Should you re-draw old comics?
It’s an inevitable part of getting better at comics. You look back on your earlier work and cringe. (And the better you’ve gotten, the more intense your regret!) Then, perhaps as you’re considering your first printed collection, the thought crosses your mind: “Maybe I should re-do these…”
You shouldn’t. I’ll tell you why.
I can safely say this has happened to nearly all of us who have been working on our comics for a few years. After building a following by publishing them on our websites and social media, we start to think about printing our first book. But before we can hit the button on a Kickstarter campaign, we start collecting all of the comics required for the project. That’s when it happens.
Oof! Those first few comics are terrible.
The good news is that you’ve gotten better! Maybe even a lot better. But the bad new is… well, the bad news is the same. You’ve gotten so much better that those earlier comics are making you want to hide behind the sofa!
While you’re back there, in the fetal position, it occurs to you that you could solve this problem. All you need to do repurpose that strategy that worked so well when you were a little kid! You need a do-over!
It would be so easy, wouldn’t it? Just re-do those early comics. You draw much better than you used to, after all. With the benefit of experience, you can spot a lot of flaws in the writing, too. You could fix those, too, while you’re at it!
Before you run to the drawing board, I have some thoughts for you.
If you’re prepping your first book, then it’s time to start thinking like a businessperson. And that means looking at this in economic terms. One of those concepts is R.O.I. — Return On Investment. What is the R.O.I. on re-doing a bunch of older comics? Let’s say you have to re-do the first half of the book. Will the changes you’ve made be substantial enough that it will result in your book selling 150% better than it would have in its original state? It may be 150% better from an artistic standpoint — no one’s arguing that. But will the Kickstarter do 150% better?
Before you answer, think about this. If you’ve been building your audience on your website, social media, etc., then your core audience is going to be the ones who make or break your Kickstarter. And they’ve already seen those early comics. (And they like you anyway!) Moreover, they see your comics with a different set of eyes than you do.
Here’s an example. Bloom County was a newspaper comic strip that flourished in the 1980s. The artistic style of the cartoonist, Berke Breathed, changed considerably in the opening years of that feature. When he introduced Opus the penguin — a side character that would go on to be the strip’s star — he drew the bird like this:
Later on, the character design as refined until it evolved into this:
One might imagine Mr. Breathed contemplating a re-do of those earlier strips. After all, Opus had quickly become the star of the comic. But he didn’t. And that book sold well enough to ensure subsequent volumes for years to come.
Furthermore, I think Bloom County fans would have been disappointed to see their favorite character changed that way. Part of the joy of that first Bloom County book is seeing how Opus was originally imagined. Fans are able to experience that transformation — right before their eyes — over again. And that’s one of the main joys of a book such as that — re-living the pleasure you received from reading it the first time.
And there’s one more, little problem. You’re going to keep getting better. (That’s another one of those the-good-news-is-the-bad-news situations.) And if you re-do the older comics this time, you’re going to be more likely to re-do the older comics in the second book. And when you do that, are you going to re-re-do all of the comics from Book One?!
Let’s face it. You’re setting yourself up for a vicious cycle of re-doing, re-redoing, and re-re-redoing that’s going to eventually prevent you from… well… doing. How can you create anything new when you’re constantly updating an ever-increasing pile of older work?
Words from a Pro
I’ll give the final word to Gerry Conway, the co-creator of such indelible comics characters as The Punisher, Firestorm, Power Girl, Vixen, and Ms. Marvel.
I remember what sf visionary writer Samuel Delany said to me once when he caught himself revising earlier work. “A friend told me I should have respect for that younger writer.” Afterthoughts and second guesses are for critics, not creators. Let the original vision alone.— Gerry Conway Wears A Mask Because He Cares (@gerryconway) November 26, 2020