What Can Music Videos Teach Us About Making Comics? (With Examples)

2013 Artwork Music Video Comics Sketch

No, this isn’t a moralistic lecture about modern music videos, it’s an article about making comics. Anyway, in my very cynical opinion, most of the music videos which people in the press love to complain about so much aren’t even music videos. For starters, a music video requires actual music…..

Take that, modern culture! (No pun or musical reference intended).

But, cynicism aside, well-made and imaginative music videos can be surprisingly useful things to watch if you are planning on making a comic. However, music videos which feature nothing but musicians playing instruments, live concert footage and/or five minutes of gyrating dancers probably won’t be that useful to you. But, other than this, music videos can be very useful for people who are new to making comics.

Why?

For the simple reason that a good music video has to tell a story, using only pictures, in a very short space of time. A well-made music video is the perfect example of compact storytelling. Although short films are pretty much the preserve of expensive DVDs and art-house cinemas, you can usually find numerous short films on TV and on Youtube. They just happen to be set to music.

But this isn’t an article about film-making, it’s an article about comics. But, like films, comics rely on pictures to tell a story. Yes, comics can include a lot of dialogue and text, but you shouldn’t ignore the pictures when it comes to storytelling.

I have an absolutely terrible habit of doing this in my comics (mostly for time reasons) and I’ve made more than a few comic pages where the pictures are just a backdrop for the dialogue. While this is sometimes ok, the pictures in your comics should tell part of the story. After all, as the old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

Not only that, you probably won’t have that many pictures available in a comic – so every one of them has to matter.

Watching music videos carefully can help you to work out how to do this because, since music video directors only have a short time to tell a story, every scene matters. Or it should matter – most music videos usually contain at least one or two “filler” scenes of the musician performing.

You’ve probably seen quite a few music videos already, but in the event that you haven’t – here are some examples of well-made music videos from a variety of genres and the stories that they tell.

Try watching these with the sound muted and you’ll probably understand what I mean when I say that music videos are the perfect example of how to tell a story with only a relatively small number of images.

I should warn you that at least a couple of these videos may contain annoying censorship, scantily-clad women, disturbing images and/or mature subject matter (in other words, some of them are probably NSFW). I’ll also only link to official videos/Youtube channels, so there’s less chance of the links in this article going dead in a couple of years’ time.

If any of the official Youtube channels are stupid enough to impose geographical restrictions, most of these videos have probably been unofficially re-posted numerous times already anyway. Plus, my descriptions of each video obviously contain SPOILERS too.

“Carribbean Blue” by Enya – Using live-action footage and rotoscoped animation, this music video tells the story of a young boy who reads several old illustrated books and starts daydreaming about what it would be like to explore the fantastical worlds that he’s seen in the books.

In many ways, this music video resembles something from a Neil Gaiman comic and it is probably one of the most imaginative and artistic music videos that I’ve seen. In less than four minutes, this video tells a powerful story about imagination and the value of art.

Bablyon A.D.” by Cradle Of Filth – This music video is basically a short horror movie about a cleaner in a building (possibly a village hall) who discovers an abandoned video camera.

Out of curiosity, she decides to watch the footage and, to her horror, discovers that it shows secretly recorded-footage of some rather surreal, disturbing and dehumanising events that take place in a village hall. Not only that, about five minutes into the video, she is shocked to see herself in the footage, despite having no memory of it….

“Original Prankster” by The Offspring – The video for this song is about the life history of a notorious prankster, who seems to be inspired and encouraged by a mysterious man who appears and gives him ideas for pranks. In just a few short scenes (with a lot of dancing and singing in between them), we see pivotal moments in this man’s life and get a sense of who he is and what his personality is like.

“Uprising” By Sabaton – This music video is basically a short historical drama film about the Warsaw Uprising during World War Two. Featuring both historical footage and short dramatised scenes, this music video has a very cinematic look to it and, within five minutes, not only does it give the viewer a good impression of one of the key moments of Polish history during WW2, it even manages to include multiple storylines and characterisation too. In short, it is the perfect example of how to tell a story and develop characters with short sequences of images.

“Written In The Stars” by Tinie Tempah (ft. Eric Turner) – Although most of the storytelling in this song about Tinie Temaph’s childhood aspirations is done through the lyrics, the video supports these lyrics surprisingly well by contrasting a few subtly dramatic scenes from Tinie’s earlier life as a bullied child who lives in a council flat with footage of Tinie as a successful (and famous) adult.

“From Here To Eternity” by Iron Maiden – In less than four minutes, this video tells the story of a woman called Charlotte (she turns up in a couple of Iron Maiden’s songs) who falls in love with a biker, who turns out to be a demon of some kind.

However, whilst riding with him, they get into an accident and she joins him in hell. But, before you think that this is some kind of moralistic religious video – she actually finds that she enjoys being in hell and ends up marrying the demon.

Pretty much anything by Amanda Palmer – Ok, it’s hard to choose just one Amanda Palmer video, but most of her music videos (except possibly “Map Of Tasmania”) usually either tell a story of some kind or other (although some of these stories can be fairly disturbing…).

Palmer’s video for “The Killing Type” (I won’t link to it here, but it can be found on Youtube) also provides a perfect example of visual foreshadowing too, since she’s singing this rather creepy song about death and murder in an absolutely pristine white room (where everyone is wearing white too). Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that everything isn’t going to stay pristine by the end of the video….

“Take On Me” by A-ha – Well, I couldn’t not include this video, seeing as this is an article about comics. In just under four minutes, this music video tells the story of a woman in a cafe who falls in love with a man in a comic book. He pulls her into the comic book , but they are chased by wrench-wielding motorcyclists and he sacrifices himself in order to let her escape the comic. Once she gets home, she reads the comic in grim anticipation of what has happened to him, only to find that he has found a way to emerge from the comic and become a real person.

“You’ve Been GOTH BLOCKED” by Stevie Ryan – This is a comedic song about a pair of goths who always seem to appear at the most inconvenient moments. Although the lyrics are absolutely hilarious, you can still get a very good sense of what happens in the song if you watch the video with the sound muted.

———

Anyway, I hope that this article has been useful (or at least interesting) 🙂

One comment on “What Can Music Videos Teach Us About Making Comics? (With Examples)

  1. […] Rebuttal To Charles Thomson’s ‘The Art That Damien Hirst Stole’“ – ” What Can Music Videos Teach Us About Making Comics (With Examples)“ – “My Thoughts On Co-Writing“ – “One Essential Ingredient For Writing A […]

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