Don’t give up out there. Every webcomic started somewhere. A perspective on webcomic evolution from David Wright, the creator of Todd and Penguin.Your comic is not as good as you think it is.
No, I’m not talking to the handful of awesomely talented newcomers that seem to crop up each year, nor the proven vets — you know who you are. I’m talking to the others. Those who are plugging along at a bad comic but just don’t realize it. Your comic is not as good as you think it is. Take it from someone who knows.
In November of 2000 I brought Todd and Penguin to the web on a whim. I had not planned any of it out, and it was pretty apparent. I was inspired by the departure of Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts. I wanted to make people feel like I felt when I read those comics. Lofty goals for someone who had no idea of his limitations.
I think it would be fair to say that Todd and Penguin was among the worst comics to appear in 2000. The drawing was abysmal, and the coloring, well don’t even get me started on that. Let’s just say the comic made frequent use of bright shades of neon that are perhaps best reserved for the signs outside a strip club. Luckily for me, I was blissfully ignorant of how bad my comic was.
Sure, some people trashed it. One forum where I posted a link to the comic had some members rip it to shreds, saying it was the "un-funniest thing they’d ever seen." Another comment read, "a waste of time and bandwidth."
Yet for some reason, I was mostly blind to their criticisms. I actually thought I was good. I thought, "Heh, I’ll show them."
Had I known how bad the comic really was, I would have thrown my pens out the window the moment my first bad review came. So, maybe that ignorance actually saved the comic.
Perhaps part of the reason I didn’t realize how bad I was can be attributed to the support of friends and family who either really liked the comic, or were kind enough to humor my dreams. Soon, though, people I didn’t even know were saying nice things about the comic.
Even some fellow artists started complimenting my strip! One of the first being Caleb Sevcik, who made a comment labeling me as "the future of webcomics". (Given the sheer number of bad comics to crop up the past few years, that may not have been such a compliment!) I’m not sure what sort of drug Caleb was smoking when he made the comment, but his belief that I had such potential helped me believe in myself.
Funny then, that Sevcik would also be the one person to make me doubt my abilities like nobody else. It happened in 2001 when I asked some other artists to do guest strips for the comic. Had I known how bad my comic was, I would never of asked people that were BETTER than me to come draw it. Sevcik turned out a guest strip so good it made me cry. To see someone else do MY comic so much better than me made me question my abilities. For the first time, I saw how far behind REAL TALENT I was. It was a humbling experience I will never forget.
But I also saw how GOOD I could be.
It wasn’t until I saw the comic’s weaknesses and began to listen to the critiques. REALLY listen to what the people were saying, that I started to grow.
Sevcik’s guest strip showed me how good Todd and Penguin could be someday. I started working towards that. I listened when people critiqued the comic (though it wasn’t always easy to resist the urge to defend my baby) and I LEARNED from the critiques that were constructive enough to say what was wrong with the comic. I learned that I needed to go back to basics. Nobody taught me how to draw, and I was pretty sparse on talent, too. So I had to work my butt off to become halfway decent.
Most artists seem to be sensitive people who sting pretty easily at harsh words. I think it goes with the territory. But it also means a lot of people take these things to heart and give up too soon. There are thousands of comics that ended before they ever really began. I know I would never have continued if all I ever heard was negative feedback.
It was the early support though, that helped me keep my head above water. People like Boxjam, Lee Adam Herold, Bob Roberds, Phil Cho, Brad Guigar and even a Gravity-era D.J. Coffman all said just the right things to keep me going. Sure, I had friends and family who liked the comic, but they are contractually required to (I pay them in cookies). When artists I admire in the field were nice enough to share their experience with me and let me know what I was doing right or wrong, it made all the difference between me believing or sinking into a negative slump.
In the past six years, Todd and Penguin has come a long way from its humble, horrible beginnings. There are still people who critique some elements of it, such as the depressing nature of the comic. They might be right, I donï¿½t know. But you can never satisfy everybody. A comic will never be all things to everyone. An artist needs to sift through the criticisms and learn from them, but at some point you have to trust yourself and look at what you’ve done and decide if the ingredients are right. The comic is still not where I want it to be, but I have no doubt that it will someday be.
So to all those people plugging away at a bad comic, don’t give up. Too many people either give up to soon, or don’t learn from the critiques they receive. When you are drawing a bad comic, it is especially hard to find the courage to move forward. I’m not suggesting you stay with a comic you know deep down is bad. Feel free to try new comics, but keep moving forward. Keep working. Keep listening. Keep working at it. Take criticism. Learn. Adapt. Someday you might even be one of the greats.
David – I really enjoyed (and related) your article – it was very well put. Hopefully this will inspire others to keep at it. Outside of practice, the most valuable method to improve is to actually listen to constructive criticism. It really helped me over the years (my ego was never the same, lol). BTW, your article led me to your wonderful comic! Todd and Penguin is now on my bookmarks list of regular webcomics to read.
One of the hardest comments to come back from was from Chris of Borderwalker, when he took me to task for my line weight. I took it as well as I could, then crawled into bed and pouted for about a week until I could get back to the drawing board. Not because it was especially mean or anything– it wasn’t, I think it would have been easier if it had been mean. Because it was totally, undeniably true. I swore to put him in the credits, and almost did, until I realized, I still haven’t conquered the line weight problem and am a long way from doing so. It puts a bee in my bonnet and gives me a clear direction in which to improve. When I finally do, I’ll put him there, and I’ll tell him so.
People who actually point out where you’re going wrong are a treasure… I think we ought to be blind to the ‘you suck’ crowd who don’t even know what’s wrong about what they’re seeing, and pay more attention to the ‘Here’s where you’re falling short’ crowd wherever we can find them.
I can’t thank you enough for this column. It’s as if you wrote this especially for me.
As someone who is working on their first webcomic project, your words of “don’t give up” and “Listen to constructive criticism” is great advice.
Thanks again, All the best.
Thanks for the nice comments. I’m glad some of you got something from my experiences. Good luck!
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