Running a Dot Voting Experiment at Creatorcon 2017

It's hard to prioritize and make decisions when you have a lot of great concepts for new projects. Usually used in business or design, dot voting is a way to make decisions while minimizing group think (or the tendency for individuals to go along with one influential person's opinion).However, any business can benefit from using a dot voting exercise to help prioritize their work. The bonus, it can help validate interest in those ideas and help keep you from working on a project that doesn't catch people's fancy enough to consider a purchase.

I used dot voting in the Artist's Alley at Creatorcon 2017 to help me prioritize my next comics project - and received valuable feedback from observing attendees interacting with my comic pitches.

My Dilemma

I've had three solid project ideas in my head for some time now, each fighting for space in my sketchbook - and wanting more time consuming attention like writing a sketch, thumbnailing, penciling, etc. Each is very different in content and concept than the other. However, each would be fun to work on to break from the depth and breadth of work that is Infinite Spiral.

I prepared a pitch card for each prospective project.

I prepared a pitch card for each prospective project.

Read on for each comic's pitch!


When the world is in danger, there's no time for retirement. This group of grannies kicks monster butt with swords, magic, and mayhem. Forget rockers and walkers these are Bad A#% Grannies!

Adventures in Libraelogy

Some books bring fiction to life. Join the crotchety Libraelogist, his ... trusty ... squid, Squiddie, and an aspiring assistant on a quest to keep books of libraelogical interest in the right hands.

Kite Island

Piper is a human. Kai is a narperson. Their two worlds don't get along. When a  storm puts Piper on a Kite Boat alone, she'll wind up on the adventure of a lifetime ... one that may just bring Piper's world and Kai's world together.

The Experiment

When I arrived at Creatorcon, I set up my prints to be hung from two cube towers on either side of the table. In the center of the table I placed a piece of construction paper the staff had left. I then arranged sketches for each project, project labels and pitches, and post it notes on the table in front of me, where I could engage with passersby.

I laid out the experiment with room for people to add their own sticky note for voting. It was tricky to have room for the images, stickies, pitches, and items for sale.

I laid out the experiment with room for people to add their own sticky note for voting. It was tricky to have room for the images, stickies, pitches, and items for sale.

I wanted to make sure the activity was clear. I added two signs that said "Place a sticky next to the comic I should do next". One was on the table where folks would be able to look down and read it.

I added signage so that folks that didn't want to chat could read what to do.

I added signage so that folks that didn't want to chat could read what to do.

However, I wanted the sticky note voting to have an example. Thankfully, I had several fellow Square City Members at the event, so I asked one to go ahead and place a vote - to provide an example for the first few folks that would come join the experiment.

Reception was good. Some folks attending Creatorcon would read the sign, then grab a friend or child and say something like, "Hey, you can help her pick her next comic project!" Most folks, I had to grab. It was a simple hook - I could use the exact same line. Interestingly, almost everyone I engaged with chose to participate. There was no cost, it was rainy, it was interactive. I sense that the event being in a high school may have played into it as well - as attendees seemed to be staying for the afternoon to hang out with friends.

I could engage whole groups at a time as well. I was worried about group think, but only a couple participants tried to convince friends to change their vote. Interestingly, those friends were like "nope, I like this one." Most people were very decisive. Only a handful of people had trouble choosing "the project they found most interesting." The most common response in that case was, "oo, I like them all!"

It is important to note, I only read or described the pitches to children who seemed nervous about reading. That meant every reader had the same pitch when trying to make their decision!


From noon - 7pm I had 67 participants of all ages engage with my dot voting experiment. Most were women and teenage girls, but there were a fair number of children, teenage boys, and mens who engaged too. My assumption is that the artist's alley portion of the event attracted more women and the games portion of the event attracted more men. However, that's a big assumption.

Out of 67 participants:

  • 31 voted for B.A.G.s
  • 19 voted for Adventures in Libraelogy
  • 17 voted for Kite Island
B.A.G.s had nearly double the votes of the other two pitches throughout most of the day and came out as the winning pitch.

B.A.G.s had nearly double the votes of the other two pitches throughout most of the day and came out as the winning pitch.

B.A.G.s was the clear winner. However, that's not the only takeaway. Because I interacted with participants directly, I learned important market details about each prospective comic.


B.A.G.s was the crowd favorite by far. Men, women, teenagers, and children responded positively to this pitch. On more than one occasion, an individual would read that card and then slap their sticky down - as though the just didn't need to read anymore. "I have to go with grannies," and "Yeah, grannies should get to kick butt too," were common responses. A lot of participants would start laughing when reading the first sentence of the pitch.

Adventures in Libraelogy

Adventures in Libraelogy appealed to some interesting groups. One group was fellow comic artists and writers who saw a lot of opportunities to tell different stories under this premise. Another group was, to be honest, cephalopod lovers. Squiddie is going to steal the show in this comic. A third group was full of book lovers. The final group was noticeably children under the age of 12.

Kite Island

Kite Island may have had the lowest number votes, but it had the most consistent type of respondent (and during several points in the day overtook Adventures in Libraelogy). Almost all of the votes (but not all of the votes) came from tween and teenage girls. Many of those girls came off as introverts - they held themselves a little back from the table and were quiet. I'm a bit partial to this demographic, as I was an avid reader and writer when a teenager and there just wasn't a lot of great stories for girls (especially quiet ones) out there.

Thanks to these individual findings, I'm on my way to developing personas (a persona is a tool that uses research to create a profile of a typical customer or user to help guide decisions)  for each of these projects - but especially Kite Island and Adventures in Libraelogy, with the interesting patterns in who voted for those projects.

I know now my next project will be B.A.G.s, but each project has merit. I'll be thinking a lot on Kite Island especially, as I think there is a special group of people waiting for stories like it.

Try your hand at dot voting with stickies! It is a great way to do some early audience research and prioritize your projects.

Try your hand at dot voting with stickies! It is a great way to do some early audience research and prioritize your projects.

Dot voting is a great experiment to conduct when you are stuck trying to prioritize your creative work. Give it a try or adjust my version and let me know how it goes!

What's in Your Black Bag?

Cover image by Håkan Dahlström on Flickr.

My father is a mechanic and over the years, he's collected a lot of tools - not just for work on machines but also for hobbies, like woodworking. It is an impressive collection that spills into two barn workshops and part of the garage.

A workshop that reminds me a lot of my dad's, by John Tornow on Flickr.

A workshop that reminds me a lot of my dad's, by John Tornow on Flickr.

My father has learned over the years, it pays to be prepared. However, his workshop is hardly portable in this state. Because of that, he carries what he calls his "black bag."

The black bag travels in any car he drives. It contains his most essential tools and if he needs specifics because he knows he is heading to some work, he carries those too. The black bag is a mini-workshop, accessible to him whenever he might need or want it.

This is some serious paternal wisdom. Everyone needs a black bag, and that includes creators of all types. A portable studio allows you take take advantage of your muse, wherever and whenever it suits you.

Over the years, I've defined my creative black bag. Currently, it contains:

Some of the items in my creative black bag.

Some of the items in my creative black bag.

Sometimes, I'll include a tablet and computer, but my digital workflow isn't very portable today. That's on purpose - so I can take advantage of seeing the world and interpreting it away from a screen. 

So, if you haven't already, think about what goes in your creative black bag, and if you have one already, I want to hear about it! What's in your black bag?

Jumpstart Your Story with the Story Spine

The story spine is a technique from improvisational theater created by Kenn Adams, author of How to Improvise a Full Length Play: The Art of Spontaneous TheaterIt was popularized for storytelling by Pixar Story Artist, Emma Coats' tweets on Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling.

At Curiographic we use the story spine to jumpstart a story and get a rough outline of events. Its a simple tool to break through the block of a blank page.

How the Story Spine Works

The story spine follows a very structured formula so you can focus on the details, not the sentence or order. Think of each step as a sentence starter to help you rough out your story.

  • Once upon a time there was ___.
  • Every day, ___.
  • One day ___.
  • Because of that, ___.
  • Because of that, ___. (and so on)
  • Until finally ___.
  • And every day after that ___.

An Example Story Spine

Let's look at the classic Nintendo game Super Mario Brothers as an example for the story spine.

  • Once upon a time there was a Princess and toadstools who lived in a mushroom kingdom.
  • Everyday they went about the blissful, mushroom kingdom lives.
  • Until one day, the Koopas showed up and stole their Princess.
  • Because of that, Mario was chosen to come and save the princess.
  • Because of that, Mario had to defeat members of the Koopa army to find the castle.
  • Because of that, Mario found out their Princess is in another castle.
  • This happened a few more times.
  • Until finally, he defeated Bowser, king of the Koopas, and saved Princess Toadstool.
  • And every day after that the people of the mushroom kingdom lived in peace with their Princess.

Sounds simple right?

If you want to try your hand at the story spine, you can download a free PDF printable template from our store. It's the same template we use to generate new story ideas.



Aspiring to Values

We here at Curiographic are looking to do things differently, and though revenue is an important aspect of business that helps creators achieve and sustain a desired lifestyle, it isn't exactly fulfilling.

That's why we have come up with a set of values we can use as a guide. Something tells us they'll resonate with you too.

Here's how we work:

Be kind.

If the golden rule is to treat others how we would like to be treated, then we should follow that rule. We should have empathy and treat people, and our environment, with respect.

Be curious.

The universe is an amazingly complex place. Everyday the human species learns more about itself and the cosmos. Being curious opens us to always be learning new things and helps up keep from becoming set in our ways.

Be playful.

Sometimes it is important to be serious, but there is an awful lot of stress in the world. We strive to counter that with playfulness, as there is so much beauty, so much wonder, and so much magic in the world to discover. It's okay and even encouraged to have fun!

Be brave.

It is scary to take a risk. It is also sometimes scary to do the right thing. We aspire to have the courage to do both, when the situation calls for it.

Be generous.

Time and resources are valuable, but we don't get far when we are stingy with them. We want to look for ways to give back to our communities (both physical and digital). We share resources, knowledge, and time to help creators and communities be successful.

Be thankful.

No one gets anywhere alone. We are grateful for those who help us - family, creators, community, patrons, customers - and find special ways to show gratitude.

What do you value?

Making a Spiral Page Layout in Adobe Illustrator

An unconventional layout such as Kristy worked on for page 09 of Infinite Spiral might seem intimidating to some artists.  However, by using a few of Illustrator's tools, creating a spiral layout like the thumbnail below is a much simpler task than you'd think.

Let's walk through the process. Make sure you've opened Illustrator and created a new document. Kristy set the document to 300DPI, CMYK, and 11x17inches (for a 50% reduction for print). These settings make sure you have a print sized document.

Step One: Select your Spiral Tool

Step Two:  Create a Spiral by Clicking and Dragging.

You should be able to rotate and size as desired while creating your spiral.

Step Three:  Center and Rotate

Using the arrow tool, you can center and rotate the spiral until it looks like your thumbnail or vision for the page.

Step Four:  Change Your Line Width to Taste

Adjust the line width so that the lines are as wide as you want the panel gutter or space between panels to be.  This is important, or you will eventually have no space between your panels.

Step Five: Select the Arc Tool

This is under the same Menu as the Spiral Tool in your Toolbar.

Step Six:  Click and Pull out Arcs As Desired

They should be the same line width as the spiral.  If not, adjust as necessary by selecting them.

Step Seven:  Create Enough Arcs to Outline the Panels in Your Thumbnail

Make sure the lines overlap each other so we can use our friendly Pathfinder tool in a few steps.

Step Eight:  Select ALL then go to Object>Path>Outline Stroke.

This will turn your lines into a shape.

Step Nine:  Customize Your Outlines and Unite Your Shapes

At this point you should be able to add black outlines if you so desire.  (You don't have to do this, but I do to make sure the Outline Strokes worked and that the shapes still overlap).

Select ALL again and then open the Pathfinder Tool (it is also under Window), and use the UNITE tool (the two boxes merging).

You should now have an awesome shape that looks a bit like a chambered nautilus.  

Step Ten:  Create a rectangle the size of your page

You use the rectangle tool for this.

Step Eleven:  Send that rectangle to the BACK! 

You can do this by going to Object>Arrange>Send to Back.

Step Twelve:  Once again, Select ALL.

Step Thirteen:  Use the Pathfinder Minus Front Tool

Be sure to select the Minus Front Tool (to the right of the Unite Tool) in order cut the spiral from your rectangle. This will create neat panels with consistent space between.

Step Fourteen:  Clean Up Your Panels

Now you just have to clean up your end points and adjust linewidths to your desired panel border weight.

And Now Your Final Product

After that you should have a panel layout similar to page 09 of Infinite Spiral!  Happy Cartooning!

Imagine, Inspire, Curate: Part 3 Curating Your Inspiration Library

Curating Your Inspiration Library

"First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination." -Napoleon Hill

Finally, we have all of this inspiration flooding into our brains.  That is fantastic! Unfortunately, memory is a fickle thing, so we have to find ways to bookmark, save, organize, and store all of those marvelous musings.

Offline Tools

  1. Journal: The classic tool for writing words. Pen may be required.
  2. Sketchbook: The classic tool for drawing pictures. Pencil may be required.
  3. Moodboards: Boards, like a storyboard, used more for the purpose of capturing feel.  Images that invoke certain emotions, colors, textures, and more are organized on the board as guidance for visual work.  They can easily be modified for other purposes.
  4. Walls: This is like moodboards, only requires wall space.  Alas, my current apartment has little available wall space, but during my Serious Game Design program at Michigan State, I covered my walls in sketches, photos, inspirations, concept art, and more to fuel my projects.
  5. Scrap Paper: Make sure your pen is handy.  I use scrap paper and sticky notes a lot, but usually have to move the "inspiration" to a more secure location, like a notebook or digital archive.  These are just way to easy to misplace when I actually need to reference them.
  6. Audio Tapes: These are great for people who get inspired while moving around! Other devices for dictation, such as those available on mobile devices and your computer, are similar solutions.  I don't use them yet, but know others who value them as a way to make sure ideas are not lost. Just stay out of Watergate.
  7. Photography: I think I annoy my friends with this method.  I am constantly stopping for potential reference photos when even the most minute of details catches my attention. You don't want to see my iPhoto Library.  Or do you?

Web Tools

  1. Evernote: A popular browser based tool for collecting content and taking notes. I can't provide much more information than that, as it is not a service I use.  However, there are many who prefer it over Pinterest and Springpad. There are also mobile versions, which is helpful.
  2. Pinterest: Pinterest allows you to pin images to boards and repin socially. It is a nice tool for quick curation.  It is also mobile. As it is social, it is also a great place to find new inspiration.
  3. Springpad: This is like Pinterest, only uses notebooks instead of pin.  It has a "Spring it" button you can add (like Pin It).  However, where it differs from Pinterest is that you can display content in your notebooks in three ways, one of which is a "mood board" like organization.  As it is social, it is also a great place to find new inspiration. Like Pinterest, there is a mobile version.
  4. A digital mood board space that allows you to embed and write notes on a variety of media, as well as use arrows and other effects to map and connect them. This is currently in beta and may eventually be a paid service, but I am a bit fond of it. This web app doesn't currently have a mobile version.
  5. Popplet: Not to be confused with delicious Popplers, Popplet is similar to but focuses more on a kind of mind-mapping of different content. This web app has a long load time and is not available mobile.
  6. Tumblr: Tumblr is great for artists and writers that don't need a lot of organization, provided they have a stream of content to go back to.  As it is social, it is also a great place to find new inspiration. A plus, Tumblr is easy to access on mobile devices.

Of course there are many more.  Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments!

Next Steps

So you have a childlike mindset, know how to go on a variety of inspiration adventures, and plan to curate those ideas so you don't lose them.  What's next?  Well, that is where the adventure of comicking continues.  From here you can brainstorm, draft, sketch, refine ideas, thumbnail, sketch, revise, and of course, add new inspiration at any time.

Have a grand journey into your imagination. And remember what Carl Sagan wrote:

"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere."

Imagine, Inspire, Curate: Part 2 Adventures and Inspiration

Now that you are in the right mindset, it is time to take to the road and get your hands on that juicy inspiration that let’s you imagination take flight. Where do you start, though? Well, there are a lot of different ways for you to expose yourself to new ideas, sensations, and experiences that lead to a vibrant imagination.

Get out and explore.

“All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child.”-Marie Curie

We love our digital tools, our students, and our routines.  However, the best experiences come from actually going out and experiencing the world with all 5 senses.  What’s even better, there is a way to “get out and explore” for every type of creative.


I have often had to walk to and from the office or class as part of my daily routine.  I often find my mind and eyes wandering on these walks.  The very act of physically moving around seems to stimulate my imagination in ways I don’t expect. If I really need to shake things up, I add a soundtrack, go on a photo excursion somewhere completely new, or pretend I’m one of my characters and try to see the world through a whole new lens.  Mind, I recognize the last might make me seem a little off balance-but trust me, it is worth the ideas it brings to mind. 

But what if there is nothing interesting where you walk?  That is mindset again.  Be a child, have wonder! You can even do this one in the country.  I used to live in an area surrounded by farms and it is amazing the ideas that come simply from getting outdoors and wandering through cornfields.  Why yes, that did indeed inspire the opening to Infinite Spiral.


Driving is like walking and simply being exposed to new territories and focusing on the road always seems to get ideas coming.  The main downside to driving is you have to retain those ideas without committing traffic violations.  If you are inspired by driving I recommend a dictation device (recorder or mobile) to get down your ideas so you can focus on the road.  Otherwise, do your fellow drivers a favor and pull over.

Visit a museum.

There is no better way to get inspired than to learn something new.  Museums have better and better experiences as time goes on, and if there’s a particular kind of object or costume in your comic, they provide an opportunity for you to get up close and personal with physical artifacts (zooming in on pixels only goes so far). Do you not have a museum around you? A library is a nice place to go too, even if it is more likely to be full of secondary sources.

Sit in your backyard or on your balcony.

That seems simple, but your imagination really can go for the outdoors.  I was stumped on my Master’s project ideas in 2011, after long secondary research and a lot of listing.  Frustrated, I moved to my balcony, where the spring trees were beginning to fade.  Following the patterns of branches and fading flowers in the trees I came up with the initial concept for what became, Star Crossed and allowed me to graduate.

The basic rule here is to break your routine!

Be a dreamer.

“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” - George Bernard Shaw

Whether dreaming while asleep or daydreaming while awake, dreams are powerful sources of inspiration.  

Dreams are a huge source of inspiration for me, and I can name more than once scene in Infinite Spiral  that was borrowed from my subconscious wanderings.  However, dealing with your subconscious though can be a bit slippery, so here are a couple quick tips: 1) Keep a notebook by your bed. 2) After you wake up, don’t try to think about the rogue dream directly, let the details drift in bit by bit. 3) The more often you write down and actively remember your dreams, the more likely you will be to remember them in the future.

In additional, daydreams are also a brilliant source of inspiration.  I am a huge proponent of the value of letting one’s mind wander.  Often, the best ideas come when you aren’t paying attention.  The truth is that our imaginations need to relax too and flights of fancy are good for soul.

Consume media.

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” — Madeleine L’Engle

Music, movies, television, books, comics, videogames-all of these media are powerful vehicles for storytelling, and as writers and artists the are incredible resources for new ideas. I’m sure this isn’t news around here, but I didn’t want to leave it off.  If I listed all the media that influence my comic then you’d just up and stop reading the list out of boredom.

In addition, don’t forget simply browsing deviations of all kinds is a way of consuming media and gaining new ideas.  Just remember, there’s a difference between plagiarizing and being inspired by the work of others. But I didn’t have to tell you that.

Wander the world wide web.

"When John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry developed the first digital computing machine at Iowa State University in 1937, little did they know that their invention would become an integral part of a sophisticated worldwide cat picture distribution system." - David Burge

Oh, you're still here.  Sorry. The internet is full of everything, especially cats, but that's neither here nor there. It has never been so easy to access information on virtually any subject.  If you don’t have somewhere to go and explore physically, then there are plenty of virtual experiences you can partake in to get inspired. 

If you aren’t there already, Tumblr is great source of inspiration and so is Pinterest.  The two are different browsing experiences, but full of great images to spark ideas.  I’d also suggest hitting up photo libraries on Flickr and Picasa and searching tags, or simply browsing. Of course, there is also the obvious Google Image Search.

If text and reading is what you crave, gather your news sources and blogs in an app like Readability or Flipboard and bring in articles that inspire you.  Wander around the vast pages of Wikipedia-you’d be surprised what new ideas are hiding in stub pages.

In other words, indulge that curiosity. You are seeking inspiration, not credible sources.


The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. --Carl Jung

Of course, getting inspired would not be complete without the idea of play!  Play is such a rich source

Doodle or free write.

Never forget to take time to "play" with your craft.  When we get busy with artistic studies and serious writing, our craft runs the risk of becoming work as we try to perfect it (and aren't we all perfectionists on some level?).  Doodling and free writing free you to stop worrying about your internal critic and just sketch out whatever words and images pop into your mind.  You never know, one of those sketches might lead to your next great story, protagonist, or world convention.

Create inspiration games.

You can make cards of ideas and fish them out of a hat, box, or bag when you need something an idea to kick around.  There are also plenty of story starter cards available for purchase.

You can also make it a bit more complicated by trying this technique I've used both at home and with my middle school students back in 2007: Get index cards of 4 or more different colors.  Make one color character roles (or occupations), one color settings, one color what the character wants most in the world, and a final color events or people that get in the way.  Keep adding items to the cards until you have a few good stacks.  Then the next time you have writer's or artist's block you can pick 4 different cards at random, or sort the cards and put them together until you have a story that appeals to you.

I still have these cards, and do sort through them now and then when I'm stuck! It is definitely worth a try.

Roleplay your characters.

I really have fun with this, and I think it goes back to why many schools teach "Acting for Animators".  Roleplaying my characters, whether in my head or yabbering about my own apartment helps me to really empathize with my imaginary family. The more you roleplay characters, the more you can predict exactly how they will act in any situation.  Now, I admit, I am a character lover and will get sucked into a story because of the people.  If you are a plot-driven writer or artist, this technique might be a bit "meh" as far as a technique for playing to get inspired.  However, let's face it, many OCs on dA have their roots in roleplaying, and with good reason!

This is all coming back to that “Childlike Mindset!” There are hundreds of ways to play and inspire your imagination.

Combine Methods.

Though each of these can stand alone, you can also combine and recombine sets of them for all kinds of new experiences that fuel your imagination.  Don't be afraid to make up your own rules!

Imagine, Inspire, Curate: Part 1 Inviting the Mind of a Child

As creatives, we are serious about our craft, hobbyist or professional.  We study hard to become better at what we do. There are many great tutorials here and elsewhere on these kinds of craft based skills and techniques.  However, sometimes all that serious study and hard work gets in the way of our imagination.  Therefore, it is important to remember to establish a wonder filled mindset, actively seek out inspiration, and curate a library of inspiring content to reference in the future.

Inviting the Mind of a Child

“The point is to develop the childlike inclination for play.”-Albert Einstein

The biggest part of imagination is playing the part of Peter Pan.  You might be 99 or you might be 12, but it is often important to imagination to be in the head space of a 5-7 year old. I’ve spent some time with 5-7 year olds and there are some great things we can learn from them about imagining.

Curiosity may have killed the cat but not people.

First of all, always be curious. Children are always asking “why?” and to the point of annoyance for a lot of teachers and parents.  Their minds are actively seeking out why and how things work, soaking in knowledge like a sponge.  This kind of curiosity feeds imagination as we fill in gaps between what we know, what we’re learning, and the completely unknown.


Did you ever get in trouble for pointing as a child? How about staring? I know that I did.  Children are always looking at things, observing and pointing out details or experiences that we as adults have simply learned to tune out. Observation is important to art and writing as a study, and it is also important to imagination.  Remembering to not only look but to see simple details like the gem-like qualities of raindrops on bare trees, give your imagination a lot of fodder.

Play and pretend.

Play is enough important aspect of the childhood mind that allows for imaginative creation.  A big trick of that is having no fear of what others think of you.  In other words, don’t be afraid to look silly. To be fair, this is easier to get away with as a child. I could talk to my imaginary friends all day when I was 5 and it had an air of normalcy.  As an adult talking to imaginary friends all day arouses suspicion.  That is hardly fair, because in the world of comics we indeed spend a great deal of time with our imaginary characters.

Find wonder in everything.

Above all else, maintain that sense of wonder and delight at little things: birds chirping, the night sky, the smell of rain, your morning coffee. The details you notice, celebrate, and enjoy creep into your work and add dimension to your imaginary exploits.

10 Things to Do When Getting Started with Comics

"I have an idea for a comic but where do I start?"

5 years ago I started down the road of seriously creating my first webcomic, Infinite Spiral. I had been putting off making Infinite Spiral since high school. At the time, that was over 10 year old procrastination! I would start then stop, because I had it in my head it wasn’t good enough. It had to be this epic, perfect narrative.

That’s not how learning to tell stories works … and the longer I waited, the closer it got to “you’ll never tell this story.”  I was introduced to comics through a class in graduate school, where I was studying serious game design. In that class, the reality hit. If I don’t start telling this story, I will never get it out there. I had to stop worrying about being “good enough.”  

I booted my comic, which I’ve been writing and drawing for 5 years now, knowing I would learn as I go. As a result my work in comics, both art and writing, has slowly and steadily improved bit by bit.  I kept a promise to myself about a world I created as a child.

So how do you get started?  Well ...

1) Don’t be afraid to just take the plunge. 

If you have a story and you think comics is the way to tell it, start writing itstart drawing it-find a way to get it out there. I’ve made over 100 pages so far with many more chapters to go.  I average something like 8 panels a page. That’s over 800 drawings in the course of 5 years with increasing complexity in characters and environments. This means tons of practice! If you are afraid to start because of your skill level, keep in mind, you can only get better.  

P.S. look at almost any long running webcomic's first page and most recent page. You'll see the evolution for most artists!

2) Choose a length and format that you can commit to and succeed. 

Think game design and early success.  For me, a deadline and readers are a great way to keep disciplined (barring my most recent hiatus due to some major life events) so I started a webcomic early. But, I took a class where I had to create a 28 page mini-book of shorter comics (2-8 pages).  

Short comics can build confidence, let you figure out a technique, and let you explore things you might not have a chance to once you commit to that long term theme, story, or topic for a webcomic or longer work. Not only that, but short works add up, and when formatted for print (I can share more on that if you like), suddenly you have something that you can sell too. And let’s face it, I love to make art, but it is validating to make money from your art (and it is hard work that costs time and resources).

If you are feeling gutsy, you can even submit a pitch for a short comic to an anthology, like the annual Square City Comics anthology I participate in.

3) Find someone you trust and respect to help you.

This mentor can guide you on techniques that will increase your comic’s professional touches early on—things like typography, composition, panel construction, bleeds and gutters. The little things that no matter what the drawing or story is like, can be well designed with the tools we have. And if you can trust them to critique the drawing and storytelling too, even better.

We all need mentoring and feedback (and if you are too self-critical, sometimes that is positive feedback so you don’t blow up things that are actually fabulous!). If you can, take a class, join a local meet up group for creators, find a safe online community where you can share, learn, and ask for resources.

4) Don’t be too hard on yourself. 

I think art often attracts a perfectionist. Desire for perfection in art is often inevitable, but there's a time and a place.  And that drive can keep works forever unfinished. Let some things go. I do that by trying to focus on one technical weakness at a time (i.e., hands, 3 point perspective, line weights) ! Lately it has been improving line quality for me. You can't be "perfect" (whatever that really means) in everything at once-or really ever. And if your were perfect all the time, wouldn't that be so boring ... (Bob Ross happy accidents anyone?) This goes with 1. It can be stifling and leave you with more blank pages than finished ones.

5) Don’t be afraid to do everything yourself.

This means writing, penciling, inking, coloring, lettering! It is hard to find a partner without compensation (as we know, good art and writing is hard work!) and you’ll, again, get better the more you do it anyway.

6) If you are doing a webcomic, build a buffer of 10 + pages.

I did not do this (well, my buffer wasn’t big enough) and then life happens … When people subscribe to RSS feeds and the like to read your comic, if you aren’t updating then you lose them. (Sorry readers, I know I’ve been bad lately.)

7) Read Scott McCloud’s Making Comics.

Not only is it a comic, but it is full of rich suggestions about technique, writing, and special ways to tell a story that exist because of the very nature of comics. If you haven’t had enough, many recommend Eisner’s books.

8) Go hang out with people who like comics.

Most are awesome and will keep you excited about what you are doing. Conventions, comic book stories, meet ups … lots of ways to find some people that keep you wanting to tell stories in boxes. If you are in the DC area, we'd love to have you at Square City Comics!

9) Know your tools.

Whether using digital or traditional mediums (and with traditional, there’s digitizing steps anymore), know how to work with them for the comics medium. Scott McCloud’s book can get you started there again, but really, get to know whatever tool you choose. The internet leaves us no excuses.

10) Read comics.

This seems like a gimme. I’ve been slow to add to my reading list, but it is worth it. You’ll soak up things about visual storytelling you’d never get otherwise. Dissect comics after you’ve read and enjoyed them. As you get a more critical eye, you can deconstruct how they are put together in a way so you don’t go crazy thinking about how you are out of your league (no, really, the brain glosses over other people’s little … for lack of a better word flaws because you did not put them on the page! You can turn that into a total morale boost, as well as learning tool).

If you buy them at your local comics shop or a convention, rather than on Amazon, you can boost your networking too!

11) Don’t treat these as rules. Everyone is different! 

In fact are you a comics creator? Add your own rules in the comments!

Now get out there and make comics!