...said no-one in their right mind, ever.
I mean, it’s bonkers – who wanders into the uncharted territory of a new profession by starting with the loftiest of goals? It’s like finally attaining your degree in architecture and opting to construct the next Sagrada Familia down the road from your local newsagents.
Me. It was me who did this.
I had this masterpiece, a magnum opus that had been burning brightly in my mind for the better part of eight years, refusing to vacate itself or manifest into something more distinct. Once in a while after work, I’d try to be sensible and draft out specifics, but the notes would gather dust pretty quickly as life got busy. No matter, I was an Artist that was Inspired, and that’s what counted…right?
After a few years, I had five wandering chapters written down in a messy word document, followed by an assortment of moody scenes, a vague timeline and plot twists scattered across the pages like herbal seasoning on a roast chicken. It wasn’t pretty, but every time I tried to tidy up this eyesore, I’d inevitably get stuck in the storytelling minutia and needlessly revamp an old scene. I promised myself that I’d start making the pages as soon as I finished up the initial draft, but the perfectionist in me knew in truth: I’d never get there. There would always be another revamp around the corner, or another guide to read. One day in late 2017, I took a step back, looked at the 70 pages of shambolic writing in front of me, complemented by a clutter of Tumblr character sketches, and blinked.
"This was it," I thought. It was time to create my sprawling epic.
After touching up a few reference sheets and hastily updating an old prologue script from three years prior, I started drawing the pages. I merged layers haphazardly and I had no idea how many panels to include in a page, only that I’d make the last panel interesting enough for people to click ‘Next.’ I got my characters to talk without knowing their full intentions. I added in details that might form plot holes down the line. By all intents and purposes, I started APOC in the messiest way I possibly could. But seeing my characters talk and interact from one panel to the next was mesmerising. Now that I was in the driver’s seat, drawing page after page, I became addicted to webcomics.
APOC is now approaching the end of its sixth chapter and I’m pretty sure I passed the 150-page milestone some time ago. Admittedly, I burnt out a couple of times along the way by overworking myself (I was juggling a short panel comic on the side in case APOC didn’t go well), but I learned from my mistakes and, over time, formed healthier work habits. Despite the setbacks, I came to realise that one of the best parts of APOC was that it was going to go on for a long, long while. I had energy to burn and, as each chapter closed up, the energy only accumulated and grew stronger. If I had opted to make a shorter webcomic, I’d certainly be done by now, but then so would the joy of its development and experience – and what a short-lived joy that could have been.
There are a lot of well-meaning articles, Twitter threads and YouTube talks out there, that often begin their webcomic advice with one golden rule: Start small, work your way up. And there is a lot of merit in that! I think it works amazingly for a lot of creators and in that sense, I don’t disagree with the sentiment. But like all advice out there, it’s not for everyone – if I had started small, I absolutely wouldn’t have burnt out. But equally, I don’t know if there would have been any fire to get me started in the first place.
I sincerely don't think there’s a right or wrong way to start your webcomic. It all depends on you (which is a bit of a cop-out answer, but it’s true) and what kind of “calls-to-action” works for you. The only wrong way to make a webcomic is to make one you hate working on, whether that be a short comic strip on how your existential crisis manifests when eating ice cream, or a sprawling epic with a cast of characters so big you couldn’t cook them dinner without plummeting into your bank overdraft. For me, the right way to make a webcomic was to look at that long, chaotic mess of a word document, and smile at the sheer hubris of it all. If this sprawling epic could stick with me for eight years, then maybe if I drew it, it would stick to others for just as long, if not longer.