Well, when I was making part of a webcomic mini series that will begin in early November I had a rather surprising experience. The comic update that I made ended up actually being pessimistic, rather than just cynical.
It was a comic that was prompted by a run of bad news earlier in the year (eg: the ridiculous number of celebrity deaths earlier this year). For a short while, I thought that 2016 was an absolutely terrible year, and then I realised that there have probably been many other years throughout history where people have had this exact thought. So, I made a webcomic update about this.
But, with all of the heavy subjects in the webcomic update (death, terrorism, accidents, world wars etc…), when it came to making the final panel, the joke I’d originally planned to add just seemed inappropriately light in tone. So, I ended the comic in a slightly more “serious” and “ambiguous” way. It was then that I realised that my comic had crossed the line from cynicism to pessimism.
Yet, I’m probably still going to publish it here in early-mid November. This is mainly because although the comic is pessimistic, I’ve probably managed to stop it from crossing the line from “pessimistic” to “depressing”. But, how did I do this and how can you do this? Here are a few things that might come in handy:
1) Lavish artwork: Although the content of your webcomic update might be dark and pessimistic, one way to make this more palatable to your readers is to put some extra effort and/or detail into the artwork.
Not only does lavish artwork contrast well with the message of your comic, but it provides something to intrigue the reader and make them more likely to look at your comic closely. A great example of this can be found in some of the more pessimistic instalments of Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality“.
In my own upcoming webcomic update, each panel of the comic takes place in a different decade. Not only did this give me a chance to include lots of stylised historical backgrounds and historical clothing, but it also meant that I could show the passage of time through all sorts of subtle background details (eg: the level of technology that the characters are using etc..).
2) Have a reason: Pessimism just for the sake of pessimism can easily cross the line into bleakness and depression. So, make sure that there’s a good reason why your comic is pessimistic. In other words, you need to use pessimism in order to make some kind of political, social or philosophical argument that will actually make your readers think.
Even if the meaning of your comic is left slightly ambiguous, it needs to be something that will provoke thought in the reader. Merely telling the reader that “everything is crap and that there’s nothing but doom and misery in the future” won’t make them think much. However, doing things like showing trends throughout history, presenting an issue from a different perspective etc… will make them think.
They might agree with your arguments or they might not, but the fact that they have been invited to think about a subject and consider their own opinions will make them feel less powerless in the face of a pessimistic thought or idea. This helps you to avoid accidentally making a depressing comic, rather than a pessimistic one.
3) Hide some optimism in your comic: This one is a bit tricky to do, but it’s absolutely amazing if you manage to do it. Basically, although the main message of your comic may be pessimistic, there should probably be subtle hints of optimism hidden in the comic to leaven the pessimism. This can be as simple as a slightly amusing background detail, a heartwarming moment, a cheerful comment or possibly something even more subtle.
For example, in my historical comic, some of the worries of the past (eg: nuclear war with Russia etc..) have thankfully not come to fruition. The fact that the world has continued to keep turning means that perhaps life isn’t as bleak as the characters think. Even topics from the past that are still relevant today (eg: terrorism) are things that the world has survived before.
There’s also a certain level of dramatic irony/ dark comedy hidden in the comic. One panel shows a character earnestly claiming that a particular year is “the worst”.. two years before World War Two begins. Although this wasn’t originally intended to be humourous, it at least underscores the fact that it’s difficult to recognise how good or bad a year is unless you look at it in it’s larger historical context.
Likewise, when I was researching this comic, I found that at least one of the time periods I’d included in the comic wasn’t actually as bad as I had thought it was. I actually had a very slightly difficult time finding bad news from that particular year. This made me think that maybe misery and gloom isn’t always an annual constant throughout history.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂