Pacing And Editing In Shorter Comics – A Ramble

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!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (28th June 2020)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to make another parody cartoon, I ended up re-playing a few levels of “Duke Nukem 3D” during a spare moment and suddenly realised “That monster’s machine-gun arm must be ludicrously impractical in everyday life” and then the idea for this parody comic just kind of appeared.

Since this is a parody comic, it is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Fan Art – 90s Videogame Monsters In Everyday Life” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (23rd June 2020)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to make any more comics this month, this completely random idea for a “Harry Potter” parody cartoon (about the horror/gothic elements in the film adaptations) just suddenly appeared in my mind and it just seemed too funny not to make.

Since this is a parody/fan art, this comic is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Fan Art – Harry Potter Parody Cartoon” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (31st December 2019)

Happy New Year everyone 🙂 And, yes, I had a lot of fun making this comic too. For all of the literary historians among you, “The Maltese Falcon” was technically first published (albeit in a magazine) in the very late 1920s. Likewise, new readers of my comics might not know that Rox really does miss the other ’90s too. And, for long-time fans, here’s the “work in progress” line art for today’s comic.

Anyway, have a wonderful new year 🙂

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Happy New Year 2020” By C. A. Brown

Shock Value And Storytelling Mediums – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk about shock value and storytelling mediums today mostly because, early this year (I write these articles quite far in advance), I happened to read a few online articles about a controversial play in London which apparently made an audience member faint. This made me remember when I saw a “shocking” play quite a few years ago.

It was a recreation of several short late 19th/early 20th century Grand Guignol plays that was performed at the 2009 Abertoir film festival. Although it told the kind of melodramatic vintage horror stories that wouldn’t be that scary or shocking in most other mediums, it was about ten times more shocking for the simple reason that the play’s horrors actually appeared to take place in real life. So, this made me think about whether shock value works better in different mediums.

But, whilst mediums that place less distance between the audience and the story (eg: theatre, videogames etc..) can shock the audience slightly more easily than mediums where the audience feels slightly further away from what is happening (eg: film, comics, novels, music etc..), shock value can be achieved in every medium. However, I’d argue that shock value probably has more to do with both the audience and their expectations than the medium itself.

I mean, the Grand Guignol play was shocking for the simple reason that I’d never seen a play in the horror genre before. On the other hand, I’ve seen quite a few horror movies, played several horror computer/video games and read numerous horror novels etc.. so, these things have to be especially shocking in order to elicit this reaction in me. So, what your audience are used to plays quite a large role in how much shock value something has.

On a side note, this is also probably why Raven Gregory’s “Return To Wonderland” was such a shocking horror comic to read. Leaving aside the ultra-gruesome artwork and disturbing storyline, horror comics are nowhere near as common as they apparently were in the genre’s 1940s-50s heyday (before they got censored by the Comics Code and were replaced with superhero comics). So, when I happened to read this comic a decade or so ago, it was a genuine shock because I hadn’t really seen many horror comics – let alone more modern ones- before.

But, the best types of shock value play with audience expectations in interesting ways and this is something that can be done in pretty much any medium. Of course, there many ways to achieve this type of shock value – but the best of these involves leading the audience to expect something mildly “shocking” and then giving them something even more shocking. This works for the simple reason that it makes the audience feel like they are tough or unshockable, only to catch them by surprise later.

So, whilst some mediums have a slightly easier time achieving shock value than others, it can still be achieved in pretty much any medium since it has more to do with the audience than the medium itself.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

One Way To Improve The Filler Comics In Your Webcomic

Well, I thought that I’d talk quickly about filler comics today. This is mostly because, due to being busy with various things, this month’s webcomic mini series will very much fall into the category of “filler comics”.

In other words, like last August’s mini series, they will be single-panel monochrome comics. Here’s a preview of part of one of the upcoming filler comics:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st August.

Anyway, one way to improve any filler comics that you make is to turn them into a running joke and/or a semi-regular feature. Not only does this make coming up with ideas for filler comics considerably easier, but it also adds another “tradition” for long-term fans of your comics too.

For example, as I mentioned earlier, the mini series I’ll be posting here later this month uses a fairly similar minimalist art style to one that I posted last August. Not only are these comics quicker to plan and make, but the stylistic similarities with last August’s comics are very deliberate. By making the new mini series a “sequel” to the older filler comics, I’m able to provide a fun call-back for long-term fans of the series too. It’s also a way of poking fun at the concept of sequels too.

So, turning filler comics into a regular feature can be a way to add something extra to them. But, of course, you can be a lot more creative than this.

For example, a more creative way to come up with semi-regular filler comics would be to make short parody comics and/or parody illustrations of other things (eg: historical paintings, pop culture etc..) featuring the characters from your webcomic. Not only would these be quicker to plan and make make than larger multi-panel comics, they would also provide an extra source of humour for your audience whilst also making them wonder what you are going to parody next.

Although this isn’t something that I haven’t really done that much, it was something that I experimented with back in 2013, when I made a group of comics in the style of old syndicated newspaper comics (like “Garfield”, “Dilbert” etc..) which allowed me to parody this format of comics.

These old comics were also something of a precursor to the single-panel monochrome filler comics I’ve made in more recent years too. Here’s an example of one of the comics from 2013:

“Damania Lite – Novelty” By C. A. Brown [2013]

So, yes, if you want to make your filler comics more interesting, then don’t be afraid to turn them into a running joke or a semi-regular feature. Not only does this allow you to re-use ideas that you’ve already had (giving you more time to focus on art/writing), but it also adds a little bit of a “tradition” to your webcomic too.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

Books – A Comic by C. A. Brown

Well, it has been literally years since I made a comic-format blog article and, although this one ended up being a slightly introspective ramble about getting back into reading books about 8-9 months earlier (after not reading much for the 2-3 years before that), it was so much fun to make.

However, due to making these articles/comics quite far in advance, I made this comic several months before I ended up getting a more modern refurbished computer (so the cynical parts about system requirements etc.. are a bit out of date. Plus, expect modern “AA” indie game reviews to start appearing here occasionally from about November onwards 🙂 )

Enjoy 🙂

As usual, this comic is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Books – A Comic” By C. A. Brown

Editorial Cartoon: British Comedy

Well, I hadn’t planned to make an editorial cartoon today but, after watching the news earlier, I felt it only fitting to make a quick cartoon about the history of British comedy. After all, this is probably the only way to make sense of what has happened in politics today. Seriously, you couldn’t make it up!

Since this is a parody/satirical cartoon, it is NOT released under any kind of Creative Commons licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – British Comedy” By C. A. Brown

Three Random Tips For Creating Satirical Comics

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about the subject of satirical comics today, since they can be a bit of a challenge to make if you haven’t had that much practice making them. So, here are a few very basic tips:

1) Emotional distance and introspection: If something annoys you enough to make you want to make a satirical comic, it can be easy to let your emotions take control and produce a rather imprecise, angry, badly-written or impulsive piece of satire. Needless to say, this isn’t a good idea.

To make your satirical comics really work, you have to take a step back and work out exactly what annoyed you and, more importantly, why. Once you’ve worked out why something annoyed you, then take that reason and apply it to a sillier situation and/or take it to an amusingly absurd logical extreme. This is how good satire is made.

2) Err on the side of comedy: Yes, satire doesn’t always have to be funny to be effective. But, if (like me) you’re relatively new to making satirical comics, then it is always best to err on the side of comedy whenever possible. Simply put, if you can make yourself laugh, then you’ll probably be able to make other people laugh. And, well, comedic satire is usually more well-received than serious satire.

Plus, pushing yourself into including comedy in your satirical comic means that you can avoid the risk of turning your comic into an earnest political tract that will make people roll their eyes or just stop reading out of frustration. If you can make your audience laugh, then they’re less likely to ignore or furiously disagree with your comic.

The best satire often isn’t earnest and preachy. It deflates pompousness, ideological rigidity, self-righteousness etc.. When satire is at it’s best, it is irreverent, subversive and merciless. The key word here is “irreverent”. So, it’s often a good idea to include some comedy in your satire.

3) Look at satire: Simply put, one of the best ways to learn how to make good satirical comics is to look at examples of them. See what techniques they use and see what does and doesn’t work. So, be sure to look at newspaper cartoons, webcomics etc..

Likewise, make sure that you look at satire in other mediums too. Watch stand-up comedy videos, animated sitcoms and Youtube videos. Read satirical fiction. Look at parodies (eg: since the best parodies will often include satirical elements too).

In short, just like learning how to do anything creative, look at how other people do it and see if you can draw any general principles and lessons from this. Look at what successful things have in common with each other, and learn from this.

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Sorry about the short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

Top Ten Articles – February 2019

Well, it’s the end of the month. So, I thought that I’d do my usual thing of collecting links to my ten favourite articles about writing, making art, making comics etc… that I’ve posted here during the past month. Plus, a couple of honourable mentions too.

Although, due to the shortness of the month, being busy writing some of the short stories that appeared here last March (amongst other things) and the fact that reviews (11 book reviews and 2 “Doom II” WAD reviews) appeared here every other day, there weren’t quite as many traditional articles posted here this month. But, I quite like how many of them turned out 🙂

In terms of the book reviews – the best books I reviewed this month are probably: “Snow Crash” By Neal Stephenson,”Turtle Moon” by Alice Hoffman , “Empire Of Salt” by Weston Ochse, “Just One Damned Thing After Another” by Jodi Taylor and “Devil’s Coach-Horse” by Richard Lewis.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – February 2019:

– “Three Sneaky Tricks For Making Rushed Webcomic Updates Look Good
– “Two Quick Tips For Adding Symbolism To Realistic Photo-Based Art
– “Narrative Styles And Emotional Tone – A Ramble
– “Using Connections To Beat Writer’s Block- A Ramble
– “Three Tips For Finding Topics For Short Stories
– “Three Things To Do When You Can’t Write In Your Favourite Genres
– “Two Basic Tips For Making Drawings And/Or Paintings Based On Your Photos
– “Three Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Horror Fiction
– “Three Tips For Choosing Good Photos (That You’ve Taken) To Make Paintings Of
– “Three Random Tips For Writing Comedy Horror

Honourable Mentions:

– “Four Reasons Why 1970s/80s Horror Fiction Is So Cool
– “Three Reasons Why Books Are Better Than Film And TV