Rules I’ve Learned About Collaborating On Webcomics

As a writer, I’ve learned rules about collaborating on webcomics. Something to understand that isn’t a rule is the fact that writers are a horrible and entitled bunch, especially when it comes to being a webcomic writer who is unwilling or unable to pay the artist. I say this from personal experience because without noticing it, I became what I didn’t want to be. I remember when I’d studied graphic design that I thought knowing how long it took me to draw would keep me from being a dick to artists. In the end I jeopardized some friendships, lost some contacts and learned important lessons that I’ll share with you. These aren’t all that I’ve learned, they don’t always apply but these are more important than most webcomic creations guides I’ve seen.

1. Don’t Be A Dictator!

If you want someone to give up 10+ hours of their week to draw a comic they aren’t writing or getting paid for immediately, then you need to listen. And offering money when you hit it big is does not mean you are paying them – unless you already are a big name writer in which case – pay your artist and stop being cheap!

From personal experience I learned that if you have an idea for a series you want to do, that is fine. If you have every minute detail planned before you have the artist – that is the problem. If you have someone interested in doing a project and you react by giving them detailed Alan Moore style character descriptions, I don’t think they’ll be returning. If you aren’t going to be paying them, you aren’t their boss or their ruler. You are a collaborator with them and for those at least 10 weekly hours, they are doing a lot more work than you are, especially early on. You owe them input no matter how great you are or what your friends say about your skills.

And if you are paying them, remember to still involve them. If you didn’t need an artist, you wouldn’t need this.


2. Know Your Collaborator

If you find someone who is willing to work with you, make sure that the two of you understand each other. Talk about the inspirations that you share, talk about what you both like – if you understand your collaborator it shows. If you are going to do a comic about samurai – know what you can reference or have references ready.

But beyond that, know and care who they are. You should be friends and collaborators. If they go through a rough time, be there to listen, be understanding and be real. Don’t pretend to read what they say and reply with something like “uh-uh”. Be a real person.

And please if you hate the person, don’t stay working with them just because they’ll do the comic. It’ll hurt you more in the end.


3. Set Aside Money

If you want the comic to succeed, be prepared to pour money into it. Unless you tap the zeitgeist of some rabid fan group (“this is my magic transgender muscular furry fetish comic called Wank Forest”), you aren’t going to be swimming in thousands of views any time soon. You need money for a website, website design, web hosting, advertising, conventions and merch (eventually). You need to prepare a lot of hats and you need to remember that you will have to treat this life a job if you want it to become one – or two – you still owe that artist money.


4. Handle Everything Professionally

If someone tells you that your comic sucks in the comments, you have three options: engage the opponent, hide/delete the comment or try for a discussion. Engaging the opponent, depending on the situation is rarely the best option that you can pick. If you hide the comment from an obvious troll it is fine – though they will come back. Getting that discussion though – if you can – is vital. Not everyone who hates your comic is an insane and crazy person. Some of them have legitimate concerns and issues and deserve your attention.

If you are doing the comic, talk legality. What rights does the artist have in this scenario? Can they do fanart if they quit the comic? Do you own the rights to the design? It may seem silly but with all of the professional comic lawsuits, you need somethings clear from the start and on the record (email record is usually good enough).


5. Make Something With An Ending

Your first several projects – they will suck, they will end before you want them too and it will hurt (“How dare that person leave for a better paying job instead of sticking with my $20 a page comic with 10 views a day”). I promise the projects will suck unless you are the greatest writer who has ever lived in which case, congratulations for reading this site.

You’ll look back to those comics you drew on lined paper and part of you will be disgusted. You’ll look back to the incomplete comics that you have and you’ll be bothered. So a big thing is that you don’t tie yourself eternally to what you thought was a great idea years or even months ago. Slaughter those babies. Cut them up. Fill them into a child sized cup, roughly the volume of a liquified child and then dump it!

When you are starting off, tell something simple – tell it well and finish it. Show that you understand the basics of storytelling before engaging in your comic that is going to be more extreme than Homestuck. It’ll make the next project better. It’ll help you know what to work on and if you’ve finished it, you have done something 90% of webcomics will never do.

It is about 3:30 am so I am going to crash but this is me getting a bit misty eyed, a bit rambly and a bit confessional but the rules are true.

Also if you are an artist who is looking to collaborate on a comic, I am almost always down to talk. Same for writers.

Luke Herr

Luke is a writer and an aspiring professional comic writer who is also the editor in chief of Nerdcenaries. He currently is working on a graphic novel called Prison Spaceship.