Creating a website as a comic artist & writer

Questions to ask yourself as a comic creator making a website
by
Janice Liu
|
Creative Business
|
Mar 25, 2021

I recently revamped my website. I find that with each re-design, my goals and needs for my website shift and change. Knowing what to include on your site is like... a whole Process that requires reflection about your career goals and your brand~~~. And then you have to actually code/build the site! ... but I won't be focusing on that part.

One thing I've noticed is that there doesn't seem to be a particular website convention for comic creators. A lot of comic artists have websites with galleries of art pieces, like illustrators. Some cartoonists design their websites more like author websites instead, with more focus on their publishing credits and books. For me, I've tried to make my website specifically customized with this order of emphasis: comic creator, teaching artist, and illustrator.

I thought it would be helpful to show some previous versions of my website, say what my goals were at the time, and explain the things I was thinking about as I built each version.

Version 1: December 2014

Website version 1

Goal at the time: To be hired as a picture book illustrator

This was made using Twitter bootstrap, and unfortunately this is the only screenshot I have of it haha. Technically, this isn't even the first iteration of my website - I had an older version before this that still utilized frames. -shudder-

Here's what I liked about this website:

  • it conveyed a clear "children's illustration" aesthetic
  • artwork was up front and centre
  • simple navigation and easy-to-find contact button

But, here's what I would change about this website if I could go back to that stage in my life:

  • show more illustrations that say "picture book". I feel like that's not immediately what I get from looking at these samples - for example, I couldn't imagine the fanart or the portrait style being in a commercial published picture book

Version 2: October 2016

Website version 2 - Homepage

Goal at the time: To be hired as a comics artist and children's illustrator

One of my BFFs, Nic Chan, actually made this site for me from scratch. She helped customize it to exactly what I wanted. And I was trying to juggle many things here with this website haha!

I know what you're thinking... why are your comics on your illustration page?! This website did change throughout the years - as my goal shifted to be more focused on comics, I decided to put some comic pages on the homepage so they'd be up front and centre. People always say, if you want to be hired for comics, you have to show sequential art / comic pages, not just illustrations, and that's absolutely true! This solution wasn't ideal, but it's what I did at the time.

Also note that my goal was vague - I was open to picture book illustration, middle grade, or teen! I didn't really have a particular focus in my mind. And the samples I had on my website were a mixture of middle grade, personal surreal-ish illustrations, and editorial. I'm not sure that a middle grade editor or designer would have looked at my site and thought that my style was a good fit for that market.

Website version 2 - Comics page

Here's what my actual comics page looked like. Each project had a short little description box beside it, and you could click in to the box to either read the comic, or it would take you to an information page that would have one or two preview pages and say the publisher or anthology, the date published, etc.

I liked this layout because I felt like it gave each project more time to sink in - the intent and story behind each one was highlighted. However, what I didn't like about this is it didn't distinguish between my full comic books, and my comic shorts. I also suspected it might be too much scrolling and clicking, too much effort for a potential visitor who just wanted to get a quick sense of my work.

Website version 2 -Education page

The education page was to let people know that I teach art as my main job. It mainly just has a bunch of links to my kids' studio, Young Artists' Place. I think it did ok in a pinch - it was better than having nothing on there at all about my teaching.

It was hard to let go of this website because I was so attached to it and because Nic had made it for me with so much care, but I eventually decided to switch to a different platform that had CMS, so it would be easier for me to update my website. If you're wondering, my current site was made with Webflow.

Version 3: February 2021

Website version 3

Goal: To be hired to teach art workshops, and show that I'm an active comics creator

I realized my goal was no longer to be hired for illustration work when I found myself virtually turning down every illustration job I got offered, because of lack of time! Nowadays, my time is focused on running Young Artists' Place, and I'm interested in growing my teaching. I also want to be invited to more schools, libraries, and community centres to teach my art & comics programs. I added some short intro text on the homepage to give a more well-rounded picture of the different things I do - I'm both an art instructor and a practicing, published comic artist.

The other main thing I'm working towards is writing and drawing my middle-grade graphic novel, which I plan to eventually query with. For this, it was less important to me that I get hired to illustrate a comic - instead, what better suits my goal (I think!) is to have full short story comics that are directly readable on my website, so that potential editors or agents can get a sense of both my storytelling style and my art.

Also, I just wanted more people, like my students, to be able to read my comics easily if they wanted to!

These were some specific things I had in mind while putting together this website:

I wanted to highlight my teaching services.

Because teaching is such a large part of my life now, I wanted to be like, "hey, this is a thing I do!" I now have clear documentation and contact info for programmers or teachers who do want to hire me to teach workshops.

My comics needed to be easily readable.

Lightbox galleries are, imo, better suited for illustrations or photographs. I didn't want to use a gallery for my comics, where my images would be resized to fit the screen and the speech bubbles would end up too small to read. I decided to have my comic pages stacked vertically, like a webtoon. Here's a video:

And here's my comics page if you want to, heh, read my comics :P

I wanted it to be clear where people could buy my graphic novel, if they wanted to.

I realized this was important when I got comments from friends, saying things like "I didn't know you had a graphic novel!" or "Where can we buy your book?" The link to buy my book was hidden several clicks into my website... not easy to find! Now I have a big yellow button on my comics page, and a link on my homepage.

Questions you might find helpful when designing your website:

  • What is my professional goal right now? Is it to be hired, to sell stuff, or just to show that I'm an active creator (important when applying for grants)?
  • Does my website show examples of the same type of work that I would want to be hired for? (specific to age group and target audience)
  • Is it user-friendly for visitors to read my comics? Is the comic text legible?
  • Are there any specific services I offer (commissions, teaching, editing) that I can include information about?
  • Is it easy for people to buy my stuff?
  • What aspects of me and my career do I want to highlight?

And additional thoughts for writers who don't draw:

  • Comics is a visual medium; if you can get permission from artists you've worked with to put some of the artwork on your website, that'll capture people's attention more and make your comics seem more "real".
  • Including images immediately gives people a concrete sense of what type of work you write. Saying that you write "fantasy" is good, but seeing images gives the viewer a sense of whether you write gritty, action-filled fantasy (which typically has a more mature, realistic art style) or cutesy kids fantasy for girls (which might have a chibi style and bright colours).

Anyway, with all that said, website is a marketing tool, and like all things to do with creative business and marketing, everyone's just figuring it out and nobody knows what they're doing?? And your website is just one piece of the pie. Some professional comic artists have outdated, empty websites, so it's by no means necessary to have a great website in order to have a successful career (and gosh, don't even get me started on defining what "success" means and how it's a highly individual value).

For me, the next thing I want to work on is putting more comic work on my instagram, because I still have wayyy more illustrations on there than comic work, so I keep getting contacted for illustration work even though I want to be known more as a comic artist!

It's easy to feel overwhelmed if you're building a website from scratch! But people generally understand that artists don't have teams or marketing managers to help them do this stuff. Take things at your own pace, and good luck!

Janice Liu
Janice teaches art, writing, and comics, and has published several comic stories. She lives in Burnaby, BC.

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