Want to start your very first webcomic? Great! But before you get in too deep, make sure that you avoid some of the most common mistakes that established folks in the field of webcomics see time and again.
Top image by the incredibly talented Evan Dahm, creator of the webcomics Rice Boy, Order of Tales, and Vattu, who was kind enough to talk to us for this piece. He's certainly not meant to be an example of someone who makes a lot of mistakes in webcomics—although he did share some mistakes he's seen. You can also purchase Dahm's Benign Kingdom artbook from TopatoCo.
When you look at the webcomics creators who have been able to turn their comics into a full-time job, it can be tempting to think that webcomics are a path to fame and rent money. But several creators reminded us that it took them years to reach their current level of success and that the webcomics world is only getting more competitive:
Spike, the editor of the anthologies Smut Peddler 2012, Smut Peddler 2014, and The Sleep of Reason, writer of Poorcraft (now releasing a page a day online), and creator of Templar, Arizona (see previously), tells us:
If I have any advice to offer when it comes to making a webcomic, it's probably from the aspiring pro side: Be patient. Don't expect it to be paying for itself or for you in a year or even two years or maybe even three years. There are a lot of people that assume they can start a webcomic and a year will go by and they can quit the day job, they can pay the rent, they can buy groceries with webcomic money. Don't assume that will ever go down. Things are more competitive than they've ever been these days. More and more talented people are graduating from schools and going straight online to post their work. You're going to have to be persistent. You'll have to be punctual and you'll have to be good to make it—and it won't happen right away.
We've been doing webcomics for about 13 years now and the biggest trap that people fall into is expecting too much too soon. You have to update regularly, on-time, show your audience that you are as committed to them as you want them to be committed to you and build from there. A lot of folks start a webcomic and put up three month's worth of strips and then all of a sudden, they're like, "Why am I not selling a thousand books at San Diego Comic-Con? This doesn't make sense." Well, you really have to push it. In terms of us, we just built this from [Least I Could Do creators Ryan] Sohmer and Lar [deSouza] hanging out at conventions to now when we have staff and big booths and things like that—and it was a ten-year process. Patience is key and consistency is key.
David Malki, creator of Wondermark, adds that there's more than one definition of success when it comes to webcomics:
The biggest mistake I think people make when they start webcomics is viewing people's success and having a sense of expectation. And that's a very hard thing to not do, but it's a very valuable thing if you can divorce yourself from a sense of entitlement. Because it's way more rewarding to develop your own definition of success over time than it is to try to see somebody else and wish you were doing the thing they're doing, which maybe isn't the thing you're best at anyway.
Perhaps the most common mistake we heard about was that new creators try to merchandise their webcomics too early—sometimes before they've even started making their comics.
Dave Kellett, creator of the webcomics Sheldon and Drive (previously) and co-director of the comics documentary Stripped (previously), says the focus on the business side of webcomics can cause some creators to neglect their art:
The biggest mistake I see is younger artists who put the business before the art. So they're worried about their site design or their t-shirts or their books or this or that before they worry most essentially about the story they're going to bring to life and making their readers care in the work itself. I find that the best things I've read and the best things I've created come from an inner sense of joy and an inner sense of wanting to create it. So when the business comes before the joy, then things tend to not work out as well. So my advice to younger cartoonists is to—and it sounds cliche—to follow the passion to pursue the character and the story and the writing first before anything else.
There's apparently an epidemic of new creators focusing on merchandise right away. Jeff Schuetze of Jefbot says a lot of creators just need to wait and keep their attention on their comics first:
Probably the biggest mistake is putting the merchandise before the actual comic. I know so many people who have five t-shirts, a figurine, and a plush before they actually have even started their comic. At least have, I don't know, 50 to 100 comics in your queue before you have your merchandise.
Jon Sung, who has learned a great deal about webcomics merchandise while manning the Dumbrella booth at San Diego Comic-Con, adds that many creators try to merchandise their characters rather than figuring out what merchandise the audience actually wants to buy:
I find that one of the mistakes people make is merchandising their characters. They make t-shirts of their characters that nobody gives a crap about. Why would you expect anyone to buy this? I don't know. I think that everybody who makes webcomics merchandise needs have an outside person to sanity check.
Some cartoonists offered advice about the practical pitfalls of starting webcomics. David Willis, creator of numerous webcomics, including Shortpacked!, It's Walky!, and Dumbing of Age, says that too many cartoonists start posting their webcomics before they figure out if they have the time and endurance to keep it up:
Have a month of comics done before you start just to know that you'll be able to do this. Sometimes some people prefer to is put the entire month up at first so that people have something to read through when the website first starts up. I don't like to do that because I like the day-to-day progression of people being introduced to things as I write them, but that's something that people definitely have done. That's a good strategy.
Biggest mistakes are not scanning and keeping work at a print resolution, 300dpi or higher. Doing too much planning, having a huge overwrought graphic novel that you need to get just perfect before you've even started, that's another one, because most people can't actually follow through with that. They just peter out before they even start the thing. Those are by far the biggest ones.
Kel McDonald, creator of, among other comics, Sorcery 101 (previously) and Misfits of Avalon (previously) echoes Dahm's point about print-quality files. She ended up redrawing hundreds of pages of Sorcery 101 so she could release a print volume. "That's four years of work I had to redo."
And finally, Willis tells us, don't do this:
Their first comic should not be about how they don't have a joke in the last panel. That's a common thing. So it's "Oops, you forgot to tell a joke."