The webcomics blog about webcomics

Legibility V: Summing Up

Note: Whatever else this series may or may not have accomplished, it certainly got some feedback. Read through the comments for parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. If you haven’t done so previously, check out the work of Lucas TDS, Paul Southworth, Sylvan Migdal, Shaenon Garrity, Jeph Jacques, Christopher Livingston, Sam Logan, and Christopher B. Wright. That’s a lot of webcomics experience talking, and well worth listening to, especially when they agree with me. Okay, onto Part The Last!

Whew! And it all sounded so easy, didn’t it? Some paper, some pencils, a scanner, and a Webcomics Nation account was all that you needed. Hopefully, the past week has given you a few ideas to chew on, and it should be all downhill from here, right?


Well, sure. Once you figure out where to place word balloons and decide on hand-lettering or a typeface. Oh, and how you’re going to place panels. Plus, characters and story, they have to be interesting. There’s a zillion other things to figure out as you go along, including the part where you decide when to break every single one of these rules o’ readability to fit the story that you’re trying to tell.

And most of all, you have to practice. Let’s revisit the master again, shall we?

… my first instructor at Chouinard Art Institute … greeted his students with the following grim edict: “All of you here have one hundred thousand bad drawings in you. The sooner you get rid of them, the better it will be for everyone.” This was not a discouraging statement to me, because I was already well into my third hundred thousand.
— Chuck Jones, Chuck Amuck

Almost no matter what you do, you’re going to look back on early efforts and see stuff you would do differently. And with any luck, one hundred thousand drawings later you’ll find that you’re doing things are much, much better. You start drawing, and we’ll start reading. Deal?

One quick comment, too, about typeography.

Drop Shadows on text is the worst idea EVER.

Just Don’t Do It.

Drop shadows are nearly always a bad idea.

Lens flares are not allowed unless you are Jeffrey Rowland.


Also, I think that lens flares are hilarious when used in the right circumstances.

Thanks for doing this series. I’m trying to get a comic underway and it’s reassuring to get so much support without even needing to ask.

One thing I’m curious about, though, is how so many comic folk actually do what they do. Where do they work? How much planning goes into layout and story? To what extent do they listen to reader feedback? What kind of support do communities and fellow artists offer? I think that kind of stuff is fascinating.

Glad you liked it, Nate. I think you’ll have to start emailing some creators whose work you like for better answers to your questions, or wait for our forthcoming 37-part series, Webcomics In A Box: How To Do Nearly Everything For Fun And Profit.

Jeph –
Can you show me a place where drop shadows on text WEREN’T a bad idea?

Or are you saying that drop shadows in general are a bad idea…?

Cause, yeah – SOOO 1983.

Oh man, my early efforts were awful. That is a completely true quote.

Nate: I can answer for the greats out there, but I make sure I set aside some time to do scripting apart from drawing. When I can work out loose scripts for comics about a month ahead of time, it lets me pare down the scripts and I think it has made an improvement to my writing because of such a thing. This writing time usually occurs during a period of life where I’ve got some extra idle time. This tends to happen about once or twice a month exactly when I need it, thanks to some bizarre anomaly of time and space.

Right now I tend to draw on decent-weight paper on a clipboard, but I have acquired a good drawing table and tools and plan to move onto better things. Now I just need to acquire the physical space to put said table.

Fitting it all in time-wise really isn’t that tough. It helps that my job has the most insanely flexible hours ever, but simple things like going to bed when I’m tired and waking up at the same time every day end up allowing me to enhance my hours of sleep/being tired ratio. That extra time is extra comic time and allows me to stay sane.

Practice also allows me to get quicker. It’s a bit catch-22ish, but the more time spent doing the craft, the quicker and easier it gets. So the secret is to spend too much time doing. That’s how everyone gets it done. Yes.

Excuse me, but I meant to say, “I can’t answer for the greats.” At least not until the greats name me as their spokesman.

Curse you, lack of proofreading!

[…] So, something PJ wrote got me to thinking about what makes for a good webcomic — archives that you can easily (and freely) navigate are the key advantage of webcomics over their print brethren, despite certain business models to the contrary. Jeff once remarked on the importance of infrastructure, including navigation, forum, and blurb space. And I’ve written about the importance of legibility in artwork. But what else is necessary for a really good webcomic? […]

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