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Bryant Paul Johnson’s Tips and Techniques for writing comics

First off, apologies for the lack of updates lately. I did say summer was going to be a fairly busy time for me, and that part has delivered with impunity. I’m still about halfway through the next webcomic I’m reviewing, so that might be out late this week or the next.

Secondly, I’d be lax in not pointing out this excellent article written by Bryant Paul Johnson of Teaching Baby Paranoia, which he composed after he taught at a webcomics summer camp program.

The piece goes through some comic layout basics. Some tips are no-brainers but others are revelations. He even directly addresses the single-panel comic, which is at odds with Scott McCloud’s standard definition of sequential art:

Word and Pictures; Comics without Time: This combination (most often referred to as a cartoon) is the most common of these demi-comic examples. It’s the combination that we see in magazines (the New Yorker), on t-shirts and greeting cards, or in political cartoons.

So, is it a comic? Yes. The reader is left to infer the sequence of events that led us to that moment captured in time (and/or the sequence of events that lead us from it).

Why is the figure in the cartoon talking like that to his dog? Why is that public figure depicted wearing a hat and coated in oil? Because much of the narrative of a cartoon is left to the imagination of the reader, this is the category most often “misinterpreted.” In the case of certain comics (particularly those published in the New Yorker), puzzling out their meaning is part of the appeal.

(h/t Robot 6)

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on July 13, 2010, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. It’s been a long while since I read Understanding Comics (I read it in my formative years of comics making fifteen years ago. It’s been so ingrained into my psyche that half my recollection of the book is probably apocryphal, at this point); I had no idea this concept of comics without time ran contrary to Scott’s definition!

    The beauty of Understanding Comics is that it gave us a shared vocabulary with which to talk about the mechanics of the art form, even if we disagree about the specifics. I can’t even imagine teaching comics to kids without it!

    • Weird! Scott based his assessment on his definition of sequential art, which essentially is a sequence of images. Hence, he said single panel comics weren’t “true” comics. Rather, he proposed the term “comic art” for things like “Family Circus.” Now the definition is by no means accepted by everyone. I mean, who uses the term “comic art” when talking about editorial comics? I remember T Campbell (of “Penny and Aggie”) writing about how he disagreed with the definition. (I’d dig it up, but his URL is now under new management.) This piece, though, is perhaps the best argument I’ve come across defining single-panel artwork as “comics.”

  2. i’ve previously thought my enjoyment of single-panel comics was just laziness, but i really like his observation that, with single-panel comics “much of the narrative of a cartoon is left to the imagination of the reader… [and] puzzling out their meaning is part of the appeal.”

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