How to Write Web Comic Strips – Video Tutorial Tips

How to Write Web Comic Strips – Video Tutorial Tips
April 22, 2016 Justin at CartoonSmart

How to Write Web Comic Strips – Video Tutorial Tips

Well I’ll file this under digital illustration, but this has a tad more to do with WRITING! In all caps, because its such a scary word for many artists. I know I never wanted to write when I was in school. But this is about how to write web comics, so does that even qualify as “writing”. Actually it’s probably even more difficult. We gotta make stuff funny. And its not like sitting around with your friends shooting the you-know-what, spitballing jokes at each other. A web comic artist has to set up everything, from nothing.

So even though I just recorded the lesson above, lets go over a few of my notes.  And by the way, although I spend most of my time teaching iOS tutorials nowadays, in a previous life I wrote the web comics you can find at  (oops looks like I deleted the CSS on that old site, someone remind me to fix that) or in the iTunes Store for free.

I did most of those in the early 2000’s, wrote over a thousand, and I’ve widdled down the Best Of, to what’s currently on the site now, in a free iBook and PDF format. Are they funny you ask? Sure, why not.

If you enjoy this, thank Paris Christou at for finally convincing me to jot these notes down.

Tip #1 – Write one more panel.

If you’re writing a web comic that usually has 4 panels, write all 4. Set up your joke, finish with the 4th panel punchline, then go take a break. Step away from your digital canvas. Come back an hour later, and write one more. One-up the joke from before. Like you’d do hanging out with friends, one of you says something funny, someone else follows it up with another joke.

If you double-down on your punchlines, you’ll usually find one of your first panels can hit the cutting room floor. Or just make a fifth panel. You aren’t paying by the panel are you? This is a web-comic, no one cares about the length.

Tip #2 – Use the Johnny Carson formula.

I think I heard this on a Simpsons commentary (which is required listening for any budding web comic artist). Johnny’s thing was to tell the audience what was going to happen. Make it happen. Then tell them what just happened. So in other words, its a way to make a funny comment three times instead of just one.

And following Tip #1, I’d add, comment on what happened twice.

Tip #3 End with a question.

What’s funnier than someone asking a dumb question. Or revealing one of the characters really had no clue what was going on to begin with.

Tip #4 The Hopelessly Unattainable

Situations where your characters want something they’ll never get are always ripe for humor. This could be as simple as the ol’ Charlie Brown problem (getting the girl), or something impossible like trying to get the sun to stop shining.

Tip #5 Stubbornly, Self Destructive Behavior

If you have a character engage in such behavior, you can usually find something funny to write about. This is your Homer Simpson / Peter Griffin’s types. Everyone can see its going to go wrong from a mile away, but thats part of what makes it funny. Just avoid the danger zone of “Look at me, I’m acting bad”.  This is only funny when your characters have no clue how dumb they are being. As an exercise, go take a photo of someone clearly texting and driving, and caption it.

Tip #6 Opposites

Make a situations that plays character’s intentions against each other. To an outsider, arguments are hilarious right?  Find me two people about to due it out on Periscope, and I’ll show you a steady stream of funny commentary.

Also one character simply acting/thinking opposite to what the viewer would assume, is a smart setup.

Tip #7 Subtle Absurdity

As I mentioned in the video, a person holding a Trump banner isn’t funny. A tiny ant holding a Trump banner could be. Why does some little insect support Trump?

Tip #8 Sadness

Sorry but what’s funnier than seeing a cartoon cry?  Whether its a tear just starting to well up, or full-on bawling. Tell me you don’t laugh every time Homer Simpson cries for one reason or another.

Sad cartoon eyes are funny. Sometimes you can tell a joke with just a simple sad expression.

Tip #9 Declaring Intentions

Adamantly declaring something MUST be done, or has to be a certain way can always be turned against a character in a funny way.

Tip #10 Got writer’s block?  Do something you hate!

Can’t think of that joke. Go mow the lawn. Vacuum. Sit in traffic. Do something you can’t stand, and you’ll find those jokes. Listening to an album, taking a break to brew coffee, going on a pleasant stroll, that might not cut it. Suffer through something, and those jokes will reveal themselves.

Never lose your place.

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