Multipurpose Your Pages

Like many other long-form adventure webcomics, Johnny Saturn began as a print comic.  I make a point of reusing my art as often as I can, so Johnny Saturn began running on Graphic Smash even before the print version hit the shelves.  Anyway, with its origins in print, I originally formatted it in full page form on the web and presented one page a week. 


It did not have to be that way, of course.  Tim Demeter, of “Reckless Life” fame, advised me that it was better to update more often with less content than it is to update less often with more content.  He was right.  I began breaking each print-formatted page into two or sometimes three smaller episodes, usually of two to four panels each.  I added a logo, episode number, credits, and copyright information to each episode too just to make everything look more professional.  Updating twice a week raised our number of visitors by about 25%.


Most multipurpose (web and print) comics update one full comic page a week.  The standard print comic is built on a 2:3 ratio.  In print comics, this would mean the comic was probably drawn at 10” x 15” and printed at 6.625” x 10.25”.  For webcomics, the size it is presented at is variable, but the width-height ratio is about the same.


If I had begun Johnny Saturn exclusively as a webcomic, I would have had many more options in formatting.  For example, I could have formatted the strip horizontally, like comic strips in the old Sunday Funnies.  Imagine the “Prince Valiant” layout, and you will see what I am suggesting.  This format has the benefit of fitting on the monitor, so the reader does not have to scroll down.  I was surprised to find out that the Sunday strip width-height ratio is very close to 3:2—Essentially, it is a standard comic page turned on its side!


You can print comics at the 3:2 ratio, but, when it comes to the single issue print comic (the so called “folio” or “pamphlet” format), it is not popular.  You could stack two episodes of these per page, but therein lays some difficulties too.  For example, cramming a horizontal strip into a vertical comic page reduces it to about 6.4” inches wide by 4.26 inches high.  Not only is reduced too much for easy reading, but stacking two of these would only come up to 8.52”, which is not a great fit.


With the arrival of Zuda Comics, DC is entering the webcomic arena.  Whether or not you plan to read or participate in Zuda, they have offered a reasonable compromise with their format.  Their comics are going to be offered at 4:3 ratio, which happens to fit on a computer monitor well, and is also half a print comic page.  Two Zuda strips, stacked one atop the other, equals one standard comic page, leaving the cartoonist some flexibility on how to break each meta-panel into smaller panels.  It is too early to tell if this format will catch on, because the standard comic (2:3) and Sunday funny (3:2) have a lot of historical resonance, but with a creative powerhouse like DC and its parent company Warner Brothers, it may be that a new standard has arrived.


Multipurposing your comic for web and print may be a challenge, and it certainly calls for compromises.  If you are going to format your print comic at the 2:3 ratio, and then break up the panels for web publishing, there are a few things worth remembering.  First, avoid tall, vertical panels, the type that stretches the whole height of the page.  You will either have to shrink these to fit the screen, or the reader will have to scroll up and down to see the whole thing.  In effect, the reader will probably see the next panel before he sees the entire first one. 


Second, you will get a bigger payoff with more content per panel.  Readers may be attracted to your strip for the art, but they will keep coming back for the story.  If you give them too little content per episode, readers will probably get frustrated and stop visiting.  Thus, the decompression that is so popular in today’s print comics is just not as effective in the serialized, long-form webcomic.


Third, try to have each episode advance the story a beat or more.  If you composed the comic as a print comic, then it is unlikely that you can chop up the panels in such a way as to end each episode of a cliffhanger.  Cliffhangers are important, and use them when you can, but ending each episode with one will probably come off as melodramatic.  A story “beat,” on the other hand, is each part of the scene that advances the plot in a small but significant way.  Each episode should have one or more beats.


As an end note, I think it is better to pace your comic for your web audience, because your online readership will probably be greater by a magnitude than your print readership.  For many of us, the print collections are made so we have something to sell at conventions.