Thursday, December 22, 2005

The State of Humor - Comic Strips

Comic strips today are bad. Abhorrent. Stroke-inducingly, groin-choppingly, spine-manglingly, bowel-explodingly, stomach-cancer-causingly bad. Bad bad bad bad bad. (Red Meat, pictured right, used to be good, but it has overstayed it's welcome, and is now bad).

For a long time people blamed the syndicates and publishers. These twin evils seemingly conspired to shrink the size, complexity, and intellectual guts of comic strips in the interest of merchandizing and untold corporate profit.

But nobody got the memo: the internet gives you free reign to produce comic strips however you like. Yet you would not know this looking at the comics at our disposal today, either in print or online. Most artists continue to squeeze lifeless characters and unfunny one-liners into tiny 3 and 4 frame strips (which I will address in a later post on Frame Theory).

We (by which I mean YOU) as cartoon artists are squandering all this precious liberty.

For your interest and education, I present to you the twelve dimensions of great comic strips, in relative order of importance.
  1. Conflict. If your comic strip has no conflict, why are you drawing it? Think back to high school English. Is it Man vs. Man, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Nature, or some combination of these? Without conflict, your strip is meaningless.
  2. New Ideas. Without new ideas, your comic strip is just people talking. New ideas can be visual or verbal, but without them, I take nothing away from reading your strip.
  3. Gravitas. Do you mean what you say in your comic strip? Do your characters mean it? Not everything that comes out of your character’s mouths can be cynical, even if that’s all that comes out of your own mouth. Punch up your text, and use visuals to deepen the effect.
  4. Emotional Range. People are emotional creatures, and we relate best to other creatures that show emotion (dogs, anyone?). Your characters must show a spectrum of emotion, even robot characters.
  5. Verbal Economy. If the frames of your comic strip are more than half text, you need to tighten up. This is not a hard rule, but in general is true. Take a writing class if necessary, but cut out all that is not absolutely necessary. If I wanted to read all day I’d buy a novel.
  6. Opinions. Your characters must have them. If you seek to offend no one, you will quickly find that you impress no one.
  7. Punchlines. While every episode of your strip doesn’t need a killer punchline, you should seek out good punchlines whenever possible. A good punchline takes hard work to write. Remember: it can always be funnier.
  8. Complex Humor. Your friends might think you are funny, but that doesn’t mean you’re funny on paper. Being a good humorist takes years of studying. Study great humor of our time. Memorize it. Like a guitarist, learn some riffs, then reproduce them at the right time.
  9. Visual Variety. Chances are you draw talking heads. This is because you are lazy. Get some practice, learn to draw, and give your audience a reason to check out the next frame.
  10. Action. Even television lawyer dramas have action. Draw some.
  11. Longevity. If your strips are about iPods and TV shows like Survivor, beware: your strip will be unreadable in ten years, if it’s even readable now. Seek more general ideas and jokes that people will be able to understand for generations.
  12. Consistency. While some comic strips, such as The Far Side and The Perry Bible Fellowship, are able to be different every week, your strip must, at the very least, be worth reading every single time you draw it. If your idea is bad, or the joke is bad, don’t draw it. Stay up late and make something better.

Related posts: The State of Humor: Unfunny Animals

1 Comments:

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Chris Essex said...

I can't believe no one has responded to this. I hope it has been reprinted somewhere else, too. Anyone considering creating their own comic should read this. Most people who already have their own strip should read this.

 

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