The Problem With Re-drawing

All over the house, my second gag-a-day strip, recently turned two years old. As a result of going on to update five days a week back in October, we’ve finally managed to get enough material together for our first collection. Putting the book together has meant collating all my earlier work; which, in turn, caused me to experience what must be a universal rite of passage for artists everywhere:

I looked upon my earliest offerings and shuddered.

Anyone who has produced a webcomic for long enough to have improved their art must know the feeling I’m talking about. You look back on your first few weeks (or months) and ask yourself how you could ever have thought it was good enough to publish. Then the urge takes hold. We all know that urge, don’t we? It’s the urge to go back and re-draw those earlier strips.

If that is what you intend to do, I am here to stage an intervention.

Your early artwork will never be as good as you want it to be. This is a fact of life. We improve our skills with each comic and in between comics, those of you who make use of a sketchbook are improving then, too. We are always honing our skills and as a result, our next ten comics will be better than the ten we just drew. This is the way of our chosen profession, or hobby, or whatever you see your comic as.

Taking myself as an example, I am not at all happy with the early black-and-white work on All over the house. I’m not happy with the early colour work either (in fact I don’t think my art was all that good until around episode 220 in December 2010) but I knew that it was the best I could manage in the time I had back then. My work has improved over time, and so has yours.

If I were to go back and re-draw those first few monochrome strips, it would mean re-drawing 34 pages of artwork. Given that right now it takes me between 1.5 and 2 hours to produce each comic, that means having to find around 68 hours of spare time. I don’t have 68 hours of spare time. That would mean stopping my comic for over a month just to have the time to re-draw those early pieces (which I would have to leave in black-and-white by the way, since episode 35 makes a joke about the comic switching over to colour).

For the sake of argument, let’s say the sheer amount of time it would take to redraw each strip has not put you off. What then? Well it’s simple: now the artwork you don’t like starts later into your comic. Are you going to leave the archives looking rather jarring, with your comic going from good, new art to art that wasn’t bad compared to your early stuff but now sucks compared to your re-drawn stuff?

You’ve come this far, it seems silly to stop now. You’ll have to re-draw this art, too!

So now you re-draw the next section of art. Let’s say for the sake of keeping the numbers decent that you just re-drew the first 35 pages out of a 100 page archive. That puts your next section of work at around pages 36 to 70. It’s another big chunk of time being used up too, about 70 hours in fact. In total, you will have spent almost 140 hours re-drawing your strip.

In that time, you could have produced seventy new comics. Right now however, you have nothing new. Everything you just did is old work. It’s work most of your readers will never look at. How often do you go back through the archive of a comic you read every day? Okay, new readers will enjoy the new art but your old art was good enough to get you the readers you already had, so why should potential new readers be put off by the old stuff? Will they be more put off by the fact that while you were re-drawing your old art, you weren’t putting the time in making new stuff? Your current readers will be.

Re-drawing old art is too time-consuming to make it worth the effort. If you are serious about improving your art, you will improve it. This means that after you have spent 140 hours re-drawing your old strips, your new first strip will still look bad compared to your latest old strip. Not only that but the last strip you re-drew will look better than the latest strip available on your website. Now you have to go back and redraw pages 71 to 100, too!

So, after two hundred hours, what do you have? Nothing extra on your website. Your skills are more advanced, yes, but they would have been advanced to the same extent just by drawing more pages of your comic. You have gained skill at the expense of new content and what’s more, your first strip still looks worse than your latest strip.

So don’t bother. It’s not worth the time and effort, especially when you can better use that time making more of your comic, giving new and old readers alike something extra that keeps them coming back to the site.

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