Quite possibly one of the most important things to watch out for when you make a comic is when you’re initially coming up with it. Inventing characters, settings, plots, it all will set the tone for the whole thing and having even one element in there that doesn’t work will wreck everything. And it can be hard to think objectively while planning and putting things in to action because you can’t really see things with an outsider’s perspective.
How do you know if you are going down the wrong path? Well talking to someone else about your project is always a good sign, and a piece of advice I see as being a good idea since that second set of eyes can lend some valuable insight. Unfortunately it’s not for me because this method requires you to pitch the idea, and I suck at doing that verbally. I cannot tell a joke to save my life and I find it impossible to recommend things to friends because coming from my mouth it sounds stupid. It has cost me a few sales at conventions.
So, how do I measure quality of my own comics? Well I do that by asking myself one very simple question: Would I buy it?
Let’s pretend Domain Tnemrot has nothing to do with me. I have never heard of it or the creators and I know nothing of its premise. I just saw it at my local comic store and picked it up. Can I honestly say I would go to the counter and purchase it? Can I honestly say that, upon getting home, I would read and enjoy it?
And I can honestly say the answer is yes. It may sound narcissistic but I can easily sit down and trawl the archives start to finish, and then I go read my scripts for the pages that haven’t been drawn yet. I still enjoy it. Same with Gemini Storm, I think I have read the trade five times since I got it from the printers.
I got the idea for this method from Penny Arcade. In the 11 ½ year anniversary book, the section on PAX talks about how it succeeded when other shows run by Gamespot and IGN failed. Robert Khoo, who wrote that section, says he realised that PAX worked because the entire idea behind it was to create a convention that they would attend and enjoy. And it’s not just PAX. Child’s Play is the type of charity they would donate to. If you’ve ever seen the Penny Arcade TV Series, you can see how they write the comic, which is entirely them trying to make each other laugh.
It is, to me, one of the best strategies I can think of. If you make something that you would want to read or watch, it’s highly likely that someone else would also like to read or watch that thing as well.
And it is not just webcomics. I’m a fan of The Cinema Snob’s movies. Well, I haven’t seen Freak Out yet and the forced abortion in Cheap means I’ll never re-watch it (That movie is not for those with a weak stomach) but I do love Midnight Heat, Hooker With a Heart of Gold and The Cinema Snob Movie.
In the intros to his pre-Snob movies, Brad Jones talks about how he still likes to sit down and watch these videos because they are the types of movies he enjoys watching. And they do have their fans, even though the budget is incredibly small and the camera quality is quite poor. In fact for some of them it adds to the charm of the movie. I can’t picture Midnight Heat being clean, it wouldn’t be as effective if it lost the gritty look.
Now, you could point out that Demo Reel used this method as well, but was poorly received and Doug Walker ended up quitting and going back to the Nostalgia Critic. I would say that is the perfect example of when doing what you like becomes self-indulgence. And also knowing your limits as a creator, which Walker does not. Make sure you find a nice balance between catering to yourself and making something you would enjoy if you had no association with.
But getting back on topic, the phrase ‘everyone’s a critic’ is usually used to dismiss and discredit criticism but it is true. Everyone has an opinion and individual tastes. By being honest with yourself, you can turn this into an advantage by using your own likes and dislikes to judge whether or not you’re doing the right thing and hopefully that will turn it into something your readers will enjoy.
At the very least, you’ll hopefully avoid any out-of-nowhere dramatic twists.