Guest Post: Nika Tan on Creating a Graphic Novel

So you want to write a graphic novel

Hi everyone! I’m Nika, creator of teen romance webcomic “Love Debut!” I just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a graphic novel version of the complete comic, and Becca was kind enough to invite me to write a guest post about some key lessons I learned along the way.

First off, let’s talk through why tackling a graphic novel may not be a good decision for you. One, you’re likely still very much developing your chops as a sequential storyteller, and committing to a single project that could take years to complete hampers your ability to experiment stylistically. Two, risk of burn-out is higher the longer your story is; it’s easy to lose sight of the progress you’re making and become overwhelmed with everything that’s still left to be done. This is especially true if you’re juggling school/a full-time job! Three -- you haven’t really thought through your story yet for this project. Staying open to new ideas is important, but you need to have an outline if your efforts are going to be successful.

So, before you read further, sit down and be honest with yourself: is this really the right time for you?

If you’re answer is still unequivocally YES then great! Keep on reading. And if you decide no, this doesn’t make you any less of an artist or a writer. Everyone is on a different path. As long as you keep creating, bit by bit, you will get to where you want to go.

Advice #1: Know Your Ending

I knew right off the bat how I wanted “Love Debut!” to end. From the very first page, the scene was vivid in my mind, and while I tweaked it a little from the original vision, it was an important guide for me as I created the story.

Why? Well, let’s think about what makes up an ending. It tells you clearly who your main characters are, and where their respective journeys will take them. A good ending should also encapsulate your Big Idea, the idea that is driving you to choose THIS story out of all the other stories. Once you have your ending, everything else falls into place. Not only does it help you set up your beginning, but now you have something concrete to measure every subsequent development to. You can ask yourself, Does this scene support this ending? Does it bring my characters further or closer from their goals?

In the beginning, Nick believes charm and friendliness will get him anything. Sara’s going to teach him it’s not so simple...

Inevitably, you’ll come up with new and exciting ideas along the way, and as long as you keep your sights on that ending, you will not stray too far off course.

Advice #2: BUFFER

If there’s one piece of advice you take away from this, it should be to BUFFER, BUFFER, BUFFER. Seriously, folks, your buffer is your lifeline. Real-life happens all the time, and if you’re cranking out your page last-minute hours before your deadline, you will not only do a sub-par job, you will be stressed as hell. And this does not make for long-term sustainability. Trust me.

Anecdotally, most of my comic friends might have a few weeks of buffer at any given time. This covers them if they get sick or have to study or take on extra hours at work. I went even further with this: I sat on “Love Debut!” for almost a year before I started putting it up online, which amounted to a 6-month buffer from day one. By the end it was down to only a month’s worth of updates, but it was still a huge relief to know that if something urgent came up, I wouldn’t have to worry about delaying my updates.

“Don’t worry, Sara -- Nika’s buffer is still going strong!”

In all likelihood, your buffer will dwindle over time. Keep an eye on it, and make sure your update schedule is realistic given your average page turnaround time. Also, take advantage of those chapter breaks!! Take a month off in between chapters to plan your story and rebuild your buffer. You might lose a few impatient readers in the interim, but any loss is easily offset by the new readers you will gain with your demonstrated ability to keep to your word and update on schedule.

Advice #3: Invest in Side Projects

Your graphic novel should be your number one creative priority at all times, but that said, setting aside time for smaller side projects is a valuable way to improve your creative chops. This requires more discipline -- you need to be realistic with how much time you have and vigilant with not overextending yourself -- but the payoff is worth it.

Because of my generous buffer, I was able to work on a 14-page comic for a groundbreaking anthology, complete two short novels, organize a Pokemon Go fanzine, AND take a comics production class. I couldn’t do it all at once; this was spread out over the course of 3 years, and I had to be incredibly careful with my time. But it was absolutely worth it. My comic workflow improved and I got the chance to meet some very cool people along the way. Plus, even better, this let me stay excited and freshly motivated to finish the story I had set out to tell.

Advice #4: Sleep..., drink, and exercise. Taking care of yourself is SO important, and it starts with taking care of yourself physically. I’ve definitely had some late nights working to meet my production deadlines for “Love Debut!”, and those nights left me drained and useless for days afterward. Not a great way to run a years’ long marathon. Keep an eye on yourself and make sure that one-off exceptions don’t become routine.

Nothing beats quality sleep!

Also, if you’re a digital artist like me, sitting at your computer staring at the screen is undeniably bad for you. Make sure to hydrate, give your eyes regular breaks to ease the strain on them, and get up and stretch every now and then. Most importantly, listen to your body. It sounds stupid, but you can seriously hurt yourself if you don’t pay attention, and then you’ll really be kicking yourself later.

Good luck!

Making a graphic novel can be a frustrating but also incredibly rewarding journey. You’ll learn so much about yourself along the way. Be patient with yourself when you fall short of your expectations, and work hard to stay excited about your story. No one can stop you from telling your story unless you give up on yourself -- so don’t! The world is a better place for having your voice in it.

Have any additional tips for new creators? Comment below!

Like what you see?  Here's more information on Love Debut! and the Love Debut! Kickstarter Campaign, going on now! 

Teen Webcomic “Love Debut!” Launches on Kickstarter to Fund Graphic Novel

Teen webcomic “Love Debut!” launched earlier on January 25th on Kickstarter to fund a limited print run of the complete story. The story will be printed as a softcover book with 200+ pages, including bonus material that will expand upon the original characters.

“Love Debut!”, created by Deandra “Nika” Tan, follows the story of Nick Thomas, a rising pop star, who meets Sara Hofmann, a snarky loner in Nick’s class who used to be a child star. When they discover they have more in common than they thought, they team up to turn the music world on its ears. “Love Debut!” is published online on both LoveDebutComic.Com and the comics website Tapastic, where the series has amassed a following of over 6,500 readers.

The Kickstarter campaign for “Love Debut!” will run from Wednesday, January 25th to Friday, February 24th. Backers who pledge above the $25 softcover book tier will also have the chance to snag new merchandise, from print sets to custom charms. Recommended ages for readers is 13 or older.

You can back the Kickstarter here, or navigate here to read the story.

You can follow Nika on Twitter @onelemonylime, or back the “Love Debut!” Kickstarter here.