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 🙂

The Joy Of… Eccentric Detectives

2017-artwork-the-joy-of-eccentric-detectives

Well, at the time of writing, I was going through a bit of a “Jonathan Creek” phase. This is a classic long-running BBC TV show from the late 1990s which focuses on a magician’s assistant called Jonathan Creek who often ends up having to solve strange and seemingly inexplicable crimes. His skill at devising magic tricks and his slightly strange view of the world allow him to solve even the most baffling mysteries.

This show made me think about the subject of eccentric detectives, and why they’re so interesting. Although this is a type of character that I haven’t encountered too often, I should probably start by talking about the original eccentric detective – the one and only Sherlock Holmes.

One of the great things about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories is that Sherlock Holmes is about as far from the more stuffy, Vulcan-like character of the popular imagination and more like his on-screen portrayals by Jeremy Brett or Benedict Cumberbatch.

He’s a geek from the 19th century who is an expert on all sorts of obscure topics, but who considers the knowledge that the Earth revolves around the sun to be a waste of brain space and promptly tries to forget about it.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a quote from the second chapter of “A Study In Scarlet”: ‘ “What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

He does mildly unusual things like keeping his pipe tobacco in a slipper and keeping his correspondence safe by attaching it to the mantlepiece with a pocket knife. Plus, when he is bored, he’ll occasionally do various extremely dangerous things (such as injecting drugs or using a revolver to write a message on the sitting room wall) just to relieve the tedium.

There was no character like him when the stories were originally written and he’s pretty much the original eccentric detective who has inspired several other fictional characters over the years.

So, what is the appeal of the eccentric detective? Why are they so fascinating?

The first reason is because they are unpredictable characters. Although they have a distinctive personality, they are often also intriguingly mysterious too. Going back to Sherlock Holmes yet again, we learn relatively little about his history throughout the original stories. Likewise, we often only get to see him “second hand” from Watson’s perspective most of the time.

Eccentric detectives are strange, mysterious characters who have the added appeal of being non-threatening, since they are on the side of order and justice. But, they also avoid the pitfall of being dull paragons of virtue either. They have just enough moral ambiguity to be interesting, whilst also still very much being “good guys”.

Even much less morally-ambiguous eccentric detectives, like Abby Sciuto from “NCIS” will still do interesting things like listen to loud music, have cool tattoos, have interesting tastes in fashion and be anything but an “establishment” detective.

Another reason why eccentric detectives are so fascinating is because they often tend to solve eccentric cases. Having an eccentric detective investigate depressing “ordinary” crimes would seem somewhat out of place. However, these characters are in their element when they have to investigate brain-twisting locked room mysteries, baffling cases of murder most foul and bewildering catalogues of inexplicable events. So, an eccentric detective is usually a guarantee that a story won’t be the usual run-of-the-mill police procedural.

Finally, eccentric detectives are characters who celebrate eccentricity. They present being slightly unusual, nerdy, unconventional etc… as a positive virtue. And, although this is a lot more common in the media than it used to be, it’s still a reassuring thing. They are characters who don’t “fit in” and they are all the better for it. They are well-respected for it. I can’t imagine a more uplifting and enjoyable type of fictional character to watch or read about.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂