Comic Books 101—Part Three

Everything in a panel matters.

Everything in a panel matters.

Everything in a panel matters.

Got that?

My professor had the class watch a Charlie Chaplin silent film and then asked us how Chaplin’s techniques could be applied to our comic writing.

1. Sequential action. One thing leads to another that leads to another. Comics are also called “sequential art” because they show actions that sequentially build on each other. A good comic clearly portrays the sequential action. A good comic isn’t just a bunch of people standing around in a room and talking. Stuff actually happens.

2. Expression. Have you ever read a comic in which the character has the same mild expression on her face when she’s sad, angry, happy, tired?…you get the idea. The mark of a good comic is accurately portrayed expression. If a pair of eyes filling the panel tell you something, the comic is doing its job. Just look at Charlie Chaplin’s face. No sound, and you know exactly what he’s feeling.

3. Everything presented matters. In the Chaplin film, images—wine bottles, a revolving door, a man with a cast on his foot—repeated themselves. But everything was there for a reason. The plot and characters depended on these images, and no image was carelessly thrown in and never referenced again. As comic writers, we not only control what our characters do and say, we also dictate what surrounds them. If I put a picture of Buddha in the background, it better be significant.

So remember, everything in a panel matters.

Here are some more small gems of wisdom from my third comic writing class:

Try using Open Office Word processor for your scripts. It’s more user-friendly.

There is a fine line between too much detail and not enough. Provide models for your artist and address any cultural references.

Don’t insult the artist.

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