One of, if not the best way to make better comics, is to make comics. And one of, if not the best way to make comics quickly is to make mini-comics. So, why should you start a mini-comic? Well, they’re quick, they’re non-committal, they allow you to experiment with style and story, you could potentially monetise them and, most importantly, they’re fun! What’s not to like? Let’s get into this a bit more.
What do I mean by “mini comic”?
When I say mini comic, I’m thinking of webcomics that you’d host on your own site, blog, social media or comic-hosting website. But they don’t have to be digital at all. You can make these 100% traditionally on a single piece of paper. I’ll get into that later, but I want to explain how and why they’re quick. A lot of the time when it comes to comics, the artists (that’s us) tend to get strung up on the quality of the art. You see a lot of comics online and you see incredible artists left and right and you wanna emulate what they do. But, at this stage, the quality of your art isn’t something you should worry about. At least, not in the sense that every fundamental needs to be 100% perfect.
Instead, because this is a mini comic, we can focus on our storytelling abilities. How are we going to portray our ideas or the expressions of our characters or the way we set out a particular panel for maximum impact? How are we going to anticipate the word balloons before we put the final artwork in? These are all fundamentals of making better comics and having pretty pictures doesn’t necessarily factor in. You’ll learn to make pretty pictures over time. This is about speed and efficiency.
So, that’s why they’re quick, but how are they non-committal? Well, if you’re doing a sitcom style comic where each comic is its own episode that don’t necessarily relate to one another, then it’s not the end of the world if you don’t post for a week. I’ll slightly contradict this later, but for the most part you can see it as something you can do in-between projects or if you’re bored and wanna do something else for a few hours.
Speaking of feeling bored and wanting to do something else, this is where the experimentation parts come in. If you normally try and draw like your favourite comic book artists, maybe you could broaden your horizons and look at other artists in other fields. Maybe you like the way a sculpture looks, or a children’s book illustration or an abstract painter or graffiti artist. There’s loads out there so you can use this as an opportunity to play around with different styles and see what you like and what you don’t like. Because, if it doesn’t work then it’s fine, it’s just one page with a few panels. You haven’t spent months on something with a style that you’re not gelling with and therefore hating the whole process.
And if it does work then you may be in the process of creating a brand new style that you can call your own and use the mini comic to develop it further. This applies to the storytelling as well, not just the art. You can experiment with the format by using panels in weird and interesting ways, or a particular style of word balloon or, well anything.
This is where the contradiction comes in. Generally speaking you’re going to want to be fairly consistent with your webcomic in order to build an audience. Audiences who latch onto your comics are going to want to stick with your comic but if there are large gaps in-between uploads, they may lose interest or forget altogether. Building an audience is important because that’s how you’re able to monetise your comic. I’m not talking about getting your audience to pay to read the comic, although you can totally do that, I’m talking about adspace. So if you’re on Tapas and WebToon and you get a, quite frankly ridiculous and unrealistic number of subscribers and viewers, you can take a share in the ads that will be shown alongside your comics. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
This is also true if you generate lots of traffic to your website. The other option is that if you start to cultivate a small fan base then you could set up a Patreon or Ko-Fi and offer them something a little extra for a monthly subscription, like an extra episode or early access.
To be honest, I wouldn’t worry about that last one so much. Although I do believe you should make a patreon page early if you plan to make one at all, so you can make all your mistakes before people are giving you money, earning money from your comics is not a mindset you should adopt early. This is going to take a while and there’s a good chance it won’t happen at all, especially if you’re new. So prepare yourself for that.
I hope I’ve helped make the case for why making mini comics is a good idea, and that’s all well and good if I have, but that doesn’t help if you don’t know how to make them.
Making (mini) Comics
The first thing to do is to go online and look at webcomics and figure out whether you want to do the sitcom single page style, a story arc that spans multiple pages or something in between. Personally I recommend the single page style but you do you. Now divide your page into 4 to 6 panels and make your comic in the way you want to make it. It might be bad, it might be great, it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re actively making it.
So you’ve made your comic and there’s one more step you need to take if you decide to upload it to a comic hosting website. The bigger websites, and I assume most of the others, have a vertical scroll format. So instead of having the panels side to side and up to down, it’s just up and down. So you’ll want to re-arrange your panels so they look like this, instead of this, if you wanna upload there. This is what I do for Life is Comics, so I have a bit of both. If you’re not interested in that then skip this step. Probably the best social media platform to host your comics is Instagram because you can have each panel as a multiple image post. So they look like this. For some reason my phone started making it difficult to do this so for the last few weeks I’ve just been posting the full thing like this, but generally you’ll want to have each panel as an individual thing.
If you’re traditional, just scan it or take a clear photo of your comic and do the above.
Ideas for Comics
The first one is pretty easy. Make it an autobiographical comic. Write about you and your life. You may think your life is boring, but you’re not really writing about big events that have happened. You don’t have to have stories like you meeting Sir Paul McCartney in the streets of London when you were a teenager but your phone wasn’t great so you couldn’t grab a photo and you were way too shy and nervous to ask for one anyway. Where was I? Oh, yeah. The point is that you’re writing about what you know and how you think. For me, I made Life is Comics as a semi-autobiographical comic about making comics and the things that I have found along the way.
The next idea is similar, but if you don’t want to write about yourself in any way, then write about what interests you. There are a lot of webcomics online that riff on famous I.P.s and are often funny, but don’t have to be. So if you’re into Game of Thrones, or Marvel, or anime, or something then you can build a webcomic in a similar world and make reference to the thing you’re referencing. Obviously don’t infringe any copyright but it can be a useful launching pad for some fun and interesting ideas. If you’re into wrestling, make a comic about wrestling. If you like to play the guitar, make a comic about a hair metal band. And so on and so on.
The final idea is based on the idea that you have a long-form story that you want to tell but haven’t gotten round to it yet. Take the core ideas from that long-form story and create mini scenes around it. This is a great way to hammer out some ideas, to develop a style or even develop your characters, especially if you get audience feedback. If your audience shows you that they like a particular character, then you may want to consider featuring that character a bit more. It’s a bit like when movies go round showing test audiences before the full release.
And that, is why I think making mini comics is a good idea. It’s more accessible, non-committal and fun. There is potential to make money with it, but once again, be patient with yourself. If you do a mini-comic for 6 months and nothing comes of it, then do another one and another and another. Your 100th comic will be better than your first. Here is the first Life is Comics comic I made, before it even had a name.
This is the latest one. It’s not pretty but I think this one is better than this one.
Have fun drawing
If you found this blog post useful, you may be interested in the video version on my YouTube channel so check it out! Also, if my "Life is Comics" intrigued you then you can read them all on this blog here.