Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Taking Your Web Comic from Good to Great

(L to R) Frame 1 :Physical action overstated. Frame 2: Current cliche: the Foxtrot mouth. Less damning is the mugging in the last two panels. I'd opt for the straight mouth, tongue tip to one side of the upper lip for the hammer panel. The troubled frames all share the problem of over-communication trampling nuance. All copyright the creators.

I've been looking at blogs that go after less inspired web comics and rip them up. 

This is pointless. Most web comics are fair or bad. There are huge portals that do not carry one good comic. The job of bloggers is to locate and celebrate the better material and help it find an audience. Nothing is gained by crushing people, even if they are foolish enough to post rubbish and sign their name to it.

There are a lot of web comics that hover like the Oort Cloud near the threshold of life, but are flawed. These titles deserve thoughtful discussion because they might improve.

Here is a list of flaws that take many comics off my screen permanently:

  • Open today's newspaper's comics page and your comic. How many currently fashionable eyeball rolls, smirks and other types of mugging have you lifted? You must dump them all, for they are our current cliches, and have lost all emotional power.
  • The bad lettering -- what are you thinking? Complex fonts, sloping lines, back shading dialog balloons, messiness? Why not just shoot your readers?
  • Extremely dramatic movements must work as slapstick or they are overstatement. Slapstick is your yardstick of authenticity: all the big stage moves were worked out by pros ninety years ago. If they don't work as theater they don't work as comics. Furthermore, over pumping your art and dialog is an assault on your readers' intelligence.
  • Fantasy themes lend themselves to cliched writing. Break out of the genre ghetto. Try to master writing about reality and basing characters on composites of real people before you try to have a go at this tired ground.
  • We don't ever want to hear about your writer's block, or why you didn't post, or any hint of a dull life. It's the job of the pro to make it look easy.

Some art will make this clearer, so I have cut up a Girl Genius page, discarding eight panels and saving four -- an illegal act in seven states. Girl Genius is tough enough to take some critical shots from me. There is much to admire about the strip, which like my own is a husband/wife collaboration.

I'm braced for the argument that Girl Genius has its own personality, or that it's for "a certain audience," or that the artist's style is his choice. All I can say is it's my belief that even excellent strips should aspire to brilliance, and if I can ease the way, then all these years reading comics with a discerning eye haven't gone to waste.

Thank you in advance to Phil and Kaja Foglio for not being irritated that I have used Girl Genius to talk about comics generally. I'm not currently a reader of the strip, but I am an admirer.