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November 19th, 2014

You Crazy Kids With Your Rough Housing

So we're two issues in to Rough Housing, with the third issue written and under construction. As I started to say on Twitter the other day, I'm enjoying the new SJ series, and I hope you are too. :) It's not quite settled into "home" yet, but getting there. When I start getting ideas that aren't "part of the main story," I'll have it.

The comic page is a different beast from the comic strip format, with a much different pace and, more importantly, a tighter focus. In a 3-4 panel comic strip format, each day's comic is a more discrete entity that follows a pretty solid pattern:

  1. Premise

  2. Development

  3. Twist

  4. Punchline (with optional rejoinder)


Each strip is a self-contained building block, another brick in the wall so to speak, creating a natural rhythm. A collected series of comic strips thus become a kind of visual poetry, with the occasional longer "Sunday style" comic acting to break the monotony like a musical bridge.

No, seriously! Read a full book's worth of Peanuts or Pogo sometime if you don't believe me, and pay attention to the dramatic beats.

The comic book, not so much. While each page of the comic may stand alone, it's not a requirement that it must. The core unit of the comic is the book, which is a longer form, calling for a longer narrative, but which paradoxically leaves less room for diversions. When you go from your building block being "today's gag" to being "1/22 of the current story," it becomes harder to fit in little moments that don't move the story along somehow.

Thing is, those little moments are the part that I'm actually the most interested in. Y'know, like those cool things the characters do in the opening credits that never actually appear in the TV show? I want my characters to be doing those things!

In the original Suburban Jungle, I would switch off between doing "plot heavy" strips for a while, and then doing a week or two of "gag strips" that were just little slice of life moments, and I loved those. The danger of course was that sometimes those little slices sometimes became big slices that ended up taking over, such as Yin's trips to The Village.

Suburban Jungle by The Gneech, July 16, 2007

These things are harder to fit into the comic page format. Content-wise, each page is roughly equivalent to two strips (or one Sunday style). That means a minimum of two gags per page, with what would be a week's worth of gag-a-day strips in a traditional comic strip becoming a three-page story arc in the comic format.

Three pages? That's a really awkward size, dude. In a comic page format, if you have more than one page, you pretty much need to have at least four, or it feels rushed. And if you have a 22-page book, that suddenly puts you in the situation of having one four page story, and one eighteen page story...

So you see the problem? Small stories become harder to tell. Toss-off gags become downright difficult to squeeze in. All of the little moments that create texture, subtlety, and nuance (in as much as a comic can have texture, subtlety, and nuance) have to fight to earn their place in the headlong rush of getting through the plot.

I don't think it's an unsolvable problem, but it is something I'm going to have to devote some attention to. For instance, in the first two issues, we've seen almost exclusively Charity, Langley, and Roxie. Obadiah Otter, a supporting character created purely as a vehicle for the Cangrejo Diablo storyline, has had more screen time than Rufo Redwolf, Parker Peacock, and Bounce Otter, who are ostensibly permanent and important cast members. Fortunately, those guys will finally get to do some stuff in issue three!

One of the things I'd like to do to get around this is more on-the-side art, which can tell whole stories in a single image, but of course those require time and energy, two things I'm always strapped for. But as I look at some of my "role models" for the comic, such as Love Hina, I see that there are tons of extra images scattered around those books: covers, of course, but also as flourishes for text pages, pin-ups and standalone filler pages, etc. So maybe I should "bake in" extra art as part of my expected workload.

What do you think? How do you like Rough Housing so far? Is there something you'd like to see more (or less) of? How would you incorporate "smaller moments" into the comic book format? Inquiring Gneeches want to know!

-The Gneech

This has been a noise from my thinkybits.

My tweets

  • Tue, 13:28: Just had a sort of weird epiphany in re: long form narratives, further thinking on my earlier post. I’ll have to tweet about it! ;)
  • Tue, 13:29: Seriously tho, I’m starting to think every “How to Write” article in the world is completely backwards. The emphasis is all wrong.
  • Tue, 13:30: Good writing should be about the journey, not the destination. The end should be avoided, not rushed to.
  • Tue, 13:30: The “viciously slash everything and leave just the skeleton” editing mode currently in vogue is frankly wrong-headed.
  • Tue, 13:31: What’s the single most popular narrative structure ever? Soap operas. What do they NEVER do? Advance the plot.
  • Tue, 13:32: This thought requires some more baking (and probably a full-blown blog post or more). But I think I’m on to something.
  • Tue, 13:33: I think this may be at the root of some of the troubles I’ve had trying to transition to the role of novelist.
  • Tue, 13:37: We’ll say she already fixed it. //RT @salenstormwing: This sounds like a job for "CAPTAIN RETCON"!
  • Tue, 13:41: RT @mental_floss: 11 Ways Hard Cider Shaped American History — http://t.co/DWHUgjsrp3 // Presented by @WoodchuckCider
  • Tue, 13:56: RT @TerrenceMarks: My favorite Peanuts strip, because it makes absolutely no sense out of context. http://t.co/Kj1q8Zik7X via @snoopy
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