How to Webcomic Review

By | Monday, November 08, 2021 Leave a Comment
Earlier this year, Star Prichard ran a Kickstarter project to publish How to Webcomic! The Ultimate Guie to Making Online Comics. With my long-running interest in webcomics (*cough*cough* check out my Eisner-nominated book on the subject here *cough*) and the simple fact that only a handful of books have ever been written about webcomics to begin with, I of course jumped on board, eager to see what Prichard has to say. Prichard, if you're unfamiliar, has been running her current webcomic Castoff for about six years now, and had a couple of shorter ones before that. So she's definitly got some first-hand experience, but she also young enough that she's grown up with webcomics being a thing and isn't coming to the table with either baggage from print-exclusive expectations or the we're-making-this-all-up-as-we-go approach that earlier webcomikers had to forge.

One of the challenges I think anyone trying to write a "how to" book for webcomics faces is trying to establish what assumptions you need to make about your book's audience. What I mean specifically is: what do they know about making comics broadly speaking? Part of making webcomics is just the ability to make comics, so how much of that ground do you cover before getting to the elements that are unique to webcomics? How much do you go over storytelling? How much do talk about character design? How much time do you spend on lettering? That is all integral to webcomics, but not unique to it, so how much of your book do you devote to those aspects versus just telling your reader to go read one of the many books on how to make comics before starting this one?

In Prichard's case, she uses about the first two-thirds of the book to cover general comic book creation. She's coming to the table assuming her audience has a very limited understanding of making comics in any form. In the book, she makes reference to the fact that she made her first webcomic when she was a sophomore in high school, so my guess is that that's effectively her audience. She wrote the book that she wishes she would've had back then. And from that perspective, covering a lot of "how to make (not-necessarily-web)comics" makes sense. The last third of the book focuses more specifically on the more unique aspects of creating a webcomic. She talks about what should be on the site (besides the webcomic itself!), social media, how you might be able to make money, dealing with online haters that come to your site, etc.

The tone of the book is very casual and positive (with plenty of spot illustrations and cartoons by Prichard) but also realistic. Prichard goes out of her way to note that you likely won't make much money from your webcomic and, if you do, it sure ain't gonna happen quickly. But there's a definite "who cares if no one else likes it; tell the awesome story you want to tell -- you can do it!" vibe to the whole book. You can almost feel how eager she is to see some 14-year-old trying their hand at making webcomics for the first time.

As of today, the only other still-in-print books on how to make webcomics are the two written/published by Brad Guigar. Both are longer (The Webcomics Handbook is over twice as long!) and go into more depth, but I can see that being a turn-off for a certain sector of potential creators. Prichard's book is, in some respects, less intimidating and might be better suited for younger audiences with less self-confidence or those still trying to ascertain whether they really even want to try pursuing this webcomic idea. So while there is some overlap in material, I think there's easily enough differentiation between the two audiences for both.

I do have a few things I didn't care for with this book however. First is that Prichard never provides any actual sources. There are several places where she does list out different software people can use, collectives they can join -- examples of other sources people can reference -- but she never provides any URLs. Including for her own webcomic Castoff which she uses as an example repeatedly! The only URL in the entire book is her personal website on the About the Author page. While some tools are indeed unique enough that they'll pop up first with a simple Google search, that's not necessarily always the case. And even if it is, given her presumed audience, will it be obvious enough that they've gone to the right site she was talking about? I think it would've been easy to just include some URLs to save readers a bit of efffort and potential confusion.

The other issue I had was that she has a few instances where she very overtly hand-waves away some large gaps in her knowledge. In her chapter on making money for example, the entirety of her comments on not just Kickstarter but crowdfunding as a whole are: "When it comes time to print your comic, a lot of creators hold crowdfunding events to help fund the printing of their physical books! I don't have enough experience to go into detail myself, but there are plenty of resources out there to help!" That's it. Not even a broad outline of crowdfunding as a concept, or even a basic definition, much less any direction on what to even consider looking for. Although that is the most obvious example, she does basically the same thing a couple other times in the book as well. I respect not trying to bullshit your audience if you're not a complete expert in literally every aspect of making a webcomic, but I think you undermine your own credibility if you go to the trouble of listing out all the things, but only explain the ones you're familiar with. I think you should either learn enough about the ones you're not familiar with to present the same type of information as the ones you are familiar with (and we're realistically only talking about a cursory overview anyway) or speak to the topic more broadly in a fashion that covers everything more-or-less equally.

If you've already started a webcomic and are hoping to find out ways to grow your audience or start to actually make money off it, you're probably better off with one of Guigar's books. But if you're struggling with a webcomic idea and don't know how to really get started with it, or maybe you've got some pages drawn and are thinking "now what?" Prichard's How to Webcomic is probably more up your alley. She is, as of Friday, still in the process of fulfilling her Kickstarter pledges, but for $20 US, you can order it from her site and I expect she'll be able to get to those orders fairly soon.
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