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How Web Comics Work

The Web Artist's Arsenal
Wacom's Intuos3 graphics tablet provides Web cartoonists with an alternative interface.
Wacom's Intuos3 graphics tablet provides Web cartoonists with an alternative interface.
­Photo courtesy Consumer Guide Products

For most cartoonists, pencil, pen and paper are still an important part of the creative toolkit. On Webcomics Weekly, a podcast created by four professional Web cartoonists, artists occasionally debate the value of various writing utensils and paper quality in one show, then discuss top-of-the-line technology in the next episode. Let's look at some of the high-tech gear cartoonists can use.

The first thing every Web cartoonist needs is a computer. Whether it's a PC or a Mac, everyone who plans to produce Web comics must have a computer. They also need a Web host for their Web comics. Most artists who are looking to promote their comics seriously register a domain name. Usually, the domain name matches the comic's title.

If the cartoonist plans to draw comics on paper, he or she will need a scanner. Scanners analyze images and then convert them into a digital format. Different Web cartoonists use different formats and resolutions for digital artwork. Artists have to consider many factors when deciding upon an image format, including the software he or she uses to make edits and the ultimate size of the image file.

One input device that Web cartoonists might find useful is a pen tablet. Pen tablets are electronic computer peripherals. They include a pen-shaped input device and an electronic pad. The artist can control his or her computer cursor by moving the pen across the pad. Pen tablets provide artists with an interface that feels more natural than a normal computer mouse.

Along with hardware considerations, artists must decide what sort of software they want to use for editing purposes. In general, there are two main kinds of software programs artists can use: pixel graphics or vector graphics. Pixel graphics programs like Photoshop convert images into a collection of pixels, or points. Vector graphics programs like Adobe Flash convert images into a series of lines, curves and shapes rather than points.

One of the interesting things about these programs is that cartoonists can select portions of the strip and save them to use again later. For example, if an artist really likes a particular facial expression, he or she can save the art and use it again later without having to redraw it. In theory, an artist could build an entire library of art and use it over and over, turning each character into a digital version of Mr. Potato Head. However, there's a downside to this approach. Most artists see their styles evolve over time, but if they rely on a copy and paste method, they may not develop artistically.

Want to know how Web cartoonists make a living doing what they love? Find out on the next page.