Comic Non-Sans: Dead Comic Days

It's okay, it happens to everyone.

I went through a period early in my first comic’s run where I couldn’t update for a few days.  A few days turned into a few weeks, and before I knew it I was on an unofficial hiatus.  It’s like anything else — stop for a couple days, and after a while you fall out of whatever it is properly.  That goes for webcomicking, exercise, keeping up with your blog reading, finishing Super Robot Wars, alphabetizing your tea collection …

… I’ll start over.

The point is, once we graduate, none of us is actually like that one annoying overachiever kid in school who never misses a day of class in their life and gets a Perfect Attendance certificate at the end of the year.  Even if we’re that good, we get fall-down sick, we forget we’ve got a family engagement that day, our writer/artist has a crisis (not by Jeremy Clarkson’s definition), we just plain don’t have enough time before our flight leaves for England because we were out drinking the night before instead of packing …

… I’ll start over again.

Piro (with the help of Shirt Guy Dom) was the first — by my limited intelligence, anyway — to set the standard of a dead artist day.  Please for the love of God correct me if I’m wrong.  That is, the concept of instead of saying “I’m not well today, see you Friday,” going “I’m not well today, but here’s something, even if that something is a guy drawing stick figures.”

It’s that old thing all webcomickers tell people: a reliable update schedule counts for a lot.  But at the same time, if you can’t turn out a good page or it just isn’t happening for whatever reason, pushing yourself isn’t going to do any better by you or anyone.  And if you collaborate, while you may trust your cohort and they may be incredibly reliable, they have a life that’s just as unpredictable as your own.

It’s totally possible, and theoretically feasible and very easy, to stick a note in your rant saying there’s no comic today, tune in next time.  But I always, always operate under the rather pessimistic assumption that no one reads my rants — partly because a lot of readers, like myself, are at work and skimming their morning bookmarks before they have to hunker down to work.  If you’ve gotta do something to catch the reader’s eye, do it where they’re going to look anyway.

In my past experience, some things work better than others (aside from just working in advance whenever possible) …

1. Scan old pics or stuff from notebooks.  I got this idea from a few other webcomickers.  Double-great if you have old concept art or sketches of relevant characters.  For some reason, people also seem to like high school doodles.

2. A piece of the upcoming page, if it’s partly done.  Easy to get posted, and it’s something to tide the readers over and give them something to look forward to.

3. Sketch something up really quick.  This is actually most fun to do when you’re down with a fever because every picture is a grand new surprise once you’re well again.

4. To me the best option has always been to keep a week’s worth of material handy.  If you work alone, building up an actual buffer pretty much eliminates any need for filler if you’re conscientious.  If you’re artist to another writer, though, and they find themselves floored and/or unable to send things to you (power outages have been one co-writer’s and my nemesis in the past), this is especially helpful.

My favorite thing to do, and other people seem to like this, is a series of omake.  Readers tend to get a kick out of these because, bare minimum, it’s new material — and more often than not, they’re funny.  This is especially fun if you do a particularly dark, dramatic, violent, and/or intricately drawn comic.  And there are a lot of options.  Myself, I do two strips of four panels each, one dealing with a plot point at hand, one retelling (occasionally truthfully) the exploits of self and collaborator.  A lot of times these can generate as much talk as the pages themselves.

My rule of thumb is have enough to cover you for a week.  And just keep refilling it.  Knowing that in an emergency you could disappear for that long and no one would have to know can save a lot of stress.

(One of my absolute favorite things here is when a character has a bullet coming at their head in the last panel of the previous page, then my co-writer gets sick and I slap up a page that’s heavy on the hilarity.  One wonders how that must mess with a reader’s head.)

The basic point being, yes — we need time off.  The unexpected happens.  But it’s fair and good and looks a bit clever if, provided we’re not taking a major hiatus, we still give the readers something to keep them occupied while we’re away or without power or sprawled on the floor of the bathroom with a 103 fever sending text messages to our mother asking for a mercy killing …

… I’ll start again.

Posted on November 2, 2010 at 12:53 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Webcomics · Tagged with: ,