REMEMBER–THIS IS COMICS. NOT TV OR FILM.


Last week, I was having dinner with a friend and she confessed to me that reading certain comic books felt like popping vitamins.  What a clever metaphor!

 

 

There is nothing that really holds her interest in certain titles yet she keeps purchasing these comics because these titles are in her buy pile.  Similar to how people pop vitamins in the hopes that they will magically be healthier.

My friend LOVES comics and so hearing this was a bit of a shock to me.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am VERY selective of my monthly reads.  I don’t believe in “popping vitamins”.  If a comic sucks, I’m dropping that shit like a bad habit.  I don’t have time to wait for things to get better.  It’s either good now or it flat out sucks.  Plain and simple.

Now we all know that no one has the intention of making bad comics.  In fact, creators always find ways to add personal touches or signatures if you will, to make their comics stand out in the world.

But that isn’t how you make good comics.  You make good comics by focusing on one thing and one thing only–STORY.   Why?  Because everything serves it.  The characters, the environment, the plot, the ending and especially your creative team!  Even retailers must serve your story!  After all, if they don’t know what your book is about, how the hell are they gonna sell it?!

Everyone involved in the production and sales of any piece of media are servants to STORYNot to art.  To story.  Jack Kirby was a storyteller before he was an artist.  Read any of his work and you can see things unfolding sequentially.  Like a film.

But comics are not film and they are not TV.  They are comics.  Today I want to talk a little bit about the do’s and do not’s of comics.  And please keep in mind that prior to learning these lessons that I am now happy to pass onto you, I was guilty of making each and every one of the mistakes enclosed below.

 

1.)  NEEDLESS BREAK-UPS IN DIALOGUE

Unless it serves the story, there is no point in having needless break-ups in dialogue while you’re telling a story.  Case in point.  Let’s say you have two characters discussing how to kill vampires at a Chilis Restaurant and while they are there, you have your two characters order some Awesome Blossom onion rings and Chili’s signature Baby Back Ribs.  MMMMMM MMMMM.

So, your two main characters are sitting at the table in Panel 1 discussing how to kill vampires and BOOM!  In the next panel, you have their waitress not only bring their food, but then she senselessly interrupts the conversation that your two characters are having about vampire killing by having a line of dialogue that says, “Your food is here.”  After that, the waitress disappears, never to be seen or heard from again.  I’ve seen this done a million times!

Why not just have the food already sitting on the table?  Why waste an extra panel and a word balloon to have a waitress break up the conversation and distract your audience by saying NOTHING that advances the story?!!!

This can work in film and TV but not in comics, UNLESS it serves the story.  There would have to be something very particular about this food order, like for example, the Baby Back Ribs were poisoned by the waitress.  Now you’ve added some suspense and are serving your story because you put your two main characters in danger.  Make sense?

Remember, although you see your comic playing out in your head as a big budget film, the reality of it is that it’s just ink on paper.  There are no special effects, there is no music and there are no voice actors.  Be thankful that you have the option to release your comic in color.

This is why comic creating requires you to make a special effort to keep everything as clear and concise as possible from beginning to end.  Doing otherwise will only confuse and needlessly aggravate your readers.  Assuming that they are paying attention to your book and not just reading it so that they can push through their buy pile.  We’ve all done that before.  Don’t think your readers won’t do the same if they are lost in your story.

Remember, this is comics.  Not TV or film. 

 

2.) ANY AMOUNT OF TIME CAN PASS BETWEEN TWO PANELS

This is very obvious information.  Scott McCloud has a WHOLE section about this in his book called UNDERSTANDING COMICS.  If you haven’t read it yet, go out and buy that book NOW!  Stop reading this blog and buy that book!  I don’t care if you’re a writer, artist, letterer or an up and coming publisher, read that book if you’re serious about learning how to make comics professionally!

If you have read UNDERSTANDING COMICS and are still reading this blog, then go back and re-read that section of the book–Chapter 4, Page 94-TIME FRAMES.

Any amount of time can pass between two panels.  One second, one minute, one hour, one year, one decade, etc. etc.  Don’t feel like you need to explain every time jump either.  Just make it clear to your reader that time has passed (if it makes sense) and go on with the story.

Remember, this is comics.  Not TV or film. 

 

3.)  WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT

This is a quote I take from my gracious editor and co-writer from YI SOON SHIN, David Anthony Kraft.  Whenever something does not serve our story, DAK dresses up like Moses, carries a heavy stone plaque and then slams it with sheer force and shouts mightily into the heavens, “WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!”

Here’s an example.  In Issue #3 of YI SOON SHIN: WARRIOR AND DEFENDER, we were originally going to have one of the three admirals, Lee Okki, make his dramatic entrance in that issue because technically, that was the battle where he joined up with Yi Soon Shin.

But having him come in that issue took attention away from the story that we needed to tell.  The story is what keeps our readers engaged.  So we threw Lee Okki’s ass out of the picture.  Bye bye!

Not completely of course.  We just re-inserted him where HE, as a character, could better serve the story.  We moved him to Issue #4.  Throwing something out doesn’t always pertain to abandoning the idea.  Feel free to move shit around and put it before or after.

Do whatever you need to do to advance the story but remember to make it clear and concise no matter what you do.  The best part about being in doubt and throwing it out is that it’s much easier to do this in comics than it is in any other form of media.  Just do it right.

Remember, this is comics.  Not TV or film. 

 

4.)  FRONT COVER BACKS

You’ve all heard of this trend where movie posters show the main protagonist or antagonist with their back to the viewer, right?  If not, here is what I’m talking about.

Honestly, I don’t know why this suddenly started being cool but in the cases of these particular movies what I can say is that the character with their back to us is NOT where our attention should be.

Our attention should be on the cool effects in the background, or on something that the character is holding in the foreground (for example the gun in the UNFORGIVEN poster).  Otherwise its just a figure with their back to us for no good reason other than feebly attempting to look anonymous which is so overdone that no one gives a crap anymore (ala the V FOR VENDETTA poster).

In the case of comic book covers, this is a HUGE no-no and yet creators continue to do this and readers continue to not take their work seriously!  There is nothing compelling about a main character’s back facing your readers on the front cover of your book.  It’s not cool.  It’s not edgy.  It’s lame.

Let me explain why.

First off, unless you are working on a mainstream comic, nobody knows or cares about your main character.   Mainstream comic creators have more leeway.  You, as an independent creator, do not.  It doesn’t matter how cool your characters are.  We need to see them facing us before they are established.  Let me show you what the Issue #4 cover to YI SOON SHIN almost looked like;

Is this a nice piece of art by YI SOON SHIN artist Giovanni Timpano?  You bet your ass it is!  As always, Gio’s attention to detail is exquisite and a true pleasure for the eyes.  But as a cover this piece of art does not serve the story NEARLY as well as what Gio proposed when we decided to redo this cover.  Nice work Gio!

It’s quite simple.  Can you imagine if Jack Kirby had drawn ALL of the Avengers with their backs to us on the cover of AVENGERS #4?  Or if Steve Ditko drew Spidey with his back to us on the cover of AMAZING FANTASTY #15?  Exactly.

Once you establish your characters, you can show them with their backs to the reader.  Here’s an example of where something like that can actually work in comics;

The Vulture’s back and his back is to us.  It’s fucking brilliant!  But notice how the issue number is 48 and not 1.  Once you get 48 issues of your comic out, do whatever the hell you want so long as people are still buying it!

Also, notice Spidey’s pose and reaction. He is responding to the threat of the Vulture and because his costume has such vibrant colors, he’s not undermined here either.  Right after seeing the Vulture, your eyes lead you right to Spidey who is facing us because…its still HIS damn book!

And yet another very cool thing about this cover is the perspective.  Notice how large the Vulture is compared to Spidey, who is much smaller.  Thus escalating the threat of the vile villain.  This is a magnificent piece of art.

Remember, this is comics.  Not TV or film. 

 

5.)  SUPERBOY ROBOT CHARACTERS

This is another term classically coined by the brilliant DAK.

What is the one thing that is just as important as story?  You guessed it, character!  I saved the best for last because this is the one thing that I think is most important.

We all know and love our main protagonists and antagonists.  But what about the third party characters?  The supporting cast are just as important to serving the story as your main characters.

If they are meaningless Superboy Robots, your story will be BORING!

Give your cast a reason for existing by giving your audience a reason to relate to them.  Just look at all the things that BATMAN comics have done over the years to develop its supporting cast members.  Commissioner Gordon, Robin, Nightwing, etc, etc.  Notice how they all have….STORIES!

Concept is concept.  Its not story and its not character.  Just because you have a concept for a character such as a “Batman type hero”, doesn’t mean the audience is going to care.  Batman already exists.

Why does the world need YOUR version of Batman?  That’s something that only you can figure out as a creator and its up to you to flesh it out and make your character human and not a mindless Superboy Robot.  Make sense?

Remember, this is comics.  Not TV or film. 

 

Just because your comic doesn’t have a high budget, a big name publisher, or even a big name talent behind it, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for readers.  All that stuff is bull shit anyway.  A name is a name.  It’s the work that sells, then the name.  Remember that people ALWAYS judge a book by its cover.  Especially in comics!  Your name means nothing.  If you are taken off of SPIDER-MAN and someone else is put on SPIDER-MAN in place of you, people will still buy SPIDER-MAN.

Always look at work through your reader’s eyes and ask yourself if what you’re doing is going to be engaging and exciting for them.

Don’t give your readers vitamins, give them a GOD DAMN BOOSTER!  Red Bull the shit out of them all!

TO VICTORY!

Onrie Kompan



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