Why have a schedule?
Deadlines? Estimates? Spreadsheets? Who would want to deal with boring things like those? Well if you’re anything like me, establishing deadlines or benchmarks to direct the creative process provides peace of mind (not to mention increases productivity) during a long-form comic book project.
From grade school to college, I hated math class. “What does math have to do with comics?” All I wanted to do was draw. When I first started teaching at High Tech High Chula Vista, that sentiment changed in a hurry; I was glad to know basic math. I found myself managing hundreds of students over multiple projects. Knowing math allowed me to track everyone’s progress.
My current comic, Head Comics (hosted on GoComics), is a gag strip about two roommates who are zombies in post-apocalyptic San Diego. At the start, I decided that the length of the project would be fifty comic strips. To keep track of this, I created a spreadsheet designed to fit a single screen. I find that this helps me to measure the difference between estimated work hours and my actual ones.
A spreadsheet can help you to calibrate your expectations, so that “what you hope to accomplish” aligns with “what you expect to accomplish.” This will help you to actually finish the project, not just wish that you had finished it.
I make sure to clearly label both the name of each strip, as well as what phase of editing it is in. With fifty different scripts, having a way to track them all is paramount. Once my editor cohorts on Facebook give a script the “thumbs up”, I move the spreadsheet entry for the script to the “final draft” category.
Why use Google Docs and not Excel?
It’s true, a paid program like Microsoft Excel has more features than anything that Google offers for free (I have heard that Hotmail now offers a cloud-based version of Excel for free, but I haven’t used it). My support of Google Docs is very simple. Many people use Gmail at this point which means they already have built-in access to Google Docs along with the many apps and tools that Google offers by default. It also means they can access their spreadsheet from anywhere with an internet connection, along with the ability to collaborate with multiple users at a time.
And did I mention this is free?
So yes, I advocate that you strongly consider Google Docs. Using the spreadsheet function, along with the following tricks, you should find scheduling surprisingly manageable.
A Look At My Schedule
If you’d like a closer look, check out: http://bit.ly/1bb5dHg
The full schedule for Head Comics (Click the image to enlarge)
Before creating any schedule, I first evaluate the goals of the project and build logical conclusions from there.
Goals that informed this schedule:
Create fifty comic strips that are four panels long.
Scripts must be finished before artwork can start.*
Ten of the fifty comic strips will be extra long.*
First draft of scripts must be completed before 2014.*
Strips must complete a two-tiered editorial process.
The act of scheduling must factor in ability calibration.**
* These goals are designated as “flexible.”
When determining project goals, I build in a buffer. I find that this helps to trick my brain into staying on-task. I first compile a complete list of goals, and then flag anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.
** This goal is designated as “optional”, but is advised nonetheless.
This specific goal is expanded upon in another article called “Ability Calibration.” I mostly stole the concept from how Google managed its 20 Percent Program. By periodically assessing the achievement rate of goals, it’s possible to refine future goals and increase overall efficiency.
A practical example of this concept lies with the schedule above. If I plan to produce two scripts on Tuesday and instead produce five, I need to account for the discrepancy. Why were my predictions off? Does this indicate a trend, and can such a trend be predicted?
Even if you don’t find scheduling theory all that interesting, I would still advocate that you attempt this kind of productivity analysis. It will help you to accurately gauge workload and lead to more confidence in your approach to future projects.
What advantages does a spreadsheet provide?
(Alert — I am about to geek out. This is my favorite part!)
I didn’t learn about spreadsheets until age 26, at which point I went a little “spreadsheet-crazy.” How crazy? Check out this video:
In the video, you’ll see me mess around various fields allocated to estimated comic deliverables, actual comic deliverables, and the number of final drafts that were finished within a two-day period. As the numbers change for the week totals, watch how the final score shifts (marked red and black).
Why is this so cool? Because the spreadsheet turned my project into a videogame that results in both a comic and I have data that will save me time in future projects!
Alright I’m convinced. Now what?
There’s no “one way” that’s best for establishing your schedule, though I have a number of suggestions. Get ready to follow the tutorials attached to this article that we’ll be posting tomorrow — it’s the best way to start!makingcomics.com