Sunday, January 12, 2014

Don't Plan Epic Comics

I've been thinking about comics more lately.  Partly because I feel awful about not finishing Gothbunnies and letting my readers down, partly because I ran out of podcasts to listen to in December and started going through Webcomics Weekly again, and partly because I am putting together a book of my other comics.  Also Hourly Comic Day is coming up in a couple of weeks.  Which reminds me... it's almost time for Neil's and my Floating Anniversary.  Is it weird that I remember my anniversary largely by the fact that it happens around Hourly Comic Day and I occasionally draw a comic about it?

Anyway.  Comics!  I've been seeing some posts around lately about people's rather grandiose comic plans.  They are going to make a 500 volume epic story with a cast of hundreds.  They have a thousand-page novel that they want to turn into a comic.  They will start three series simultaneously.  Everything will be drawn in a photorealistic manner.

This kind of plan lasts for approximately 10 whole pages of work.  The fact is that a comic book requires an obscene amount of drawing.  When I was drawing Gothbunnies, each black and white page took me about 7 hours to make.  I was working full time at the time, and I was able to make about one a week.  I have nothing but admiration for people like Tom Siddell who worked full time and used to spend his weekends drawing Gunnerkrigg Court AND update it three times a week.  There is a reason why he is a full-time comic artist and I am not.

But what this means is that a 200-page black and white graphic novel with fairly simple art takes about 1400 hours to make, or about 10 months if you are working a fairly standard full-time workweek.  So no, that 500-volume epic is not going to get made unless you clone yourself (or hire assistants and spend literally all your time in the studio.  In which case congratulations, you are now mini-Marvel.  I look forward to reading your stuff.)  That thousand page novel is going to turn into tens of thousands of pages of art.  Visual storytelling compresses description but expands action greatly, and you have to show everything.  And if you want to make a photorealistic comic, you had better be able to do a photorealistic page in 8 hours or less or you are still going to be drawing that same comic when you're 90.

Comics take a long time, and every inefficiency in the process is multiplied by the number of pages in the comic.  If you are interested in making comics, start small.  Test out what is feasible before you commit to a large project.  Anyone can do just about anything for 30 days but is it still going to be fun in 30 months?  I can confirm that your readers are going to be pretty mad if you end up stopping your comic 200 pages in because you didn't plan it out well enough and totally underestimated the amount of work it was going to take.

This is also something that an artist has to keep in mind when they are reviewing job offers.  The writer has great plans.  But the writer will be doing a fraction of the work that you will be doing.  Get compensated fairly!  Very few comics make a lot of money.  You will not be seeing grand royalties from the book.  Ask for a decent page rate and if the writer doesn't want to give it to you, don't take the job.  There will be three other unknown writers posting similar projects tomorrow.  You're not missing out.  If you really really like the project and the writer can't afford you, enter into a full partnership so you own half the project and make the writer handle everything else.  You are going to be too busy drawing to do it.

So there you go.  Come back on February 2 or 3rd to read this year's installment of Hourly Comic Day!

PS - does anyone have any art-related podcasts they listen to that they can recommend?  I have gone through the archives of Webcomics Weekly, Escape from Illustration Island, The Animation Podcast, Ninja Mountain and Seqalab.  I am now working my way through Welcome to Nightvale but they are only 20 minutes long!  (I can recommend all of the above, by the way, if you are an artist who likes to listen to podcasts while they work.)  Right now I have to listen to the local radio stations and yesterday they had a guy somewhere in the city trying to sell clean urine.  Please help.

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