Tuesday, 21 August 2018

ConBravo 2017: WebComic Panels

I was not able to attend ConBravo in 2018 - but I had yet to tidy up my recap files for 2017. So let’s get on that... the main post is here. This is a look at the WebComic Panels that occurred on Saturday.

There were supposed to be two panels, “Becoming a Webcomic Artist” at 2:30pm and “Webcomics Q&A” at 4:30pm. But then the latter was moved to 3pm for some reason, overlapping, so they decided to blend everything into one panel, but they were in different rooms, and a bunch of us ended up waiting outside the wrong room even as they hadn’t prepared the right room. There was confusion.

We begin at 2:40pm with Tyler Mann, and are joined at 3pm by Peter Chiykowski, Andrew Gregoire, Alex Krumwiede, and Peter N. Trinh.


Tyler Mann (of TylerMannArt) had to condense his hour long panel down to 20 minutes. He’s been a webcomic artist for about four years. Lots can happen on the road to becoming one, and everyone’s journey is going to be different, so he said he would share what led him to webcomics. (He got a quick show of hands for how many are doing it, planning it, or thinking about it.)

Origin: Back in high school (Gr 11/12), he wanted to do acting. But he realized that he didn’t want to go to school to learn it, it didn’t seem viable. Going into an industry to get a thousand ‘no’ and one ‘yes’, which might be for “exposure” only, and we know what that means. So Tyler looked into something else he liked, drawing. Comics and stories, back in the days when deviant art was the only thing (aside from 18+ sites).

He wanted somewhere to get feedback on his art, and his high school teacher said “Graphic Design”, so he said OK without knowing anything about it. It turned out to be pretty much, “we need a logo, this font, this shade of black”. Typography. It was evident after one year that it was not what Tyler wanted to do. He liked using the materials but the end of every class, if everyone’s work didn’t look the same, you were doing it wrong. (And if you didn’t follow the right steps, you were still wrong, even if it looked right.)

Tyler made it through year 3 or 4, and decided not to do it any longer. He’d heard about Seneca College, independent illustration, and asked - what was it? You can design characters and learn about storyboarding and children’s books... five or six years ago, there weren’t a lot of full functioning sites. (SmackJeeves, or you can build your own tumblr page.) Tyler wasn’t a huge anatomy person (meaning the human form), so the head of the program said he wasn’t up to par yet, but could take Art Fundamentals over the summer, and if he passed, he was in. He passed.

At Seneca they got into panel illustration, character drawings, landscapes, etc. He noticed “everyone was better than me”, but what the course was about was “did you learn something and do better”. He focussed on pleasing the teacher through improvement. At the end of the course, you branched into three categories: Art/Illustration, Children’s Books, or Comics/Graphic Novels. He was one of four people in the latter. By the end of the semester, you’d have a portfolio and a cover design. That was fantastic, exactly what he wanted, and he learned about the current industry too.

He had one comic I worked on when he finished, “Drawn Out”. “The anatomy is just awful, like what’s going on with the smile, and its a tumblr page.” Had a gigantic header at the top to draw people in. The first comic is usually not going to look good, so this comic did not look good.

He then tried a trip based comic. It was okay, “Scribbles”, also tumblr. He wanted to create one main story, doing character designs beforehand. (From last time: “The lines on this guy’s hats, they’re not consistent with the rest of the comic. Armbands on characters, not consistent.”) This time Tyler used a 3D program, “RollerCoaster Tycoon 3”, took screenshots, and drew over that for reference. (“Cheat like an artist” is what he learned in school.) Now his comic “The Costume Shop” just finished it’s fourth chapter, and he have copies of the book sitting in my house. He’s also on Tapas.

“Becoming a webcomic artist”, it’s taking risks and doing something for the sake of getting feedback. Don’t be afraid to do things, and ask people.

There’s info books now, by Brad Geiger and Scott Kurtz, and sites like Tapas (formerly Tapastic). Tapas is limited in what you can have as a header, but it’s so easy to use, you just scroll through. And Tyler got books of his into comic book stores by simply walking into Silver Snail and saying “can I put this on shelves”. They said, “sure, it’s 70/30”, meaning they take 30% of the revenue.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid to do a crummy comic as a first try.


We’re now at 3pm. Panelists (who had been trickling in) were also confused by the merging. Tyler became the de facto moderator. They introduced themselves.

1-Peter Chiykowski, comic “RockPaperCynic”. A pop culture parody, gag a week style. Also “Is it Canon?”, which he writes, another artist draws. “Trying to send art notes to someone else is like an out of body experience.”
2-Tyler Mann, of TylerMannArt, see above.
3-Alex Krumwiede, doing a new comic called “Ember Alley”. Very slow burn but will be urban fantasy. He’s from Detroit, published through a local publisher (Able Ideas).
4-Peter Trinh, with Fancy Tuna comics, doing things like “Maddy McGee, PI”. Blade Runner meets Scooby Doo, solving crimes with robots coming into society.
5-Andrew Gregoire, comic “Arg!” Presently on hiatus, he’s worked on and off for six years.

Tyler suggested continuing with the idea of the journey, how did people start.
Alex: I studied at a school in Grand Rapids, Kendall Art Design. It’s a small industry in Michigan, I almost want to be here.
PeterC: Toronto’s crazy, yeah.
Alex: “Ember Alley” is the nth degree of what I’ve been doing since graduating from college. It gives me chance to do deep world building, there’s plans no one will see for about 3 years.
PeterT: In a bit of a reversal, I started in school when animation was big. At University of Waterloo I realized I’d rather do comics because drawing animation is hard. Comics still has it’s own challenges, but working as graphics editor for a school newspaper in Waterloo, I was given a chance to work on a comic. So I’m mostly self taught. I tried to do this four panel strip, like “For Better or Worse”, but with more nerds. Then I focused on characters, that’s where I got the gist of doing a mystery kind of comic. You know more about characters than you do about plot with people like Holmes. So that’s where I started.

Andrew: I was working in animation, still do. It was a terrible, terrible TV show. I was bored and drunk most of the time.
Tyler: Can you say which show?
Andrew: I shouldn’t, I don’t want to blacklist myself. But I decided to make something for myself, so I did a Journal comic. A guy on the internet liked it, he had 100k readers at the time, so suddenly, audience. “This is cool, I guess I can do something with it?” and I slowly turned it more into jokes. Then I had a nervous breakdown and quit. Ok, no, I’m just on hiatus.
PeterC: To say I’m self taught would mean I’ve learned something in the last few years. I’m told I have charm, like a child drew this. I was doing a useless unrelated degree that was kind of fun and left me with debt; since leaving college, having started the comic while I was in there, I did a Masters Thesis. Couldn’t imagine working on something that matters less. Sometimes links led to more than 65 people reading the comic [versus the thesis], and that growing lifestyle took over everything else. I wouldn’t go to work, I’d be going to a Convention. It displaced my day job. In September of last year, I was able to quit and focus on comics full time.
Andrew: The comics life chose you.

Tyler: You mentioned something, art styles. We could talk about XKCD, which is stick figures and the most well read comic in the world, but art styles evolved from somewhere. Mine is from Martin Mystery and Totally Spies. Yours is thicker line art?
Andrew: Yeah, like animation, where I worked for a decade. I have a second dream job in comics. The diverse medium in webcomics doesn’t need to be polished/perfect stuff. Like, your writing is awesome PeterC, sorry about the art.
PeterT: Mine’s the reverse.
Alex: It’s about the mix, you can have something bad for one, people will still like it. Need one of the two, or a little bit of both.
PeterC: With an idea, it’s “hey Erin I have a script for you”.
Alex: I can’t do comedy, that’s why I do an action comic.
PeterT: It’s one of those few industries where as the years go by you see things improve on both sides over the years. Art and writing and all that stuff.
Tyler: Just searched webcomics and you can see crazy different art styles. I was doing digital comics by drawing points to create a bezier curve. I don’t think anyone cared how it looked, but the one now, I just want to put it out weekly, put it out efficiently. If something’s wrong, I’ll fix it in photoshop. I want it to look good, I’m not going for an award necessarily.

The floor was opened to questions.
Q: For getting content out fast enough, how do you deal with pressure?
Tyler: There’s the magical work hiatus.
Andrew: Just stop working.
Tyler: Lots of artists who have something else they’re doing, they use the word hiatus as “not sure when I’ll come back to it”. I set up a Patreon, so people can see things ahead of time. I will try to schedule it out, 4 or 5 pages at my pace, weekly. That way they can read it and I still have a 4 or 5 week buffer that is always on schedule. If I know I’m behind, I’ll know “I have to get this one done”, and I work better under pressure. The quality never drops, I want it at least good, but you can see where I spent a lot of time working on a panel because I wasn’t rushed/wanted something to look good. There are points where someone will point out “this guy’s shirt changes colour” and I’ll run to photoshop, but try to produce 4 or 5 weeks ahead, or have a schedule you can manage.
PeterT: Thanks for the question, I needed that answer.

Alex: I’m working on a first issue to go out at Detroit’s ComicCon, then let that time run out for two months. Because the first issue was so rushed, it was good work, but there’s details I want to do better. So, hiatus, to get backgrounds looking good.
Andrew: For gag comics it’s a little different. If there’s something that is based on the last hour, like the most recent “Game of Thrones”, you have to do it now or no clicks. Other jokes are timeless.
PeterC: Some things have no reusability, and it’s hard to know. Like fidget spinners will be gone in another month, but now [August 2017] is a great time to strike the iron.
Tyler: There’s a documentary called “Stripped” that’s really good. Like, Beetle Bailey comic did the math, and do I have that many jokes. Something will come along in the media, it’s so rife now with jokes, like Trump jokes.
Alex: Assuming we survive them.
Andrew: This is a very white panel.

Q (followup): How to deal with a hiatus when there’s a Patreon?
Andrew: You can put Patreon on hiatus so it’s not charging people.
Tyler: For something like me where I’m not [always] doing work on comics, I do it per submission. Put it at a dollar, which I think is the minimum. Patrons may see it months before anyone else sees it. It’s also good to post free content on Patreon for backers, to get that exclusive “like a membership”. I posted something new and got comments of welcome back. I haven’t been anywhere, I was doing concepts.

Q: I have a comic, 100 pages, I have an ending planned - does Patreon still work when the content’s ending?
Andrew: Just let it run forever, if people want to pay you. I didn’t block any of my comic stuff, mine was basically if you want to give me some money, cool. You gotta eat and pay the bills.
PeterC: I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with getting paid, so that I don’t starve. My Patreon did make it clear that you’re bankrolling my creative life. So not RockPaperCynic exclusively. If I have the next thing, they can leave if they want or I bring them along.
Tyler did a search of the “Top 30 Patreon comic creators” and pulled it up. (Some wondered about Lindsay Ellis being included there, she does talk about comic characters.)
Tyler: If people drop, they can leave a reason. Set it and forget it.

*I* had the next question, about what communities to use/tap into. (For reference, I’d been considering Tapas at the time, but there were scandals.)
A quick plug for my own math comic...
PeterC: Every social media you can use. Twitter, Tumblr.
PeterT: Tumblr works fast.
PeterC: Instagram works for me. People do search for hashtags. There are local concert hashtags which is how newspapers post events, those matter there but nowhere else. You don’t get punished for piling them on, and you can finally do properly panelled content there. If you want an app for square panels to fit Instagram, there’s SquareDroid. There’s some mildly annoying ads; went from 0 to 4,000 followers in a year or two. Tumblr’s been pretty good. Tapas was a big hubbub with the rights thing, but from everything I know about them - I’ve met the founders - it probably was an honest mistake if they didn’t look. I’ve found it’s been a good community building website, so I’d recommend it but I understand why people might be reticent.
Alex: I have my own websites, cloud based things. I can set up 50 new wordpress blogs in an instant, so I did that for my comic.
Tyler: I use Tapas because I have yet to find a good platform. It’s very hard to find a good template, I didn’t like wordpress. Tumblr works well, I linked my domain to the tumblr page, people can leave notes and likes. But Tapas is good for comments and sharing work, people go there to read a bunch of comics. And it’s full of gay comics, and that’s wonderful. They also have a good way of searching through genres, so it’s easier to get in Top 25 that way. But let’s say Tapas goes down, my comic is now gone, so having your own host is probably the best.
PeterT: One note for those with their own sites. If you understand plugins, SiteOrigin Page Builder. You can turn pages and posts into drop down menus, set up to work on mobile phones, which is nice.
Andrew: I think you made every point I was going to.
Tyler: I use IFTTT (If This Then That), so that if I make a post on tumblr, it will automatically post elsewhere for me. To tweet your Instagrams as native photos on Twitter, they’d need to click on the Instagram link and go there, this site grabs and links it for you.
PeterT: Thank you for that.

PeterC: Something artists may do: ads. Most ads aren’t worth it except Project Wonderful, an easy way to set up ads on your site, and can buy targeted really cheap. Google starts at 30 cents a click and is hard to make money; they’re probably looking for porn anyway.
Alex: I’ve had luck for dumping into the 60 seconds at midnight.
PeterC: People who read then are the intense webcomic fans.
Andrew: We were probably all fighting for the same sites. If I put down $11, it takes your $10 away.
Alex: But doesn’t charge me for that.
Andrew: Right, you get some percentage.
Tyler: About Google. If people are looking for webcomics, and then for halloween, if it’s trying to grab both, it will go for the one that’s better. They might bid more money for that person, to get a more specific audience. It will up the bid to find the most specific person for that day, and you can decide. $30 for the week grabs the first person it can or the other - it’s super confusing. A wonderland of nonsense that they don’t explain so that people won’t game the system.

Q: About story I guess. I have a prologue, what would you consider for getting out of the gate, to get to conflicts?
Andrew: Start writing, writing whatever, even if you don’t think it’s good. Then there’s maybe a nugget you can use. Any time I’ve struggled, I’ve gotten out of it by brute force comedy.
PeterC: You feel if you write a bad sentence you become a bad writer, so people try to make the first sentence really good. So, I’ll draw the stupidest thing, and think I’ve done that now, move on. Sometimes it can even become a comic because stupid can be funny.
PeterT: Finding different ways to brainstorm can be great too. Even what movie you want to go to with a friend, use the 5-3-1 rule. Suggest five, then break it down to three, then to one, you help decide what’s important to you and why you’re throwing things out.
Tyler: What I’d suggest is find pieces of writing that work well and use those. Like the film WallE, where the first 20-30 minutes had no dialogue. And lots of comics, no dialogue too. Compare a movie with what’s written in the script. “We then see this”, and comics aren’t a box you’re drawing, it’s a frame, drawing the reader to what’s important, if you can convey that through writing. If you’re talking about character?

Follow-Up: More the comic, how to introduce conflict to a character.
Andrew: Start writing, see where it goes, if you don’t like it, go a different direction. Don’t focus on that one path of the tree, come up with a second conflict.
Alex: One thing - from a science fiction writer - think of the worst thing you can do to a character. Do it, and see how they can get out of it. (Nancy Bujold.)
PeterC: Also, the five W’s and one H. If you want to talk about “Who” now and go to “When” like a Tarantino thing, or think about the “Where”, the world is the character first. All that, that’s helpful.
Tyler: It’s good to think about that with characters (the W’s and How), which you can do with any character. Like the video game Psychonauts made MySpace pages for 30 side characters in the story. And you don’t even have to talk to these characters in the video game, but if you do, they all have these backstories. And here is Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling. (He’ll upload it to the ConBravo group.) Also, look at Bad Writing, like “The Room” by Tommy Wiseau.
Andrew: It’s a masterpiece, shut your mouth.
Tyler: Think about football, in an alleyway in suits, what makes that possible. I look for potholes, and try to find a way around that. Doctor Who is the best for that, that’s a really good way of doing storytelling, see if there’s something missing, something you haven’t talked about.

Tyler: Do you guys use notebooks?
Andrew: I use the notepad on my phone.
Tyler: Did I mention this? If I didn’t, write it down. Give someone a name or a backstory. Or a story element.
Andrew: I have 738 notes in my folder for this year alone. For every comic I do, I write twelve. They’re not good, they’ll never see the light of day. Sometimes execution worked, and I put it into something else.
PeterT: Notes don’t even have to make sense. I have HOT BODY COPY. Was it a band? Was it a bad movie? Was it maybe a porn?
PeterC: On the PodComics WebCast, one segment he does with every creator is “how do you take notes”, and can you read me some of your seeds, and not explain them. Or walk me through how it would turn into a joke. Now I feel like we should do a quick round.

(There’s mention of no 18+ in the panel.)
PeterC: “If you listen to podcasts, the post office is a hellscape run by demons.”
Andrew: “Guy gets hit by car, wakes in hospital. Says can’t feel my legs. There was an accident, it’s the only way we could save both of you. Pulls sheet, bottom is a car. Titled - Car dude.”
PeterT: Quotes: “Amish Jack Bauer is a bad superhero.” “Retcons, my one weakness.” For some reason I also have “A dark souls’ related rap based on the beat to Southern Touch.” And one I won’t read but I’ll let Andrew look at it.
Andrew: It’s great, it’s amazing, come by his booth and check it out.
Tyler: “A boy brings Death home to meet his parents because they’re dating.” “A doctor is looking at his patient, goes to WebMD to tell patient he’s already dead.” And I can’t read that one. And a Canadian version of the Goonies called the Loonies - there’s nothing behind that but the pun. I can’t think of any gags other than a movie poster. “A boy band, but all boys are singing to one girl, and she leaves.”
Alex: We’re wandering very far afield.

Someone (audience or otherwise) brought up Money.
Andrew: You can live off a comic. I did for a year, it takes a lot of work, it wasn’t exactly the most comfortable life in the world. You need to diversify your income streams. Freeland or commission, conventions, Indygogos, patreons. Pete, you diversify even artistic things.
PeterC: Comics have been the most lucrative for me [vs. art things like convention badges]. I’ve been asked when you went full time, how did you know, what did you do. Consider Ryan North [creator of Dinosaur Comics, etc]: “Think about your comic as a long form visual resume.” It’s how you find people whom you know can produce work on a deadline. I know someone who might do something for a rate. Concerts are a bit of a bonus, made $50 in a year off spotify. Merchandise. Also, I’m going to a wedding next year, but then to Vancouver and I can expense the whole trip. Learn what you can expense.
Tyler: I quit at LegoLand Toronto. I almost got fired for something I didn’t do, from someone who didn’t have authority to fire me. I wasn’t even thinking about comics in the background, thought what did I just do; that’s when I filmed a video, did a two hour lifestream of just drawing comics. I feel commissions eats up the time, I set aside one month, but then when I’m done I still get requests. The point of being in comics is to tell my stories. My fan base also commissions comics of my own character! “You just want me to draw a page of my own comic? And you’ll pay me for it?” Someone asked me to draw myself. Sure, odd request. Nice getting paid more money to do things you would already do, and they say feel free to sell it if you want. So I can do a bonus comic, but who are you, me from the future?
Alex: Michigan has no animation industry, I was sucked into advertising. With the flash debacle, I got kicked off into the deep end.
PeterT: Back to that statement from Ryan North, remember that content is key, and context is key. Either a large library, or something that kind of ticks them a bit.
Tyler: There’s only a couple minutes left.

Q: About multimedia, how to have commissions as well? Banners?
PeterC: Sometimes if I have time, I’ll put up a post. So during busier seasons, you can balance life better. There are people who want to, and you just have to remind them it’s an option, have always wanted a piece like that. That’s why at the end of every video people say “like, comment, subscribe”, it’s prioritizing what you do. I don’t do ads on my website, it made me stressed about clicks. And I don’t do as many music commissions, I do songs for my voice and my style, unless I talk to someone first. (Gives example.) It’s managing expectations, if I can’t fill someone’s spot, I try to pass those jobs on.
Tyler: And you have the right to refuse stuff if you don’t feel comfortable doing something. Here’s what I’m biased - not biased - what I’m not one side or the other on. We did have one more question.

Q: What’s a range of figures for a moderately successful webcomic? 20k a year? 60k a year?
Andrew: It fluctuates month to month.
PeterC: Maybe I can talk to you about this afterwards.
Andrew: It is kind of a private thing too. Here’s the thing, one year I made a good chunk, but I had a Kickstarter in there, which helped to fund the next year. That’s where multiple income streams come in to help. Because if you rely on one thing and it goes, you’re in trouble.
PeterC: We made ironic t-shirts, and when do they go.
Tyler: It’s very rare you can start off and immediately get a lot of patrons or an audience. It is going to be a slow startup thing. In the one year I worked on my stuff, I did not make enough, but I had enough saved. And I currently have a full time job, one that I can do from home.
PeterC: To make a living means what are you willing to live on. I can print a T-shirt for this much, and sell T-shirts for this much, and Kraft dinner costs this much. If I do this, I can survive in a house on $24 per day.
Tyler: That’s the time, thanks very much. We’ll be outside and in Artist’s Alley on the first floor. Thank you, enjoy rest of ConBravo.

A reminder that quotations may have errors in due to my typing speed, so don’t take them as fact. If you have something to add, leave a comment. For further reading, I was also at a Webcomics Panel for ConBravo 2016, and this is a panel that took place during Day 2 of ConBravo2017.

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