Hi! This is Chris, founder of Comicalfoods and co-creator of the upcoming comic, Journey to the Top of the Food Pyramid Book 1: Grain Chamber.
I failed at finishing our first comic book project. Currently, it's on hold and, using the lessons I learned from that failure, we are now almost done with our second comic book.
I'm a new creator in this industry and I have made many mistakes along this 4-year journey to create a comic. I hope you can learn from my mistakes and see how I applied these lessons to a new project.
Here are the top 3 lessons I took with me:
Setting a goal with a budget, deadline, and schedule
Learning who I am as a creator & leaning into my strengths
Targeting an Audience
1. Setting a Goal with a Budget, Deadline, & Schedule
Our first project had a goal and a deadline, but change was their best friend. I kept having different ideas for the format, the story, the length, the audience, etc. I was full of new ideas and happy to change the goal whenever a new amazing idea hit me. But it kept pushing the deadline back. I realized one day that after 3 years of worldbuilding, a few layouts, several outlines and a lot of concept art, we still didn’t have a complete story. So I put that project on hold and started a new project. That new project became Journey to The Top of the Food Pyramid (JTFP) and this time, I only changed the goal once!
Setting the final goal of creating a 32-page, middle-grade comic book along with a “recipe” process section helped me create a plan. I set a budget for worldbuilding because I learned from my previous project that I was extremely prone to "worldbuilding disease." I had a rough deadline but, as we started working on the actual pages, that rough deadline turned into an actual date with a flexible monthly production schedule determined by the team’s availability and my budget. I changed plans along the way, but not my goal.
The goal was set and we were working our way towards it.
2. Learning Who I Am As a Creator & Leaning into My Strengths
On our first comic book project, I was learning on the go. I was a brand new creator with no creative writing experience since high school. I just dove into it and listened to comic-making YouTube channels, podcasts, and books. I loved worldbuilding and I could spend hours sketching concept art and writing ideas down for magic systems. I learned that I could devote time to learning how to write, but didn’t want to do the same with art. I learned that I had unique ideas and my rough concept art designs attracted and excited the team. I learned that I like doing outlines and that I hate writing scripts. I prefer doodling story scenes to envision a story. I learned that I was more focused on the overall vision of the story and the branding. I learned that patience was very important, especially when you have a team of freelancers with different time availabilities. I learned that family, friends and basketball time was more important to me than working every day on the project. I learned that I was a PERFECTIONIST and that it cost me time and money.
When I started the new project, I decided that I wanted to be more of a creative director/project manager than a writer. I leaned into that role and hired a more experienced comic book writer to co-write with. I also saw myself as a world-builder with a specialized skill in 3D architectural design, so I decided to create a smaller setting than my previous project. Something that I could design and model. A pyramid! A food pyramid!
I saw a lot of creators say that a comic is better finished than perfect, and I nod my head in agreement with them. But the perfectionist side of me shakes their head in disapproval. I wanted to create something amazing! But I also wanted to publish something in the near future, so I felt I had to let go of trying to be perfect. It wasn’t until I started reading more about Kobe Bryant and his chase to perfection that I knew what I had to do.
Like Kobe said, “You have to dance beautifully in the box that you’re comfortable dancing in. My box was to be extremely ambitious within the sport of basketball. Your box is different than mine. Everybody has their own. It’s your job to try to perfect it and make it as beautiful of a canvas as you can make it. And if you have done that, then you have lived a successful life.”
I agree with him, and I found my box. It was to be extremely ambitious within the sport of comics. Boxes have constraints. And the constraints I picked for this project were the deadline and the budget. I could still chase perfection but I would chase it within our constraints because I wanted to achieve our goal.
I still believe a comic is better finished than perfect, but I also believe a perfectly finished comic is the best.
3. Targeting an Audience
This is tied closely to the goal, but I’m mentioning it as a separate topic because it was the main thing I kept changing on our first project. I was a new writer, so I wrote what I knew; I wrote from my own life experiences. I had a difficult time choosing between myself or a different audience, and that’s why I wrote so many outlines. There were times I didn’t even know who the audience was and I would just try to write a story using methods I learned from books or YouTube. I still don’t know who the audience should be for that story.
When I started the new project, I decided to tackle the audience issue right away. I looked at the market. I looked at what the other publishers were selling, what they said was hot and in-demand. I looked at middle-grade comics. I then picked a fantasy adventure genre which was determined by the setting. With Comicalfoods publishing this story, I targeted an audience made up of middle-grade kids hungry for food-themed fantasy adventure stories. I knew who our audience was, and I didn't feel lost anymore when we started writing!
There were a lot more mistakes I made along the way, and you can check them out as I start sharing them on Twitter @comicalfoods.
If you're a process junkie like myself, keep an eye out for our upcoming book, which comes with a recipe section that covers our entire process from idea to book design!