In the ‘80s, many of us spent our childhoods drawing Garfield — Garfield eating a hamburger, Garfield playing piano, even Garfield drawing Garfield. Thanks to the internet, budding artists can take their talents further than sketching a lasagna-loving tabby. Today, gifted doodlers and storytellers can create and upload their own webcomics for the world to see and follow.
But making a webcomic series that will spark continued interest from the kid creator or a devoted audience isn’t as simple as you might think. Follow these tips to help your kid present their vision for a webcomic series with fun and creativity.
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Webcomics are just what they sound like: comic strips on the web. They’re usually free and don’t come out in print. Occasionally, you can find a whole graphic novel or a webcomic that’s animated or has music. It’s a complicated art form that looks simple. If you really want to prep yourself for unveiling the mysteries of comics for your kid, pick up Scott McCloud’s books Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics.
Your kid is not going to be great at first. They should expect to suck and to stick with it. This will prepare them for a creative life. Whether your kid is a master scribbler or a stick figure-drawer who tells a helluva tale, they should probably map out a plan of attack. You and your aspiring Stan Lee can start with the story. Do they want it to be short and sweet, like Doctor Cat, rely heavily upon images like The Abominable Charles Christopher, or have a more complex story like Girl Genius? What are they trying to say? Have them practice empathy when creating their characters and talk to them about their intentions.
They can decide whether they want their story told in one frame, three panels, or a full page. Generally on the web, they’re going to want to go with one strip with a few panels. They should also practice drawing — not like tracing X-Men until their fingers bleed — but making their own characters and drawing them repeatedly.
Crawl Before You Walk
Artist and poetry comics creator Franklin Einspruch has some good suggestions for parents. “If a kid had a moderately technical basis, like knows how to code up HTML and style it with SS and get it online, that is enough to make a webcomic. I would encourage that because just from a learning standpoint, you get to know how the web works.” Building it from the floor up offers a neat perspective and learning experience, and it’s free.
“There’s a huge amount of material out there, some kid appropriate, some not,” he advises on the webcomics world. “A child should have a computer before he has an Internet connection. It would be worth thinking about making a webcomic as an exercise in building a page in HTML. It would save to the machine but not the internet. That’s what I do. Then, when I’m comfortable with sharing it with the world, I make it public.”
In this way, you can make a webcomic without having a website. You can play with hyperlinking and positioning the images and even work with animation privately. Then you can make the decision about what can go live and when, giving you full parental control.
Drawing a Story
Let your kid just draw on paper with pencil, crayons, pens, or have them paint with watercolor. Experimenting with media will help them narrow down their preferred format. Besides, it’s fun!
You can get a scanner to digitize these images. Or, if you don’t have a scanner, you can simply snap a shot with your smartphone, edit it directly in the phone, and post it online. Editing programs you can use include Clip Studio Paint EX, GIMP, or Adobe Photoshop Sketch.
Graphic tablets are fun to experiment with, as well. There’s the Huion H420 USB Graphics Drawing Tablet Board Kit, which you plug into your computer and is compatible with all major editing software. It’s extremely affordable at about $30. Once your kid has become a master of the webcomics world, you can grab them a Wacom product like the Cintiq Pro 16 for almost $1,500. Another way to go about it is to buy a two-in-one laptop like the Lenovo Yoga 920. These tools make it easy to frame the comics and to customize the ink flow when you’re drawing. And if they’re using a graphic tablet, they can edit their comic using the same software they’re using to draw.
Be a Good Host
Instagram is an easy way to get webcomics up and out into the world without having to find a site to host your kid’s work. Tumblr is a popular format for sharing webcomics, but it can be a dark and creepy world for kids to explore solo. When in doubt, web management systems you can use to host include Webtoons, ComicFury, or Smack Jeeves.
The main thing about creating webcomics is that it involves time and energy. So, let your kids explore how they want to tell their story and then help them commit to it. Working hard can be an entertaining and edifying experience! Plus, they won’t complain about the hours spent perfecting their craft when they’re the special guest at San Diego Comic-Con billed as the Stan Lee of Gen Z.
Liz Tracy is a Miami-bred, Boston-based freelance writer, editor, and mother.
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