Chomby Crash Comics Course
Comic... Article? Comic... Article?
Hmmm. Well, seeing as I can’t make up my mind, why not an article about comics, and then maybe next time Gummi can do a comic about writing articles!
Here at Skink City, home to three Techos and a biscuit Chomby (just don’t ask...) we really enjoy comics. We read them, write them, draw them, and love to share them.
Gummi has even had a couple in the NT thus far, but we’re not experts; to compare ourselves with the number of published comic strips demonstrated by masterly series such as ‘Spooky’ would be so far off the mark we’d need the Altador Plot telescope just to see their user lookup.
So, speaking mostly as a comic critic, let’s look together at just two or three aspects of a great comic.
1) Comics have a single main idea. Good comics have a NEW idea, or express an old idea in a new way. Great comics not only have a new idea, they are also (wait for it...) FUNNY! To be clear, I am not considering the more ambitious serial adventure and superhero comics in this article. I am an avid reader of those too, and would be first in line for a Defenders of Neopia paint brush... hint hint, TNT, but today we’ll focus on the funnies.
So, how do we find these things? A new idea, and it’s funny as well? Oh the pain in my brain from the effort? Nope. Inspiration falls lightly upon the prepared mind like gentle autumn leaves (and not like Extreme Potato Counter missiles unless you are a very unlucky person). To create a great comic, we must be prepared. One obvious and therefore often overlooked way to prepare is to spend some time reading comics. The past issues of the NT are a veritable treasure chest of comics. Good comics, and great comics. Read them, ponder them, absorb them. Bookmark your favourites so that when you come to write your own you can check back, not only to see if your comic makes you smile just as much as they do, but also to make sure you aren’t just recreating someone else’s work. This is very important. I can’t tell you how distressed Gummi would be if anyone copied her comics! Hyperactive Techos are also overly sensitive, paranoid and neurotic (but don’t tell her I said so!). So for the mental health of all comic writers everywhere, DON’T STEAL SOMEONE ELSE’S WORK! They are inspirational and educational, not a shortcut. Having said that, you’d be surprised how many people can come up with the same idea independently without realising it. We had one Gummi comic in the production stages when almost simultaneously a freakishly similar one appeared in the NT, leading to background music of the ‘ooeeooee’ variety and a sudden need for a NEW new idea. If it happens to you, sigh, make sure the music isn’t due to the opening of a multi-dimensional wormhole in your kitchen, and move on.
The other important part of being prepared is to pay attention to your thoughts. It sounds dumb, but the truth is most people will notice a situation or have a thought, say ‘heh, that’s amusing’ and then pretty much forget it within nanoseconds. Good and Great comics are made of those thoughts! Imagine what a wealth of comic fodder you lose every time you let one slip away. Carry a little pad and pen, or use the note / calendar functions found in many items of portable technology, and write them down.
OK, so you are prepared to have the ideas. That’s fantastic. Now we’ll assume you have found one, and want to turn it into a comic. How do you know whether this is a funny idea or one which will return you the submission neomail ‘sorry, our editor didn’t get the joke’ (paraphrased)? Well, test it then, silly zeenanas. Share it with other people and see their reaction. They don’t even have to be Neopia-savvy because the best jokes should be reasonably universal, although using one of Gummi’s comics as an example, a quick explanation that ‘grey pets are permanently sad-looking’ and such similar little neopianisms may on occasion be necessary. (Don’t worry, who knows anyone who doesn’t play Neopets anyway, right?) This might be easiest once you’ve at least sketched it out. I’ve tried sharing my ideas both ways, and I can tell you for sure that once you’ve verbally described a comic to someone, and included all the scenery, layout, character and script details... It might have been hilarious in your own head, but, buddy, there ain’t no-one going to laugh!
2) We read comics. A good comic is reasonably easy to read. A great comic is EFFORTLESS to read. I don’t know about you, but personally I freak out when confronted by a comic I have to zoom on my browser 150% before I can even make out the words! A comic may have had huge effort put into it, have a great story and ideas, and have really interesting art work, but if I have to match that effort level to read it, I’m unlikely to bother. To my mind, the most easily readable comics have a few of the following things in common:
Simple Artwork, including very simplified scenery and backgrounds. Fantastic art is wonderful for the Beauty Contest, the Picture Contest, the Random Contest, but it detracts from the comic joke. It doesn’t matter whether comics are pencil, pen, coloured, black and white, photoshop or mspaint to me, the k.i.s.s. (keep it simple scorchio) principle applies.
Frames. Comics are usually divided into little boxes. Let’s name them ‘frames’. Easy to read comics that have a width constraint of 470 pixels pretty much have a maximum of two frames across. Just one is even better. This makes NT comics mostly vertical. One could argue that having to scroll down is work, and therefore undesirable, and this is mildly true, but single frame comics are rare beasts, so we do the best we can.
Readable Text. The two frame maximum allows for a decent font size. If you are computer generating your comic, you have the opportunity to see what it looks like at 470 pixels width and adjust the size of your text to suit. If you are creating by hand, you’ll need to add this to your preparation calendar. It’s a little bit trial and error but the reading of other comics you’ve now done (because all my suggestions just rock!) will give you a good idea of how to match the size of your writing to the width available.
Minimal Clutter. Clutter is all the extra stuff people feel compelled to add to their comics. Footnotes, labels, and unnecessary dialogue. It distracts the reader from the comic idea and usually spoils the punch line. A prime and common example would be ‘if you are reading this I got into the NT’. Way-to-go for stating the obvious! Briefly acknowledging the use of other owners’ neopets, or giving credit on collaborative work is fine, but works best at the top rather than the end of the comic. Coming up with a cool little title bar is very professional in appearance too, but the rest? Argh. Keep your comic uncluttered. Please! Just remember the rule that every single word should be essential to the joke. If it’s not, leave it out. (so long as you still make sense! Tyrannian pets can get away with saying “uh, Bobo go omelette,” but for everyone else, “bye guys, I’m off to get some omelette,” is more likely to get you through selection.)
Quality. I’m not saying here that you need to be a superdooper artist, or have that highly polished photoshop look to your comics. The earliest NT comics are full of examples of submissions where the author would, for e.g. only draw the characters’ ears, and leave everything below to the imagination. A first-time comic or one by a younger or less experienced artist is not by any means of lesser quality. The kind of quality I mean in this context is more to do with making sure the comic you submit is your very best work. Using my and Gummi’s experiences as an example again... Our scanner is not so good. I tried to bypass by taking a picture of the comics (coloured pencils, one of my favourite art tools). However, this usually leads to a very grey appearance. So in order to fix that, I tried brightening the images, which gives back the nice bright whites, but also leads to seriously washed out colour and a lot of the background disappearing altogether. The end result was a comic or two which were funny, and worthy of publishing, but on the other hand were a bit wishy washy and certainly lacked the punch Gummi intended. I’m therefore making the change to computer-art to get a more satisfactory appearance for our particular situation. Keep your colours nice and intense (well-saturated may be a better term for it. Don’t you all go drawing neon green and bright red comics and then blame me!) and keep your black and white defined. Take the time to get your art right and feel confident that you’ve done the best you can. The reader can actually pick up that feeling of confidence (wow, there’s that ‘ooeeooee’ music again, just take 5 while I check the kitchen...) and in some bizarre way it makes it a better comic experience.
3) Comics have characters. Good comics have characters with personality, and great comics show that personality in such a way as to make the reader CONNECT with the characters. In psychological terms, it is called investing (no, not the Neodaq, pay attention). The reader connects with the characters and becomes attached to them on an emotional level. Then the reader cares what happens to them. This may seem a bit much to bother with for something that’s only two or three frames long, but it is surprisingly important. Here’s an example. An apple falls on a Chia’s head. Ok, so what? I don’t care, how about you? Let’s now go a step further and give the Chia personality. Most of the time this will just come naturally to a comic creator, but not always. Decide what it is about the Chia that made the situation funny when you initially had the idea. The Chia could be a nervous apple Chia who freaks out at the carnage. He could be a gloomy Chia who is paranoid about all the bad luck he’s been having recently. He could be a mischievous Chia getting his just desserts for taunting a poor defenceless Lupe, like that would ever happen! (DISCLAIMER: these are only suggestions; if you do not experience gut wrenching laughter, it was no fault of mine and I assume no liability, so there.) Often you don’t have to spell out the personality; just indicate it by tailoring the way your character behaves and reacts to what’s going on. Take Gummi, for example. I think she’s done a fantastic job of showing everyone what a nutcase she is, without ever once saying, ‘By the way, I’m a nutcase.’
Yipes, I’ve just realised that Gummi will probably read this, so I’d better leave it there and go book myself on the three week trip to Lutari Island I’ve been meaning to take. Enjoy the NT comics, and I wish you much success and laughter as you create your own. Don’t worry too much about anything I’ve said. I’m still learning too and get things wrong all the time. There’s a lot more to comics we haven’t covered yet. The most important hint of the whole article is to feel confident in your work. Bye for now, love ya, DinoBiscuit.
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