The working life of any aspiring illustrator is split into two unequal halves: a few hours doing the job you love, followed by days of waiting with fingers crossed for the next commission.
Between paying gigs, the best thing you can do is hone your creative skills and raise your profile. Most artists take on personal projects to plump up their portfolios, with a few choosing to create daily comic strips. It sounds like a time-consuming commitment, but you might just be rewarded with your dream job.
Someone who has found success on this path is Andy Stuart, the creator of comic blog, Noob the Loser, and now a staff cartoonist with CollegeHumor. We asked him for his advice on starting a web comic and sticking with it.
The Case for Comics
One of the great joys of illustration is being able to tell stories with your work. Comic strips are made for this purpose, allowing anyone with a creative mind to compile a narrative.
As a high school student, Stuart says he “never dreamed of doing anything besides telling stories.” He naturally enjoyed expressing himself through comics and fan art, posting on art forums in his spare time. After quitting retail to enroll in art school, he decided to publish on his own site.
“I was in my first year at Columbus College of Art and Design and I started Noob the Loser to post my random comics, mostly for my own amusement,” he says. One of his early posts — “an old comic about my Dungeons and Dragons group“ — struck a chord: “It took off and acquired something like 10,000 notes [Tumblr likes and shares] overnight.”
Along with valuable exposure, such a creative test bed is indispensable for any artist, and the validation offers significant encouragement.
Finding Your Inner Comic
Most comics are meant to be funny, but that doesn’t mean you need the razor-sharp wit of a stand-up comedian to publish your own strips. Observations of little mishaps can be hilarious, and one of Stuart’s most popular series is based around amusing content he finds online. In Behind-the-GIFs, he imagines the curious events leading up to an otherwise inexplicable snippet of video.
The best content often comes from what truly interests you. While Stuart continues to publish comics on Dungeons and Dragons, fellow illustrator Brian Gordon has found fame drawing simple strips about the challenges of parenthood. More often than not, your comics will resonate with people who share your interests and experiences and can therefore connect with your characters and narratives.
Building an Audience
Publishing is an art in and of itself. Tumblr is a good place to start for sharing comic strips and other illustrations — the platform lets you easily set up a free blog that is linked to a highly visual and viral social network. In addition, Stuart recommends building an audience on reddit, Imgur, and Facebook. These are highly active communities, and “will give you the resources and enthusiasm to work on your magnum opus,” he says.
He also suggests adapting your content to meet demand. This includes producing short strips that can be shared out of context and experimenting with different content. He points to Brian Gordon’s success here: “He made some comics about parenting that got insane traction, and he doubled down… now he’s doing TV interviews, and he had [one of] the most-shared Facebook posts of 2015.”
Staying the Course
When sharing your work online, it is worth keeping your long-term goals in mind.
“Your social media platforms are basically an aggressive portfolio,” Stuart explains. As with anything worth doing, the most challenging aspect is being able to stay the course. “Don’t give up when any reasonable person would quit,” he adds.
His own persistence was rewarded with a job at one of the biggest comedy sites on the internet. “By the time I emailed CollegeHumor, they had already seen my stuff on Tumblr and Imgur, which helped get a foot in the door.” The end-game will vary from person to person — you might wish to use the popularity of your comic to launch a freelance career — but the message of persistence applies across the board, Stuart says. “If you work hard and you have a grain of talent, it’ll happen.”
Cartooning isn’t the only creative hobby that you can turn into a career — learn the steps to turning your passion into profit with this article.
Top image by RomanYa