How much time should it take you to do a comic?
A person who was just starting to do comics asked a question in a forum for creators: “How long does it take you to do one four-panel strip?” They got a wide range of answers — each one of them as unhelpful as the next. They had asked the wrong question, and their creativity was going to suffer as a result.
How long does it take you…?
Some of the people said they took a little longer to do their work than the amount of time they had been spending. That made them feel as if perhaps they wasn’t taking as much care in his work as they should be. Several people who had been doing comics for a longer period of time than this beginner reported much shorter times. That made them feel like a snail.
I had to step in. This person was going down a path that put his entire creative process at risk.
“You’re asking the wrong question”
I started by telling them they was focusing on exactly the wrong aspect of creativity — time — and missing the much more important factor: Quality.
Asking another creator how long it takes them to do their comic is completely irrelevant unless that other creator has exactly the same skills, and they’re executing exactly the same comic under exactly the same conditions. Otherwise, you’re comparing apples to oranges.
The question shouldn’t be “how long does it take you to do a comic?” — the question should be “how long does it take me to do a good comic?”
You have to read this comic! It was done in under two hours! It’s the most efficient comic you’ve ever seen! I love it!— No one, ever
When someone reads a comic, all they care about is whether it’s good or not. They don’t care about how much time you spent on it.
But… my schedule…!
In the early days of webcomics, the update mantra was frequent/consistent/significant. We posted as frequently as possible at a rate that allowed for consistent output of updates that were significant. That’s because webcomics in the early 2000s were running under an ad-supported business model. (We called them “free webcomics,” but let’s face it, that was marketing.) In an advertising model, the goal is to post as frequently as possible to drive pageviews upwards and thereby increase adviews (and therefore ad revenue).
The advertising model for webcomics is all but dead. Most of us are operating under a crowdfunding/social-media model now. We use social-media for publishing and promotion and crowdfunding for monetization. Unfortunately, many younger webcartoonists are still cargo-culting those early-2000 creators.
Webcomics today requires an entirely different mindset — one that, I’ll argue is far more beneficial to the creator.
A new approach
First, social media delivers a constant smorgasbord of content to your reader. They don’t have to go in search of content like they did in the days of the RSS reader. Instead, content is an unending stream that they sample from throughout the day. That means nobody even notices your update schedule anymore. All they know is that it’s there now. (And if it’s good, they will be more likely to see it next time.)
Crowdfunding means that your most fervent supporters are now giving you money directly. They love your work, and they want you to succeed. They are not setting their watched by your updates. They want to see the next good thing you’re going to post. That’s not a license to go several weeks without an update, of course. And your patrons will always appreciate more from you rather than less. But the pressure for constant updates is nothing like it was ten years ago.
Therefore, the webcartoonist working today has a vested interest in focusing on quality rather than quantity. A creator who churns out low-quality work at a regular drumbeat is establishing a reputation for being consistently bad. Social-media algorithms will note if a user scrolls right past, and it will present that user with the content less frequently. Conversely, a cartoonist who is putting out high-quality work at a reasonable pace should see that work rewarded with engagement — and that ensures future views, site visits, and eventual crowdfunding support.
Take your time. Do good work. Stop comparing yourself to others.