Cartooning Without A Net

I know many of you love to read about process and, as you probably know, I have no fear of being transparent about how I create.  So after pulling a George Lucas and reworking a few pages in Chapter Three, I thought some readers might be interested in an exhilarating behind the scenes story.

2013-03-18_Chapter_Three_35

One of the things that I like most about posting a weekly comic is the immediacy of the feedback and commentary that I receive — an experience in complete contrast to majority of cartooning history. In the golden days of comic books, it would be months after deadline before letters from readers began to pour in and the comic strip artists of the same era were usually months into the next story arc before a strip landed in the funny pages.

I’ve often imagined that doing a weekly webcomic is as close to the experience of performing for a live audience that a cartoonist will ever have. Having done a little bit of stand-up back when my hair was fuller and less gray, I can tell you it can be either exhilarating or demoralizing depending on — well, let’s just say it’s the luck of the draw. I find that stage experience isn’t much different from waiting for the first readers comments to come rolling in, but without the shaky knees and sweaty palms.

I like to call Red’s Planet a “graphic novel-in-progress” and for a long-form comic, it’s been invaluable to be able to judge how my audience is perceiving the story as it goes along; are the characters ringing true, is the plot point clear, am I revealing too much in a subplot that won’t payoff until act three, etc. And, occasionally, I find out that the way I set up a scene or gag isn’t playing at all. And that’s when it’s time to figure out how to fix it.

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Working as a writer and story artist in animation, my scenes are constantly deluged by notes from the producer, director, or even an executive. It’s my job to take their concerns, fix the story, hopefully plus it, then pitch again in a week or two. At which point, more notes come in and we do it all over again until someone dies or they run out of money.

The great thing about notes are, in most cases, the story becomes stronger. With Red’s Planet, I think of my online readership as playing a key role in that note process.  And when a scene doesn’t “play” and there’s a bit of a hint in the comment section, that’s a pretty good indication that I might need to step back, reassess, and maybe go back to the drawing board.

2013-04-01_Chapter_Three_37

When comments started coming in on Chapter Three page 37, I began to realize that my concept of a large metal box with pre-dented edges that just happen to fall around Red’s legs without dismembering her, really wasn’t working. Not only did it become

a distraction for many readers, it drew attention away from the most important thing: the story.

So after, a little brainstorming (usually while taking a shower), I decided to rework pages 35 thru 37. The reworked pages not only make more story sense by replacing the metal monolithic box with a teetering pile of junk, but they are much more visually interesting as well. I’ve replaced the pages in the story, but I’ve included the original pages here for comparison.

Making changes is just part of the process. The story can always be stronger, and you should never be afraid to change something. Unless you’re George Lucas. Then, of course, you should just leave well enough alone.


Discussion (13)¬

Red's Planet is an All-Ages comic. Please keep comments appropriate.

  1. Great assessment of long form on the web, Eddie. I have to admit the box did bother me, but only in the back of my mind. But seeing the new pages, they are a definite improvement. Great work as always.

  2. Jedi Clampett says:

    I thought it was a mattress that came out of some kind of small package. The next comic did make me wonder where it came from, but I still didn’t let it distract me from the story. I think you have a great comic going here.

  3. Ed8 says:

    Wait now….you’re saying the comic changes *after* I’ve read it? Has this happened before and I didn’t even know about it? How cool is that! I can go back and read it again and it’s different – like two comics for the price of one! (and they’re both free!) Yet another reason webcomics are better than movies – it hardly ever happens that a movie is different when I rewatch it, and even when it does, the changes don’t make it better – yes, I’m looking right at you, George Lucas.

    • Eddie says:

      Weeeellll, no, not really. The the story won’t change, but sometimes the way I tell it can be influenced by reader reaction. There are times, after rereading, that scenes, gags or dialogue are rewritten and plussed. Not major changes; not George Lucas changes. ;)

  4. ludux says:

    Some great words of wisdom in this. A young friend of mine is an aspiring (and incredibly dedicated) student who aims to get into animation, and after pointing this out to them I think they got some value out of it. Great behind the scenes look at the process, and I think you did make the right decision, though now that I think more on it, I love the original visual gag. But it was worth changing to avoid the confusion, and I love that we get new Reds Planet art out of it!

    • Eddie says:

      Great to here your friend got some value out of the post Luke — that’s one reason I like to share about the process. One of the things that working in animation has taught me is to not fall in love with a gag — and often it’s what I consider my funniest that gets cut first. Still, in the long run, everyone will see how unimportant the actual gag on these pages was. The next two pages are what we’ve been trying to get to.

  5. PMark says:

    A similar thing happened just this weekend on the comic strip, Stone Soup. The joke in the Sunday (4/7/2013) strip was not readily apparent. The comments over on GoComics were full of confusion until one fan finally figured out what the joke was. It turned out to be rather funny, but very few people could do figure it out without help. And if you have to explain a joke… .

    Remember, these were die-hard Stone Soup fans who were used to Jan Eliot’s sense of humor, and even they were confused.

    Here is the link if you are interested:

    http://www.gocomics.com/stonesoup/2013/04/07

    • Eddie says:

      Thanks for sharing PMark! I’ve met Jan and love her work! She probably did that strip that months ago and just now seeing the confusion. See, it even happens to the best. :)

  6. I love the changes. The box bothered me, but I really wasn’t sure why. The new pages flow a whole lot better.

    Thanks for the process discussion. The ability to use reader feedback with such immediacy can only serve to make the work better in the long run. Now, if I could only get some reader feedback (not to mention readers) for my webcomic, ROADFROGS. http://roadfrogs.wordpress.com

    • Eddie says:

      Thanks Robert! Yeah, the readership for a webcomic can take time to ramp up — took a long time for people to find Red’s Planet. But don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and regroup if your audience isn’t warming up. It’s just part of the job. :)

  7. You pretty much summed up what I love about drawing webcomics myself. I found it’s even addictive – good thing my stuff is unlikely ever to get into print. ;)

    By the way, I didn’t get the significance of the box until I read the comments – I thought it just wasn’t very heavy and not very tough – but I’m sort of in two minds about it. I think it might as well have been a nice surprise for later, that would have made me go back, look at the page again and said: “My, that was a hidden clue! Ingenious!” ;) But then, the junk pile IS visually more interesting, and being able to retrofit your comic IS a big advantage of webcomics, so why not make use of it? Just imagine a recall campaign in the print comic business! :)

  8. Quieteyes says:

    Interestingly enough, my problem with the hollow box bit was that Red just laid there while her shoe was taken off. Since the box was hollow (and obviously her ankles weren’t hurt in the slightest), she was pretty much untouched. As such, I found it hard to believe she wouldn’t notice somebody messing with her foot.

    With the re-draw, however, she’s far too busy listening to all the different parts of her saying “ow” to notice something going on with her foot. Thus it makes perfect sense why she wouldn’t notice it until after she gets herself out of the junk pile. Nicely done. :-)

Comment¬

Red's Planet is an All-Ages comic. Please keep comments appropriate.