So you’re setting out to create your own comic, but what kind will you do? Each genre has its own audience and standards of what people expect. Before you launch your own comic, you should spend time reading the competition in the genre you’re going to write, and I’m going to leave examples of each one of the best comics I know.
Let’s break down the pros and cons of each genre and see what you’re getting into.
A comic about the realities of life, usually set around the cartoonist’s day-to-day events, occupation, and relationships.
- Relatable: Slice of Life comics are relatable. Everyone has a job and goes through trials and tribulations. These comics often connect immediately with their readers.
- Funny: Life is funny and very random. The spontaneity of something happening, even if it’s something bad, is often amusing.
- Drama: Equally likely is the drama that will emerge from a comic like this, depending on how big of a dramatic life event is illustrated.
- Genuine: Slice of Life comics are usually very truthful and genuine, which is why people connect with them so easily.
- Additionally, people tend to be very forgiving of the art style and the randomness of the storyline. Fans of slice-of-life comics tend to feel like the creator is a friend and stay invested in the comic for its entire run.
- Examples to Read: Peep Show, American Splendor, The Devil’s Panties
- Do you want your life on display for the public to dissect? This can be especially hard in a relationship if your partner doesn’t want that. Creators in this genre struggle to tell stories because they don’t feel like their lives are very interesting.
- In one case, I knew a creator who did one issue of a comic book like this. He won awards, and the comic book sold well, but he never did another issue again. He felt he had told his best life story, and nothing after it was going to live up to it.
- Some creators launch a webcomic like this, and the comic devolves into complaining that the comic strip isn’t popular. Constant navel-gazing can be an issue, especially if you’re unwilling to open yourself up to the public or you have no life outside the desire to be a famous autobiographical cartoonist. This sort of project might reveal you’re actually a narcissist or, worse, boring.
- Should You Do It? I think if you have a unique perspective on life and don’t mind sharing its intimate details. But be warned, fans will get to know you, and they will sense when you’re holding back or, worse, lying to them. Although you can choose to keep some things private, never lie to your fans in a comic like this. That kind of betrayal could quickly end your career.
- My personal favorite genre is the funny one. That’s the only rule, by the way, be funny or GTFO.
- All comic book sins forgiven: You can have bad art and bad writing and serve the comic on a used cocktail napkin, and it doesn’t matter. If it’s funny, all is forgiven. You’ve seen stick figure comics on the inside of a bathroom stall, right?
- You probably looked at my examples and picked one you didn’t think was funny at all. Or you might read it and go, “I don’t get it.” Comedy is incredibly subjective and easily the hardest of the genres to write. Getting an audience to laugh requires that you connect with them and then surprise them in a very specific way.
- Connect, and they laugh. Miss, and they will suddenly not forgive you for all your comic book sins. They will put down the comic and move on. Doing straight-up comedy comics is often a grind that wears down creators. Many of them will combine comedy with some other genre in order to get more mileage out of the concept. This isn’t an awful idea since unraveling things via your comedic wits can leave you with nothing to make fun of, so having another genre to “get a little more serious” once in a while can put the comic back on plane with a plot. This is what I did with The Travelers, which was fantasy/comedy.
- Should You Do It? Yeah, if you’re funny, but remember the old saying, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
Fantasy is about magic. Sometimes it is set in the modern world, but often it is set in a medieval fantasy world with knights, wizards, elves, etc. Ultimately, it’s about magic, and its revelations are full of wonder.
- Magic: Magic can do anything, so you have carte blanche to get out of any plot, even if you paint yourself into a corner.
- Fan base: Fantasy has a built-in fan base that comes running when you put out a new comic.
- Epic: The epic nature of fantasy tales lends itself to long story arcs with many chapters.
- Built-in History: Elves, dwarves, wizards, kings, queens— These all have a kind of built-in history, so you don’t have to explain what they are, just how they might differ from other fantasy tropes the reader has seen before.
- Examples to Read: Conan, Elfquest, Bone, Mage, Cerebus, Groo
- If you don’t have good art (and by good, I mean great), you probably shouldn’t do a fantasy comic. The bar is set sky-high in fantasy for art because that’s part of the spectacular that is fantasy. You might get away with cutting corners if you’re doing comedy/fantasy, but ultimately fantasy requires elaborate monsters, magic weapons, and ornate castles.
- And be warned, there is a lot of fantasy material out there. Yes, the fan base will come running when you announce your launch, but their expectations are pretty high. It’s rare that a newcomer will meet or even exceed them.
- It’s tough to find a new angle with fantasy characters, but you must bring something new to the table. Launching a generic fantasy/adventure comic might seem fun at first, but fans can quickly grow bored if you don’t show them something new within the fantasy sandbox. You can’t just march out the tropes and expect good reviews.
- Should You Do It? If you have a good artist and a new take on fantasy, yes. Also, if your last name happens to be Tolkien.
Genre: Science Fiction
Science fiction involves showing readers the future or how technology impacts society. It often involves space travel, robots, aliens, androids, and other future tech.
- Fan base: Like fantasy, sci-fi has a built-in fan base that’s full of tropes they already know and love.
- Speculation: Sci-fi is full of speculation as to how technology will impact society. This gives you wide latitude in your stories to create something new.
- New Ideas: New ideas are at the heart of any good science fiction story. If you have a lot of good ideas of how things could be, should be, or will be— Sci-fi is a blank canvas. When I was working on Intergalactic Medical Doctor, we had an opportunity to explore advanced medical technology and how it could impact a story set in future space.
- Examples to Read: Transmetropolitan, Judge Dredd, The Airtight Garage, Akira, Nexus, American Flagg
- The bar is set pretty high for the art in science fiction, but maybe slightly less high than for a fantasy comic. Again, fans will be more forgiving if it’s partly a comedy like Evan Dorkin’s Pirates Corps (the art is also great in that btw).
- Like fantasy, there’s a lot of sci-fi material out there, and one can argue that most superhero comics are technically sci-fi. There are probably more sci-fi comics than fantasy, and since sci-fi tends to be grounded in reality, it has a slightly broader appeal.
- But because of the sheer volume of material, it is very difficult to find a new angle in sci-fi. Since ideas are at the heart of this genre, the bar for writing is higher than that of fantasy. You must not only give us compelling characters, stories, and plots but it must be filled with new and interesting technologies that are based, at least in part, on actual science.
- It’s hard to get something wrong in fantasy, but it’s pretty easy in science fiction. You may have to do quite a bit of research depending on how futuristic your sci-fi comic is going to be. You may have to make up an entire ecosystem just for a short scene when the characters make a pit stop on an alien world to go to the bathroom!
- Like fantasy fans, sci-fi fans can be a bit unforgiving. Don’t just bring one idea to the table; bring a whole list of them.
- Should You Do It? If you have the kind of brain that’s bursting with ideas about the future, yes. Or if you have the background to really explore one aspect of some future technology and how it might impact society.
Do I have to explain this one? Your character fights injustice using their powers.
- Built-in Fan base: Comic book fans love superheroes, and they love to buy the first issue of almost anything. Superhero tropes abound, so you won’t have to explain much. In American comics, it’s the heart of the medium.
- Corporate Comics: Corporate comics are especially terrible in the superhero realm right now, so fans who haven’t abandoned this kind of fare are hungry for something good.
- Examples to Read: Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four, Steve Ditko’s Spiderman, Neal Adams’s Batman, Chris Claremont’s X-Men
- How much space do I have here? The Superhero genre is one of the most played-out, exhausted subgenres in the medium. Competition is fierce, and the fan base is even more oversaturated than back in the 90s when Superman died.
- Fan expectations are sky-high in every category simply because of the sheer volume of competition in the U.S. You need a good pitch, good art, good story— Everything. And yes, you are competing against all the major comic book companies, and despite their current output, they have the name recognition you don’t have yet.
- Collectibility continues to be a rot at the heart of the medium. I never used to put publishing dates on my comics, but now I wouldn’t number them or publish stories that last more than a single issue. Superhero comics, since the Death of Superman, are so closely bound with the collectible market— It’s nearly impossible to separate the two and return to the days of readership.
- Should You Do It? In this market? I’d say no. You’d need a really brilliant take and amazing art. It’s possible, but it’s an uphill battle. Any other genre would probably lend itself to better success.
It’s close to comedy, but the bar is higher for the art. It’s all about the scare.
- Horror is Hot: Horror always does well, but right now, the horror fan base is growing again. Here on the East Coast, we have horror cons popping up everywhere. The fans are excited and don’t mind spending money.
- Halloween: The holiday is becoming more popular than Christmas. This means you have an opportunity to sell comics in October and in the lead-up to the holidays as gifts.
- Forgiving Fan base: While not as forgiving as comedy, I’ve found horror fans to be genuine and generous. They are usually so anxious to support a horror comic that they are willing to give it several extra chances.
- Examples to Read: Tales From the Crypt, Crossed, From Hell, Creepy
- Horror stories tend to be full of tropes that have been done a million times. Additionally, they’ve been done in the many, many low-budget horror movies as well. While you’re not directly competing against these movies, horror fans tend to know them. And while they are forgiving, it can be challenging to find a new angle on horror to present. You have to stay away from certain tropes so as not to invite comparisons to the big horror franchises.
- For some fans, horror is a big turn-off. Yes, the fan base is growing, but there is a portion of the fan base that just doesn’t like that stuff, especially if it’s gory. Women tend not to like horror, and they tend to worry if their kids read it, depending on the level of scares.
- From a creative standpoint, since characters tend to die in these things, it’s hard to create a long-running franchise unless the monster is the focus. Short-term horror stories are easier, which is why anthologies still can do well in this genre. Long-running series are harder as you’ll have to delve into more psychological horror to make it last.
- Should You Do It? From a purely publishing standpoint, yes. It’s one of the few growing genres out there, and fans are hungry for more. Unless you’re part of the population that doesn’t like the genre, it’s a good genre to dive into. The appeal also extends beyond the range of just comic book fans, and the horror shows are a lot of fun.
Genre: Pulp Heroes
This might include vigilantes, detectives, film noir-style characters, Western heroes, and spies. These characters are often very grounded in reality, and most of the stories are dark and gritty.
- Foreign Fan Base: Although these kinds of comics don’t generally sell great in the U.S. right now, they have huge fan bases overseas.
- Basic Stories: These stories tend to be short, intense, and bare bones. They don’t need a lot of characters or fanfare.
- Relatable: Because the stories are grounded in reality, they can have appeal beyond the confines of your average comic book convention.
- Examples to Read: Blueberry, The Rocketeer, Solomon Kane
- Next to comedy, these are the hardest to write. European comics have elevated these stories, especially Westerns, into high art. Razorfist has an excellent video on the topic. You are going to have to bring your serious, serious A-game to compete against these guys.
- The fan base tends to be small but dedicated in the U.S., and the research you need to do is heavy— Especially for the Westerns or anything historical.
- Should You Do It? It’s a real challenge, but if you want to create high art in the medium, yes.
Picking the genre you want to work in is based on a lot of factors, including what you like to consume yourself. But if you’re serious about working in the comics medium in the long term, you may want to try all of them eventually. And if you’re new to comics or new to publishing, you may want to choose based on other factors like some of the ones listed here.
Whatever you decide to ultimately start making, know a little bit about what you’re doing before you start. Most importantly, read the classics in each genre to give yourself an idea of where the bar is and how high you have to jump.
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