Four Very Basic Tips For Adding Foreshadowing To Detective Comics

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making a comedic detective-themed webcomic mini series that will appear here later this month. Here’s a preview of one panel from it:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st July. The mini series starts on the 20th.

Although the comic isn’t really a “serious” detective story, I thought that I’d talk about how to add “clues” to your detective comic. After all, one of the basic features of the detective genre is that there should be at least a couple of small hints about who did it before the criminal’s identity is revealed. This technically gives the audience a chance to solve the case before the detective does. But, when done well, these clues are often only really noticed on a second reading.

So, how do you foreshadow the ending of your detective comic? Here are four very basic tips:

1) Plan it first: This is obvious, but be sure to plan out the entire story before you start making the comic. The main reason for this is that, if you know how the story will end, then you can go back and add a few subtle clues to your comic plan before you start making any comics.

For example, after planning out the ending of my upcoming webcomic mini series, I suddenly realised that I could add a clue to an early part of the comic purely by changing one tiny visual detail. This was the sort of thing that probably won’t be noticeable until you know how the comic ends, but it seemed like a cool little detail.

So, yes, if you plan your comic first, then it’s a lot easier to add subtle foreshadowing to your comic.

2) Think procedurally: Simply put, the easiest way to add subtle clues to your detective comic is simply to think about the events of your story in practical terms.

Think about what would have changed about either the criminal or the surrounding area after the crime had been committed, but before the detective discovers the culprit. Then just subtly show this without giving an explanation (until later in the comic).

A good way to learn how to come up with things like this is to read some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. Since these stories focus a lot on physical evidence and logical deductions, reading a few of them will make you think about the subtle knock-on effects of any actions that the criminal characters have taken.

3) Red herrings: Red herrings are “clues” that are either totally unrelated to the case or which have some other innocent explanation.

Often, the best way to hide a real clue is amongst several false ones – the real clue is technically still there, but it is up to the reader to work out which clues are real and which ones aren’t. And, since they’re still learning about the events of the story, this reduces the chances of the reader guessing the solution before the story finishes.

So, just add a few subtle visual details which look like they could be clues – but which are actually just random background details, easter eggs etc… This will distract the readers from the actual clues that you’ve also added.

4) Background details: One of the great things about comics being a visual medium is that it’s a lot easier to hide stuff in the background. Because comics tend to be read quickly on a first reading and because your audience’s attention will probably be focused on either the dialogue and/or the events of the story, this means that it’s very easy to hide subtle visual clues in the background that will only be noticed when your comic is re-read slightly more slowly.

In other words, be sure to use misdirection. If something dramatic, funny or interesting is happening in one panel of your comic – then this is the perfect place to hide a subtle clue in the background. After all, your audience will be too busy reading the dialogue, laughing at the joke and/or wanting to know what happens next to really pay attention to small background details.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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