We’ve had a few emails over the last couple of weeks from curious readers asking what’s involved with creating a webcomic, so rather than write some *very* long emails, we figured we could just answer it all here. Now obviously, this sort of advice is subjective, so what works for us may not work for you, etc. So here goes:
Content. Sort of a big ‘duh’ – since if you don’t have content, you don’t have a comic – but more importantly, you need to decide the format and also how frequently you plan to update. Fox & Willow is a long form/manga thing. It’s also done traditionally – meaning real paper, inks, copics and then scanned and adjusted as needed. (Sometimes the pages are done digitally if Aimo is traveling and we have no other way of getting the pages done.) There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but that’s something you’ll have to determine on your own.
We update two days a week, most of the time. In hindsight, this sort of story is probably really hard to tell this way, since in some cases the pages themselves have very little dialogue.
I know some readers hit us up once a month to get a chunk of pages and I suppose we could update that way as well, but we find the two page a week thing keeps us honest – otherwise it is far too easy to just push them off for the end of the month and then suddenly there are eight pages due and it becomes overwhelming. Whatever you decide to do – STICK with it. Readers can get frustrated very quickly when promised updates don’t happen – if you’re sporadic in your updates, your readership will also become sporadic and can become difficult to sustain. On the other hand, if you need to take a break, let your readers know. Most of the time, they understand just fine, especially if you give them a date you’re coming back. 🙂
Decide who does what. If you’re the writer and the artist, that makes things simple – everything falls on you. In our case, we’re a team, so things can be a bit more tricky. Now, in all fairness, Aimo takes the brunt of the weekly comic creation – and I try to do everything in my power to make things easier on her, so she can focus on the art. Essentially, though – as collaborators, we do create the story together. We have a loose outline for the overall story arc, and one we discuss rather frequently.
We’re at least twelve hours apart around the world, so although we do try to schedule one on-line meeting a week, most of our communication is done via text and shared files in Dropbox. When it comes to the actual writing, I do a chapter at a time, usually about a month before the last chapter is finished. (Or sometimes when we’re doing the epilogue.)
This is usually because so much can change in that year or so that the previous chapter is being made. Sometimes we change things based on reader input, sometimes we have an ‘a-ha’ moment along the way and that gets added to a future chapter, or we make a modification on the spot. (This is the fun thing about webcomics – we can pretty much do whatever we want, whenever we want to.)
What else is there besides the writing/art? All those other things that I do, including website maintenance, weekly updates at Tapastic (where we also host F&W), updates at Patreon, running the social media sites (e.g. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook) as well as other marketing, convention swag/business cards/bookmarks/whatever. Aimo will do most of the layout, but I do the legwork for the conventions, figure out the requirements, and come up with the written content.
Also, I keep an eye on general deadlines and poke Aimo with a stick (a gentle one) from time to time. This can be tricky because as an artistic team, we have to have a professional confidence in each other that we WILL get our work done and meet our deadlines. (Usually, it’s more of a hey, we need to have this order in by this date, can we get a rough layout done this weekend?) There’s a fine line sometimes between a respectful nudge and being a hovering helicopter and it doesn’t do anyone any good if we fall into that. Nothing dampens the creative side of a project faster then resentment – and at the end of the day, Fox & Willow is a labor of love. We make very little money from it (though hopefully that will change someday!) and both of us have full time and secondary jobs and family that really do need to come first.
Sounds great? What next? Well, once you have your content and schedule figured out, you need a place to host your comic. You can host it yourself, or you can go with a third party like Tapastic. We do both because 1) I know how to create/develop websites okay and 2) I’m paranoid as hell. Though we do get ad revenue through Tapastic, which is nice – and a readership that is at least 8500 subscribers and growing every day – even nicer – third party sites can and do go down. There is something very comforting knowing that even if Tapastic goes belly up, all of our content is still here and available.
If you’re curious as to what we’re using here – it is a WordPress installation, with the Webcomic plug-in and a modified Inkblot theme. Everything else is standard stuff – it’s mostly just getting the RSS feed to auto push to Facebook or Twitter, etc.
Getting the word out. Okay, the webcomic is up…how do you get readers? Well, if you’re on something like Tapastic, there’s a nice advantage there since nearly all the visitors are webcomic readers. On the other hand, you’re also competing with a lot of other webcomics, but at least you’re in the right overall area. If you’re hosting by yourself, you’re a bit of an island, so it’s up to you to start marketing – and that means social media. You can also submit your RSS feed to third party webcomic collecting groups, like Top Web Comics or The Webcomic List. You can take out ads on those sites as well, or via Project Wonderful. (We have not done that, so I can’t give much advice on the ad thing. Hell, we don’t even have ads here, and we probably should…) You can also do link exchanges or affiliate with other webcomics that are similar to yours – it’s a great way to share readership. If you can get your webcomic reviewed by some of the sites out there, that can also give you a boost.
However, I am going to say that you’re probably looking at two to three years before you start building up a decent readership. It is possible to “get lucky” or hit up a timely topic that may get you there faster, but don’t go into a project expecting that. Also? Smut sells. Many of the more popular webcomics that I’ve seen tend to be heavier on the adult content. (Not all of them.) But don’t go there unless you WANT to. See labor of love, above. If your enthusiasm wanes because really, no, you don’t enjoy drawing elf peen*, chances are you aren’t going to keep working on it.
We had a little bit of a starter advantage as I already had a readership following from my urban fantasy books, and Aimo…well, she’s probably got about 60k followers on Deviant Art alone for her fan art. (But you know what? Fans of fan art usually stay that way – you can be a great fanfic writer or fanartist and get tons of hits for them and crickets for original content. Don’t get disheartened – that’s just the way it is until you’ve got a fanbase of your own.)
Is that all? Yeah, I guess it is – at least everything I can think of at the moment, but feel free to post questions below and we’ll be happy to answer.
*Elf peen? Yes. Did I mention that’s how Aimo and I decided we could work together? Well it was. I wrote her smutty fanfic and she texted me dirty illustrations, many of which popped up on my phone during meetings. There may or may not have been elf peen involved. Not that we’re drawing fox peen in F&W, but still. There’s always potential.