Friday, December 2, 2011

Visual Humor: Mental Cuts

One excellent way to portray visual humor in comics is to illustrate people's thoughts. I do this all the time in Think Before You Think, mostly because it's all about people's thoughts. I've seen it done on TV, too, where it cuts to someone's thought process in the middle of a conversation, just for the sake of humor.



I like using mental cuts for a lot of reasons. For one thing, since it's not real, anything can happen without it actually happening, and this is a vehicle for absurd, exaggerated humor in a relatively realistic comic.



And of course, since there's a mind-reader in Think Before You Think, these scenes can flow seamlessly into the conversation without anyone having to explain their thought process.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Character Integrity

I used to get hooked on a lot of TV shows, and then get disappointed with them, and I eventually came to the conclusion that you can't trust fictional characters. No matter how good and consistent they seem at the beginning, they're always going to end up doing something stupid and out of character, possibly something hostile, that you were certain they would never do. At least that's the impression I got from TV. And it always turns me off from the show. I get into a TV show or a book because I like the characters, because I feel like I can trust them. So when they break that trust, it's like the whole point of why I liked it in the first place is gone.

I know sometimes this happens and it's not the fault of the character. Like, in a supernatural universe, sometimes there's some mystical device that causes a character to become evil in some way, or otherwise out of character. Red kryptonite, for instance. I can forgive the characters for things like that, but I still don't like it. If I'm interested in a piece of fiction because of the characters, I don't want to see the characters being forced to not be themselves by some mystical power. I don't think it's fair.



This is one reason why I wanted to start my own work of fiction with my own characters. There are a lot of things about my comic that I don't take very seriously, but what I do take seriously is the integrity of the characters. It's not like the characters are all completely moral and trustworthy, but they all have their own kind of integrity, and you can trust them all in certain ways. I care so much about the integrity of the characters that I'm not going to make them do anything that goes against that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Abnormal Things in Everyday Life

I recently published an article on Squidoo about Comics Like Questionable Content. It highlights some of the characteristics that I like about Questionable Content (one of my favorite webcomics). One of the characteristics I pointed out was the blending of abnormal things into everyday life, such as, in the case of QC, anthropomorphic robots. It's not a comic about robots — it's a comic about life. It just so happens that robots exist, and it seems normal.

I like it when comics have this characteristic. I'm not a huge fan of fantasy comics that exist in fantasy worlds, but I do like it when a real life comic has a small fantasy element to it. It's the same thing I do in Think Before You think. Although the comic is mainly about mind-reading, it is set in a normal universe where only one person can read minds, and everything else is just normal life situations. This concept, where the main character is the only one who has a special power and everyone else is normal, is something I've seen often in TV shows, like Pushing Daisies and The Secret World of Alex Mack. But I don't find it so frequently in webcomics. Most comics I come across are either full fantasy comics, where everything is weird, or real life comics where everything is normal.

Among the other comics I brought up in my article is Selkie, a comic about an alien girl who gets adopted by a single guy. At least, I assume she's an alien. The subject never really gets talked about much, it's just evident that she's different from everyone else, and she doesn't look human.



Another comic I mentioned was Hot Mess, about high school girl with imaginary animal friends that represent different aspects of her personality and follow her around everywhere, providing commentary on everything that's going on. It's not so much a supernatural element, since it's all just imaginary, kind of like Calvin and Hobbes, but it's still a weird addition to the comic.

Like I said, I haven't come across very many webcomics like this. Do you know of any other ones that I didn't mention here? Please comment.

Friday, August 5, 2011

inkOUTBREAK

So, you probably know that there are a lot of webcomic listing sites out there, and it seems kind of redundant, but you add your comic anyway because it's just one more link. Today I discovered a relatively new webcomic listing site, inkOUTBREAK. I think it's pretty cool because it serves many purposes. It has a frame like StumbleUpon where you can view your webcomics, and it will keep track of what comics you've read and save your place in them for you. Yes, Piperka already does this (I think), but inkOUTBREAK is also like Pandora. It suggests a bunch of comics for you based on your preferences for genres and the comics that you favorite and block. And it shows you when your favorite comics have updated. Like StumbleUpon, the frame makes it really easy for readers to surf comics. If you don't like one comic, just jump to the next one in your queue of recommendations. This seems like the next big webcomic thing. It already has a bunch of popular comics listed, and seems to be growing pretty fast. I just discovered it, though. What are your impressions of it?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Review of Smack Jeeves

I recently switched hosts for Think Before You Think from Smack Jeeves to Spider Forest. This was an upgrade, since Spider Forest is a selective collective with free domain hosting, but I think Smack Jeeves is underrated, as a free and open webcomic host.

I started with Smack Jeeves when I was making Lifehouse: Behind the Video Blogs. I didn't know anything about running a webcomic. I had been posting my comics in my LiveJournal art gallery. With Smack Jeeves it was easy to get my comics up in a sequential order, which was all I wanted at the time. I didn't need to know any html in order to do that, but since I had access to all the code in the layout for the default template, I decided to experiment with it, and I learned a lot more about html through that process. And I discovered that I actually have a lot of freedom over the structure and layout of the website.

In general, I've been very happy with the features that Smack Jeeves provides for free, and when I wanted something improved, sometimes posting about it on the forum would make a difference. For example, I got them to include news in the RSS feeds from my suggestion.

I still update my original Smack Jeeves-hosted Think Before You Think website as a mirror, and still get a significant portion of my website's traffic from it, because a lot of Smack Jeeves members have it in their favorites. I think the pool of Smack Jeeves comics sometimes has a reputation for being juvenile or nothing but Yaoi and sprite comics, but I think it's pretty diverse. It's a huge website, and since it's so easy to use that it has a lot of comics on it that people don't put much effort or care into, but it also has a lot of good quality comics. I was impressed that my comic got such a big following of fans on the site considering that it's not in any typical Smack Jeeves genre.

I highly recommend Smack Jeeves if you're looking for good quality, free webcomic hosting. I might even recommend getting a premium account if you want to have your own domain and you want to spend some money. But I don't know what that's like - I haven't used it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Page Layout and Humor

When I started posting comics on the web (for example, Lifehouse BVB), I used a traditional newspaper strip-style. These kinds of comics usually have 3 or 4 panels, and deliver some kind of punchline at the end.

I don't know why I used that format - I wasn't really thinking of it as a webcomic, I was thinking of it as a comic that I wanted people to see. But it fit with the little gags and allusions that I wanted to portray, and I don't like to use more panels than I need to to get the point across. I notice that a lot of humor-style webcomics still use that format, and full-page webcomics tend to be the more serious type.

I started Think Before You Think as a humor-style comic, and I wanted to use a 6-panel layout so I could do more with the humor than just deliver a punchline. I think in some cases, the first 3 or 4 panels of one of the pages could stand alone as a traditional old-school gag comic, and then I use the rest of the panels to either extend the joke, deal with the aftermath, or just something random and unexpected, and I think the result makes the characters seem more real, and presents different levels of humor.

It's the type of thing I see more in TV than in comics, because TV shows actually have the space and time to flesh things out.

One of my friends told me that one thing he likes about my comic is that he never knows which panel is going to be the funniest. And maybe it's just that my conclusions are lame sometimes, but I like to use the whole layout, and squeeze as much entertainment as possible into the 6 panels.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Perks of Project Wonderful

I don't have much experience as an advertiser. I've used a couple of free trials with Facebook and Google, but I feel most comfortable advertising on Project Wonderful. Maybe it's partly because my website is a webcomic, and Project Wonderful focuses on webcomics. But I wish Project Wonderful would get a lot bigger, and lots of people would use it for all kinds of things, because there are a lot of things I love about it. Mostly as an advertiser, because for one thing, it's under-valued and I can get really good deals. But also as a publisher, because in both cases, I feel like I have a lot of control.

I always knew Project Wonderful was cool, but I didn't realize quite how cool it was until I started using AdWords and suddenly advertising seemed so complicated. Advertising with Project Wonderful is so easy. It takes a moment to sign up - you just have to upload your ads and you're ready to go. You don't even have to have money in your account before you start advertising - there are always several empty spots where you can start bidding for free on low-traffic sites. I have even occasionally found free spots on high traffic sites and gotten unexpected traffic boosts without paying a cent!

But if you are going to spend money, you can still get really good deals, partly because the website is under-valued, and partly because you have complete control over where you advertise. That's the main thing I love about Project Wonderful. Yes, it's always possible to get a bad deal on advertising, and you don't set your own cost per click, so you have to pay attention to where you're advertising and how well your ads are doing. But the wonderful thing about Project Wonderful is that that is really easy to do! You can choose your own ad spots, track their performance by the minute, and adjust or cancel your bid accordingly. I spent some time experimenting with only a few cents at a time, and found some really good advertising spots that way. If you want to advertise on a bigger and more automatic scale, you can use campaigns to set your bids for you, but you can still monitor all of your campaign bids and cancel or block the sites that aren't performing well.

The main drawback to advertising with Project Wonderful, especially if your website isn't a webcomic, is that not enough people use it so you can't reach a very big pool of people, and a lot of the sites that do publish their ads have very low traffic. But I still think it's a valuable resource for advertisers that not enough people take advantage of, and the more people who use it, the bigger the advertising pool will become. So if you have anything to advertise, just sign up and try out for free.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Views About Criticism

There seems to be a general consensus among webcomic creators that they should be receptive to criticism and use it to improve their work. I don't agree with that mentality. I'm arrogant and self-righteous, and I don't think anyone else knows what I'm trying to achieve with my webcomic better than I do. And I know just how flawed my artwork is and make a conscious choice about whether to take the time to do it better. I never ask anyone for criticism on the content of the comic itself, and I never expect it, unless there's some blatant error in the text. My mentality is that my comic is all my own, and those who enjoy it will stick around and love it for who it is, and those who don't like it will move on.

While some people think they could benefit from criticism, I think it would drown my inspiration if I paid attention to it. If I get into the mindset, while writing, of thinking about what other people think, and what they're expecting, I can't write with the spontaneity that I originally intended for the life of the comic. I do the best writing when things don't turn out the way I, or anyone else, expected them to.

Although I don't like people leaving critical comments on my website itself, I do approve of critical reviews written on other people's blogs or websites. A review is different from direct criticism because you're talking to your audience, telling them how the comic may be received, and whether it's good by certain standards - you're not talking to the author, telling them how they should make their comic different. The former thing seems presumptuous and even rude to me if the author never asked for criticism.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

When Your Comic Drives You

When I first got into webcomic making, I wasn't very familiar with the whole webcomic scene. All I knew was that I was making a comic, and I wanted people to be able to see it. I started out by posting the strips individually in my LiveJournal gallery. It was my Lifehouse fan comic, Lifehouse: Behind the Video Blogs. I was very enthusiastic about it, and so were my Lifehouse fan friends. I was so into it that I had to stop myself from drawing too many strips at once, because as soon as I finished one, I would want to post it online for everyone to see! Over time I started posting it on Smack Jeeves, started learning how to modify templates with html, and gradually learned a bunch of stuff about webcomic making in general. Although, to me, it wasn't really a webcomic - it was just a comic that I wanted a certain audience to see.

As I got a little bit involved with webcomic author discussions on forums, I started to think that even though I was a webcomic novice with virtually no readership and free hosting, I had an advantage over a lot of these people. While everyone else seemed to struggle with finding motivation and time and enough readers to make it worthwhile, I didn't. I was drawing my comic and posting it because I simply couldn't help it. It just leaked out of me.

I'm not going to claim that that comic got very far within the realm or webcomics, but it did manage to get the attention of Lifehouse, who actively promoted it on more than one occasion. That means success to me, more than a boatload of readers would have.

After I had been publishing Lifehouse BVB for a while, Think Before You Think was a bit of an afterthought. I just had this desire to have a comic that was all mine, with my own characters and my own rights to sell anything related to them. I had thought about the idea of monetizing a webcomic, but I wasn't going to do it with a fan comic. My Lifehouse comic was a simple gag-a-day strip that didn't touch on anything sensitive. I wanted to go deeper with a comic, I wanted to bring my characters to their psychological limits without crossing the boundaries of real people, and mix it with the type of humor that made the Lifehouse comic so adorable to its fans. I thought mind-reading would be the perfect vehicle for bringing the emotional intrusion on my characters that I wasn't able to explore with Lifehouse BVB.

Think Before You Think was never quite as passion-driven as Lifehouse BVB was in its early stages, but it still drives me to create it. I've never used a buffer for drawing, because I've always been accustomed to wanting to post my work fresh out of the oven. And I've still been able to keep my weekly schedule with no missed updates at all, not even for holidays or guest-comic filled hiatuses.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Own Perspective

So, since I'm a webcomic creator, I decided to start a blog on the creation of webcomics. There are a lot of things that most webcomic creators would do differently than me, but I have my own perspective on what I want to see in my work. There are a lot of ideas in the webcomic community that I don't conform to. But, I feel like I'm established enough at this point that I'm entitled to have my own ideas about stuff that works. Not that I'm very established, but, you know - established enough. You've probably never heard of Think Before You Think, but now you have.