Four Fiendish Tips For Writing Dark Comedy In Webcomics (Plus, A Comic Preview)

2017 Artwork Dark Comedy In Webcomics article sketch

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making a follow-up to the sci-fi comedy webcomic mini series that will appear here in early-mid February.

Anyway, when starting this new mini series (which will appear here in mid-late February and will be about time travel and the middle ages) I suddenly realised that it would probably contain a lot more dark comedy than I had expected.

In the unlikely event that you don’t know the difference between “regular” comedy and dark comedy, dark comedy refers to humour about more macabre subjects. It’s the sort of thing that walks a fine line between hilarious and horrifying. If done right, it can be one of the funniest types of comedy in existence!

So, for today, I thought that I’d give you a few quick tips for adding dark comedy to your webcomic:

1) Implication: Like how horrifying things are often scarier in horror movies if they aren’t seen, horrific events in dark comedy comics are often significantly funnier when shown through implication. In other words, show a few of the after-effects of any horrific event, rather than the horrific event itself.

Although there are occasionally exceptions to this rule, not actually showing a horrific event in your dark comedy comic slightly lessens the “horrific” aspects of this event (in the opposite way to how this works in the horror genre) and also places more emphasis on your characters’ reactions, suspicions etc.. which are an essential part of turning a horrific scene into a hilarious scene.

Likewise, one easy way to add dark comedy to your comic is to make it abundantly obvious that a character has done something evil (eg: through background details, strong hints, questions from other characters etc…), but to have the character feign innocence.

2) Character reactions: One of the main differences between horror and dark comedy is to do with how the characters react to “tragic” or “horrific” subjects.

In horror, the characters will often react with.. well.. horror. In dark comedy, they will often react in all sorts of hilariously inappropriate ways. Like in this preview of a scene from the time travel-themed webcomic mini series I mentioned earlier:

Here's a preview of the comic mini series that will appear here in mid-late February.

Here’s a preview of the comic mini series that will appear here in mid-late February.

Usually, this involves a character treating a “serious” subject in a slightly less serious way. For example, the comic preview above includes a horrific situation (eg: a medieval execution), but it is transformed into dark comedy because the characters are chatting about it casually. Plus, of course, there’s also the ironic fact that the man who is about to be executed is actually the castle’s executioner.

If you show your characters reacting to “serious” events or terrible situations in a less than serious way, then this can often add dark comedy to your comic.

3) Villainy!: This might just be a British thing, but there is nothing funnier than a character who not only acts like a complete and utter bastard, but who does this in a gleeful (and mildly surreptitious) way. However, it is important to note that these characters are only usually funny when they rely on Machiavellian cunning, duplicity and/or utter stupidity in order to achieve their nefarious goals.

Seriously, there are numerous examples of this type of “anti-hero” character in classic 1980s/90s British sitcoms. The two best examples are probably the one and only “Blackadder” (especially in series two) or possibly Alan B’Stard from “The New Statesman“.

Whether these characters succeed or fail in their plots and scenes doesn’t really matter that much, although it is often funnier if they succeed because it subverts the whole “the good guys always win” trope which is more common in traditional ‘serious’ stories.

4) Unforeseen consequences: This is one of those things that can easily turn into actual horror if you aren’t careful, but showing an action having horrible unforeseen consequences is a classic trope used in dark comedy.

The trick here is to make the unforeseen consequences at least slightly obvious to the reader before they happen, whilst slightly exaggerating the fact that the characters are unaware of this. This lessens the “shock value” for the reader, whilst also allowing you to place more emphasis on your characters (hilariously inappropriate) reactions to the unforeseen consequences.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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