The webcomics blog about webcomics

AntiPatterns in WebComic Development (or, Strike Two!)

You’ve decided you want to make a webcomic. Yay! Good for you!

Now you need to decide what kind of webcomic to make.

The single panel gag-a-day strip looks like it’s easy. All you have to do is, every day, think of a joke and then draw it.

That’s not hard at all! Jokes are easy – just whatever makes you laugh at the time. And you know how to draw… why, everyone knows how to draw.

So you start your comic, and you put it out there. And maybe you do some minimum of marketing other than telling all your friends “Hey, I started a webcomic, isn’t it keen?”

But guess what?

Single-panel gag-a-day comics are hard. Very Very Hard. They are hard to get right, they are hard to maintain.

There’s no room for character growth, because you don’t really have characters. There’s no room to tell long stories, because you’ve only got one panel. There’s no room for artistic growth, because there’s nothing driving it – the joke is the point of the strip, not the art. So if the barn doesn’t share the same perspective with the road leading to it, and the pig sits on a different horizontal plane than the guy applying the wrench… It doesn’t matter. It’s a pig being adjusted with a giant wrench! That’s got to be funny, right?

And six months later, you’ve been doing a daily strip, and you’ve got less than 100 regular readers and you don’t know why.

You would have been better off starting out with two guys on a couch playing video games.

Because then you have room to grow, and room to learn, and room to change.

I would disagree with that. There is plenty of room for artistic growth in a single panel toon – it just depends on the artist. However, I will say that I agree with your other main point: that drawing and maintaining a single panel comic is hard. The flip side is that it’s immediately gratifying. I plan on branching out to more narrative pieces at some point in the future. My work is at The PC Weenies, if you’re interested in taking a peek.

There’s always room for growth if the artist wants to grow.

There’s just nothing forcing growth in a single panel gag-a-day format. In my opinion.

It’s not like with a three-panel story-arc comic, where you want to refine your characters until they match your inner vision, or until they look like real people for the most part.

And let’s also be clear. Masturbation is immediately gratifying – but it may not be in your long term best interests and you want to be careful who you share it with.

I agree – there’s nothing forcing artistic growth in a single panel gag-a-day format – but the same can be said of several narrative efforts I’ve come across as well. I guess what I’m trying to say is that each has a place in the medium. Narratives are fun and so are single-panel gag-a-days. They both have an audience and both entertain and provoke thought in their own ways.

There’s nothing really forcing growth on any comic… except of course for the simple act of repetition, practicing drawing on a daily or semi-daily basis. You can’t help but get better from that, but apart from that there’s no force driving you to improve except for your own desire to do so. I think this applies equally to all comics, and I don’t think single-panel strips have any disadvantage in this regard.

I think the point of the article is that if you’ve chosen to do something that you think is easy, and you’re doing it BECAUSE it’s easy, then nothing is forcing you to grow, and nobody is going to care.

If you choose to do something that challenges you, or if you choose to do something easy and then allow it to challenge you, THEN you’ve got the potential for growth.

I don’t know, I tried doing some simple one-panel gags as voting incentives once and I stagnated after the first 20 or so of them. With my three panel-comic, I definitely pull more of a direction with it, and that forces a bit of writing growth (at leaste I hope it’s been growth). It’s that kind of semi-forced growth that leads me to the hope that one day I will truly “get it” and understand how all the comic pices fit together. Right now I have what I think is a good idea, but the more growth the better, and I just never got that feeling of growth from the one panel attempt.

Actually, the point of the article is that single-panel gag-a-day strips look easy, but aren’t. And that they make a lot of necessary growth harder.

jokes are easy – just whatever makes you laugh at the time.

This reminds me of the stellar advice that Chuck Jones, et. al., got from Leon Schlesinger: “Put in lots of jokeths, fellas, jokeths are funny!”

I can agree that some days doing a single panel comic is pretty tough, and I would also agree that my art hasn’t grown as much as I’d like as a result of my format (not that I was particularly talented to begin with, or am now particularly talented), but even on a mediocre day it is still a lot of fun and allows me a great deal of freedom to just play with ideas. Of course, I do see a lot of strengths in the character driven comics, but that’s what I write novels and short fiction for.

[…] So over at Fleen there’s this post about how panel-a-gag strips do not force the artist/author to innovate or what-not. I ask you this, reader: is this a panel-a-gag-every-half-week strip? Or is it more? Am I a true artist, who experiments upon the blank canvas via the liberal sparkling of various solid lines and shapes? Oh woe is me! When will I truely walk amonst the real innovators, the storytellers who change the world through their visions? […]

HEY GUYS I AM IMPORTANT LOOK AT ME. (sorry, being on the internet i just had to say it)

I wouldn’t consider single panel gags to be my strong point cartooning wise. While I don’t post them to my website as that’s not becasue I don’t like them, but I would find them difficult to squeeze out regularly. That said, single panel cartoons have made me a bucketload of $$ when it comes to providing chapter illustrations for books and magazine articles – slightly different kettle of fish to the Larsonesque gag a day, but they’re close enough. They can be fun and they can be a challenge artistically, but you’ve really got to want to do them!

[…] In the comments of yesterday’s post, Jeff Lowrey admits “It was a poorly written post.” and resolves to do better the next day. The next day, he follows up with a post basically insulting all single-panel comics, claiming that when you make a single-panel gag comic, you have “no room for artistic growth”. Now, I challenge you to compare the first Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic with the latest and tell me that you can’t grow artistically from doing a daily single-panel strip. […]

I certainly agree with at least the point behind the article – gag-a-day strips are a hell of a lot harder to actually do well than they appear.

At the same time, I think the article itself doesn’t really convey that point too well – it comes off more as saying that such strips have no room to grow, no place in the current field, and no chance at success – rather than simply saying they are a lot harder to get right than one thinks.

There definitely is room for development in such a strip – refining of humor, evolution of art. But a lot of that does fall to the webcomic creator, and whether they are willing to grow or whether they are satisfied with cranking out the same old stuff every day.

At the same time, there are a lot of failed story-based webcomics that the same could probably be said of. In the end, it is up to the person behind the comic whether to grow or not, regardless of what type of comic they are making.

Jeff, I also agree that single-panel strips of the absurdist type are difficult to pull off ongoing, but I think you’re making some undeserved generalizations. In the end, it’s going to be up to the talent of the creator to determine what comes out of it. It’s certainly possible to do a single-panel strip that has room for artistic growth. I suspect that it’s possible to do one that allows for growth in writing as well, although I don’t know any existing examples of this. Anything is possible.

That said, there are a ton of terrible single-panel gag strips out there, and even some the most popular of them are often painful to read.

I hate the term “gag-a-day” — I’m not sure why. I don’t hate it as much as “pamphlet” though. :)

I think most one panel comics are just hit and miss and mostly MISS… BUT… in a world gone mad, there is a one panel webcomic out there who gets it right– Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – — by Zach Weeeeeeener.

That thing should be read by everyone.

I assumed it was! It’s definitely the greatest one-panel gag-a-day pamphlet out there.

I don’t think having “two guys on a couch playing videogames” is a good fallback for … well, for anything.

First, gag-a-day without continuity is much harder than storyline-driven humor. If you keep at it, you will be driven to work harder for your humor. Some might call that growth.

Second, don’t like his art if you don’t like his art, but your reasoning is fallacious. His choices with regard to perspective are clearly intentional – they relax the eye since they set the expectation that things aren’t going to be perfectly straight, or bound by gravity, etc. You may as well go after Degas because his floors go up too steeply and things look flat against them.

That one porkwrench you keep harping on (the one with the pig and the big wrench) actually has a very pleasing line, and nice variety in the thicknesses of line.

No matter what kind of comic you’re doing, there’s always room for improvement, whether it’s in the art or writing or whatever.

It’s reductive and false to claim that a comic is necessarily doomed to stagnation because of its format. But I don’t think that’s really what you’re trying to say.

What this post says to me is “Hey, so you’re going to start a webcomic! Great! You better not suck at it, or your comic won’t be very good!” It’s true, yes, but not very helpful.

Jeph all usin’ big words like reductive.


well now I have to, you said it in public. Curse You J. Jonah Jacqueson!

gag-a-day sounds like it’s easier than it is. Nataliedee and Drew make it look so easy.

Some day someone is going to have to make a gag-a-day comic in the literal sense: Comics that make you start to vomit.

Even if there isn’t character development, you can still be funny or poignant in a gag-a-day strip in a way that may affect more people than a poorly-done, unfunny strip that focuses on the exposition and backstory of its characters. There are a lot of story-driven “funny” webcomics out there that are very nice artistically, and yet terribly unfunny. With a gag-a-day strip, it’s not that there isn’t room to grow. It’s just you aren’t pushed to explore backstory in the same way. You can do it, however most gag-a-day comic writers focus instead on developing their timing. They focus on their joke-telling ability. Because at the end of the day, they are telling jokes. They might not be exploring the nuances of the childhood of their characters, but that’s not what they’re trying to do. And The Far Side wouldn’t have been any better if it had been a Penny-arcade or Scary-go-Round rip-off.

[…] Also, the parade of webcomics books continues apace, as Bunny chimes in with preorders. While some are not fans of the single-panel webcomic format, Lem’s got some real twisted genius going on, barely moderated by long, fluffy pink ears. Watch for 90 of the best strips to hit sometime late May/early June, subject to printing delays, university workload, and the Royal Mail. […]

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