Cruz: How Advertising Helped Me Create A Webcomic
Based in NYC, Marc Cruz is an Account Executive at creative and media agency Cutwater. Prior to Cutwater, he was formerly in PR, where he helped run communications efforts for some of advertising’s most talented agencies / consultancies, production / editorial companies, content studios, and more. In his free time, he’s the proud creator of “Emoji Palooza”, a weekly webcomic strip on the misadventures of emojis (thanks to Twitter’s open source Twemoji project).
From Campaigns to Indie Webcomic Strips
For my day job, I’m an Account Executive at creative and media agency Cutwater.
Like many in our field, I recently started a passion project during my free time, something to further scratch that creative itch. It’s an ongoing, independent webcomic about the misadventures of emojis, entitled Emoji Palooza.
For those unfamiliar, the artwork of emojis varies between platforms. Twitter’s version, Twemoji, is open source, which means its entire library is fair game for sharing and adaptation as long as proper licensing and attribution (CC-BY 4.0) is provided.
The writer in me saw an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. Emojis are essentially a brand with built-in awareness and recognition. Twemojis are assets that could be leveraged. I asked myself, what if these colorful characters had their own inner lives? What would their personalities, relationships, and dreams be? The tone of such a work could be existential, akin to Toy Story, The Lego Movie, and Wreck-It Ralph. Sure, The Emoji Movie already came out, but the webcomic medium was still untapped.
I’m proud to report that “Emoji Palooza” releases a new webcomic strip, a six-panel layout, on Mondays. Every ten are grouped as a volume. Of course, there’s a piece in honor of World Emoji Day (07/17), a holiday I now take quite seriously.
And guess what, I couldn’t have brought this endeavor to life without my experience in advertising.
Lesson One: Short-Form Storytelling
Ads have limited time and real estate to communicate a message. Spots in particular are usually 0:60, 0:30, 0:15, or even 0:06 seconds long. Every frame counts. The lines of copy must be succinct. Almost a short film.
Webcomic strips, especially standalone installments, are no different. In six panels, I need to put together a narrative with a clear, beginning, middle, and end. There isn’t room for a slow-paced, intricate plot. On a weekly basis, I aim to capture brief moments grounded in either human truth, emotion, or entertainment.
Adland is the best at moments. These can range from warm and fuzzy to dark and depressing. Sometimes the story is driven by visuals with minimal voiceovers and dialogue. Sometimes the pay-off is centered around a joke. Sometimes there’s a profound statement or open-ended question that leaves the audience contemplating.
Most recently, a production company partner sent over some shooting boards to my agency for a campaign. The script was broken up alongside drawings of the shot list. I remember thinking, “Wow, I’m reading a comic!” It’s not surprising my mind went there. Video ads and webcomics share the same cinematic language.
Lesson Two: The Value of Graphic Design
There’s a genre of webcomics known as sprite comics. No, not the soft drink. Sprite comics are webcomics that pull art files, aka sprites, from video games. Pokémon is one of the most popular. Unfortunately, sprite comics receive a bad reputation. To be fair, the hate isn’t completely unearned. The aesthetic and writing are often… let’s say, unimaginative.
Emojis may not be sprites, but they fall under a similar family. They’re finalized static animations with an established fanbase. I’m not a professional cartoonist. The appeal of running my webcomic is that someone with my skill set can just toss in a few Twemojis and speech bubbles, call it a day. There’s no fun in doing the bare minimum though. To make my compositions more dynamic, I turned toward digital display banners and social media posts for inspiration. The takeaway? Graphic design helps add much needed flair. I began playing around with Adobe Photoshop and looking at YouTube tutorials, refining my craft and toolbox. Lights and shadows. Depth of field. Perspective. The deep dive gave me a better appreciation and understanding of art directors and designers.
Beyond its open source status, another reason I love Twemojis is that the visual style is flat and minimalist. This allows me to easily customize the shapes, sizes, and colors. It partially reminds me of the “blanding” phenomenon, simplifying content to increase accessibility across all devices and channels.
Just because I don’t have to build the assets from scratch, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t push myself. Innovation happens within parameters, and a little graphic design has the power to elevate any material. As the cliché goes, “Make It Pop”.
Lesson Three: Social-First Approach
Social media efforts, especially organic, are a rite of passage for Account Executives. Don’t be fooled. Although the deliverables are straight-forward, the strategies are ever-evolving. I base my webcomic’s online presence on guidelines that I’ve had the chance to practice.
For brand consistency, I try to follow a regular uploading cadence as well as use trending and ownable hashtags. Different platforms also have different specifications. My webcomic lives across picture-focused websites and apps, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, DeviantArt, and Behance. The releases are tailored to meet whichever viable aspect ratios and dimensions, such as horizontal or square.
Instagram, my favorite, requires the most attention to detail. I made the conscious decision to format each installment’s panels as six-image carousel posts and archive the whole series on Story Highlights. Keeping memory structure under consideration, I embraced the title cards of my strips as the first images of the carousel posts. That way, the grid view gives off the feel of a crayon box.
Thankfully for me, Instagram has carried out measures to restore balance on the video versus photo algorithms.
Advertising, I Owe You One
Advertising and webcomics are both crowded landscapes. The former taught me the importance of short-form storytelling, graphic design, and a social-first approach. A mastery of these three elements is key to standing out.
As I continue my growth in ad agencies, “Emoji Palooza” can only benefit and improve.
The most appropriate way to express gratitude would be with an emoji. However, since there isn’t a comic book emoji (at least not yet anyway), I’ll just settle for: