t find anyone there, then you can advertise yourself in the same place.
2. Write a short plot idea and give it to a writer. Again, advertise yourself to the community. Recently I worked with Deberzer on a collaborative comic. Deberzer is from Germany and he wanted a writer for his story in English. I’m an English major, so it was a perfect opportunity for both of us. He got a good story and I got resume material.
3. Brainstorm ideas and write your own story. This option is the most difficult, but you don’t have to deal with other people imposing their ideas on your comic. This is for the DIYer and I go more in depth in the DIY section below.
4. Do a fan comic. The only problem with fan comics is copyrights. You should draw all your own art; sprites have a chance of being… sued. There’s nothing wrong with sprites, just be wary of them. Also, even though you’re following a similar storyline to “the greatest anime you have ever seen”, you should try to change it up a bit so that your readers don’t know what to expect. Also it will help defend you from getting that same four letter word… sued.
As you can see, there is a lot you can do to get a decent storyline for your comic. The storyline should be the most important part of your web comic and it should be completely finished before you begin drawing. Here is the point where we go back to Jr. High English class: All good stories have a plot, all plots have a beginning middle and end, all beginnings introduce, all middles build proper tension, and all ends have a climax and finale.
To demonstrate I’ll use a common example: Romeo and Juliet. At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare introduces his characters and their roles. Romeo and his friends, who plan on crashing their rival’s party, and Juliet and her friends who are enamoured by the mysterious Romeo. In the middle of the play Shakespeare builds tension to help support the climax. There is a lot of death between the houses. Romeo and Juliet continue their flirtations. Romeo runs away and there is a plan to fake Juliet’s death. All of this is in preparation to the climax of Romeo killing himself and Juliet doing the same in turn. Then in the finale Shakespeare always does a speech which is meant to placate his audience. In this case it is the father of one of the houses. He boldly proposes a uniting of the families and the end of their rivalries. This allows his audience to leave the theatre in a calm stupor instead of sad and depressed because the two main characters died not 10 minutes ago. It’s funny how Shakespeare knows how to calm a crowd.
Remember to consider these factors when choosing/writing/having-someone-else-write your comic storyline. This is what will keep your readers fixated.
The DIY section:
If you are writing your own comic there are certain things that should be done to prevent confusion and discrepancies between writing and art. The method I will be describing is the method that I use, but it is definitely not the only way to write a comic. Anything is legitimate; some ways are just better (mine is definitely not the best, but it’s good for beginners).
First, find a story. The best way to do this is to brainstorm. What kind of comic do you want? When I ask this I’m not asking whether you want to do a comic about Gundam Wing or Werewolves. I’m asking whether you want to make a Romance or a Mystery. So, I’m going to make up an example here. I want to do a Romance:
Romance -> Love -> Young Love -> Childhood Friends -> Moving Away -> Change
When I think of things that change it reminds me of Naruto. He is constantly going through conflict and change with his inner fox. So, then I lead back through the ideas. Moving away: in my story Naruto will have traveled through the island, and he is now coming home for the first time. Childhood Friends: Sakura and Sasuke were close friends to Naruto. Since this is a romance I will focus my attentions to Sakura. Young Love: the anime has already put into place Naruto’s crush on Sakura, so there’s not much I need to do there. Love: Sakura was in love with Sasuke. Because I like to go for the dramatic, I’m going to pretend that Sasuke has died and Sakura is still in mourning. Romance: Naruto comes home and tries to woo Sakura into marrying him.
Now, this sounds like your classic Naruto Fan Story. So what am I going to do to make mine different from everyone else’s? I’m going to add conflict. Just as Sakura starts to finally see Naruto as a possibility, Sasuke returns! He is not really dead! Now Sakura is torn between the two men she loves. I won’t tell you how everything turns out, but my climax will be someone dying and my finale (to calm my readers) will be a wedding with a speech in remembrance of the dead.
This is a good example of a story. And I’ve written it all out in two short paragraphs. After my brainstorming I can begin the actual writing.
Writing a Comic outline is much different from every other kind of writing. It is more like writing a play. Each Scene is a ‘Panel’ and each Act is a ‘Page’. Each Part (some plays have parts, usually split up into 2 or 3) is what I like to call a ‘Chapter’. Some comics prefer to use the term ‘Book’ such as the highly popular Girl Genius.
There is a basic format for writing each Chapter. I keep each chapter in a separate word document so that it’s easier to find. Example:
Chapter 1: (I like to make this part bold, to help distinguish between the types of writing)
Page 1: (Again, I underline here to help me identify things)
Panel 3: (put as many panels as you plan on putting on this page)
So to begin my first draft of my Naruto Fan Comic I want to explain that Naruto is coming home.
Chapter 1: Coming Home
Page 1: Upon Return
Panel1: Draw Naruto’s eyes to show expression, but not his whole features (keeping it a mystery)
Panel 2: Draw Naruto’s feet walking with a walking stick indication travel.
Panel 3: Draw a shadow of Naruto passing some of the villagers who are shocked at seeing him. The shadow has a backbag and walking stick which further indicates long travel.
Panel 4: Drawing from behind of Naruto entering the local Ramen shop.
Panel 5: An older looking Sakura is sitting at a round table in the restaurant with a downtrodden look.
Panel 6: Sakura looks up and notices Naruto.
Notice that when something is said I write it Name: “quote”. This makes it easy to distinguish between descriptions and vocals. Try to focus on describing the situation with as few words as possible. When reading a comic people don’t like to read a novel, they want the art to tell them what’s going on. Instead of Hank saying: “Rover! Where are you?” You should have him searching intensely and sighing, “Rover” at the end of the page. The fewer words, the better.
Well, that’s the end of this Chapter of “Making a Web Comic”. Keep a lookout for Part 2: Paneling.
© Teshia Lyndall, Lyn Comics at lyncomics.comicgenesis.com