The Apple of Discord is taking a break while I come up with new and
interesting stuff. In the meantime, I STRONGLY recommend you check out my
Fantasy Parody Epic, Apple Valley and my brand new 5-day a week humorous
expose of the dark underbelly of the Webcomic world, Webcomic Hell.

Podcasted: The Webcomc Beacon (post-cast)

As promised, here’s the link to Round 1 of the “How NOT To” panel/lecture/rant.  Fes, Tanya, Mark, and I all successfully tackled Commandments 1 thru 5, and only sort of ran horribly over time and frustrated Fes.  For those of you who are just going to TL:DL (that’s “Too Long, Didn’t Listen, since it is a podcast) it anyway, here’s a brief rundown of items one thru five:

1. Breaking the Fourth Wall

While excessive amounts of this can seriously hurt a comic, it’s not that bad… still, there’s a good reason I’ve placed this at the top of the list – comics that start out with the main character introducing him/herself and the rest of the cast to the reader.  This is NEVER a good sign.  There are many clever ways to get around blatant fourth-wall-breaking – having characters “write in a journal” to express their internal thoughts and feelings or having someone drop a self-important “Captain’s Log” style narration over what they’re doing – both are perfectly serviceable.

2. Lame or Overused Story Ideas

There are very few original ideas left out there.  As South Park aptly pointed out, no matter how original you are, the Simpsons have probably already been there and done that.  But, just because there’s very little virgin ground left, it doesn’t mean you have an excuse to wear a rut in the floor following the path of every webcomic that’s come before you.  A few examples of the overused plot device are:

  • New (interesting) roommates moving into the dorm/apartment
  • “I’m bored, let’s start our own webcomic!”
  • “I’m bored, let’s get a cute pet that is actually much more than it’s fuzzy form would indicate”
  • Orc Porn

3. Forbidden Formats

I’m not saying that these formats themselves are bad – I actually enjoy a couple of them – but they do carry a certain stigma upon them.  If you’re a novice in the world of webcomics and are working on your first comic ever, or are looking for a comic that would be acceptable and marketable to all fields, there are a few types of comics that you might want to avoid:

  • Sprite Comics – due to various legal issues (like you probably don’t own the rights to use Mega Man for anything other than Fair Use parody) and the overwhelming derth of other spritecomics that a) exist and b) suck, this is probably best to be avoided unless you know what you’re getting into.
  • Gamer Comics – don’t be a clone of Penny Arcade.  The world doesn’t need PA, and it certainly doesn’t need any more poorly conceived Penny Arcade ripoffs.
  • Mature Comics – don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a bit of the ol’ sex and ultraviolence, but since a good share of the webcomic readers out there are under the age of 18, doing one of these automatically limits your pool of potential readers drastically.
  • Furry Comics – Doing a comic with anthro characters opens you up to an entirely different dimension of webcomic fandom – furry fans.  They tend to be a bit more devout and helpful, I’ll give them serious credit for that, but the downside is that there’s a lot of people who are anti-furry who will not read your comic just because the main character is a fox instead of a human.
  • Photo Comics – this one’s on the bubble – there aren’t many of them, and mostly they’re not all that well done.  Those that are done well may still face issues in being “part of the community” since a great deal of the things discussed within the webcomic world (sketching, inking, coloring, etc) do not apply to them.

4. Inspiration vs Imitation

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – but plagarism is still a crime.  There’s nothing wrong with using the comics/webcomics you’ve read (or still do) to help give you ideas for your own comic, but how closely your work resembles the original is a narrow line to walk, and one that your readership will notice… especially if they read your comic and the comic you’re borrowing ideas from.  I can’t count the number of times over the years when I’ve been reading a comic and suddenly went “wait a minute, didn’t ____________ do this exact same storyarc a few months back?”

Also, while I’m on the subject, a word about advertising and branding.  If you’re blatantly ripping off Penny Arcade or XKCD, maybe you shouldn’t start things off by saying “If you like Penny Arcade…” or “Just like XKCD, but…”  Just a thought.

5. Overall Readability

I’m not talking about “How good is it?” readability, I’m talking about “Can my eyes make out the letters and form words out of them?” readability.  It’s very important to select a font that is both scalable and discernable, something that doesn’t make the reader’s eyes bleed or cause them to have to hover 1/2 inch away from the screen to make out your 2 pt font.  Script, cursive, and overly curvy fonts are all more-0r-less no-no’s for everyday text, unless you’ve got an overly girly girl character and you want to make it really obvious that they’re pouring as much sugar they can into every syllable.

I think that people, especially those who draw their comics out traditionally on pencil-and-paper and then move them to digital formatting, do not give adequate consideration to how much room words take up, or to how important they are.  Text and text bubbles are going to be bonded to your art – BECOME part of your art – and need to be treated with as much skill and care as everything else that goes into the final work.  That’s why comic books have guys – letterists – who’s entire job it is is to make the words look good – that’s how important it is.

And while we’re on the subject – Comic Sans.  Don’t use it.  Now, I’m not going to go into the whole pro-con Comic Sans debate here, and I’m certainly not taking sides – but I would point out, like I did for number 3, that if you’ve got anything that as many people violently hate as comic sans (and believe me, they do) than maybe you shouldn’t be using it as the font in your comics.  The internet’s full of free fonts.  Pick a different one.

This concludes Part 1 – stay tuned for Part 2, next week, same bat time, same bat channel.

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