It was a few days after an uneventful brainstorming session with a mutual friend that I approached Colin with the concept of Folklore.
He said he liked the idea, so on July 31, 2012, I began writing what would be the plot for the very first issue. The exact time I started was around 11:58 PM, and the only reason I know that is because Google Docs are a godsend with timestamps.
On March 1, 2016, we uploaded our very first page of Folklore to Tapastic — a hub for webcomics that served as our main ‘website’ until a friend and supporter helped us create our own. Folklore’s first issue had actually gone live a month earlier but was only available on Patreon for people who wanted to support us. We didn’t know indie platforms for web distribution existed yet. Patreon just kind of seemed like an ok place to start.
On May 11, 2018, Folklore’s creators, Adam Ma (myself) and Colin Tan Wei, finally met face to face for the first time. Together we sold Folklore’s first volume at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. We have been on this journey for almost six years and had never once before been in the same room (let alone province) as each other. It was a thrilling experience.
This is the truth behind webcomic creation.
It’s a long story. People often ask for advice on making a comic, and it’s hard not to reflexively spout out a lot of the same stuff. If you want the condensed version:
Start working on it now.
Don’t stop working on it.
Get lots of critique and criticism.
Don’t be afraid to show off your work and market yourself.
Never give up.
I’d call this kind of advice ‘the easy stuff’. It’s time-honored because it’s true, and it works, and don’t get me wrong these points are super important. But you’ve probably heard it all before. It’s the kind of inspirational advice that can just as easily be delivered to you from the poster of a kitten hanging off a tree.
Colin and I have learned a lot over the past few years, but the most profound lessons have mostly come from making mistakes. There’s a lot we could impart from our failures. For this post I’d really like to just focus on one:
As an independent creator, you’re responsible for a lot of things, and it’s easy to grow impatient when you’re watching other indie creators flourish. You want to get in on the excitement of seeing a project completed — but it’s also very easy to be intimidated when you consider that a single artist often doesn’t simply update their comic.
As an independent creator, you’re responsible for more than just finding a proper platform for your work. Advertising your comic, planning merchandise, securing a table for cons, engaging your fans, regularly updating your crowdfunding sites (like Patreon or Kickstarter), and connecting with other creators all eat into time otherwise spent developing your actual comic. But these things are also essential to help grow your audience in the long run.
A writer and artist team (like us) can divide the work more evenly between two bodies, but this often comes with the perceived notion of needing to work faster as a result. A writer who has already completed their script can put a lot of pressure on an artist to complete their work just as quickly. Likewise, an illustrator may feel like they need to finish panels they don’t fully understand or agree with.
We solve this by constantly checking in with each other at every step of the creative process, as well as pushing release dates back if we need to.
Deadlines are self-imposed, and while it’s important to stick to them you should never feel obligated to place a release date over the quality of your work.
This isn’t the gaming industry after all. Our readers are our only investors, and we owe them the highest quality we can produce.
Few comics explode in growth overnight, however, those that find success often do so because of the obvious time and care that’s been invested in their creation. You may not be ready to share any part of your comic during the first year of its development. There may be elements of the world you’re unsure of or a character design that simply feels weak. It’s ok to take time to refine these things.
In fact, here’s a list of things you can (and should) work on before your comic is ready to be shown to the world:
Do you have a website, and will you be using mirror sites?
Are you comfortable with your character design, and are your characters easy to identify? How often do you want to release updates?
What happens if you get sick, or need a break? Do you have a buffer?
Do you have a goal planned for the year in terms of audience growth?
What social media networks can you use to draw some extra attention to your work? How often will you use them?
Delaying your comic’s release for a proper website, or so that you can have a release buffer may feel awful. There’s nothing worse than holding onto completed work you want to share. But if it means seeing your work properly grow and flourish, it’s a sacrifice you must be willing to make.
Of course, being patient also means knowing when to take a break.
Creating a comic is hard work, and it’s a fact that many indie creators can’t afford to work on their project full time. Myself included. Combined with the stress of a regular day job it can be difficult to juggle your paycheck and personal goals. When the stress of working on your comic starts to feel like a second job you may feel tempted to just push through it — but there’s a better solution.
Take a break. Step back.
If you read comics regularly then you know better than anyone else how easy it is to tell when an artist or writer has been stretched too thin. Some may complain at the lack of updates, but at the end of the day, no one will enjoy a story that feels published at the expense of your creative health or wellbeing.
So go out there and plan your dream comic. Outline a plot, share the idea with friends and peers. Set your release schedule and figure out how you plan on interacting with readers. Make exhausting trips across the country to sell your work at a convention you’re not entirely sure will be a success.
But no matter what you do, just be patient. Your work will only flourish when you give it the time it deserves.
Adam Ma is the writer/creator of Folklore, a post-apocalyptic superhuman webcomic about monsters, responsibility, and the delicate balance of preserving fact from fiction.
You can support Folklore via their ComixCentral store here
Enjoy regular updates at http://folklorecomic.com/
Be sure to only follow Adam on Twitter if you enjoy Star Wars, peanut butter cups, and dogs. @4thGingerbread