I read a lot of independent comics.
I read nothing from Marvel or DC. I only read three Image Comics. I read the occasional book from Dark Horse, Oni, Slave Labor Graphics, and the like. I love IDW’s current Popeye series and Boom! Studios’ Adventure Time and Peanuts books. But the core of my comic reading experience is reading the comics that are created by the LITTLE little guy/gal, the self-publishers who are trying to carve their niche. I am a self-publisher myself and I know many self-publishers so I try my best to support people’s work. With that said I have read some really brutal independent comics this year. Why were they all brutal? Three simple things – story, grammar, and art quality.
I am by no means an expert in the right and wrong things to do. But I have had enough conversations with enough legitimate people, as well as put in the work over the last few years to get better as a cartoonist/comic artist, that I know bad when I see it. All three of the aforementioned things usually come as a package deal when it comes to bad indie comics and, well, people need to step their damn game up, man. Seriously.
Allow me to explain what I mean when I say those three.
When I say story I mean comics that have such a razor-thin, convoluted, poorly executed, and/or confusing plot that you want to go and get your money back. This is going to sound mean but if a few unbiased readers (and I cannot emphasize the word “unbiased” enough) read your script and they all find it to be weak than it is more than likely not just their opinion. It means your project is bad. Seriously. Be adult enough to take the criticism, ask for what people would like to see or think you should add/subtract from your story, then revise. Don’t print a fully-drawn book that reads like a story a kindergartner would write, y’know?
When I say grammar I am talking about comics that need to be checked for spelling and punctuation, not just on one page but in every frickin’ word balloon. I mean damn, people. Microsoft Word can check for spelling and grammatical errors. Hell, Google Docs can check for spelling and grammatical errors. Let people read your work, look for errors, and help you. I started reading a comic recently and the grammatical errors were so bad that I stopped reading by about page four. If I did that you can imagine how frustrated anyone else who read this book was.
And last, but certainly not least, when I say art quality I’m not talking about someone’s art style. I appreciate unique art styles and understand completely that each artist is different in style and structure. What I’m talking about is flat panels, dull camera angles, weak facial expressions, bad visual pacing, and a complete lack of backgrounds. I cannot stress enough how important it is for your art to tell the story. All of the aforementioned art quality problems turn me off from wanting to read a comic. I have recently gotten halfway through a comic and have checked out early due to the lack of strength and compulsion in the art. You can draw cartoons. You can draw superheroes. But if there isn’t something about the way your art works with the words to grab people then you have dropped the ball as a creator (my opinion, of course). And PLEASE draw backgrounds. Seriously. Backgrounds are truly the thing that separates doodles from panels. At least set up the setting on the previous page (or current page if you can).
Like I said, I’m no expert. With that said I am getting more and more leery of picking up indie titles. Step your game up, indie creators. I want to keep supporting you but I also don’t want to kill a tree just so you can make weak sauce. I’m sorry but it’s the truth.