There’s a new Mastodon account/hashtag prompting creators to talk about their comics!
The last one had a theme of “Structure.” Most of the respondents talked about the structure of things like “plot outlines” and “worldbuilding notes”…I took it more in a direction of “how do you organize your files?”
Read the original answers on Mastodon, or scroll down for a touched-up combo platter of the whole thing!
(This is part of the “how do I webcomic?” series, with useful information on all kinds of comicking-related topics.)
Q1: How do you structure your comic? Into chapters or issues? Arcs? Share your comic structure.
First comic (And Shine Heaven Now), started in high school, was “storylines, sometimes a self-contained adventure and sometimes a multi-part arc, as long or short as they needed to be, grouped by year. Plus intermittent bonus content, found at the end of the archive page in categories based on format/theme.”
Second comic (But I’m A Cat Person), started after college, was “chapters, all the same length, each one flowing into the next as a continuous story, all in one group. Plus a couple of intermissions, found in the archive between the appropriate chapters.”
Third comic (Leif & Thorn), ongoing, is “storylines, sometimes a self-contained adventure and sometimes a multi-part arc, as long or short as they need to be, grouped by print volume. Plus intermittent bonus content, found at the end of the archive page in categories based on format/theme.”
…so, basically I nailed it the first time around?
Not that Structure #2 was wrong for Comic #2 — but Structure #1 was so intuitive, and so easy to work with, I full-on reused it for Comic #3. Can’t think of a single thing I changed.
Even the filenames — they’re Storyline ##, Catchy Storyline Nickname, Page ##. As in “08date21.psd” (from an arc whose full title was “An Incredibly Platonic Storyline”).
And the bonus content files all start with 00, so they appear first in the folder.
(Working files get moved into sub-folders when I put that comic in a print volume, making it easy to track which of the non-chronological bonus stuff still needs to get printed!)
Q2: How organized do you consider yourself to be as a comic creator?
For the files: extremely organized! Every file in its right folder and subfolder. Comics as well as assets — textures, patterns, reuseable backgrounds, that kind of thing. Web-size strips saved in filenames with the date upfront (yy-mm-dd), so they show up in order and it’s easy to see any gaps.
For the content: uh, I have a general ideas of where the main plot points and character arcs are going, but SO MUCH of the day-to-day content is just…winging it. You’d be amazed.
The Leif & Thorn storyline that just started (AI of the Storm) revisits some characters who haven’t been in the main comic for multiple years. I wasn’t against bringing them back, but until recently, I didn’t have any specific ideas for how.
And by “recently” I mean “this entire arc straight-up did not exist this time last month.”
It works with established details — their personalities, their jobs, the themes I explored the last time they showed up. There’s also a button at the end that ties in with another character’s slow-burn arc, which is gonna make the rest of it feel more deliberate and well-planned than it is.
But the actual, specific plot isn’t something I’ve been building to long-term! Or even something I already had “this might be fun to do someday” notes about! I whipped up the entire 800-word outline out of nowhere a few weeks ago, based on sheer “what’s a topic I feel motivated to write about right now?”
Q3: Have you ever needed to reorganize your comic? Such as inserting chapters? How did it go?
Content that isn’t published yet isn’t really “organized” to begin with — keeping it loose and malleable is a plus.
Haven’t reorganized the posted online archives at all…but I do move things around for the book version!
Example: Leif & Thorn storyline #39 was a flashback, between storylines from Volume 4. We revisit the flashback time period later, in a recurring arc throughout Volume 5.
Online it doesn’t matter — you can click back and reread any group of strips at any time! In print, it’s much easier if all the flashbacks are in the same book — so you’re just flipping pages to go between them, not switching between two totally different paperbacks.
So I held those strips back until Volume 5. (Crowdfunded last year, preorders being fulfilled right now.)
Q4: Do you think it is more important to be organized from the start of your comic, or is it something you figure out along the way?
Have some kind of system to start with. You might change it, you might outgrow it, but “re-ordering the system you already had” is easier than “suddenly realizing you need a system and having to organize a massive pile of stuff from scratch.”
On the flip side, don’t get yourself stuck in an endless loop of ordering and re-ordering before you let yourself draw a single comic. The only way to know for sure if your system works is to start using it!
Q5: What is one piece of advice you have for new creators when it comes to organizing their comics?
Get in the habit of backups!
A cloud backup service can protect you from having to recreate your most-recent comics from scratch if your computer bites it.
And a big external hard drive, where you make a fresh copy of all your data every 6 months or so, can be a lifesaver if you accidentally delete or overwrite a file.
Not just for comic creators, either! Boost to save all your artist friends some heartache.
I suspect that lot of those artists talked about the structure of things like “plot outlines” and “worldbuilding notes” because they didn’t though about organizing their files at all. And it’s rarely because they organize them well instinctively.
And yes, it’s surprising when some comic get lost due to hardware failure or something and there are no backups … but on the other hand, most non-artist people don’t backup well enough either.
Of course, best backup strategy is Linus Torvalds one: “Only wimps use tape backup. REAL men just upload their important stuff on ftp and let the rest of the world mirror it.”
Could work for comics.