girl#2 – a comic about tropes


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Trope – noun -(ˈtrōp) plural: tropes : A word, phrase, or image used in a new and different way in order to create an artistic effect.

  1. – a : A word or expression used in a figurative sense : figure of speech
    – b : A common or overused theme or device : cliché <the usual horror movie tropes>
  2. : A phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages.

g2thumbTropes are not ALL bad, but they most assuredly are a thing. As a writer, it’s both handy, and important to be conscious of them. They can help build stories via familiar narrative beats, arcs, and characters. But they can also be overused, and there is a tendency for them to become out of date, both stylistically, politically, or philosophically with the times. Some themes become taboo because of that, or simply because the audience turns away, stop being popular. The Happy Nuclear Family of early american TV is one has fallen in and out of fashion a few times. Sometimes by being reinvented by a new definition of family, or happy. On the other hand, trends in the way they are used can reveal how writers end up reflecting the status quo of societies, and help enforce it by doing so. A fun but sometimes disheartening way to spot tropes about women, is by applying the Bechdel test to your story. It’s not a pass/fail test, some great stories fail it. But the fact that most genre media does fail it rather consistently, does not reflect well on the diversity of voices depicted in many comics. You can’t legislate that kind of thing very well, but it’s good to be mindful of it in our own work in order to simply do better, smarter, stories that generally think twice before relying on a trope we’ve seen more than once too often. So think of tropes as tools. What is ultimately good or bad about them, is how they are used and utilized.

As a fun way to talk further about this, and share some more examples of my process, here’s the complete breakdown of a comic I did for Gutters, with Jim Hardison! It mocks some common tropes found in many action comics.

How it began: this was a small paying job. I was contacted some time before about doing something with the site, it seemed like fun and the pay wasn’t bad, so I said yes. When my turn came up the script they sent me was these!: ‘The Continuing Adventures of Two Guys Fighting’ & what I call, “Girl 2”.


Jim Hardison/Character
The Continuing Adventures of Two Guys Fighting!

(five panels)

Panel 1. A muscle bound, mustachioed and lamb-chopped superhero in an old-timey tights and leotard-style boxer’s uniform, Professor Fisticuffs, is punching a muscle bound, sleek and high-tech looking super villain, The Decimator, in the face. Professor Fisticuffs has a black eye and his lip is bleeding—he’s been getting the worst of it until now. In the background, two women are watching. One is Dixie, the girlfriend of Fisticuffs, an attractive blonde in the good-girl/Lois Lane mold who is biting the knuckles of her hand in dramatic concern over the outcome of the fight. The other sports a short, punky hair cut and wears fish-net stockings and mini-skirt. She’s scowling.

SFX: BIFF!!

PROFESSOR FISTICUFFS
You nearly had me there, Decimator, but now I shall thrash you within an inch of your life, foul villain!

Panel 2. Over Professor Fisticuffs’ shoulder as he is throttling the Decimator, whose face is turning red, veins bulging at his temples.

THE DECIMATOR (gasping)
It’s always…this same pattern Professor Fisticuffs…

PROFESSOR FISTICUFFS
Come again?

THE DECIMATOR (gasping)
Bad guy gets you on the ropes…looks like you’re going to lose…then you win! You always do in the end. It’s not like the writer can actually kill you! The comic’s called Professor Fisticuffs for god’s sake.

Panel 3. From behind the Decimator as Professor Fisticuffs holds his opponent’s head in both hands and brutally knees his kneeling opponent in the face so that his face is forced into profile and blood is exploding out of his nose.

SFX: CRUCH!!

PROFESSOR FISTICUFFS
People don’t care about that! As long as the fight is cool, it’s exciting.

THE DECIMATOR
It’s getting tired…

Panel 4. Fisticuffs is violently snapping the Decimator’s back over his knee.

SFX: SNAP!!

PROFESSOR FISTICUFFS
What if I escalate the violence! Distract and entertain people with excessive gore…

THE DECIMATOR (grunting)
No matter…how far…you take it—

PROFESSOR FISTICUFFS
—it has to end the same… Damn it! I see what you mean!

Panel 5. Fisticuffs is literally tearing the Decimator’s head off in an explosion of blood that’s splashing gore across Fisticuff’s face. Fisticuff’s is grimacing as if in huge emotional turmoil.

SFX: SPLURCH!!!

PROFESSOR FISTICUFFS
Wait! Here’s an idea!

PROFESSOR FISTICUFFS (in a separate word balloon)
What have I done?! I’ve killed the Decimator and he was secretly my own brother!! NOOOOOOO!

THE DECIMATOR’S HEAD
Lame.


Jim Hardison/Character
The Continuing Adventures of Two Guys Fighting! Part 2 (from a different angle)

(five panels)

Panel 1. A muscle bound, mustachioed and lamb-chopped superhero in an old-timey tights and leotard-style boxer’s uniform, Professor Fisticuffs, is punching a muscle bound, sleek and high-tech looking super villain, The Decimator, in the face. Professor Fisticuffs has a black eye and his lip is bleeding—he’s been getting the worst of it until now. In the background, two women are watching. One is Dixie, the girlfriend of Fisticuffs, an attractive blonde in the good-girl/Lois Lane mold who is biting the knuckles of her hand in dramatic concern over the outcome of the fight. The other sports a short, punky hair cut and wears fish-net stockings and mini-skirt. She’s scowling.

SFX: BIFF!!

PROFESSOR FISTICUFFS
You nearly had me there, Decimator, but now I shall thrash you within an inch of your life, foul villain!

Panel 2. Professor Fisticuffs is throttling the Decimator in silhouette as a framing device for a closer shot on the two women. Dixie is absorbed in the fight, but the other girl is looking at Dixie intently.

DIXIE
Thrash him, Professor Fisticuffs!

OTHER GIRL
Do you know, you’re the only other woman I’ve seen in this comic?

DIXIE
So?

OTHER GIRL
Well, until you showed up, I was convinced that this story was just part of the systemic marginalization of women that happens in so much of pop culture storytelling.

Panel 3. Now Dixie and the other girl are talking in the foreground, turned ¾’s to each other, while Fisticuffs brutally knees the kneeling Decimator’s in the face while holding his opponent’s head with both hands. Dixie looks intrigued.

SFX: CRUCH!!

DIXIE
What do you mean, the systemic marginalization of women?

OTHER GIRL
Have you ever heard of the Bechdel test? It asks three simple questions: Are there at least two women in the story who have names? Do they talk to each other? And do they talk about anything other than their relationships with men? If not, they’re pretty marginalized.

Panel 4. Dixie’s brows are raised in surprise. Behind her, Fisticuffs is violently snapping the Decimator’s back over his knee.

SFX: SNAP!!

DIXIE
Wow! There are just scads of comics, movies and TV shows that don’t meet that criteria! Lord of the Rings! The Watchmen! Bat Man! Iron Man! I never realized!

Panel 5. The fight is in the foreground again as Fisticuffs literally tears the Decimator’s head off in an explosion of blood and gore. Dixie is smiling at the other girl, who is back to scowling again.

SFX: SPLURCH!!!

DIXIE
I’m so glad we’re not being marginalized in this script… uh… I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name…

OTHER GIRL
Girl #2. The script just refers to me as Girl #2.


It’s a little ironic I thought at the time, that Girl #2 is called OTHER GIRL in Jim’s script! Hah.

I liked this, and started with drawing the cast. This is totally satire, so I thought about a few ways to go at it, and decided on pretty much doing it straight more or less, so I drew a cast that matched most of my own trope expectations when I read the character’s names and descriptions. I didn’t do rotations for them, and didn’t really clean them up beyond this pencil sketch before I starter. But it’s a really good idea to do this at least, thinking out the character’s design a bit before starting the comic and having to figure it out on the go. Also do the same for all key props and locations. But in the case here, there were none.

charictersWB

 

Next I did thumbnails from the scrip, which as per my usual recommendation and habit, had ready at least twice all the way through before drawing anything, to make sure I don’t miss anything and can see the story in my head a little. This time I started with red colour erase pencils, but then cleaned them up a bit by simplifying it all with my brush to work out the more graphic elements of the two one page comics.

The stories are structured along the same sequence, with the second strips panels depicting moments just about the same time, but seconds later, of the same scene from two points of view. The reading flow is kept dynamic with camera angle moves that try to toss you around the page in sync with the action.

thumbsWB

Those were followed by pencils, this time done in Prismacolor Col-Erase Blue. I don’t typically letter directly on my pages, but in this case I did. It’s a bit more trouble If I have to make changes, but sometimes fun to do on the page like this. Given how much text there is I opted to have no backgrounds at all, to make it a lot easier to compose. It was important the balloons ride the eyeline around the page, helping to you to read them. Rather than interrupt the flow of the reading.

Those were then inked,
I printed my blues full size this time
[I don’t always work that large],
on 11×17 inch bristol and inked them
with a mix of pen and brush….

And then scanned those and coloured them digitally.
I did them intentionally a bit garish, and then tried to harmonize them a little
to pull that back by using a New Adjustment Layer and Color Balance.

thetwoguysfigting

girl2

 

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