"Hey! You should do a comic!" Something I hear often said to the fan artist. Because of the more recent influx of translated anime available, it looks like there are a lot of budding fan artists out there.Stepping up a level, many of these artists yearn to create their own independent comic book, their own manga, if you will. Welcome to the world of sequential art. Though I may not be a comic book creator, I do work closely with one and I believe that just because one can draw, it does not necessarily mean that they have the know-how to create a good comic book. Forgive me if this is starting to sound a little like an essay, it's the only thing that's preventing me from ranting and raving in an incoherent way.
Ever read a comic book and feel exhausted afterwards? I'm not talking that emotional, cathartic drain after reading something well done, I mean, despite the spectacular artwork, you somehow have this urge to stop reading it. I've found myself going through this many times, not knowing why. Working with a friend on his own indie comic book, I began to realize what was involved in bringing a comic book to life.
Writing a comic is not just as simple as writing out a story and filling the speech bubbles with the story. Of course there are the obvious items like plot and coherence, but I found other things to be overlooked. Something that was important and was lacking in some of the fan comics I've read is that there was little thought in the pacing of the story. To be able to emphasize a certain scene to convey the atmosphere helps engage the reader into the story. Without it, it feels like reading point-form notes with pictures. Putting a comic together is just like directing a film in this case.
I've managed to pencil some examples to illustrate this. The scenario: girl's hamster, who's her best friend, dies.
Goal: to illustrate how she feels and to tug on the reader's emotions.
In figure 1, the girl states that she lost her hamster, that the hamster was her best friend and that she's sad. The reader reads this and understands the statements. The story can continue on from here, but there is no true illustration on how the girl feels and so, the reader feels nothing for the character.
Looking to figure 2a, we see the girl now with tears welling in her eyes, obviously upset as she states she lost her hamster. The next part shows all the things she did with her best friend. This concludes in figure 2b as she mourns the loss of her beloved hamster. Pacing and stretching out this sequence allows the reader to understand and gain some insight into the character, lingering as the character lingers on to memory of her hamster. Another technique I've used to convey atmosphere is the use of shapes and pattern as shown in figures 2a and 2b. A soft, fragmented background to give the sense of nostalgia and lament, while hard black rectangles in 2b gives the sense of mourning. On a whole, figures 2a and 2b, essentially providing the same information as figure 1 gives a much stronger impact than figure 1. Having said this, more panels doesn't always mean better. It's all in the way the story is intended to flow.
Deborah, FLAREgamer contributor and webcomic creator, hits the nail on the hammer when she says:
"Writing is like art, except word usage and pacing are the keys as opposed to color and dynamics. I admit I often, when writing something, fall into the pit of pacing issues and run ahead into the part I really want to do. It's a failing when people get good ideas, and artists just seem to be more prone because they're used to sketching the idea out fast and having something "good"."
Character development is another thing. The main characters should be presented in such a way where the reader gains some sort of interest in the in the actual character. I found that, if Main Hero Guy has no substance or personality, I really don't care if a giant robot steps on him. It doesn't necessarily mean that all the characters have to be likeable. The reader ought to, at least, be able to form sort of opinion on the character's character. This one is a little tougher to illustrate in a few panels, but one can look at figure 1 and have no idea about this character's personality while figures 2a and 2b are at least starting to show a facet of the character and how she deals with the death of a friend.
What it boils down to is that not all artists have the knack to script a solid story. Why not have a writer help out? I suppose it would wise to have the writer be on a similar wavelength with the artist, especially when it's a self-published one. "Separated due to irreconcilable differences". No, I didn't think that would be good. However, I think that if a person still has some sort of story to tell, is still wanting to turn it into a comic book, and has an unproven writing skill, it would be best do a rough draft first then bounce it off of someone...someone who can give an honest opinion and has some sort of proven writing ability.
The truth is that this problem does not reside only to those who are considered as indie. There are cases where even mainstream comics, who have their artists write their own stories, fall into this trap: great artwork, little story to speak of. Discussing this with fellow contributors of FLAREgamer spawned some examples of this:
"Image comics had the artists doing their own stories, at first it started out great ('cause wowiez art without restraint) but the stories themselves were rather lacking, mishmashy excuses to get great angles and shots in, and little depth or reason to keep reading aside from more art."
"Do you guys know Asterix & Obelix? When the writer (Goscinny) died, so did the comic. All the comics Uderzo produced on his own are crap compared to the well-thought out, dynamic comics done in the past."
I'll stop here for now, though I know there are many more things to consider. I still have much to learn about the world of comic books from the creator's point of view and, maybe, I'll write more on this topic later on. All things considered, it would be nice for those who are or are planning to create their own comic to take the story-telling part as seriously as they would the artwork. I know that I haven't provided any specific references to any specific indie titles, but I figure that you'd most likely be able to find that out for yourself when you pick up a comic and read it. After all, you're the one reading the comic, not me.
(special thanks to Andrew at ill-intent.com for his "indie comic" insight)
So, you want to make your own comic book?