Q: Okay, wise-ass, I now possess a Fuckton™ of technical knowledge about anatomy, perspective, design, pacing, composition, lighting, and all that good stuff; what am I supposed to do now?
A: Well, Mr/Ms Rocket Surgeon, you gotta ask yourself a few questions.
Q: "Do I feel lucky?"
A: Well, do ya, PUNK?
Q: Yeah, that setup was telegraphed from a few miles away.
A: If you want more intelligent or original banter, you'll have to pay me.
Q: Speaking of that, are we just going to blather back & forth all day, or are you going to teach me something?
A: You don't like the banter?
Q: No, no, I love the banter. It may be the best banter I've ever had in my entire life. It's just that...if I had to choose between the banter, and learning about comics, I'd have to choose learning about comics.
A: Whoa, wait, let me get this straight. What you're saying is, you want the comics lesson.
Q: I'm afraid so. Is that something you can handle?
A: Look, I just died inside.
Q: You know the more perceptive readers will spot our "Taco Mail" State sketch-inspired dialogue, right?
A: I hope so.
Q: Can we get down to business?
A: Do we have to? Every time I sit down to work on this, I get sleepy. Like I am right now.
Q: Let's get it over with, then you can go to bed.
A: Okay. Here we go.
The questions you need to ask yourself this time around generally begin with "What", as the title of this essay so subtly suggests.
What is your comic going to be about?
Like it or not, there has to be a purpose to the comic. Stream-of-consciousness noodling is fine for sketching, but makes for a boring book. It's a good idea to have a subject, something that can be summed up in a sentence or three.
What is the story saying that hasn't already been said a hundred times over?
Let's face it: there's thousands and thousands of stories already out there. Why should someone pick up yours? Are you saying something new? If not, are you saying something old in a new way? Remember, your perspective is different from everyone else's.
What can people learn from this?
It can range from a general life lesson to an obscure factoid. But it has to relate to a character (preferably the main one). People don't identify with background fire hydrants, they identify with characters. If they learn about a character, they can learn something about themselves.
What media will you use?
Straight-up pencil, charcoal, pen & ink, crayon, colored pencils, markers, watercolor, gouache, dyes, varnishes, acrylic, oil, pastels, spray paint, tempera, blood, clay, plaster, photography, Photoshop, Illustrator, Painter, Draw, MS Paint (why would you do a silly thing like that?), collage, 3D Studio Max, Maya...the list is pretty endless. If you can photograph or scan it, you can use it in a comic.
What style of art will you use?
If you're really good, you can draw in a variety of styles. There are certain styles of art that go well with a certain type of story. For example, you wouldn't use the style of Charles Schulz to illustrate a crime/noir/horror comic. You'd get someone like Frank Miller or Mike Mignola to cover the page in shadows.
Here's a very, VERY small sampling of the styles cartoonists have these days. Notice the choices they make when the artwork is being made for black & white or full color printing.
What format will it be in?
A web comic or comic strip? A regular 32-page saddle-stitched 7" x 10" magazine? A mini-comic you've run off on the B&W photocopiers at Kinko's? Do you hope one day it could be a full 600+ page graphic novel, thicker than many phone books?
What kind of story do you want to tell?
This is probably the last thing you want to think about. The best way to go about it is to tell the story, then sticking a genre label to it. Here's a few genres to think about, along with a couple examples (just Google each to see what the deal is, I'm not including any more links):
Auto/Biographical (Buddha, Blankets, Fun Home, Maus)
War (Fax from Sarajevo, 300, Sgt Rock, Rifle Brigade)
Fun/ny Animal (Duck Tales, Spiral Bound)
Serious Animal (We3, Mouse Guard, Pride of Baghdad)
Journalism (Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde)
Superhero (you really don't need examples of this, do you?)
Adventure (Tintin, Leave it to Chance, Lone Wolf & Cub, Usagi Yojimbo, Groo)
Slice-of-Life/Drama/Relationships (Optic Nerve, Love & Rockets, La Perdida, Box Office Poison)
Fantasy/Mythology (Sandman, Castle Waiting, Fables, Bone)
Science Fiction (Global Frequency, Ronin, Akira, Heavy Metal)
Horror (Tales from the Crypt, Clive Barker's Tapping the Vein, Walking Dead)
Police Procedural/Mystery/Detective (Spirit, Whiteout, Kane, Scene of the Crime, From Hell)
Crime (Sin City, Desolation Jones, Torso, Criminal, Couriers, Brownsville)
Buddy Comedy (Quantum & Woody, Adventures of Barry Ween)
Erotica (you really don't need examples of this, do you?)
Political (Sanctuary, Transmetropolitan, Channel Zero)
Espionage (Queen & Country, Sleeper, Human Target)
Thriller/Suspense (Supermarket, The Escapist)
Religion (Chick Tracts)
Nerdery (PvP, MacHall/Three-Panel-Soul, Dork Tower)
Surreal/Abstract/Esoteric (Stray Toasters, Acme Novelty Library, Madman)
Dark Comedy (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, the Tick, Lenore)
Violence (Battle Royale, Punisher)
Satire (MAD, Tales Designed to Thrizzle)
Childhood (Amelia Rules!, Sardine in Space)
Adolescence (American Born Chinese, Persepolis)
Western (Preacher, Loveless, Jonah Hex, Desperadoes)
History (Action Philosophers)
Who is your audience?
Okay, you got me, this isn't a "what" question. I qualified it earlier, so don't complain.
Let me tell you a secret: The audience is you. You're doing this to make yourself happy, first and foremost. You're doing it to entertain yourself, hoping you'll entertain others, and begging to make money from it.
Or maybe not those last two. Maybe you're doing it to keep yourself busy, never showing anyone, but at least you accomplished this.
There's a billion questions to ask yourself (and others), and every answer leads to new questions along the way. Every decision you make about the story can be challenged and changed, as well as your goals. The problem with that lies in second-guessing yourself to the point of indecision.
That's where the "Why" comes in, and it'll probably take me another month to figure that out.
Q: You lazy jerk! Why are you making us wait so damn long?
A: Asked and answered. Sheesh.