Why Do Online Comics by Iain Hamp

Webcomics, Priorities, and Dr. Phil?

This column is late.

As I write it, frantically trying to put together something solid for my editor to not have to work too hard at whipping into shape, it is in fact the day that my column was scheduled to appear at Comixpedia.

I would love to say that it is because I had a really stressful week, that unexpected bills amounting to thousands of dollars all hit me within a few days and I have been recovering from the effects of that. Or perhaps I could tell you that I have been hard at work trying to keep my clients happy, and have to put paying work in front of labors of love. I might even be able to convince you that I have recently gone on a long vacation, and it has been extremely difficult to regain my focus and take care of my responsibilities.

The truth is, all of these things are absolutely the case. They all happened, and most people would probably accept them as reasonable excuses for being late on the column. But I see that as a problem, and in fact, what I wanted to talk about this month is why that is a problem.

I warn you: I am about to go all Dr. Phil on you people this month.

A lot of people I know constantly complain about not having enough time to do what they want to do. They’d like to go back and finish school, but they’re stuck working to try to make ends meet. They’ve always wanted to take a trip to Italy, but there is no way they can afford to take the time, much less afford the monetary cost of the trip. They’d love to get the comic that has been floating in their head out onto paper, for themselves and the world to see, but drawing comics takes a lot of time and doesn’t exactly pay the rent generally.

This way of thinking is a fairly easy path to go down. You complain about your woes to the world, getting sympathy, and you never have to really take responsibility for not having the things you want, not doing the things you want to have happen. But what looks like a relatively clear path to take is in fact a trap, keeping you from the things you really desire (which in the context of this column is, presumably, creating online comics).

To accomplish what you want to, you have to get it very clear in your mind how important the things you are doing and the things you want to do are to you. Once you have figured that out, a plan can begin to take shape.

I am about to make a suggestion so radical, so extreme, that I may lose you right here. Please, no matter how extreme this sounds, bear with me until the end. After that if you still think I’m a complete nut, so be it.

If you really want to gain a solid chunk of time and money to devote to creating comics, consider which things in your life right now are less satisfying than creating your comics. You just got done watching two hours of television, and you were entertained, but did you accomplish anything by watching it? You finally made it to level 48 in Everquest, but once you log off, what do you have to show for it?

Now, juxtapose those things with creating comics. Is creating comics something you consider, amongst other things, a form of entertainment? This is the big difference, to me, between other forms of entertainment and entertainment by way of creating something. When you are done with your comic, you have something tangible. You can share it, you can mount it on your wall, sell it on Ebay, or whatever. The point is that it suddenly exists, and adds something unique, entertaining to others, and potentially profitable to your world.

I’m not saying stop watching television or playing video games or whatever else you do for entertainment completely. What I am saying, though, is that you are making choices for yourself in regards to how you use your “free time”. And if those decisions are always to watch TV or play games or whatever, but making comics is more important to you than watching the latest episode of Law and Order… then there’s really no room to complain about not getting what you want done.

So maybe, if creating that comic is important enough to you, you should cancel your cable for a few months. Don’t worry, cable will still be there when you get back, and the company will likely be eager enough to have you back as a customer that they’ll cut you a deal to get back on. Use the money you save from the cable bill to buy your art supplies, get your website rolling, promote your comic, etc.

A cancelled Everquest account, switching from Starbucks to home brew a few times a week, or going to see the new releases at matinee showings will also suffice as good resources for the relatively small amount of money you need to really get your webcomic and its website off the ground. (Or, if it is off the ground and you have fans, sink the cash into merchandise to sell to drooling fanboys [like me].)

I know a lot of this seems obvious when you look at it, but I would be willing to bet we can all look at our lives and see places where we could trim here and there, tweak this and that, and come up with an extra hour or two a day to work on our comics projects.

Are you often in situations where you are stuck waiting for something before you can continue with your day? Carry a sketchbook and your drawing utensils around with you, and use the in-between moments of life to get an idea or two down, or polish off that last frame on page six. Personally, some of my best work is done in the sketchbook on my lap while I wait for Photoshop to finish thinking about making the change I just told it to make.

I know some of you are still stuck back at the horrific notion of a life without cable television, so let me throw another challenge out at you while I’m pushing the boundaries of sanity already. There is a saying I have heard that is something to the effect of “If you desperately need something accomplished, hand it to someone who is always busy.” The meaning behind this is that the more you manage to pack into your time, the better you get at prioritizing your time. It’s a simple survival tactic. So, continuing that line of thinking, as you get better at prioritizing your time, you will find more time to do other things with.

If you keep your top priorities in focus, and get them balanced, then you can slowly add more, juggling more and more balls as you get adept at keeping more and more of them in the air. It is a cyclical thing, and it is a potent ability to harness if you want to accomplish what otherwise seems like an impossible number of tasks. So start juggling now, and then whenever you feel like you are relaxed and confident with the way things are going with what you are already handling, add some more, and keep doing it. Make it a habit. I think you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

The hard truth is that most of us webcomic artists have to work other jobs to make ends meet, so we’ve got to really start thinking outside the box and being more aware of our monetary and temporal resources in order to come up with the time necessary to get our work created.

Yeah, working on things for my clients has kept me busy, but then in my downtime I was lying on the couch playing Final Fantasy Tactics on my Gameboy. And addicted as I am to this game, sadly, I have not discovered a way that playing RPGs on a handheld video game platform helps me get my monthly column finished, or my online comics, or any of a number of other things much more important to me in life.

So… anybody want to buy a Gameboy?

Iain Hamp is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.

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  1. Prioritization is a problem in many of our lives and you raise a very valid point. If we wish to succeed we must make the best use of our time, this is true not only with web-comics as with everything else. I guess living in Australia has it’s advantages, with Cable not being a necessity and ADSL only recently coming of age. Hell I know plenty of times when I have been distracted and should have been drawing comics. But what is surprising is that I’m actually more productive while I’m at uni, especially so when I’m during exams. I guess it’s more the case of wanting some procrastination. And the fact that I tend to draw the comics in lectures -_-;

  2. I don’t call it wasting time playing online games, I call it RESEARCH! So there! *runs off crying*

    Just kidding 🙂 You make some very good points! Even for hobbyist newbie comic authors like me who do it just for fun, as soon as you have an audience of any size, it feels bad to let them down. Here’s to hoping I don’t develop another serious game addiction any time soon.

  3. Valid points man!

    So now that we sacrifice all those things, how are we going to support ourselves & our webcomics? Take part-time jobs? Drive cabs around town? How about food? What food should we eat that are at once cheap and at the same time fits in the food pyramids? Fast food? Instant noodles? Burritos from 7-11? How about rents for apartments, or do we have to stay at our parents’ house?

    You need to follow up on that, Iain! Food, shelter, clothing & money are our basic neccessities.

  4. Point, Iain. I don’t have cable TV, and haven’t had it since I moved out of my mom’s house almost 9 years ago. It’s not that I don’t like TV. I *love* it. And I realize it, and I refuse to give in to the temptation (until I go over a friend’s house or something, of course). 🙂

    And I still don’t make enough comics. 😛 The thing is yes, making comics is, in fact, entertaining, but any way you look at it, it’s work. And after a stressful week of bills, client-pleasing, and summoning Dr. Phil, you need a break! Your brain shouldn’t be on all the time. And FF:T is a good way to lose yourself for that little bit, even if it’s only the slightest bit mentally engaging. Maybe I need a less stressful job. :p

  5. You know, I predict a massive hiatus of webcomics the day they let Half-Life 2 out. I’m glad my computer is an outdated piece of junk that can’t even run HL 1 straight.

  6. Ditto on Doom 3. Though the one that will have my comics longing for my attention will be Medal of Honor: Rising Sun.

  7. Selling off all my consoles and computer games a few years back was the best thing I ever did as far as time managment. Oh, sure, I miss blowing the head off of something or running around collecting bits of things every so often, but the joy of accomplishing something real far outweighs it.

    Too bad I can’t do the same with sleep, school, and eating. Then I’d be in the BIG TIME.


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