Well, I thought that I’d talk about pacing and editing in shorter comics today. This is mostly because, after a sudden moment of inspiration, I ended up making a one-page videogame parody comic that I’ll possibly be posting here in November. Although I felt really impressed with it in the moments after I finished it, I suddenly realised that something was slightly “off” with it a day later.
The main problem was with the pacing. A “cutaway” panel that was meant to give the reader a better idea of what was happening in the background of the comic ended up breaking up a conversation between the two main characters. In the end, I had to remove this panel in order to make the comic flow better.
Although this edit probably wasn’t perfect, it at least meant that it was a lot easier for the reader to tell what is happening. Without the “cutaway” panel in the middle, the conversation between the two characters flowed a lot more naturally. The removed panel was also superfluous because the background details in the two panels beside it already imply everything that happens in it.
The main theme here is focus and pacing. Whilst some longer comics can use more complex pacing, extensive dialogue, high levels of background detail etc… to absolutely amazing effect, this often doesn’t work well in shorter comics. In shorter comics, simplicity and clarity matter a lot more than you might think.
If you are making a shorter comic, then every panel is important. Every word of dialogue is important. Every background detail is important. Your reader might not know the characters or the premise and it is up to you to establish all of these things and tell a short story or joke within a small number of panels. As such, you need to make sure that your comic is laser-focused on the main story that you are trying tell and that everything the reader notices during a first reading is important.
And, yes, the first reading matters the most. When someone reads a short comic for the first time, they will usually just skim-read it fairly quickly. As such, the main “point” of your comic needs to stand out and be instantly understandable. Yes, you can add interesting background details that the reader might notice upon a second reading but – with a short comic – you need to make something that is easily understandable in 5-10 seconds of reading time.
After all, if your short comic doesn’t interest, impress or amuse your readers within that 5-10 second window, then there’s much less of a chance that they’ll return to it for a longer, closer reading.
On a side note, this is one reason why traditional daily three-panel comics in newspapers often have very little in the way of background detail and will often follow a similar joke-like structure. Yes, the lack of detail means that they are quicker to make and the pre-made structure probably also makes them easier to write, but the main creative reasons for this style have to do with the fact that they are usually only designed for one quick reading. Whilst this format has got fairly stale over the years, it can at least provide some useful lessons on how to initially get a reader’s attention.
The trick here is to see your short comic as a whole. To try to see it in the same way that a reader will. To take a quick ten-second glance at it and see if it still makes sense or flows well. If it doesn’t, then try to look for unnecessary things that can be digitally or manually removed. Everything that remains in your comic should be too important to the whole comic to be removed.
You also need to have a basic understanding of some of the “rules” of comics. For example, speech bubbles are read from top to bottom. So, the first thing that is said should always be closest to the top of the panel, the second thing that is said should be below it, the third thing… well, I’m sure you get the idea. Likewise, handwritten dialogue in comics should always be in capital letters in order to make it easily-readable. These kinds of basic things make your comic a bit more “user friendly” and mean that your reader doesn’t have to slow down to work out what is going on.
Of course, the best way to avoid having to trim things that you’ve put time and effort into is to carefully plan your comic before you make it. It is a lot easier to trim things (and cover up the edits) during the sketching and planning stage than it is after you’ve made the comic.
For example, after making the edit I described at the beginning of the article, one of the remaining panels looked too narrow. You can only see half of one of the characters. This is because, when I originally made this panel, I had to cram it onto the end of a row of three panels. Space was at a premium. However, as soon as I removed the panel beside it, the panel became too thin for the remaining space. As you can probably guess, I really didn’t put enough time and effort into planning that comic (it was sort of a “spur of the moment” thing).
If I’d spent a bit more time planning, I would have not only saved myself the time and effort needed to draw the removed panel but I’d have also been able to easily and seamlessly expand the remaining panels too. So, yes, editing works best when it happens during the planning stage!
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂