Web Comics: Notes on a Production Lifecycle

As of this writing, I’ve drawn (maybe not yet published, but definitely drawn) one hundred and fifty unique comic strips for This is Pi Day. The exact style and structure of those strips vary from single-panel dad-gags through a handful of strips that have been six panels long and built on a more complex parental musing.

Getting from concept to a live strip may seem simple when a new one pops up in your feed on a Saturday morning, but the actual effort behind that finished product are much more convoluted.

Inspiration

This is the idea phase. A good idea can come from focused effort, shutting out the world and wandering around through your memory… or as a blinding flash while out for a run. I can’t teach inspiration, but I can suggest that it’s a skill to keep your mind open to recognizing it… and then figuring out how to recall it later.

Time Required: Sometimes the whisper of a moment, sometimes hours of thinking
Tools Used: A solid pair of shoes, a pen and notepad, the voice recorder app on my phone, word processor, or whatever is handy for jotting down notes
End Result: A phrase, a bit of text, a title, a reminder of something said or done, or a bit of a gag or a “wasn’t it funny when…” trigger.

First Draft

That notion needs to become a comic strip, and my focus has always been story first. It’s waaaaaay harder to draw something then try and make that something be funny. Words first, art second. So I write out a rough draft of a script. They are usually cumbersome and wordy, but I tweak them all along the way from here. Rarely — RARELY — are first draft scripts ready for prime time.

Time Required: approximately 20 minutes of focus… any longer and I let it simmer
Tools Used: a quiet space and a word processor. coffee, obviously.
End Result: some words that usually resemble a noted script

Roughing

A friend and I were reflecting on “The Flintstones” cartoon the other day. “Wasn’t it funny how they used the same backgrounds over and over and over?” He asked. “I recycle loads of stuff in my comic.” I argued. I have a huge library of models, and I dig through that to see what I can re-use before I start drawing anything new.

Time Required: 15 minutes
Tools Used: Inkscape and a mouse
End Result: A screen full of duplicate art and props, heads, bodies, limbs, improperly sized objects, and often five or six copies of each model deconstructed to their component vector objects.

New Art

Previous step aside, I have a personal rule: I always put new art into every strip. It may be something big like a prop or a background… or it could just be a hand gesture.

Time Required: 10 minutes to hours, depending on what’s required
Tools Used: Inkscape and a drawing stylus.
End Result: A new bit of vector art, like a prop, a new character, a background, a piece of furniture… and then added to one of my multiple “collection” files where I store all the little pieces.

Compositing

The old and new come together to form some scenes in this step. It really begins to look like something besides Morpheus in the Matrix bootloader now… not much more, but this is where things start to truly come together.

Time Required: 15 minutes
Tools Used: Inkscape, a mouse, sometimes my stylus, but a mouse is best for dragging bits around and lining them up nicely.
End Result: Scenes, floating in a white void

Framing

Like the rest of my art, I keep a library of frames of different shapes and panel count. The script usually dictates the panel count, and I have some rules about what kinds of strips and post when. Four panel strips are my Saturday strips, three panel for black and white series or one off bonus comics, etc. This often is where the composited scenes are rescaled to fit into those frames. I also add backgrounds here… white or other colours and patterns.

Time Required: 15 minutes
Tools Used: Inkscape and a mouse
End Result: The first draft of a comic, but wordless and characters just staring at each other with their mouths agape.

Lettering

Words meet art. Check out my article on FONTS for how I designed and use my own font, but simply this is just copy-pasting the text from the word processor into a rough cut in the drawing software.

Time Required: 20-30 minutes
Tools Used: Inkscape and a mouse… and whatever version of the script is ready.
End Result: A second draft of the comic, with the words roughed in, plain and usually a bit cramped for the space.

Adjustments

This is a tweaking phase. I may choose to rescale the scene, do a final cut of the text by removing (or even adding) words to fix the flow or spacing, bold and rescale fonts, and speech lines or other emphasis marks, and essentially play with everything until I’m happy with the result. The time really varies here because sometimes I nail in the first go… sometime I go back to this stage multiple times until I’m happy with the product.

Time Required: 5 minutes to hours across multiple days.
Tools Used: Inkscape and a mouse.
End Result: Ideally, the final draft of the comic in it’s vector file format, named and archived safely (I’ll write a whole article on that part someday)

Export

I publish a medium quality PNG file, but I export it and archive it in super-high definition… essentially the resolution of a 20 megapixel photo. This is just a step in the go-live.

Time Required: About a minute.
Tools Used: Inkscape and a mouse. Dropbox for my archive.
End Result: A web-ready file, ready for upload.

Publishing

Here the effort is essentially getting the comic online, and that can be quick or slow, detailed or lazy. At the bare minimum I write a WordPress post in a standard format (Image, date, category, tags, title, and maybe some text) and an Instagram post when the WordPress post launches (comic, explanation, hashtags).

Time Required: 5 – 30 minutes, depending on how lazy I am about writing something in the post.
Tools Used: WordPress & Instagram
End Result: What you see online.

Promoting

If I could sum this up in a short paragraph, I’d be a millionaire artist. Getting yourself noticed, read, shared, enjoyed… that’s the holy grail of it all right?

Time Required: Forever.
Tools Used: Grit, determination, a hearty dose of swallowed pride, and whatever means I can get the word out.
End Result: One more fan, one more like, one more happy reader.

Do you Like Web Comics?

Hey! Me too! What a coincidence.

This is Pi Day is an independent web comic about fatherhood, running, video games, science, art, independence, integrity, imagination and just generally ... family adventure. It is created, written, illustrated, and promoted by Brad Salomons from a quiet suburb of a remote Canadian city called Edmonton, Alberta.

Looking for more pi? We regularly celebrate at the great circle of math, science and technology culture. This is Pi Day has been calculated as the product of one geeky dad, one curious kid, and an irrational volume of corny dad jokes.

New full strips are published on Saturday mornings (and shorts, appearing randomly whenever I draw them). This is Pi Day will always be free to read on this site, but if you enjoy it please help me out by sharing the link on social media or supporting in other ways.