Underdogs

Making A Tumblr Webcomic

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TUTORIAL:
How-To Create A Tumblr Comic

There aren’t as many ways as you would think to create and host a webcomic right now. Webcomics are updated frequently. They usually require a backlog or archive of content like blog posts, comics, and advertisements. This means that a webcomic website structure needs to be versatile. Tumblr.com entered into the blogging scene in 2006 with the hopes of capitalizing on the growing “microblogging” trend that was being popularized at the time.  The concept of microblogging is different from  traditional blogging in that microblogs are short snippets of information intended for quick consumption and sharing.

Similar to popular social networking sites, Tumblr lets you “like” or “heart” content to indicate that you simply enjoyed seeing the article, quote, video, link, animated .gif, or picture. Another similar feature to major social networking sites is that Tumblr allows you to share content through Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, or simply by copying the permalink. Similarly, Tumblr allows you to “re-blog” content automatically to your own personal tumblog (a Tumblr microblog).

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Screenshot of the “Share,” “Re-blog,” and “Like” functionality from within my Tumblr dashboard.

 

None of this would be interesting or possible without the aspect of Tumblr that makes it incredibly different from other social media websites: through the “dashboard” section of your Tumblr you can follow other bloggers and digest their content. This is a similar function to almost all other social media sites like Facebook’s newsfeed, Twitter’s main page, or Instagram’s news. The amazing part of Tumblr is that all of this is integrated and designed to create a personal platform for your art that the public can see.

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On “My Dashboard” I can see a whole host of things that are only visible to the creator of the tumblog. In fact all users own and operate their own customized dashboard visible to only them. The dashboard serves a similar function to Facebook’s news feed. The public sees only my carefully designed tumblog. The tumblog can operate on a number of different levels such as a blog, portfolio, website, or webcomic.

In the previous example I have included a screenshot of I have included a screenshot of  My Arm: the Comic, one of the webcomics I create, and its adjacent dashboard labeled as “My Dashboard” in the image above. Notice that while the public sees a simplified presentation of the comic I have a dynamic back-end that allows me to see web statistics and user activity while also allowing me to post.

Tumblr packages these features through the use of themes. Some are free and some are paid, while the service of Tumblr is completely free to use. This makes it a dynamically different and powerful platform that hybridizes functions from major social networking sites with the ability to archive and log content like the major blog engines that exist on the market.

Why Use Tumblr To Make A Webcomic?
Tumblr.com is not the most dynamic or intricate website to use to publish your webcomic. When comparing the features of Comicpress (or Comic Easel) to Tumblr, Tumblr falls short in a number of ways. Tumblr has less community support and documentation for helping users have complete control over their blogs. It’s true!

Due to the fact that the Comicpress theme for WordPress has been on the web for a great many years there have been a number of widgets and support documentation for creating webcomics on it. Combined with the open source nature of WordPress, the Comicpress theme is the obvious choice for making the most dynamic kind of site for your long-form comic book website (long-form being fifty or more pages of different artwork).

The downside of using the Comicpress theme for first time comic creators is the level of complexity – something Tumblr was built to address. A Comicpress site can take days, if not weeks, to understand how to build and polish. WordPress can be difficult to use and the learning curve is steep.

Unlike WordPress, with Tumblr users can get their webcomic up and running within a matter of minutes or hours. When I created hipstrpicnic.com I made the whole tumblog in under 50 minutes of site design time. Tumblr allows you to get your ideas out into the world with amazing speed.

And it doesn’t stop there. With the ability to link your Tumblr to both your Facebook and Twitter accounts, every comic you post has the ability to be shared easily with the push of a button. Comicpress has this ability as well, but actually getting it to work can be a frustrating endeavor. Tumblr has this feature at its core.

So before making the decision to create your webcomic in Tumblr, ask yourself: are you using Tumblr as a means of immediately releasing updates for your comic? Or is it a project intended to be a giant graphic novel fives years in the making? If you chose the latter, then Tumblr may not be for you. But if you have a easily digestable idea like My Arm: the Comic or Twitter: The Comic that you want to get out and just see how it does, then Tumblr may be perfect for you.

Examples Of Great Tumblr Webcomics

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Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl

 

Abominable Charles Christopher began on WordPress several years ago. Despite mainstream comic credits on titles such as Adventures of Superman and Teen Titans, Kerschl created Abominable Charles Christopher because he wanted to draw more animals and nature scenes than the aforementioned comics would allow. Kerschl has gained such success and accolades for his work on the comic that he has been able to work on it almost exclusively. Last year Kerschl abandoned the WordPress site structure to reap the benefits of the  Tumblr platform.

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Twitter: The Comic by Mike Rosenthal

 

Probably one of my favorite comics right now is Twitter: The Comic where Mike Rosenthal (aka, @Vectorbelly) takes tweet suggestions and makes four-panel comics out of them. It’s a clever idea, one which uses Tumblr and Twitter integration to incorporate user suggestions in a collaborative process – the perfect 21st century comic! This comic is ideal for the Tumblr platform and really wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.

 

makingcomics.com

27 Responses to “Making A Tumblr Webcomic”

  1. Darrin

    One of the big reason I switched to tumblr from WP is, I was getting sick of my site getting hacked every other week it seemed. Plus tumblr has a built in user base, so no reason to go back to WP.

    Reply
    • Patrick

      I really still like Comicpress themed for WordPress. I worked a lot with it for my comic “American BOOOM!” (http://american.booom.us) I still would argue that it is a far better platform than Tumblr for large scale projects. But for something like http://myarmthecomic.tumblr.com there is nothing better than Tumblr right now.

      Let me know if you liked the tutorial!

      Reply
    • Patrick

      Arnie, Let me know if you end up trying the tutorial to get your tumblr comic setup, would love to hear your feedback.

      Reply
  2. Elvin

    I just switched from wordpress to tumblr yesterday (for technical and financial reasons). At first I was hesitant about the move since I didn’t know too much about tumblr, but this article has made me feel more comfortable about the switch. So thank you. But I wonder, if I’m making comics that are self-contained stories between 1-4 pgs (comic book size), would tumblr readers prefer the default continuous scroll as opposed to the “Simple Webcomic Theme?”

    Reply
    • Patrick

      1) I think that you really shouldn’t worry about tumblr as an audience as much as your comic fans as your audience. Ask them. Get there feeling. Try it out both ways. In the end the real fans will follow your artistic vision and are looking to you for leadership on what that is.

      2) I think you should look at comics that use both approaches. I am actually really looking forward to someone developing a more dynamic theme, or an upgrade to, the “Simple Webcomic Theme”. If you find something, post it here. I would love to test it out.

      3) Check out the approaches to comics an artist like Ryan A. has. (http://blog.ryan-a.com/tagged/comics) I know Ryan really well and I suspect he hosted his comics on a customized html page because he very much so wanted to control the flow of the comic. (e.g. “Sarah and the Seed” http://bit.ly/1dj221Q ) That is what I would call “uber-control of presentation” approach to publisizing the comics on tumblr and hosting them on a distinctly different URL. Scott McCloud did similar things with his original Zot comics on his website. (http://bit.ly/1ki4TkD) Contrast that approach to Karl Kerschl over at http://abominable.cc/ where it looks like he didn’t just use a base theme for his tumblr, but also completely modified the code to make his comic present EXACTLY how he wanted it to look. These are all options. The tutorial I presented above is definitely supposed to be the easiest pathway to getting setup, that I could find. Definitely not the only one.

      PS – Your comic is brilliant! Let me know if you would be interested in contributing to the site in some way. Your vision for your work is amazing. Great work.

      Reply
  3. Josh

    I’ve been listening to the Making Comics podcast for about a year, but I’m a complete newbie to actually making comics. After reading your article, I’ve thought about setting up a Tumblr to post my first attempts. Really, I’m just looking for a way to get feedback and critiques from people on how to improve. Do you think Tumblr would be good for this?

    Are there any online communities/websites for this sort of thing? I would really love to see Making Comics have some sort of way for beginners (or anyone else) to share and get feedback on their comics in the future.

    Reply
    • Patrick

      Tumblr is a great way to publicize your work. Publicity is usually good for projects that are trying to be launched as complete and sellable. It sounds like the thing you might be looking for is a place like deviantart.com where you can upload pictures within communities and potentially get feedback on them. Instagram can work on this level as well. Remember that if you are asking for feedback you might now always get positive feedback, but that being said, almost any kind of social network is going to suffice for getting eyes on your work.

      When the MOOC launches we want the classes to target people just like you who are looking to get qualitative feedback on your work. We have tons of ideas on how to do that in a more precise manner, but the MOOC starting in march will be your best place to get feedback that is designed for beginners because it will be facilitated and safe for artists that are more towards the beginning end of their path to mastery.

      Reply
      • Josh

        Thanks for the advice. Definately looking to forward to the MOOC launching, it sounds really great!

        Reply
  4. seomkg.Pl

    I was curious if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your website?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe
    you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

    Reply
    • Patrick

      Short answer: yes. The site is going under a massive redesign in the next year or so. -Patrick

      Reply
  5. Mfundo

    im struggling with this theme. I cant even put my background up. Can you please recomment some steps that I can take perhaps

    Reply
  6. Mfundo

    Heya guys..I eventually figured it all out and now I have my own webcomic blog on tumblr…it will be launching during the first week of May…and its largly thanks to this article

    Thanks alot MakingComics

    Reply
  7. DesktopStories

    I started using Tumblr this week for my new webcomic, and so far I can’t complain considering they give you full access to the HTML of the theme and some kind of userbase.

    Probably I will move to a dedicated website if my webcomic becomes very successful, but that’s not something I need to worry about now 🙂

    BTW, my webcomic is: http://desktopstories.tumblr.com/

    Reply
  8. Percy

    Tumblr is pretty good for making comics, if you’ve had a fair amount of experience with messing the codes for custom themes and page layouts you could make it fairly user-friendly for a comic that’s a bit longer.
    Still would recommend in the long run hosting a long running comic some where else, but if you’re me and you have a $0 dollar budget then tumblr is pretty nice.
    A lot of people make themes that are free to use so if you play around long enough, the customizing of a theme/page is pretty much point click and paste. It would be a bit more work to make a theme work for a longer comic though to be honest.

    Reply
  9. ComicLover69

    I highly recommend http://tapastic.com/ if you are interested in creating comics for web and mobile. They’ve got an awesome community there that’s been growing like crazy. Also, the founders are really helpful and awesome.

    Reply
    • Patrick

      I definitely will look more into this. It looks as if they have done a good deal to update since I was last there. Thanks!

      Reply
  10. Laura

    Tumblr makes an amazing content management system for a blog-type website. It’s more simple than WordPress — no (sort of, see below) widgets or add-ons to download, but also not really much need for them. The thing that really sold me, though, is the theme system. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the only themes are the ones you can browse in Tumblr’s theme garden — you can make your own, or find tons of user-made themes.

    When you make a Tumblr theme, you open up Tumblr’s little HTML editor and… you… you write the HTML. That’s it. You write the page. You can add CSS and Java and all that great stuff and there’s absolutely no screwing around with PHP and a million different files. Tumblr has its own easy-to-use block tags for you to use to show Tumblr where to put your content. The entire thing is quite well-documented and there is a huge community of blogs centered around custom themes and how to make and use them — here’s just one.

    As someone who wants to design her own website from scratch and not rely on WordPress themes made by other people, this is really important to me.

    Reply
  11. Gaius

    I think this post is still TOTALLY relevant, and a great resource. The tutorial no longer functions. The link to the theme is incorrect (although can be found with a simple google search) and the Tumblr redesign means that the Photo post maker no longer give you the fields you crafted. The navigation no longer works either.

    I know it’s been a long time, but are you keeping up with this at all? Just curious. Guess I’ll have to look into writing my own theme if not.

    Great work, although again I know this is old.

    Reply
    • Patrick

      I would love to have some help constructing a 2016 version! Let me know if you’d like to give me a hand.

      Reply

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