Skip to content

“Help, I want to make a new webcomic, how do I start?”

“Help, I want to make a new webcomic, how do I start?” published on 1 Comment on “Help, I want to make a new webcomic, how do I start?”

I keep seeing people ask this question. Or ask more-specific questions in this overall category. Finally decided, hey, maybe instead of giving scattershot individual answers…I should write a whole post about it.

This isn’t a general “how do I art?” post. I’m gonna assume you have all of the following figured out, or at least, you’re exploring them in your own time:

  • Materials: whatever you like drawing with
  • Programs: whichever ones have the features you want
  • What To Make A Comic About: idk, you do you
  • How To Draw Whatever The Comic Is About: references, tutorials, practice

So you have an idea, you have the motivation, you just want some technical advice. Such as…

How should I format it?

General tips:

  • If you’re creating the comic’s files digitally, make them at print-resolution sizes — that’s 300 dpi for whatever dimension you want (e.g. 8″x10″)
  • If you’re making something physically and scanning it in, use at least 300 dpi when scanning
  • Resize the art to 25% of the working dimensions when saving a file for the web. Smaller files are easier on readers’ bandwidth, and harder to steal
  • Put the text in a nice font that’s easy to read. Blambot is a great source for comic-optimized fonts, including lots of great free ones if you don’t have money to burn

Try exporting your comics in all the format options your graphics program has, with different quality settings. Different art styles do better under different compression types.

Same art, different export formats (PNG-24 on the left, PNG-8 on the right)
  • JPG: unlimited palette, compressed in a way that can make the colors fuzzy, can’t have transparent areas, good for photos and realistically-shaded art
  • PNG-8: limited palette, crisp colors, can have transparency, good for cel-shaded or limited-color (including greyscale) art
  • GIF: same palette & transparency as PNG-8, larger filesize, save it for when you’re doing an animation
  • PNG-24: unlimited colors, compressed with no loss of detail, allows gradient transparency…much larger than all the previous options, so save it for when nothing else is good enough
  • TIFF, BMP: even larger than PNG-24, don’t use them online at all (they have advantages, but none that matter to a web browser)

Your goal is to get the filesize as low as possible without visible loss of quality. (But don’t calibrate it for each individual image, just find a setting that works in general and stick with it.)

Once you’ve saved enough files to start your comic, let’s move on to…

Where do I host it?

Your options fall into three basic categories:

  • general social-media sites (free)
  • platforms that are designed for webcomics (also free)
  • independent hosting (paid)

If you’re just starting out, it’s useful to go with a free host. Lets you figure out whether your comic has an audience before you start sinking money into it.

Lots of artists these days are crossposting all their comics to a bunch of different hosts, and encouraging readers to follow whichever one they prefer to read on. Seems like a lot of work to me! But if you don’t want to pick just one, you can use as many of these as you like.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

  • Social-media sites  Twitter Deviantart Facebook
  • Customization: minimal. You get the standard layout of the site, personalized with a profile pic and maybe a header
  • Navigation: low. Suited for one-gag-at-a-time comics, bad for archive reading
  • Formatting: Facebook and Twitter will shrink the image to fit in users’ feeds, and they’ll have to click it for full size. Instagram prefers square images, and will crop anything that goes too far outside that ratio
  • Ads: on the site, not on your comic specifically
  • Special notes: you can get a lot of the same benefits by posting your comic somewhere else, and sharing the link every time there’s a new update

Tumblr

  • Social-media site Tumblr
  • Customization: almost total! Full CSS control of the look and feel of your site, ability to create custom pages, ability to upload layout images
  • Navigation: good. First/previous/next/last options, easy for archive readers
  • Formatting: images will be displayed at 540px wide to Tumblr subscribers, so ideally your comics are legible at that size
  • Ads: on the site, not on your comic specifically
  • Special notes: infamously banned NSFW images last year, and hides things based on an algorithm that flags lots of worksafe images by accident

Webtoon

  • Webcomic platform
  • Customization: minimal. You get the standard layout of the site, personalized with a profile pic and maybe a header
  • Navigation: good. First/previous/next/last options, easy for archive readers
  • Formatting: JPG only; favors vertical layouts that readers can scroll through on mobile
  • Ads: for Webtoon’s own sponsored comics. Offers a monetization program for creators with enough traffic
  • Special notes: has the highest traffic of any webcomic-specific platform, bar none

SmackJeeves

  • Webcomic platform
  • Customization: almost total! Full CSS control of the look and feel of your site, ability to create custom pages, ability to upload layout images
  • Navigation: excellent. First/previous/next/last buttons, allows subdivision into chapters and neatly organizes them on your archive page
  • Formatting: images over 500KB will be compressed, but other than that, any shape/size/format is fine
  • Ads: on your comic; paid plans are available which remove them
  • Special notes: the paid plans also let you replace the default “comicname.smackjeeves.com” with “comicname.thewebcomic.com”

ComicFury

  • Webcomic platform
  • Customization: almost total! Full CSS control of the look and feel of your site, ability to create custom pages, ability to upload layout images
  • Navigation: excellent. First/previous/next/last buttons, allows subdivision into chapters and neatly organizes them on your archive page
  • Formatting: reportedly unlimited
  • Ads: none (unless you opt-in)
  • Special notes: subdomain choices of “comicname.thecomicseries.com”,  “comicname.the-comic.org”, and “comicname.thecomicstrip.org”

Tapas

  • Webcomic platform
  • Customization: minimal. You get the standard layout of the site, personalized with a profile pic and maybe a header
  • Navigation: weird and confusing, puts your archive in infinite scroll — maybe the app is better?
  • Formatting: favors vertical layouts for mobile readers
  • Ads: for Tapas’ own sponsored comics, I think? Offers a revenue-sharing program for creators with enough traffic
  • Special notes: Attempted to claim right of first refusal over its creators in 2017; backed off in a hurry when people objected, but still, shady

If you’ve used any of these sites already, and can think of important details that aren’t covered here, comment and let me know!

Miscellaneous other hosts

  • Webcomic collectives: some of these, including SpiderForest and Hiveworks, will provide you with free web hosting if you get accepted (but don’t hang your hat on that)
  • ComicGenesis: the first webcomic host I ever used, and, listen, they were great by the standards of the pre-social-media internet, but they’ve been out-of-date ever since the invention of the comments section
  • Patreon: lets people support your comic (or any other project), and allows for pay-to-read posts; some artists use it as their primary archive, which is doable, but the site’s not designed for that and it shows

Independent hosting

My rule of thumb is “consider paying for your own hosting once your comic is making enough money to cover the cost.”

These days, that’s most likely going to come via Patreon revenue. How to make that happen is a whole other post.

How to migrate your comic to independent hosting” is also a whole other post, so it’s a good thing I wrote it already.

Comparing it to the free hosts, it’s more customizable and less limited — but the exact details will vary a lot depending on what you pay for, and/or what learning curves you’re prepared to climb.

Once the comic is hosted, also consider…

Do I need a domain name?

Domain names are awfully cheap. It might be worth paying for one even if you’re using a free host. Or it might not! There are two main benefits.

Benefit 1: Catchiness

Consider: “What’s that you’re drawing?” “It’s my comic!” “Oh, cool, is it published anywhere?” “Yes — you can read it online at webtoons dot com slash ee enn slash challenge slash leif dash thorn slash list question mark title underscore enn oh equals-sign two nine four eight six.”

Good luck with that.

If your webcomic is hosted somewhere that makes it easy to say, don’t worry about it. (“Bi cat person dot tumblr dot com“, for instance, is easy.) If not — consider buying a domain.

Lots of independent hosting packages will include one free domain name. If yours doesn’t, then yeah, spring for the add-on. Otherwise you’d have to access the site directly by IP address, and “seven seven dot one oh four dot one four six dot two three five slash tilde erin ptah slash leif and thorn” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

A business card with URLs people will bother to type.

Benefit 2: Easy redirection

If you spend years sending readers to “mywebcomic.freehost.com”, it’ll be a major headache if freehost.com bans your account. Or hides half your post for new TOS violations. Or goes out of business completely.

But if you’ve spent the whole time telling people to visit “mywebcomic.com”, which redirects to the freehost URL? Set up your comic on a new host and change the redirect. Now you still have working links in your ads, your old posts, your social-media profiles, and wherever else you’ve been sharing them around.

Same applies if you need to move from one paid host to another, which sometimes happens.

It’s not essential — a reader whose bookmark stops working can google it, and probably find the new URL — but it’s awfully convenient.

It can also be fun! Once you have a domain, you can add even more easy, catchy redirects with subdomains. I keep “kickstart.leifandthorn.com” set to my latest Kickstarter, and made “lesbianflag.erinptah.com” for a blog post with an unwieldy URL that someone wanted to link in print.

If a domain name is right for me, how do I pick one?

The tempting one is “nameofmywebcomic.com.”

(Or .org, .net, .biz, .uk — the end doesn’t make a huge difference, as long as it’s available for purchase, and you can remember it.)

The best one to start with is usually “myname.com” — or your pen name, whatever name you’re publishing under — and have the comic as a subdomain.

After all, what if you change the title? Or get through the first chapter and realize you’re bored with the whole idea? Or want to promote an unrelated project — or several — and can only afford so many domains?

If you start general, you can always go more specific later.

…my own comics are at catperson.erinptah.com, leifandthorn.erinptah.com, shine.erinptah.com (spent years as a redirect to ComicGenesis, now added to my paid hosting), and webcomicwoes.erinptah.com (currently a redirect). Two of them have their own title-based domains now, but they’re available this way too.

Once you’ve settled on a URL (whatever it may be) and start uploading the strip…

What else do I put on the site?

If you’re on a host like Instagram or Webtoon…nothing. But if your site has any amount of customization, you’re gonna want to use it.

A good layout for a comic website, from top to bottom:

  • Logo (image, clickable to return to the main page)
  • Site menu (row of links to useful pages)
  • The comic itself
  • Comic navigation
  • Blog entries, in a 2-column layout, next to your social-media links and other miscellaneous ads/widgets
  • Footer with copyright information

Don’t make your logo image too tall! If it fills most of the screen on mobile, it’ll be a constant annoyance for people trying to read the archives.

Some of the useful pages to consider for your site menu:

  • About the comic (summary, author bio, social-media links)
  • Character profiles (it’s a cliche for these to be out-of-date; make it simple enough that you can maintain it)
  • Chapter/storyline archive (hopefully you can get it auto-generated)
  • Links page (comics you recommend, banners for other people to use when linking back — they’re often grouped together
  • Extras (any other bonus content!)

That menu is also where people will look for links to your store and/or Patreon, if/when you have them.

Comic layouts
Sample layouts (with good & bad qualities)

For more ideas, read other people’s comics. Pay attention to how they set up their websites, what extras they have, what makes them a good experience for you as a reader.

(Or a bad one. Text hard to read? Navigation confusing? Make a note to not do that.)

Once you’ve got this thing looking presentable…

How do I promote it?

Again, I’m gonna address a couple different broad categories here.

  • talk about it on social media
  • pay for advertising
  • get it listed on other sites

You can do the first one before your comic launches, but save the others for after you’ve started posting! Nobody cares about a “Coming Soon” banner. Make sure you’re sending your potential readers to actual reading material.

Talking

Post about your comic! It can be on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Discord, or wherever else you have conversations.

Post links to individual updates. Post bonus art. Find events or discussions where your comic is on-topic, and tell people why. (I had so much to say for #LGBTWIP 2018.)

And seek out accounts that focus on webcomics in general — they’ll connect you with good promo/conversation opportunities. A few to start with:

Note: all of this this works best if you have the URL of your webcomic in your profile. On every account. Make it easy to find!

Paid advertising

…this is actually not a category I have much experience with. Not outside the now-defunct Project Wonderful, anyway.

TopWebComics has an ad system that many people have found helpful.

ComicAd Network is a new service, trying to fill PW’s niche. We’ll see how it goes.

Facebook has sophisticated advertising, which gets better at targeting interested readers the more you use it. The drawback being that it involves giving even more data to Facebook, and how much do you trust them with it?

ComicRocket has a free banner exchange. Put the code on your own site, and your banner in turn will appear on other comics.

Definitely do that last one. The others — you’ll have to experiment and feel them out on your own.

Comic listings

This is an important one! It’s free, it makes your webcomic more findable, and it creates non-spammy links to your webcomic on other people’s sites. Search engines like that last one.

You will need:

  • A short description of the comic’s premise
  • Promo images in various sizes
  • Stuff already posted. This part works best if you have a lot posted, at least a couple chapters, so you have more than 5 pages’ worth of content to add tags for

Description: Can come from your “about” page. Include the genre, some tropes/themes, a plot hook. Maybe details like “manga-style” or “updates daily.”

100 words is a good length. At 500, if they’re not already hooked, they’re gone.

Promo images: Bright, clear art that suggests the comic’s tone (funny, romantic, action-packed, etc). Faces of main characters are usually good. Check out the strips I follow on ComicRocket for examples.

Title in a font font large enough that it’s still legible at thumbnail sizes. Optional: author name, short tagline.

Some places to list, in order of image size:

Upload the images, fill in the description, and add whatever other tags and links you can. The more information your entry has, the easier it is to find!

Also: for yourself, keep a list of the places your comic is indexed. You’ll want to replace the banners at least every couple of years, as your art gets better. Maybe tweak the descriptions too, as necessary.

TVTropes: A class all its own.

The URL for your article will follow the formula https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Webcomic/YourWebcomicNameHere — open that URL, and if there’s nothing there yet, click “Edit Page” to create it. It can have either the short description or a long, detailed, multi-paragraph version.  Add it to all the webcomic genre indexes that apply.

(Here’s a reference for how TVTropes markup works. You can double-check how to code anything there…or, and this is my secret method, just look at other pages and copy what they did.)

Instead of a stock promo/banner image, illustrate it with a scene cropped from the strip, with a caption that refers to a trope it uses.

Start with at least 5 tropes to seed the article with. Add your comic to the individual articles about those tropes, too. When you refer to a specific strip, link it within the text.

I get so many clicks from TVTropes, you have no idea. The readership is full of people with very specific favorite things they’ll always want to read. You can bring them DIRECTLY to those things.

Tell your existing readers about the article, too! Not in a pushy way, just let them know. We’re all nerds here — eventually you’re going to get a fan who’s a nerd for trope-categorization.

And, ah, that’s about it for technical advice. So let’s wrap this up with…

Any miscellaneous advice for me as a first-time creator?

Heck yes.

Read other people’s comics. Recommend the ones you like. Add to their TVTropes pages. Draw them fanart! Put good vibes out into the universe.

Make the comic you want to make. Your first one isn’t going to be a smash-hit breakout success. It might not even find much of an audience. Don’t try to get around that — and don’t think your comic is a failure if it happens. Just accept it, and focus on drawing something you love so much that your own personal investment will keep it going anyway.

Don’t be a Comicsgater. Seriously. The comics industry had its best year ever in 2018, “things are getting published that don’t cater to my personal interests” is not oppression, and nobody’s stopping you from making comics, because after all:

There’s no quality prerequisite for webcomic artists. You’ve probably read some truly amazing ones. Don’t let that trick you into thinking “I’m not allowed to make one unless it looks like Kill 6 Billion Demons or Stand Still Stay Silent.” (Those artists’ first comics didn’t look like that either.) You can’t get that good until you start, and you’re allowed to start any time. Literally the only qualification you need is an internet connection.

Once you’re in it, don’t get trapped in a loop of rebooting chapter 1. It’s so tempting to look back at your early pages and think “wow, these are so much worse than what I can do now, I have to start over.” But you’ll keep getting better during the re-drawing process! Instead of advancing your skills by endlessly refining chapter 1, do it by drawing what comes next.

Questions, thoughts, feelings, follow-up questions? Drop a comment, let me know.

…I’ll be over here, updating the art from earlier chapters of But I’m A Cat Person. (You’re allowed to do it eventually. Just get through a couple years of plot-advancing forward movement first.)

Comment Header

1 Comment

[…] Wind-up bird (reward sketch, worksafe) Dharma (reward sketch, worksafe) “Help, I want to make a new webcomic, how do I start?” (helpful blog post) Ina (exchange art, worksafe) Cerise (and a spider) (reward art, […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.