- Posted by Johanna on August 7, 2008 at 4:09 pm
- Category: Books and Prose, Digital and Webcomics
- CREDITS: by Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett, Scott Kurtz, and Kris Straub
- PUBLISHER: Image Comics; $12.99 US
This is *the* book to read about making webcomics, because the four co-authors are creators of well-known webcomics — Brad Guigar (Evil Inc.), Dave Kellett (Sheldon), Scott Kurtz (PvP) , and Kris Straub (Starslip Crisis) — who know what they’re talking about. Their works cover the most popular genres of web strips: video games, humor, and science fiction.
The second big plus to this book is its format. It’s a very handsome, readable book. Flipping through, you’ll see an illustration or relevant sample comic on almost every page. Sidebar notes (and inspirational quotes) are clearly set apart with lines and a different font. The tone is conversational, which makes it very readable, as though you’re listening to a chat instead of hearing proclamations from on high.
The introduction clearly lays out the aims: not to teach you how to cartoon, but to tell you how to have a successful webcomic, one you might even make a living from. Creative topics are tackled — the early chapters cover motivation, character design, format, and writing, among other topics — but over half the book is about business decisions, such as promotion, publishing, website design, and making money. There’s an undercurrent of “and that’s why you don’t need a publisher or syndicate” that pops its head up every so often, which is interesting, since three of the four have current or past print newspaper experience. But the biggest message is that a successful webcomic cartoonist is both an artist and a businessperson. (And also insecure, based on Scott Kurtz’s chapters. I’m not reading that in; he keeps saying it, that artists must acknowlege and get past their insecurity.)
Each chapter is voiced by a different one of the four, as indicated by the opening illustration. When the different authors share notes, there are little head-shot drawings to show you which one is giving their perspective. Each of them also gets a two-page focus section in which the four analyze a couple of their strips.
In almost every chapter I read something valuable that I either hadn’t thought about before — for instance, with restricted text space, you should keep character names short — or knew but wish more people paid attention to — such as the vital importance of sticking to your update schedule. Someone aiming to do a frequent humor strip in traditional horizontal format will likely get the most out of this book, since that’s what most of the authors do, but that limited focus is only really noticable in the writing chapter, which only makes a token nod at any other kind of comic. Most of the rest of the advice can apply to any creator.
While there are topics I wish they’d included but didn’t, that’s not a reflection on the book, just different priorities. For example, I wish the character design chapter had included diversity of genders, skin tones, and heritage; instead, the only diversity mentioned was that of body type. I would have liked to have seen much more emphasis on the importance of RSS feeds, instead of just the two paragraphs of “here’s what they are”, because I think any major webcomic must offer them. (It’s the only way I read them.) Instead, one creator plugs the older technology of mailing lists. I do like that there are two separate chapters on conventions and audience interaction, both tricky topics for the modern comic creator. The con chapter advice is worth the price of the book all by itself.
Oddly, the promotion chapter doesn’t mention either press releases or getting reviews, both sources of free coverage; instead, dealing with critics is covered in the audience chapter. The author of this section, Dave Kellett, breaks them into four categories and says, “each one can be diffused or made impotent by kindness and politeness.” So the goal here is not to listen, but to deflect. And that’s reflected in his categories; not one covers someone pointing out a legitimate flaw or place for improvement in the work. In other words, he doesn’t think critics are ever right. (The categories are the person who’s mean without meaning to be and really loves the comic; nitpickers correcting “useless details”; the hater; and the troll. This section, by the way, was the first piece of the book I read — it’s where the copy I was browsing fell open when I first picked it up. Fate!)
The biggest flaw of the book is the proofreading. It’s a bit disconcerting to find two obvious typographical errors on page six, in one of the author introductions, or to see the word “webcomics” misspelled early on. It lacks the final coat of polish that would support the air of competence they’re trying to create. (I also hate seeing Web, Webcomics, and Webcartoonist capitalized almost everywhere they’re used — I find it old-school and pretentious — but that’s personal opinion.) It also would be nice if they didn’t assume that their readers all knew the details of their strips. During the chapter on character design, for example, Kurtz uses his cast as examples throughout without ever matching up names and images for those who don’t remember or know what they’re all called.
One last note that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else but struck me: One cartoonist feels that how one’s readers behave reflects the author’s personality, that if a creator complains about her readers being jerks or lazy or mean, that that’s whom they attracted by what they were putting out. An interesting observation, that.
The book’s website is halfpixel.com. The authors also do a weekly podcast.