Homework For Webtoonists
That familiar lingering scent, the heady musk of worry and frustration at a summer that is dribbling away through your sweaty, sunburned, strawberry ice cream-stained fingers?
*That* is a clear olfactory hint that school’s about ready to come trampling back, ready and raring to monopolize all your free time again. It’s already plotting and planning nefariously, waiting eagerly to push you to the limit with cruel assignments and cafeteria meat product that is probably made out of old shredded assignments about the nutritional value of cafeteria meat product.
In the spirit of going back to school, I’d like to give all you webtoonists a bit of homework.
I’m qualified to do so, don’tcha know – I once taught my kid sis how to chuck a baseball, how to play war with those little plastic smurfs, how to sneak downstairs to watch TV at night by crawling in the hall under a blanket, (which obviously makes you undetectable to parental eyes… I’m sure they only discovered me each time without fail because someone else tipped ’em off, lousy Deep Throat). If that doesn’t qualify me as a grade-A teacher, then I don’t know WHAT does.
Back to the lesson at hand, or rather the lesson I’m going to give you, which is this: There are thousands of webcomics out there.
So read some.
By some, however, I mean more than just 4 or 5. Or even 10 or 12.
Despite what you may hear some people say, you really DO become a master at something if you actually STUDY and LEARN. Screw those who say that raw talent is enough to get someone far enough. While that may work for, say, .00001% of our world population (and even then, I feel I’m being generous with that guesstimation here), I’m afraid that the rest of us will not be able to get very far simply on ‘raw ability.’ Especially if you want to be more than just a small name in a huge fishbowl full of artists all fighting for that little plastic publishing castle complete with plastic treasure chest full of royalty coin.
Think of this analogy: when I went to elementary school, I was one of the brightest kids there – in fact, I had the highest grade average by far. On top of that, I was one of the top three athletes there, too. When I hit junior high, I found myself surprised as all get-out when after the first semester I found myself not only NOT being the brightest kid there, but not even in the top ten! And as for athletics, PFF! I suddenly found myself struggling to just be a second-stringer on the school teams!
After having coasted for six years in a little locality where I shone, I found myself looking awfully dim next to all these others who’d always been around, but lurked just beyond my awareness until we joined up in a larger circle of people. It took me the three years to work hard and such to get myself up to this new par, and exceed it. I actually had to PRACTISE and EXERCISE and stuff – something I had never done before!
Then I hit high school, and the whole process started all over again. And let’s not even talk about my college years.
See, it’s easy to shine without any work if your circle is small. If, when drawing your webcomic, you honestly have NO intentions beyond making a tiny group of friends or such happy, then raw ability may very well be enough. It’s like being the office clown, or the local billiards shark.
As soon as you aim for a larger population base, however, you can’t expect that the standards of this new crowd will be as forgiving as those of a smaller crowd, because in a larger pool of people, there are going to be MANY others with as much, if not much more, talent than you. People will have seen more, and will expect more as a result. And since raw talent is pretty much a finite amount, once you’ve tapped all of it, you’ll have nothing more to give…
…unless to start to hone and build on this raw material.
This is where information becomes your friend. Why do you think that pro sports teams send out scouts to EVERY other team’s games? Why do you think that espionage is an age-old tradition in world politics? Simple: the more you know about something, the better you can reach your goals, whatever they may be.
In this case, it’s webcomics. If you have any SERIOUS aspirations at becoming a pro or making a name, you first have to feel out the competition, study the peers, observe the community. How many times have I seen a webcomic come out recently with an idea that the creator is CONVINCED is fresh and original, when in reality, it’s already been done a few dozen times in the last year alone? Hell, how many people think that breaking the fourth wall is something new and original, for example?
I’ve got news for ya – not only has it been done to death in webcomics, but it’s likewise been around since before Dave Sim talked to his cartoon creation in his own comic a decade or two ago, and before Agatha Christie had a narrator suddenly address the reader in her mystery novels, and even before Shakespeare had his actors speak in asides to the audience, we had the Greeks who spoke in choruses to the watching public. Who knows who did it before THEM?
Back to the present, it all comes down to being a smart businessperson. The less mistakes you make from the outset, the better, and the more research you do before you start, the more mistakes you will be able to avoid, simply because you saw others do the mistakes before you.
So with the familiar traumatizing ringing of school bells just around the corner, why not add just a little more to your workload? You don’t have to be reading a bajillion comics from day one, but even if you make the effort to find at least ONE new webcomic every few days, and actually take the time to take more than a cursory glance, you might find yourself learning a LOT more about how to improve your perspective, or how to try a new panel layout, or how to letter differently, or how NOT to use a certain tired joke, character, or plot device you thought was new.
And hey, an added bonus – you might find a few more comics you like to read. More pragmatic bonus: other people who follow this philosophy may find themselves looking at YOUR comic, and LIKING it, too.
Damonk is the Editor in Chief and the Executive Editor for Reviews.