Marc Alan Fishman: Words of Advice, From One Noob to Another
The Sunday after Free Comic Book Day, we Unshaven lads participated in a very old-skool styled convention. Housed in a ballroom and corridor in a hotel off a major road with little to no foot traffic. Don’t get me wrong, the show was fine for us. We made back our cost of attending, and a little to spare. Even better? I found some old Exo-Squad action figures and Matt got some old Marvel trading cards. It was a good day. What really made the con for us though, was our across-the-aisle neighbor. A young pup, still in college, selling at his first show. Shucks, we thought, that was us just a few years ago.
And then he asked us for advice.
We tripped over ourselves to unearth every con-attending-tip we’d accrued over the years. And this dude … well … he ate it up. This is what it must feel like to be Mike Gold.
With that in mind, I thought I might take a week off my normal ranting and raving to give some sage advice to all four of you reading this column who are either younger than me, or like ironically reading advice from a nobody. Specifically, I want to address people out there looking to start a web-comic. Why? Well, because Unshaven Comics wants to do it. See? I’m offering advice to myself. How meta! But I digress … some things to consider:
1. Deadlines exist on the web too.
The best web-comics being produced today all share one thing in common. They update on a schedule. The point is clear: Commit or quit. If nothing else, I freely admit this is the single reason Unshaven Comics has yet to have to throw a tooned-up beard in the ring. We’ve simply never mustered the gumption to produce work in such a manner people can depend on it. With the advent of our website we’ve slowly come to terms with posting content on a schedule. We’ve released podcasts nearly every week the site’s been live … as well as releasing monthly sketch contests inspired by our fans. It’s only now that we feel comfortable enough to commit to a schedule. Hence … a forthcoming launch is inevitable.
2. Your voice will come all in good time.
I look at my favorite web-comics these days … Penny Arcade, PvP, Let’s Be Friends Again, The Gutters … and it’s easy to notice how styles (both in script and in presentation) evolve over time. Well, maybe not so much The Gutters, but there’s always an exception to the rule. One of the best parts of working on the web is that it’s a forever-shifting canvas. All artists evolve. A web-comic is as much a timeline of an artist’s work as anything else. The key here is to just start making strips, and let the product and the responses you get to it, help shape it as you continue. This applies not only to the ‘funnies’ mind you. Even the serious web-comic is a never-ending project in process. Just as joke writers learn to find their own voice … so too, do novelists, musicians, etc. Simply put? Your comic needs to have a point-of-view, and a set of rules to play with and then eventually break. None of this comes though, if you’re waiting to “perfect the idea.” Sometimes you just have to hit “post” and let it ride.
3. Putting your name on it means it shouldn’t suck.
It’s an oldie but a goodie. If you sign your name to something, mean it. A commitment to craft at all times can only stand to sway your readership to stick it out with you. Read and reread your script. Ensure characters stay on model. If you can’t draw a hand, go take some classes and come back when you’re ready. Your audience will evolve with you, but if your “pilot” isn’t enough to capture them the first time you’re wasting pixels and bandwidth. While this may seen an antithesis to my previous point, it is indeed not. Put frankly, you need to find a balance between delivering a product you’re proud of, and challenging yourself to get better with every book/strip/joke/piece.
4. No creator is an island.
The single best part of making comics for me is sharing the experience with my two best friends. The second best part of making comics is meeting and collaborating with like-minded creators. Scott Kurtz eventually packed his bags and moved to Seattle to be inspired and challenged by the Penny Arcade dudes. In Art School the critique exists not to knock us down as much as it’s there to pick us up after we fall. That being said, sharing your work as you create can only stand to ensure you reach your target audience with the best foot forward.
5. Don’t be afraid to get off-topic.
Some of my favorite strips have all been smart enough to know when to take a break. Not from posting mind you … but from continuing a narrative without coming up for air. Fans of PvP no doubt refer to LOLBat, Scott Kurtz’s love letter to Memes, action comics tropes, and lighter-than-normal punchlines. And after a heavier set of strips, nothing cleanses the palate (of both artist and reader) better than a well-placed non-sequitur. The key being able to know when to “go to the well” to take that break. Cookies are only a sometimes food, kiddos.
I’m sure there’s tons more points to be made on this subject. Consider this being me putting a pin in the idea. And hey, I’m no stranger to listening to myself. If you have any suggestions for budding web-comic creators … why not put some of them in the comments below?
See you in the funny pages. Well … webpages that is …
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