Guide to Publishing A Political Webcomic, Part 1

I began publishing a webcomic three years ago and I think it is a success. Well anytime my unique visitors a day goes over two, not including me, that is a success!

I will start off with the obvious steps.

1) Learn to draw.

2) Learn to write short, snarky dialog.

3) Tivo C-SPAN, Daily Show, Colbert Report and Keith Olbermann then stay up all night watching.

4) Burn all copies of Time Magazine in your possession.

5) Stop bathing.

6) Forget about any social life whatsoever – and get the upcoming divorce out of the way.

7) Find a liquor store that delivers.

Now we can get down to business.

8 ) Decide on format. Do you want to do a single panel or a multipanel? Don’t have a clue as to what I am talking about? No problem. A single panel is just that, a single panel in which the whole gag, statement or joke is told in a single frame of action. Far Side is the king of the single panel cartoons, although not very political, Gary Larson did an amazing job of using the space for maximum visual benefit. D Honig is a great example of an independent single panel cartoonist.

The multipanel strips have two or more panels to tell the story. The most famous of these in the editorial cartoon arena is Pulitizer prize-winning Doonesbury by Gary Trudeau.

If you want a cast of characters interacting with one another, maybe the multipanel is the way to go. If you want to do more traditional editorial cartooning, maybe the single panel is your best bet. But there are no rules. You can have a large cast of characters and do a single panel or do traditional cartooning in multipanels. Or you can take the Ted Rall “Red Meat Path” and mix it up.

9) Develop the cast. If you want a cast driven cartoon, write down the list of your character’s name and their attributes. For me it helps when I write the dialog knowing the personalities I have to work with in my cast arsenal. Now write each character’s biography. No, you don’t have to do all this – you can shoot right to drawing but your work will suffer since none of the cast members will have a clear background or direction.

10) Draw the cast. If you want a cast driven cartoon take each character’s attributes and draw them with their bio in mind. Do they wear sandals or boots? Where do they live? What is their social status? No detail is too small.

11) Title the cartoon. If you are doing a cartoon without a cast or an repeatable elements, you can use your name as a domain. But try to find a good title for your strip regardless of content.

If you are doing a cast strip, pick a good name that is easy to pronounce, easy to remember and is spelled like it sounds. “Crofic City Limits” is bad because no one knows how to spell “Crofic.” One K? Two Ks? Is there a “w’ in there someplace? “Oakville City Limits” is better. Now cross your fingers and hope the domain name is available. If the title of your strip is not available as a domain name pick a new title, don’t add dashes or anything to the domain that makes it difficult to find.

12) Find a web host. Pick one that has MySQL and PHP as features. You will need plenty of hard disk space, but you don’t need gigabytes. Town Called Dobson uses a tad over 30 megabytes for the website and about 2 megabytes for the MySQL database. But you always want room to expand. You may want to add a Wiki for your strip or a forum maybe. Plan ahead.

As a side note, these suggestions (12 – 14) are optional, there are plenty of other blogging software out there or platforms you can use. These suggestions are the most PAIN-FREE path I have found for cartoonists.

13) Install WordPress 2.0. WordPress is a free blogging package and it is easily useable for cartooning needs. You can grab it at WordPress.org. You might be able to find a webhost that comes with WordPress preinstalled! Don’t use anything previous to version 2.0.

14) Install ComicPress. This is a WordPress theme that is custom made for cartoonists. You can read all about it at this link.

15) Open a DailyKos.com account. The best place to showcase your editorial cartoons is DailyKos.com, the planet’s biggest blog. The daily page views is over a half a million. The traffic is insane. Open an account now because new accounts must wait a week to post.

16) Open a Flickr.com account. DailyKos requires you to host your images on a image hosting website. I find Flickr to be the best because of the political community that is established there.

17) Buy today’s issue of USA Today. Pick three stories from the paper that you enjoy the most – the one’s that made you think or made you happy or outraged.

18) Write three strips. Don’t think about drawing, don’t think about the color palette, think about the dialog. A strip starts with a blank sheet of paper (or a blank text document) and an idea. If you were at a party and wanted to say something witty about one of the USA Today articles, what would you say? What would your characters say? Which one would say it? Who would respond? What location would the characters be at? Now that these questions have been answered, now we can draw.

19) Draw that strip! This is the fun part. You can use pen and ink or nothing but software or a combination of both. It is your choice. Make sure the dialog is easy to read. Also, make sure the title of the cartoon, the copyright notice and the URL is all included in the strip. I put all of that is a nice title bar on the top of each of my strips. That way, when someone swipes your strip to put on their blog, the details of how to find more of your stuff is included IN THE IMAGE.

20) Post to your website. WordPress makes it very easy, no FTP involved. And write a little text to go along with the cartoon. It gives Google something to chew on.

21) Post to DailyKos. Obey all the DK rules, be nice and pleasant. Don’t take criticism to heart. They aren’t really wanting to rip your throat out. Don’t lash out. There is an old Buddhist saying, “have the courage NOT to act.”

22) Consider posting to Left Toon Lane. This website is like the Cagle.com for independent editorial cartoons. Contact LTL contributor dhonig for details.

23) Now, do this each day for a month. Then we will talk about expansion… if you are still alive.

Lastly, all of this may be total rubbish and you are free to ignore every stinking bit of it, except step 7, that is pretty much a universal truth.

Storm Bear Williams is a marketing guru and advertising genius that spends his spare time making enemies with his daily editorial cartoon, Town Called Dobson. He is also Founder and Executive Director of the soldier support charity Books For Soldiers.

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