If you’ve been reading a comic (or even watching a TV show) for a while, it can be somewhat disconcerting when the emotional tone changes in some way. This is something that I’d tried to avoid in my own comics, but it happened with some of the webcomic updates I plan to post here this month and early next month.
Yes, they’re still very much comedy comics, but the humour is a lot darker and somewhat more cynical than before. This actually caught me by surprise, since it happened gradually over the course of the 30 comic updates (spread over three mini series) that I’ll be posting.
So, why do tone shifts happen in comics? Here are a few possible reasons:
1) Something else has changed: Making a comics series is a bit like time travel. If you change something, then it’s going to have knock-on effects on other things too.
For example, if you change the format or the setting slightly, then this is going to have an effect on the type of stories and/or jokes you can tell. This, in turn, will have an effect on the emotional tone of the comic.
For example, the four-panel comics that I’d been making last year were 100% self-contained comics set in the present day. This format is perfect for light-hearted comedy and/or mildly cynical humour.
However, when I was making the three webcomic mini series that I’ll be posting in the near future, they not only ended up all revolving around the theme of time travel, but they also ended up having something of a continuous storyline too (although hopefully most of the updates can be read on their own).
Because I now had the option to include slightly more complex storytelling and because I could use both historical and futuristic settings for inspiration, this had an effect on the types of humour I could use. Since my sense of humour is at least slightly dark and cynical anyway, this allowed it to flourish in a way that surprised even me.
So, yes, if something else about a comic changes, then this can affect the emotional tone of the comic.
2) Context: As regular readers of this site probably know, I tend to make comic updates ridiculously far in advance of publication. As such, I started the first of these three upcoming comic series literally the day before the results of the UK’s EU membership referendum was announced in June.
When I heard the news, I was in shock. I felt angry, disappointed, betrayed, extremely miserable and fearful about the future. I needed something to distract myself from this apocalyptic mood!
Luckily, I had a comedic comics project on the go! I needed something to lighten the mood, after all. But, given that I was extremely worried about our future outside the EU at the time- the humour ended up being significantly darker and more cynical.
Making these comics – especially the third mini series- was extremely cathartic and it helped me to work out some of my stresses about the EU referendum in a constructive way. This was especially important since, in the days afterwards, I couldn’t bring myself to write or make art about it directly.
So, yes, real life context can have an effect on the emotional tone of a comic. This can sometimes (but not always!) explain seemingly random tone shifts, since if something stressful has happened in a comic creator’s life, they may well not feel like talking about it. Changing the tone of the comic might be their way to deal with any emotional stresses. So, yes, this is one possible reason for sudden emotional tone shifts.
3) Inspirations: Following on from the first point on this list, if the inspirations behind a comic have changed – then this may cause the emotional tone to change too.
When I was making my three time travel-themed webcomic mini series, each one had different inspirations. Most of these inspirations were “serious” things, which meant that any humour I derived from them was going to be slightly darker in tone.
For example, the sci-fi mini series that will be starting in a couple of days’ time was inspired by “serious” films, novels and computer games like “Blade Runner“, “Deus Ex“, “Neuromancer” etc.. This affected the type of humour that I could use in the comic.
So, yes, if the inspirations behind something change, then the emotional tone will probably change slightly too.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂