My First Comic was Garbage— and that's okay!
Why getting started is much better than waiting until you’re “ready”
Practice makes perfect, and I must have drawn about 500 comic pages in my lifetime so I’m feeling pretty good at this point. That really wasn’t the case just five years ago before I made my first real story. Back then, I had a story in mind, an idea of how to bring it to life, and a cheesy dream to make it happen. Maybe you can relate?
Obviously getting started isn’t that easy. So many creators get caught up in the planning phase so their big first project will be perfect, which ends up taking so long that the big first project just never happens. From character sheets to outlines and plenty of practice pages, it’s hard to know when you’re ready. The alternative is you just get started, but taking on a magnum opus is a big commitment and really does require a good bit of planning. Which still leaves you with the question of where to focus your efforts: the plan or the page.
The solution is simple: think small! If you have a long, multi-chaptered story in mind then I ask you to put it off for just one second. For your first project, it’s best to stick to just one chapter that’s less than fifty pages long. Less planning, less work, but a whole lot of chances to learn! Not to mention, it’s so satisfying when you write “the end” at your mini grand finale.
Which brings me to my own first comic: a seventeen-page genderbent zombie apocalypse alternate universe.
In 2015, I got the idea for a very short story based on a very different take of characters I’d been churning over in my head for years. Inspiration happened to strike when I was enjoying summer break and I took full advantage of that good timing. The story was thumbnailed in an afternoon and the whole thing came together in just a couple of weeks. I created a Smackjeeves account and Tumblr blog to post pages. The comic garnered less than one hundred followers, but that didn’t take away what I gained from my small-scale trial run.
The thing about a seventeen-page story is that it doesn't require much prep work. A few sketches for the character designs, some thumbnails of major scenes, and a very short script is all you need. Even better: if you choose to write about characters you've been working with for a while, you already know their personalities and don't have to put thought into the who's of your story.
Although it's not longer my proudest moment, I was so excited at the time and this short comic really gave me the confidence to pursue my real target: Sunkissed. Not to mention the experience I gained! I learned the processes that work for me on a much more manageable scale, which cut the planning time down for Sunkissed tenfold. Now instead of wandering into the intimidating unknown, I confidently set some very realistic, very achievable goals. That is how you want to feel when you start your pièce de résistance.
If you have a really long story you’re dying to tell and you’ve settled on comics to do it, don’t wait...but don’t rush. Save that 500+ page story until after you tackled a much shorter story. Whether it's a different part of the timeline, an alternate universe, or even a fancomic of whatever you're obsessed with right now. Keep it to under fifty pages and stick with it until you're totally finished. Your magnum opus will thank you!