Tools/Resources for creating webcomics
February 5, 2005 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Webcomics: If just about anybody can make one, what tools/resources would I need? I have a good mental picture of character design, but my hand drawing is hardly worth scanning, so I might as well do it all on my compy (Yes, XQ, you can try to talk me out of it). At least at first, it'll mostly be standing-around-swapping-punchlines, so nothing too complicated. So what's out there to make me a webtoonist?
posted by wendell to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get a Web site (your own domain + proper hosting will be best and can be got for under $10 a month). Set up a template to help you get going.. so you have an idea of the width, general size and feel of each segment.. you can then break out of this once you get confident.

If you want to be original, make an RSS feed of your comic. I am not a big comic fan, but I haven't noticed any of my favorites doing this.. so it might be a way of drawing some attention to yourself and picking up some readers like me who would like a little lightheartedness delivered on a daily basis (I'd be too lazy to keep visiting your site, sorry).

Get a tablet or become very proficient with a vector drawing tool like Adobe Illustrator. Those are the two ways you can do it entirely on your computer. Some people have used Photoshop (it has drawing tools) or Painter with their mouse.. try it if you want. As we have no idea of what style you're aiming for, advice can not be so specific.

Alternately, you can take the farout approach of using graphics from elsewhere. You could use clipart like this guy does. Another guy used an old Microsoft Comic chat program from the late '90s to make his comic strips. Either way, be original.
posted by wackybrit at 1:18 PM on February 5, 2005

Flash, learn Macromedia Flash. I myself cannot draw, which makes my cartoon animation abilities in Flash somewhat limited. Most professionals scan their artwork / sketches and trace it on the computer in flash, and then animate it. I've done two very simple attempts at character animation, if you want to give me your e-mail I can show you. If you're really serious about this and would be interested in a collaboration that would make us as famous as the homestarrunner guys, let me know, if you have really good ideas and can draw well, I might just be interested. It's very time consuming though.

If, however, you're just interested in comic strips, that's another story... and can be done with any graphics editing program... a lot simpler than an actual animated webtoon.
posted by banished at 1:24 PM on February 5, 2005

Ah, perhaps I missed an undertone in the question, but I thought the question was referring to comic strips in the vein of those such as Dilbert, rather than animation. Anyway, Flash is still quite workable for still work, some people prefer the interface, although I am an Adobe fan to the death. The Flash recommendation also reminds me of Fireworks, which is a piece of software I hear is used quite a lot in this industry.
posted by wackybrit at 1:59 PM on February 5, 2005

Flash is way overkill, especially if you're doing a non-animated comic. If it's ending up being pixels, work in pixels (not a vector program). (IMHO, as they say...)

My process is to scan the (penciled) artwork for each panel in at 300dpi grayscale, and then I do a levels filter on it, clean it up, scale it, lay it out (with my lines as a multiplied layer), add the type, and then color it in Photoshop. Then I send the 300dpi color stuff to the folks that publish me, and smash it down for the web version.

I really haven't found the right software/hardware to draw it from scratch in the computer, but maybe that's just me. I do use a Wacom Intous 2 tablet to fix stuff, and for some of the coloring...
posted by jpburns at 2:15 PM on February 5, 2005

Response by poster: For the record, I am NOT interested in getting animated... just a 4-panel comic. I've got the title as a domain name, I've got my blogging software minimally modified to handle all-graphic content and it's basically the artwork I'm struggling with; I mostly want to clean up my loosey-goosey drawing style and avoid repetitive tasks for recurring chracters and settings.
posted by wendell at 2:55 PM on February 5, 2005

If i were you, I'd probably just take my sketches into a vector program like illustrator or freehand and recreate all your line work as vectors. Get together a library of facial expressions and scenery and swap things in and out as needed per strip. Pretty sure that's how Real Life does it.
posted by GeekAnimator at 3:52 PM on February 5, 2005

Here's a neat tutorial from Mike Krahulik of Penny-Arcade. It's for Alias SketchBook Pro which is a great drawing tool if you're interested in working entirely digital; though I doubt you'll find anyone who will point to any tool and say it beats simply drawing everyday: paper, napkins, MSPaint, whatever.

The only thing that will really make you a webtoonist is to start. Don't get hung up on the tools or the design or the technology. Your art doesn't need to be mind blowing to "bring the funny" or be compelling or carry a story.
posted by Loser at 4:33 PM on February 5, 2005

I’m not aware of any Garageband type of software for creating comics. I use the same set up that jpburns describes but there are any number of ways to create something. If you want to get really basic, just use a simple drawing program and your mouse.

To help with your loosey goosey drawing, the best cure is practice and to study artists you admire. As far as repetitive characters and scenes... hell, you just don’t like the idea of drawing do you? It's just easier for me to draw what I want than to use vectors.

I have to take exception to your original premise that anybody can make a web cartoon. Anybody can pick up a guitar and bang away and wail, that doesn’t mean that anyone else will want to listen. That said, good luck with your webtoon.
posted by jabo at 4:36 PM on February 5, 2005

There is a really cool opensource vector drawing tool called Inkscape which makes even poor drawers somewhat passable. I would suggest giving it a try.
posted by rubin at 6:03 PM on February 5, 2005

Well, if you want to be successfull you should really learn to draw, unless you want your art to be a joke itself (See: pokey the penguin).

Other then that, I doubt that picking good software for drawing will help you out that much. but getting a tablet is a good idea.
posted by delmoi at 6:28 PM on February 5, 2005

The few cartoonist/animators I know use Illustrator, Freehand Flash and Photoshop almost exclusively when working.

The lads from Penny Arcade also posted a useful video of how they do their inking a few years ago.
posted by X-00 at 8:02 PM on February 5, 2005

Sounds like GeekAnimator's advice would work well for you. Alternatively, you can work at a low dpi (72 or so) in an image editor, and copy/paste faces and scenes you've made.

If your line is shaky, it may be worth practicing. Gary Larson, for example, may not have been an excellent artist but he did learn to draw cleanly (and funny); such a goal is not necessarily out of reach.
posted by furiousthought at 8:37 PM on February 5, 2005

I think all my favorite webcomic artists (John Allison, Sam Brown, R. Stevens, and Jeph Jacques, primarily, though there are many, many more) list their software and hardware and techniques and whatnot on their pages somewhere. It might help to find someone you like and see what they use, or survey several artists and see if they all use the same thing.
posted by librarina at 10:25 PM on February 5, 2005

I wonder why so many people use Flash when Freehand or even FireWorks are more specifically attuned to the task of drawing and cost similarly.
posted by abcde at 11:28 PM on February 5, 2005

Have you ever tried to do comics before? On Paper? Maybe you should give that a go first. Read some good books on the subject (like McCloud's and Eisner's), and practice. And then practice some more. Draw as many strips as you can. Throw those away and then draw some more. Repeat this process at least five times. If you still want to create comics, congratulations. You might just have something to say.

Stop thinking about what programs you are going to use (the 21st century's equivalent to "what brush do you use?"), and get out of your own way. If you want to create comics, and I mean really want to create them, then you could use a old pencil and cardboard, and they'd be real and people would read them.

The great thing about webcomics is that anyone can do them and you don't have to pander to an editor. The lousy thing about webcomics is that anyone can do them and you don't have to pander to an editor.
posted by ninthart at 6:44 AM on February 6, 2005

I personally use Flash and a pen tablet to create most of my webcomics. I find Illustrator and Freehand too rigid and uptight. I know Illustrator well enough, and whenever I've tried to create something with it directly, I've found it frustrating. Somehow Flash is more intuitive. Its Brush tool keeps up with you, no matter how scribbly you are and doesn't try to tidy things up. Illustrator seems to attempt to sterilise my lines, and while I'm sure it's tweakable, Flash does everything I need it to do (well, it has limitations in canvas size, which is irritating when I start getting all epic).

But just so you know, I do find my drawing suffers some when scribbling on my tablet as opposed to directly on paper. It might seem like they'd essentially be the same, but they're definitely not. I can still create some decent stuff with a tablet, but it can get frustrating. Expect poorer results initially with a tablet.

That said, I disagree with some of my fellow posters and don't think you should worry terribly about drawing with pen or pencil, or improving your artistic skills beyond a point. If you can get to a place where your style is consistent, and not drowning out the writing with its ugliness, you're doing fine. Think Gary Larson. On first glance his art looks fairly primitive, but if you study it, you realise that it does everything it needs to do to carry the joke and then some.
posted by picea at 2:20 PM on February 6, 2005

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