'Trick of Time' - making the webcomic

The first sketches of the main characters.

I wrapped up my webcomic recently, and thought it'd be good to do a little run down of it, sort of like the back matter that you typically get in comics. 

This blog post is full of spoilers, so if you haven't read the comic you might want to do that first:

Trick of Time Webcomic

Why a webcomic?

I decided to make a webcomic because I was curious about the format and I wanted to work on something that was immediately available - no pitching, no waiting for funding, no printing. I had previously made comics intended for web or digital but not one for a formatted app with vertical scrolling. It was an interesting journey and definitely a challenge to create content from start to finish that went live every two weeks. 

Before I started, I played around to find a sustainable style - one that could read well on a small screen and would be reasonably quick to draw, ink, and color but still have enough detail to get across what I wanted from the story. I went with a style that was sort of cell shaded with a simple line. 

From pencils to finished panel.

I blocked out the story and the main threads, although I picked up a few new ones along the way. After I started, I realized that it was very time consuming and wasn't something that would be sustainable long term as I had other projects that needed my attention. So, I dropped some of the story beats and brought forward one that I was most excited to introduce - Bessie. Bessie was intended as a second arc but I pushed her into the first arc just so I'd have a chance to work on her. 

Hopefully at some point I can pick it up again or work on the story elsewhere. I left a lot of dangling story threads on purpose so there's still plenty more to tell.

Let's have a look at some of the background details in the story as well as some of the things that inspired particular story elements:

The familiars in the story take the form of animals but are actually imps. The witches had to leave their beloved familiars behind when they travelled through time but soon found them again (albeit in new forms). The Crankshaw familiars compliment their witches personalities. Syssock is sweet and timid and dislikes confrontation, whereas the fiery Annie thrives on it. Granny Aggy is down to Earth and dependable but Huthart is contrary and unreliable. Alison is gentle and polite and Sacke is...well, very much a goose.

In episode one we see two magpies (two for joy, as the old saying goes, which fly off to reveal the 'witch burnings' sign) and later in the series we see the lone magpie (for sorrow) - Bessie's familiar.

Bessie's signature look of cream, black and 'Bessie' blue may have been inspired by her magpie familiar or maybe the familiar took a form that best suited Bessie. The first time Bessie is mentioned is when Granny Aggy says she thinks Bessie stole their cauldron. It later (or actually 'earlier' because - time travel) turns out that Bessie really did take their cauldron. Magpies are associated with stealing shiny things so this familiar suits Bessie in more ways than one.

Bessie isn't the only one with signature colors. Annie, Alison and Granny Aggy's clothing colors carry through from their 1600's attire to their modern wardrobe. However, more than just a fashion choice, these are their family colors, as seen on the cover of their family spell book. The Crankshaw women are the only characters who have green eyes. The sparkles that appear when they're using magic are also green. 

The 'Tech-oo-r' club that Bessie transports to in the 80's is a nod to the 'Tech Noir' club in Terminator. 'Tech -oo-r' sounds more like an English West Country version.

There were also some background nods to Bessie before her arrival in the story:

Vicar Price enjoys local history. The book he's reading in this episode is written by someone else who appreciates local history - Alan Partridge.

Shakespeare gets brought up a few times - through peoples association of witches with Macbeth and also through Annie's repeatedly stated dislike of him. Annie actually uses Shakespeare's own insults (e.g. 'Beef-witted') when she complains about him. The witches seem to have had enough of him in the 1600's and they can't escape him in modern times either! 

And speaking of modern times - when is the comic actually set? 

Well, I wanted to make it purposefully vague. One of my main aims was to create a nice, relaxed story that would be a refuge from everything happening in the world at the time of release.  I didn't want to include all the things currently going on, but ignoring them would also seem a bit odd. So, it seemed like an indistinct time period would be the best option. I started this project near the start of the pandemic when we first went into lockdown and I noticed I was tending towards watching shows and reading books that were comforting, either through nostalgia or just because they had a nice vibe. This was what I wanted to do with my story, something safe and reasonably low stakes, silly not scary. 

Witch bottles always struck me as odd - the idea that people who were scared of witches would use witchcraft to protect themselves seems weirdly counterintuitive. So I wanted to explore the idea, which is why the witches ended up depending on one to save them. 

Vicar Price's name was inspired by Vincent Price who played the titular role in the 1968 film 'Witchfinder General'. The real life Witchfinder was called Matthew Hopkins, which inspired the Matthew Hopper character. So, Marjorie Hopper Price's double barrel surname has double witchfinder roots!

The names of Annie, Alison, Aggy and their familiars were inspired by accounts of witches and their familiars as recorded in 'Irish witchcraft and demonology' by John D.Seymour (1913). The setting of Lancashire was inspired by the Pendle witches - one of the best known witch trials in English history.

Make your own!

If you'd like to make your own webcomic here's some advice:

Be prepared! Do as much as you can in advance. Webcomics work best when the content is released on a regular schedule, so make sure that you can stick to it.

Sizes vary across different platforms. I uploaded my work on Webtoon. Each finished panel is 800 x 1280 px. I work in double that size at a resolution of 600dpi incase I need to reformat at a later date. You can also work on one big long panel and chop it up to upload. I think the newer version of Clip Studio might have a template for this. There's also apps that will chop it in to panels for you. I chose to do my comic as separate panels but drawing it as one long piece does have its advantages. If you really want to embrace the vertical format and have elements flow into each other as the reader scrolls down, this is probably the easiest way to go about it.

Check uploads before you begin - you can upload and preview without publishing. This is a good idea so you can get an idea of how much you can upload per episode and how it looks. The upload limit (at the time of writing this) is 20mb per episode. 
Remember that your webcomic needs to be legible on a variety of devices. A lot of people read webcomics on their phones so make sure your font is clear at a small size. You can test out your webcomic at PC or Phone size when you preview it. I used the Brian Bolland font from Comicraft at 7pt (on my scaled up art). Comicraft have a big sale every New Years where you can grab fonts and font packs crazy cheap. I'm not a letterer and usually I prefer to hire a professional letterer for my work but it wasn't a practical option for this particular project. 

Webcomics are free to read, so how do you make money? That's the thing people always want to know. If you want a cut of ad revenue via a platform such as Webtoon you'll need a minimum amount of views and subscriptions (and it's tens of thousands) to be invited to participate in their ad scheme. It can be tough to hit that, especially if you aren't investing in marketing or you don't have much social reach. I'd advise setting up a payment account like Ko-Fi so that readers can send you money directly if they want to tip you for the comic. 
You can also make merchandise, just remember to advertise it at the end of your comic so readers know about it. ('Trick of Time' merch is available here.)

Have fun!