City of Cards C2.25: Here!
You might notice that one of those panels looks kinda familiar. It's the image that the current header I'm using came from. A little insight into my process, that kinda clues you in to how far ahead I work. I actually drew that panel almost a year ago and inked and toned it probably back around in April.
Things are slowly starting to catch up, though, so most pages now are only inked about a month to two months ahead of time though pencils are usually done at least six months ahead, more or less since I don't work in a real specific order.
If you want to know how far ahead I write this story, then we're getting into years territory. One of my friends wrote a great analysis of story structure when composing long-form comics that are going to be viewed on the internet about taking into account speed of publishing, narrative arcs, and viewer attention when developing your stories in an issue format. You can read that here.
Now, my comic pretty much ignores all those helpful suggestions. What I'm going to talk about is what to do if you've decided to make a long-running chapter based narrative comic and to put that on the web, or more correctly, why you should plan ahead as much as possible and know what you're getting into. Have goals and be realistic about them.
1) What is your end publishing goal? Are you going to be putting this in book form? Is this going to be something that will remain solely on the web? If you are going to be making this into a book, you may find yourself having to account for spreads and format, page turns, and story flow in a way that might not always make for ideal online reading. Sometimes you'll find two pages read better together and you'll have to decide how to deal with that, especially if you only put up a page a week like I do. If print is your goal, don't lose sight of that, but know that sometimes it will make reading your comic online a much slower process.
2) Know where your story is going. This doesn't mean you have to have written every plot point and line of dialogue in stone, it just means that like having a publishing goal, knowing where your story is going will help keep you focused and will give your story a sense of purpose. When someone decides to settle in for the long-haul with your comic, let them feel like you have a direction. Otherwise, they might give up long before your story gets anywhere.
3) Be patient. Be patient with yourself, your readers, your lack of readers, and your comic. If you're patient with yourself you're more likely to produce better work. There is only so much you can do in a day. With your readers, give them time to see what you're up to and let them decide how they choose to react/interact with your work. If you feel like no one is reading your work, don't get discouraged. Know your work well enough to trust that it is going in a solid direction and continue to do more, better work. Your comic can only be made as fast as you can produce it, but if you plan on doing a project for several or more years, give the comic the time and dedication it deserves. Don't rush it in hopes that by speeding through the beginning you'll be doing your work a service.
4.1) Plan ahead. I kinda joke that it took me ten years to start this project and it'll take me ten years to finish it and it's not that far off from the truth. I put off actually drawing the comic until I felt like my drafstmanship skills had reached a basic level of competency. Most of my prep time involved writing, not even necessarily scripts, just dialogue and outlines and anything I could to get a sense of my story. Once I had written the first few chapters solidly and revised them I got other people to read and edit my scripts. By the time I started my comic I had been able to really develop my world and my characters and that gives me confidence to keep working.
4.2) Plan ahead EVEN MORE. Do you have a job? Do you have friends? Do you have unforeseen circumstances that might make working on your comic difficult if not impossible? One of the main reasons I have the process that I do is because it allows me flexibility in my work hours. So long as I have my laptop and my tablet I can ink just about anywhere: airports, jury duty, coffee shops, hotel rooms... you name it! Penciling, however, usually requires I be at my lightbox with ideally one-two hours of uninterrupted work time. My penciling process is also much more involved and slow so I know to give myself extra time. I also know that there are going to be days when I just won't get to work on my comic, or maybe only fifteen minutes. Stuff like that has to be taken into account.
So there's my quick overview of what I've pretty much taken into consideration with this project. I'm not saying that everything I've said here has to apply to what you're doing, just that this is what has helped me. Someone that has been doing this longer than I have and is far more successful can probably give more advice but I figure any experience can be useful.