Comics / Digital Comics

Web Comics - A Writer's Guide

By Christopher Moshier
July 27, 2008 - 13:08

The Comic Book Bin has recently been spotlighting the world of the Web Comic and I thought I would chime in with my two cents. If you’re interested in getting your own Web comic together and posted online for the world to see I’ll give you some helpful hints to do just that. The hints before you are nothing spectacular or mind blowing. They’re personal observations and experiences I’ve been through in getting my own works online.

A question I’m asked a lot is how I get my story on paper. Everyone walking and breathing has stories to tell, be it from their own experiences, an idea that sparks from watching a TV show or listening to music or reading a book, or just some goofy thing that pops randomly in your head on any given occasion. The answer I give is just to write. I know! Simple. What ever comes to your mind start typing (or writing). At this given moment on my desk I have a Sprite Zero bottle, a Sierra Mist bottle, a beer bottle, 2 DVDs, and a pack of DVD+R discs.

"Christopher was sitting at his desk on an early Sunday morning sipping on his Sierra Mist. The empty beer bottle before him was reminder that perhaps he overindulged the night before. As he attempts to dilute his hangover with carbonated water mixed with citric acid he turns his attentions to the ‘I Was a Teenage Movie Maker’ DVD placed strategically on his desk. He knew it was there for a reason and perhaps the stack of DVD+R CDs sitting next to the film was a clue as to why."

OK! I know. Pretty stupid. My point is if you’re not sure how to get your ideas on paper you need to practice. There’s a term called brainstorming where you write down everything that comes to mind. You don’t stop for spelling or grammar or the conciseness of what you’re writing. It’s kind of like running a marathon. You may get a cramp in your leg or a little wobbly on your feet, but you keep running no matter what. Once the marathon is over you can go back to determine what you did wrong and how you can improve for next time. And if you’re not sure what to write at any given moment do what I just used as an example. Look around your environment picking out items in site and just start writing about them. It may seem silly, but you’ll be surprised what starts to happen. A story will form.

Another point I would like to address is that when an idea enters your head write it down. Write it anywhere. Write it on a napkin, an envelope, your hand – where ever, but get it on something you can use as notes later. I’m guilty of this all the time. What I think is a great idea enters my head and I don’t write it down. A couple days later when I sit down to write for the life of me I can’t remember what it was.

OK, CHRIS! So far this has nothing to do with Web Comics. Baby steps young Jedi.

Now that you have a story in mind, let’s talk about script format for comics. Other people may tell you there is a set format for a comic book script. Other people don’t know what they’re talking about. Your job as a writer is to convey the action in each individual panel or page to the artist and to add in the dialogue if there is any. I’m going to use my Web comic Uncle Doug as an example this point forward. Let’s look at one of the strip's scripts.


Jake and Uncle Doug sit across from each other in director’s chairs like they’re on a lame interview show or a cheap behind the scene’s DVD feature.

Jake acts more like Dick Cavett as he interviews Doug.

Doug is lifting off his chair with both arms looking towards the reader as if he’s being told something amazing.

JAKE: We’re back talking with Doug Tanner.

DOUG: Did we leave?

Jake continues to act like a bad talk show host while Doug looks and points towards him in confusion.

JAKE: You’ve had so many accomplishments in your life, Mr. Tanner. Why add a Web comic to your list?

DOUG: Because you told me to.

Uncle Doug sets Jake straight.

JAKE: Mr. Tanner – please don’t be so modest.

DOUG: I’m not being modest. And stop calling me Mr. Tanner.

DOUG: I’m your Uncle Doug.

Pretty simple. I’ve broken this script up so the artist has an idea what to draw and where the dialogue fits in. You don’t necessarily have to format it this way. As long as you can convey the information to the rest of the team working on the comic then you’ve done your job. In the case of Uncle Doug the artist and I already discussed the characters and had designs already made up. If this is a new story where the artist has no idea about the world or characters you’ll need to be a lot more descriptive.

So let’s look at the completed strip so we can match it up to the script I’ve posted above.

Where do I find an artist? The best places to find an artist to work with is in the comic book forums or at comic book conventions. The two big forums I would suggest is Digital Webbing or Pencil Jack. There’s a ton more sites and resources out there so poke around the Internet a bit. My suggestions on what to post to find an artist are (again) simple, but it seems too simple as sometimes writers just don’t get it. Let me put a reality check on you. Your idea, no matter how much you think it’s original and the best thing since color TV – ISN’T. It’s just an idea. Honesty is another big factor. Not only being honest to the talent you want to work with, but being honest with yourself. Your idea is not going to make money. Your idea is not going to be made into a movie. Your idea is not going to be picked up by DC Comics or Marvel Comics. Are there exceptions to this? Absolutely. Are you the exception? Possibly, but don’t go into it thinking you are. So when you post looking for an artist be realistic in what you want to achieve. Your number one goal should be the ability to exercise your creativity with a fun project. With this attitude you’ll find yourself the perfect partner to work with.

And the above being written, I want to add that I can’t teach you how to treat people. If you’re a jerk in life, you’re going to be a jerk towards your Web comic. You're going to be a jerk towards the people you work with and you'll get the reputation of being a jerk. I've seen it countless times. Just keep in mind its only comics. You're not creating an alternative fuel source here.

It's important to add that you should always trust your artist. Give him or her the opportunity to bring their vision of your vision to the page. Things may not come out exactly as you’d pictured them. In all the projects I’ve worked on the art team have exceeded my expectations and I let them know it. Be prepared to not get everything you want and in most cases get more than you dreamed of.

So you have your script. You have your artist. The strip is done. Now it needs to be colored. Get your butt back over to Digital Webbing or Pencil Jack or any of the other forums you frequent and find yourself a colorist. In some cases the artist can color as well. With the projects I’ve worked on I’ve always needed a colorist separate. I work with two fantastic people who, over the years, have turned into very good friends. They trust me and I trust them and I can always rely on them when I need color.

And there is another important lesson in life and in this case – comics. Build relationships. Build friendships. Network. That’s another reason why you don’t want to be a jerk. None of that will happen if you are. I know. I’ve seen it. And word gets around.

Here is an example of the finished page for Uncle Doug.

And here is the page colored.

Our Web comic is taking shape. Now we need to get the strip lettered. Again, you can either hit the forums or you can attempt to letter it yourself. In the case of Uncle Doug, I do the lettering. I’m not the best at it, but I’m learning as we go. A fantastic site called BlamBot offers a variety of comic book balloons to download at no charge. They also offer free or paid fonts.

The program I use to letter is Photoshop. Well worth the investment. There probably isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t pull up Photoshop for one reason or another. It does take time and patients to learn the program, but once you get going there is no end to what it can do. If you can’t tell...I love that freakin’ program. A good alternative to BlamBot and Photoshop is this cool program called Comic Book Creator. I’ve used the demo a couple times. It’s very user friendly and perfect for the beginner.

I don’t want to get to specific into how to handle your finished comic book strip and/or page. My thinking is I’ll do a separate article on how to handle the finished page. I can tell you we work at 300dpi. I save the finished LARGE SIZED FILE image as a .PSD (Photoshop file – only needed if you're using Photoshop), a .TIF, and then I shrink it down to an 800 pixel width .jpg to upload it to my Web Comic host site. Depending on how computer savvy you are you may or may not know what any of that means. The Comic Book Bin offers a discussion option at the bottom of all their articles so if you have a specific question on image format I can certainly answer it there.

The final process for your Web comic is getting it online. You can either host the comic on your own domain site or put it on the many hosting sites that are available online. Uncle Doug is hosted by Drunk Duck. A couple others you can try are either Smack Jeeves or OltreComics.

I’ll leave you with my final thoughts to expose your comic to more readers. Make timely and regular updates. Uncle Doug was on a weekly schedule. We’ve stopped to take our breath recently as we were going every week for a year. Our numbers have really gone down since we stopped posting. Attempt to at least get one strip or page out a week if not more. Go to conventions. Networking is a GIANT key. It's as important as making the comic itself. Seek sites to post press releases or see if they'd like to interview you. It never hurts to ask.

Leave me any questions you may have and I'll be happy to answer them for you. Now open up that Word program and start writing!!!

You can also read more of Uncle Doug by going HERE.

Last Updated: September 6, 2021 - 08:15

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