SO YOU WANT TO START A WEBCOMIC
One of the most common questions I get is “Hey Jeph! I want to start a webcomic of my own, BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW!!! WHAT DO I DO?!?!?!”
WELL HERE’S HOW.
STEP 1: COME UP WITH AN IDEA. This is a complex process and really worthy of its own entire article, so I’m not gonna touch on this here. But suffice to say, if you want to start a webcomic, you need an idea. Don’t start one until you have that idea.
STEP 2: COME UP WITH A TITLE AND BUY A DOMAIN NAME. Ideally, the title and domain name should be the same. Keep it simple, don’t try to be TOO clever. The TLD doesn’t really matter- I’ve never had a .com and I do just fine. I use Hover for all my domain registry needs. Buying your domain shouldn’t cost any more than $15 per year.
Don’t get a subdomain on somebody else’s site (ie mywebcomic.buttpig.com or handlefight.net/jerryscomicaboutfeelings). This is a waste of time, nobody will be able to remember your web address, and it looks unprofessional. Spend the fifteen bucks.
STEP 3: SECURE HOSTING. Good starter packages from reputable companies can be had for very cheap, these days. DreamHost currently has a starter package for $8.95/month, and if you can’t afford that…maybe you’re not ready to do a webcomic?
Some tips: "Free" hosting is never free in the long run, NO MATTER WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN TOLD BY THE PERSON OFFERING IT. "Unlimited" bandwidth is often NOT ACTUALLY UNLIMITED, but when you’re starting out it probably won’t matter anyway. You are probably going to be fine with just a basic hosting package as you start out- immediate, overwhelming success is highly unlikely, but if it should happen you can always upgrade your hosting plan. Hosting your comic via Blogger or Livejournal or Tumblr or one of the other free services is…okay, I guess. But you’re really better off with your own hosting plan, and the control and flexibility that gives you.
STEP 4: BUILD YOUR WEBSITE. This is another topic that could be its own whole article, but here are the basics: keep it simple, make it easy to navigate, and make sure the comic is the center of attention. You don’t HAVE to know HTML and CSS to do a webcomic but OH MY GOD IT HELPS. And they’re both really easy to learn! Beyond that, if you know PHP and mySQL and can put together your own archives/navigation, more power to you! But if you don’t know how to program (I don’t) there are plenty of alternatives, from really powerful, customizable stuff like WordPress and ComicPress to stupid-simple (but much less flexible) stuff like Blogspot code. (Back when I was doing IndieTits, all of its code and navigation was just done via Blogger with a custom CSS skin over top.) And of course you can always make friends or (better yet, because it ensures reliability) pay someone to do all this for you.
Protip: Seduce a programmer, have them build your site for you. Warning: may have Consequences.
STEP 5: START WORKING ON YOUR ACTUAL COMIC. You can do this concurrently or before steps 1 through 4. It is, of course, the whole point and the most important part! I recommend having at least a month’s worth of comics done before you actually publish them on the site. This number will vary depending on your update schedule.
Don’t have your first strip being your main character(s) doing some variation of “Welcome to the comic! What is it about, anyway? Man…I dunno…” or any other fourth-wall breaking nonsense. You want to start off as strong as possible.
STEP 6: DETERMINE AN UPDATE SCHEDULE, AND STICK TO IT. You might have some ideas before you actually start making your comic, but you won’t really know for sure what you can realistically keep up with until you’ve done at least five or ten strips. A good rule of thumb is to take whatever updates per week/month seems reasonable to you, and subtract one. If you wanna do 3x a week, do 2x until 2x starts to feel too easy. Your readers would rather have fewer reliable updates than more unreliable ones. You gotta be honest with ‘em. If the best way for you to make comics is to stick to a “when it’s done” schedule, say that upfront. Missing deadlines makes you look like a chump. People resent that shit. Filler art is okay if something comes up, but you really, REALLY need to establish that you are good on your word when it comes to updating.
If you find you’ve overextended yourself, by all means scale back your update schedule until it becomes manageable. It’s better to do that than get burnt out and quit. But ideally you should never find yourself in this position to begin with.
Possibly useful anecdote: when I started QC, I did two strips a week for the first month. That felt too easy, so I switched to a 3x per week schedule for the rest of the first year. I didn’t move to 5x a week until it became my day job, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to have a “real” job and still do a comic every night. To this day, doing 5 strips a week remains a challenge, but I’ve stuck with it and (mostly) succeeded.
STEP 6: LAUNCH THAT SHIT! This is it, your big premiere! Tell all your friends and family! Email your favorite authors and let them know they inspired you to start a comic of your own, and it’d be great if they could check it out in their spare time!
Don’t be a pest about it. Don’t ask established authors to link to it right away. If we like it, we’ll link it when we’re good and ready.
Congratulations! You’re officially Doing a Webcomic!
STEP 7: …OKAY, NOW WHAT???
I bet you thought all the stuff in steps 1 through 6 was the hard part, right? WELL GUESS WHAT, THAT WAS THE EASY STUFF. Because NOW you have to KEEP IT UP. You have to KEEP MAKING COMICS, keep STRIVING TO IMPROVE, in the face of a cold, uncaring internet. You won’t get fanmail. You won’t have people posting on your forum (if you have a forum). You won’t get tons of Twitter followers or people talking about you on other websites or famous cartoonists linking to your strip (probably). Don’t even THINK about making merchandise until you have at LEAST 3,000 unique visitors per update day, and even then expect to ONLY sell enough stuff to make the bare order minimums (I say this from personal experience.)
You have to realize that 99% of webcomics never achieve much of a readership. Only a TINY PERCENTAGE make significant money for their creators, and only a TINY PERCENTAGE of those make enough money to SUPPORT their creators. You can’t go into this field expecting fame or fortune or even recognition. To be frank, the odds are that you will achieve none of these things.
If you really do keep at it, if you really do keep striving to improve, to make friends in the “community” (such as it is), to get the word out, and if you really do good, unique work, you might start to build an audience. It might trickle in slowly over a period of years. You might get Dugg or Redditted or linked by a bigger comic and get a huge influx of temporary traffic.
Even then, your comic might not ever attract a large audience. Success in webcomics is a combination of timing, skill, appeal, and luck. Luck is probably the most important of the four. I’m certainly well-aware of how stupendously, profoundly lucky I have been.
But you can’t let that discourage you, because you won’t know how you’re gonna do unless you KEEP AT IT. And if you’re doing your comic for the right reasons (ie, it’s fun) you should be ABLE to keep at it! And you honestly never know. Your strip COULD be the next XKCD, the next Penny Arcade, the next MS Paint Adventures (it won’t be the next QC because I am systematically murdering and devouring my competition so as to gain their powers).
AND KEEP AT IT.