I don’t know if I’ve talked about this subject before or not, but I thought that I’d take a very quick look at how comic length can affect the characterisation in your comic.
The evening before I originally wrote this article, I decided to briefly revive my old “Damania” webcomic series yet again (here’s the finished mini series). However, instead of transforming it into slightly longer narrative comics (as I did here and here), I decided to experiment with something similar to the original 3-5 panel “newspaper comic strip” format that I used when I originally started this comic.
My new comics look a bit like this:
One of the most striking differences that I noticed was that all of the new character development I’d added in my longer comics pretty much fell away instantly and the characters were pretty much back to who they were in 2013. And I think that I know why this happened.
When you’re making shorter stand-alone comics, there isn’t really a huge amount of room for character development. All of your characters have to have distinctive personalities which you can get across to the reader very quickly since there’s a very good chance that this may be the first comic in your series that a potential reader might read.
As such, any characterisation in “newspaper comic strip”-style comics has to be familiar enough for long-term readers but also simple and distinctive enough for new readers to understand pretty much instantly.
This usually means that you’ll either have to rely heavily on characterisation from previous comics (and unless you can find a quick way to re-cap this in each comic, you’ll alienate new readers) or you’ll have to simplify your characters slightly.
As an example, look at this comic that features two of the series’ four main characters (Harvey and Rox):
In this comic – the only major characterisation that occurs in the focus on how obsessed Harvey is with detective work (and Sherlock Holmes). Yes, Rox is shown to be a slightly cynical character too but, in both chases, these elements of the characters’ personalities are exaggerated and emphasised a lot more than they would be in a longer comic. There isn’t really a huge amount of room for nuance in just four panels.
Not only that, since you only have 3-5 panels to work with, you also have to fit a joke into your comic as well – and, in short comics, humour usually takes precedence over characterisation. As such, your characters often either have to have slightly contrasting personalities (since this can be the source of a lot of humour) or they need to be slightly generic (if you want to emphasise the events of the comic instead of the characters).
I don’t know, before I started this short comic series, I never quite realised all of the limitations of the 3-5 panel comic format.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂