Those who want to tell sprawling tales that will end up slip cased novels in the hundred of pages! Understandable. I mean, it’s Comics! Of course there’s a lot of people looking for that. I’m pretty guilty of doing it a few times myself.
But it can backfire badly if we’re ill prepared. Setting out to do an epic is daunting even for the experienced! In the beginning of learning to make comics, a fair number of people are surprised how quickly working on any length of comic can seem to become a mountain of work and can sink you if you’re at all unsure what to do next still.
And having done it a few times, many decide they are not as into the idea of making comics as they first thought! That’s ok too if that’s the case.
But don’t take my talk of piles of work as discouragement. It’s possible to mitigate the work with good planing and a smart process. Also always be prepared to adapt. Need to work faster? Let yourself adopt a more loose sketchy, or cartoony drawing style at first so you can draw quickly? That’s an option. Work with your strengths, while you work on expanding them?
And of course this brings up to the reason for this post. At first, just start smaller? Shorter?
I suggest you make a plan to do a great collection of short stories first! Don’t write off writing a graphic novel one day still if you feel you really want to of course — and It’s even possible to take moments, ideas out of a larger work or theme, to work on them in labs and learning projects only to link them back again in theme or other manner. That’s a way to keep working on a notion that obsesses you without rushing the process of learning about comics.
Focus on the short story format work your way up from there
making your biggest mistakes on small first attempts.
Work uncritically while developing the first ideas, and only analyze them after having fun with the first draft. Persue many ideas for a while in notes and doodles, the one’s that stick with you, pursue further!
Perfection is the killer of inspiration. Be observant and mindful, learn, but have fun with the drawing, learning from them on REFLECTION. Embrace making mistakes. The more you make, the more you can learn from them!
All the while getting to enjoy the all important sensation of DONE-NESS as often as possible by keeping each project short and bite sized. It’s no small thing, that dopamine reward from feeling like you’ve accomplished something having completed one to five page short stories is the thing that will get you hooked on making bigger and better comics! So don’t over commit before you know how to execute the work on grander scales?
Think about it, if you put a few weeks into a short story that proves more learning experience than presentable work? Not a big deal and to be expected at first even maybe? It was at least 5 years between my first trying to draw comics, and doing anything even presentable. Several more until my work was presentable professionally, and even then I think I tried to jump the gun a bit at first, drawing longer stories before I was really ready. It takes a while to learn how to characterize your cast, move your camera, block your scenes, choose your moments of closure, render your art, letter the comic, color too perhaps?
So we’re going to make that the founding constraint of Making Comics 101. Our goal will be to sketch several short one or two page comics as exercises, loosely pencil one three page wordless comic, and another three page story with words. Then pick one of those to ink for submission into that semester’s edition of the Syn-thology!
- Reading: Tim Stout’s How to Use 3-Act Story Structure in Comic Strips, and keep in mind this can be extended to any number of pages over all. A three page story, is really rather easy potentially to write with a three act arc.
- Build on that: Check out Matt Madden’s 2013 post on Haiku Comics!
- For extra points do some more reading on Tim’s other posts about story structure!
- Don’t Write Comics: How To Write Comics Part 1: Part 2: Part 3: Part 4! Good Reading!
- Take on a running constraint: Check out Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story: An Exercises in Style. And many blog posts on the topic broady too!
- More Reading! there can never be enough: The Poetry Comics section of this blog; Matt Madden’s INK BRICK A Journal of Comics Poetry; I served as editor for a couple years at carte-blanche.org, they publish some great shorts!; The 4 PANEL Project is fascinating; A Softer World is one of the greatest examples of short poetic comics in the web comics world; followed probably by the comics of Emily Carroll. A bit longer but still short stories. And this fan comic, Green leader, by Daniel Warren Johnson is an amazing example of silent emotional strong storytelling with action and big settings! Just so you know the possibilities are really wide open for short stories.
For examples from me, here’s a few short stories I did myself in the course of learning and trying out things. This first one is wordless, but has ‘dialog!’. It was done in mid nighties, inspired by some work I saw people doing in Montreal then, and about a short affair I’d had at the time.
Pretty simple really. Had fun trying to be cartoony there. That’s a theme many of us can relate to no? The one part most people get confused by is the bit where she remembers the man in panel 2 of page 3? Her ex but some people thought he was a mad scientist. I’d drawn his hair wild at first-he was a DJ with a crazy punk thing going on. I made him a bit more generic to attempt to clarify it latter.
This is a short poetic story I did about moving to Montreal, and feeling isolated, but liking it at the time in some ways too. It’s was overall very successful, though i was never very happy with my likeness on the last pages. But I was reasonably pleased with the nice self containedness of it.
My girlfriend at the time told me a dream she had about loosing her imagination, and going looking for it. The idea of it, and the visuals of her dream, were inspiring, so I did this four page wordless comic about it. Using the dense grid was a formal choice.
These aren’t my only short stories, enough to help convey some ideas? Some of my earliest. You’ll find more of mine posted here if you like to continue to read.
It’s easy to make initial precocious work for some, but continuing to enjoy the toil and grind at times of making comics, it until we’re actually good? I’m sometimes surprised myself i still want to make them. This one page short comic, ‘Down the Stairs‘ and accompanying post by Seth directly addresses the realities of making comics long term. he works in his basement studio every day. Well, almost, I see him out at shows a few times a year too!
Don’t take this as discouragement, If the bug gets you, for all it’s hard work and time, the rewards of attempting to make good comics will keep you at it.