June 01, 2002

How to Design a Comic Strip

Mystery In Space coverI loved comic books as a kid. From 1957 to 1963 or so, I'll bet I owned every Superman, Batman, Mystery in Space, Action, and Strange Adventures comic book that came out. Where are they now? As with almost every Boomer, they got thrown out or given away at some point. Unlike some of my vintage, though, I'm not stalking through ebay trying to recapture what I had.

Alex has been hard at work for the last few days creating a series of comic strips. He has the same native ability to draw that I had (i.e., almost none) but that won't stop him from creating something that looks recognizable. As a master of Photoshop, he can trace over photos and tweak the results to semi-perfection. He's been trying things out and produced 14 strips so far and he's beginning to find his voice.

He asked me how real cartoonists develop their plot lines. Do they plan out a long story arc ahead of time, or do they make it up as they go, or something in between. Here's what I've found so far.

For Better or WorseLynn Johnston describes how she plans For Better or Worse. As with a lot of novelists, she creates her characters and they tell her what will happen next.

For Simpsons creator Matt Groening, the plots also emerge from the characters, though the characters are whacked out exaggerations of his own family. (uh-oh... I now anticipate appearing in the Alex strips at some point.) The fun comes from the subtle cultural references he decorates it with. Easier to do for a 45 year old than a 14 year old.

Other interesting finds:

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