My release schedule plans
Okay, things have been really, really busy on the home front lately. I am trying very hard to get a long overdue commissioned project done for Joe, the guy that writes and draws Shattered Myth. It’s long, long overdue and it’s taking higher priority than just about every other artistic endeavor on my plate right now.
However, I have some free time where I can’t work on that project right now because I’m not on my desktop with all my handy comics-making tools, so I thought I’d babble a little about my plans for Djinnborn posting and publication.
I’ll be posting pages twice per week. Not sure what days yet, but twice a week worked for me in Metamorphosis and will work for me here, too.
Djinnborn will be released in a 20-page-per-issue structure.
When I started Metamorphosis, I was doing the “chapter” thing. The prologue went for about 13 pages. Chapter 1 was just over 30. As I started writing the script for Chapter 2, I realized Chapter 2 would be over 60 pages, if not more. I looked at future story arcs and realized each individual “chapter” could become even longer.
This didn’t sit well with me. It took me a little bit to realize why.
Web-based comics are a slow medium. This can’t be helped. Even if you post a page every day, it is still pretty slow. I mean, let’s face it. You can go to the store, buy a print comic book, and read it as quickly or as slowly as you like. You watch a TV serial and you get an entire story arc for just an hour of your time.
With an online comic, you’re bound to a single page when the writer/artist decides it should be posted. Suppose the comic posts new pages twice a week. That can take a long time to resolve a single story. Let’s take my Metamorphosis examples and see what that means.
Metamorphosis updated twice a week. Granted, I didn’t update every week, but I hit most of them. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say I updated twice a week, every week, starting with the very first page.
My prologue was about 13 pages. That means it would take over six weeks just to introduce my comic. That’s a long time just to get a story started! Now consider the fact that Metamorphosis had over 100 pages spanning the prologue, two story arcs, and starting into a third. Even if I had posted twice a week every week without fail, it would have taken me over a year to show the whole story.
Look at it another way. It takes a whole year to show roughly three episodes of a TV show.
Back to the Issues
I decided to switch to using “Issues” instead of “Chapters” a little ways into the second story arc. As I mentioned, I realized my “chapters” were getting progressively longer. I felt that dragging a single chapter on for the better part of a year meant I was taking too much time. Though really, it’s a matter of semantics.
Here’s what I like about the “Issue” model.
The average DC or Marvel issue has about 20-30 pages. Each issue is a self-contained story. Sometimes that story is part of a larger arc. But generally, each individual issue has a beginning, climax, and end. Readers can get a sense of closure for the immediate story, even if that closure is immediately followed by a cliffhanger (as is usually the case in serial comics).
I think this is a good tactic for long-form online comic producers to follow. Gag-a-day and similar comics don’t have to worry about it as much. But long-form/serial online comics could gain much from it. If you take your big story arc and break it up into a series of smaller, more contained arcs. As many of us know, Internet users are notoriously fickle and have short attention spans. The sooner you can give them satisfaction, the better. If I break up Djinnborn into a series of 20-page issues instead of one big 100-page chapter, I can provide a lot more closure a lot more quickly. It will take me 10 weeks to reach a dividing point instead of a year. It’s still slower than a monthly serial, but it’s faster.
It isn’t very different functionally. You still post X number of times per week. It’s just a different way of structuring and labeling your comic.
Addressing the Issues
“Issue” format has another advantage from a writing perspective.
First, by forcing yourself to divide your story into 20-page blocks, you set up a systematic wave of events that can help you structure your outline. Most fiction-writing advice will tell you that a good story is set up in a wave. You build up and build up and build up, then you hit the climax point and then everything comes to a head. There are many, many books on this topic and I can recommend some titles if you’re interested. Many novels and other stories repeat countless smaller waves within the course of the big wave.
So why is this relevant?
Have you ever reached a point in a story where nothing seems to be happening? Or the story wanders off to things that are not important? That’s because the story lost track of its wave.
The wave of start -> buildup -> climax -> resolution is a big part of what keeps readers engaged. When the wave goes out of sync, readers usually lose interest.
This wave does not apply only to the overarching plot, either. Take your favorite novel and go through it. Try and spot how many smaller waves you find. Chances are, almost every chapter, every scene, sometimes even every dialog is built using the wave. It keeps things exciting and drives the plot forward.
I believe the smaller waves go a long way toward keeping a long-form online comic engaging. It certainly works for the big name comics, right?
Issues of Restriction
The other major advantage involves placing restrictions on yourself to better yourself.
That sounds kind of counter-intuitive, right? Well, bear with me for a little while I explain.
Placing restrictions and boundaries on what you can do with a creative work actually encourages your creativity. A lot of drawing exercises forbid you from using certain techniques or colors, or limit how what tools or even what shapes you can use. Have you ever heard of flash fiction? The goal of flash fiction is to tell an entire story with only a few (usually 100) words. It’s hard!
But here’s where the advantage comes in. By forbidding yourself from thinking about a story in one way, you force yourself to think of it in other ways — ways you probably never would have considered before. This ultimately expands your creative muscle and gives you a much bigger arsenal once you remove the restrictions.
One of the problems I’ve seen with many long-form online comics is that they start to wander aimlessly with no real sense of direction. The writer has a vague idea of what he or she wants to do but no real road to follow. There’s no wave, so the story falls flat.
I think forcing yourself into an issue format can make you more conscious about the wave. Tell yourself that you need to contain an entire section of your story within 20-30 pages — pick a set number so that you have a clear goal. Tell yourself this 20-30 page section of the story needs to have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Do this with each part of your plot and see how your story turns out.
This style issue-based style of writing has helped me tremendously in learning how to write a webcomic during Metamorphosis. I plan to refine the idea for Djinnborn and really make it work for me.
I challenge you all to try the same!