Making a Web Comic: How to Stay Disciplined and Artsy

Staying disciplined with a project as uber-creative as a web comic is challenging work. Michael Buckley has a web comic 60 Ways to Leave Your Mother (Alone) that is raising funds to become an actual print comic. It’s a fantastic project. Check out the project video below…it’s one of my favorite promo videos ever.


If you can’t see the video, go here

Michael’s process of creating is interesting… I’ll let him tell more about it.

Glen: Tell us a little about yourself, what the project is, where you work, etc.

Michael: I do web development and design for Hallmark in Kansas City. I’m also married with three kids, whom we homeschool. 60 Ways To Leave Your Mother (Alone) was the title of what turned out to be a popular post by my wife who at that time maintained a “mom blog”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on a theme familiar to any parent, and I thought it would make a great comic.

60 ways to leave your mother alone - stay disciplined

Glen: What inspired you to do the “60 Ways to Leave Your Mother (Alone)” project?

Michael: This next bit is pretty unromantic.

One day I realized I needed to stick with a creative project all the way to the end for once…the ‘end’ in this case being a printed cartoon book. It’s really that simple–60 Ways is the project I was working on when I had this realization. Of course, by sticking with this particular project I have the wonderful benefit of studying my own kids. In fact, most of the stories in the comic are lifted from our family!

Glen: We’re pretty big about routines here at LifeDev. What’s your routine for finishing the project?

Michael: Though I usually spend at least two nights a week working on the comic after the kids are in bed, it’s become a habit to always have my comic pages with me. Since I’ve intentionally avoided using the computer on this comic as much as possible (Carpal Tunnel problems), I’m used to squeezing in 15 minutes here and there throughout the day. I’ve worked on my comic during work meetings, coffee breaks, waiting at the DMV, jury duty (really). The only catch is that for this production process to work, I have to have everything with me whenever I can. This means I walk around with a big, flat yellow box, a watercolor palette and a jar of water. You get used to the questioning looks.

60 ways to build a toad

Glen: Creative people aren’t usually “wired” to be disciplined, and it’s often a trait we have to learn and work hard at. How do you stay disciplined with your art, managing family time and work?

mantra one: You’re not that good at comics, but keep going anyway.
mantra two: 15 minutes of work is better than zero minutes of work.
mantra three: Do the next thing.

Glen: What have been some of the biggest challenges to completing the projects?

Michael: As I mentioned above, I have a bad track record of abandoning projects, sometimes for very good reasons. More often than not, however, it’s the grind of production coupled with a lack of external feedback and encouragement. In these conditions, the project becomes inbred, going through revision after revision until I get bored and move on. Sad.

I cannot overstate the fundamental change in every aspect of my creative life brought by (in my case) maintaining a weekly webcomic. Publically publishing something even as ephemeral as a webcomic has this wierd effect on me: I realize I’m on the hook for producing stuff for an audience. Not only does constantly revising and refining the same drawing or idea bore me it bores the audience. Pushing the drawing or idea onto a stage takes it out of my hands. If the work is good, and I’m lucky, I get occasional encouragement from the audience. If the work needs improvement, I try to improve.

Glen: Did you create any self-imposed deadlines with this project? Do you find those helpful?

art table

Michael: One of the unwritten Webcomic Rules (and certainly it’s a blog rule, too?) is Thou Will Post Regularly, so I stuck with my advertised schedule by posting on Tuesday and Thursday every week. Actually, I added the schedule into the site header as well to keep myself honest. And even more importantly for me, I didn’t allow myself any “do-overs” on the daily comics. Once it was inked on paper, that’s what went online. That was really tough for me at first, and I still cringe a little when I go back and look as some of the early comics! Still, I have to admit I’ve improved a little over time.

Glen: Any ideas on your next project?

Michael: I guess the flipside of the realization that I have a habit of half-finishing comic projects is….I have four particularly well-fleshed out comic projects I am champing at the bit to jump back into. The hardest part will be choosing which one. But no new ideas (which I find are a dime-a-dozen) and no more work on existing projects–not even a sketch!–until I’ve got a printed copy of 60 Ways To Leave Your Mother (Alone) in my hands. Any Kickstarter backers out there willing to help me move on to my next comic by helping me print my current book would be most appreciated. ;)

Awesome interview. Thanks for sharing Michael!

Check out Michael’s Kickstarter project for 60 Ways to Leave Your Mother (Alone), and if you can spare a few bucks, help Michael come closer to his goal of publishing a print comic.

Leave a Comment

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist July 9, 2010, 6:49 pm

    Very interesting interview. I especially like the three mantras! Thanks a lot for that!

    • glen July 9, 2010, 9:10 pm

      Yeah, I got a lot out of the mantras too! That Michael’s a pretty smart guy… ;)

      • Toni July 22, 2010, 12:28 pm

        Hooray for the internet! Now, if only all sites I fall upon felt as productive. This morning, while considering where to park me and my laptop in order to get some real work done I debated allowing myself access to the internet. This article couldn’t be more relevant to me. THANKS!

        Oh, and Dan M.’s “every monday” header idea is a gem. Thanks!

  • Dan M July 7, 2010, 11:07 pm

    I’ve come to some very similar conclusions with blogging (which I’m still new at). I think the first three months of my blog when I said I would post “when I found something interesting” I posted maybe 5 or 6 times. As soon as I told myself I’d start posting regularly (every Monday, which I also put in my blog header) I suddenly found that the post ideas came much easier.

    Anyway, thanks for conducting the interview. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one that’s wired like that :)

    • glen July 8, 2010, 7:00 am

      It’s funny how internal deadlines free us up to create. For your example, it’s like subconsciously we stopped worrying about when we’d post and moved on to what, instead of worrying about both.

      At least, that’s my take :)