Irish cartoonist NHOJ (John Cullen) has been posting his Daily Comics for over 650 days at this point. They are often funny, sometimes poignant and always beautiful and entertaining. Here’s a look at his process. Fascinated by the kind of dedication such an effort takes, I asked NHOJ some questions about such topics as his work ethic, inspiration and what efforts he’s made to get paid for his hard work. I loved his answers, and think you will, too.
What were you doing in comics before the dailies?
Not all that much (in terms of creating comics), to be honest. I did some stuff on the side, more for myself than others, however I did get a few strips published in three issues of Rírá, an Irish language anthology comic, in 2008 and 2009. I worked on these alongside fellow Irish creator, Mike Lynch, who handled the writing duties.
After this, I worked on a series of daily comics from 2010 to 2011 (I consider them to be almost a test run for my current run of dailies). I had only intended on doing these dailies for a few weeks –maybe a few months– at most, but it very quickly became a year long endeavour.
What prompted you to make such an intense commitment?
I needed an excuse to draw something and…the daily strips just kind of happened. I hadn’t planned on doing another set of dailies after my 2010/2011 run but, one day, I put pen to paper and a comic happened. And then the day after that, it happened again (and the day after that, and the day after that, and so on).
I like punishing myself, I suppose!
How long does it take to complete a comic?
Ohhhh…that depends. Some comics I can get done in about two hours or so, others may take me nearly an entire day to get done (this includes all parts of the process, such as brainstorming an idea/thumbnailing, laying out the page, penciling, inking, and colouring).
Typically, it takes me around three to four hours to get a comic done (on a good day). For my more complex pages, it can take around five to six hours (sometimes even more).
What’s keeping you motivated to do these comics every day?
I often ask myself that same question! I suppose I can put it down to a compulsive need to challenge myself.
Do you have any productivity tips for the comic book creators with less output?
My most productive days come about when I treat my time working on my dailies like a work day: that means avoiding anything distracting –such as the Internet– and just getting down to work. I often find what can help is having some Podcasts you enjoy listening to on in the background.
Absolutely NO TV/films, though, I find that these are way too distracting during the drawing phase, and I will only watch something on Netflix during the colouring phase of my process, no other time.
Another thing I think helps clear my head in the morning is getting a bit of exercise in, even if it’s only stepping outside the house and taking a walk for half an hour. I find that some of my worst days (when it comes to both coming up with ideas and the quality of my work process) are the ones where I avoid doing this.
What do you look to for inspiration when you’re struggling to come up with ideas?
This is one of those things where procrastination sometimes (I emphasise, sometimes) works. If I’m coming close to pulling out my hair when trying to come up with an idea, I procrastinate on the Internet for a bit, and I may find a spark for an idea after reading an article, seeing the work of others, or just some combination of words and images.
Of course, the risk of doing this is that there is the temptation to procrastinate too long, so I only recommend doing this as a last resort.
Other times, many of my ideas come about when I just start randomly doodling on a scrap of paper. This may spark off an idea in my head when I see how one doodle interacts with another, for example.
Also, never underestimate the power of staring out a window! Some of my best ideas have popped into my head after doing this.
A 4:3 ratio is pretty common for webcomics. What interested you in flipping that with a 3:4 ratio for your dailies?
No other reason than it being my preferred layout (not just for my own work, but comics in general). It wasn’t even a conscious decision.
What do you think of Gumroad as a platform for selling digital comics?
I love it! I’ll admit I’m an idiot when it comes to setting up online stores, but Gumroad made all that very simple for me. Also, they don’t take a huge chunk of your profits (unlike some other services), which is always a plus.
On Gumroad your collections cost $1+. How common is it for people to pay more than the suggested price?
A lot more common than you’d think! I was very pleasantly surprised when I first released the books and many people paid a fair bit more than the minimum price.
How has your Patreon campaign compared with your expectations?
Well, considering I had pretty low expectations, it’s been a resounding success! I expected to only make it to three figures after a month or two, but made it to that number on day one, so that was a very pleasant surprise.
Has Patreon been worth the effort you put in, either financially or in some other way?
Yeah, Patreon’s great, as it allows me to give a little extra to those who donate (such as a look into my process, and full resolution & print-ready pages). The financial side of things is just the icing on the cake.
How else have you monetized the Daily Comics?
I’ll be the first to admit that I am terrible at monetizing my work, so beyond the digital collections on Gumroad, and the Patreon, I haven’t really been seeking out a way to make money from my work.
Granted, I did attempt setting up a store on Society 6 (which allows people to buy prints –in various forms– of a selection of my comics), but I don’t get anywhere near as many sales through that as I do through Gumroad.
Do you plan on releasing the dailies in print at any point?
Definitely. It’s a matter of when, rather than if.
What’s the response been like?
The response has been better than I could have hoped for! I didn’t start this comic with the intention of building an audience, as it was mainly just a way for me to get some drawing done on a daily basis. Of course, over time, it’s built up a bigger audience than I had ever anticipated, and it’s surreal seeing my comics being read, shared, and enjoyed by such a large international community.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve taken away from doing almost two years of daily comics?
That creating comics (and creating, in general) can be a blessing and a curse.
Granted, it’s more the former than the latter, but the one thing I’ve discovered about myself while doing these dailies is that there’s an almost obsessive aspect to my creative side, where I feel the need to do these comics on a daily basis, no matter what. This can be incredibly unhealthy, mentally speaking, and I often have to remind myself that there is no shame in putting my drawing aside to focus on other things in life.
It’s for that reason that I recently decided to reduce the number of comics I do to five days per week, rather than seven, as I was reaching a point of mental exhaustion. At some point, I’ll probably return to doing seven pages per week but, for now, the two day break is nice.