Monday, October 27, 2014

Some Additional Tools

There are a number of ways to strengthen your story. Some of these are straight writing, others require some assistance from the illustrator. Although they may seem a little subtle, you need to keep in mind that your dedicated fans will usually pick up on it eventually, and even start seeing it in places that it wasn't placed, at least not intentionally. I know you are told to not overestimate the stupidity of your audience, but that just means that you would be surprised when you give them a chance. Here are three ways to take advantage of that intelligence, and have some fun with it.

Running Gag: An example is that the good guys keep running across the same guy and kick his butt every time; eventually he joins the good guys. However, it does not need to be an actual joke, but it can also be just a recurring event. It's better when the event builds or there is obvious foreshadowing, such as someone tracking the group who keeps showing up just a few minutes after the group goes through. A good rule to follow is the Rule of Four: The first three times it happens it goes off the same way, but the fourth time it happens there is a twist.

[Yeah, I know about the Rule of Threes, where the limit for a recurring event is three times in one story. This is a modified version of that, where the event repeats three times, but here there is that twist on the fourth event.]

For example, A stalker keeps missing the group by a few minutes, but the fourth time it happens he helps the group out of a mess. Or the teenage romance: Two teens keep having problems on dates, but the fourth time the date goes off without a hitch. There is also when someone keeps screwing something up, but finally figures it out. This can be a great way to introduce characters as well as build up an event.

Recurring Symbol: Here's where you get to use that dramatic irony thing. If you want to build up some suspense, introduce a symbol that shows up but that only the readers really have the opportunity to see. Once the hero makes a good or safe decision, one that moves the story along, the symbol shows up. Of course, you can have another symbol that only shows up when the hero screws up. Your audience will have a different  reaction based on which symbol shows up, allowing you to ratchet up the level of suspense or relief from the audience. As long as you don't abuse it, you can actually have some fun messing with your audience a little while giving them information the hero doesn't, making for some interesting situations.

Color Palette: Each character and faction in your comic will probably have certain colors associated with it. Not only will they wear them, they are likely to decorate their territory with those colors as well. Your colorist can use them to define those same areas when it comes to the character, which gives you the ability to add some emotional relief or suspense to the situation. You can also add a character to the scene without the character actually being there just by throwing some of his colors around. If you're dealing with black and white, you can substitute shades if there are a few characters or factions, but you can easily substitute symbols of the character or faction for the same effect.

Between the Rule of Four, recurring symbols, and color palettes, you can create some interesting situations as well as have some fun with the comic. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tracking Down The Muse

Inspiration is one of the hardest parts of being an artist. It can happen so randomly and at any time; it's why we are encouraged to carry notebooks with us, or even recording devices. That cameras are part of our phones is a major boon to artists as it means that a means of recording something we see randomly so that we can explore it later. We no longer have to do with brief sketches as we can not snap a picture of something interesting, but download it quickly as well.

Sometimes a random bit of thought becomes something more solid, threatening our very sanity until we do something about it. Just watching a show because an opportunity for inspiration as we see something cool and want to give our own spin to it, or see a train wreck of a show and wonder how we could do it better, or wonder how a particular director would do a particular show. I feel sorry for painters watching the FYI Network who see some great stuff on something like Red Hot Design, where Shasta has some incredible ideas. Yeah, I think it would be funny to see Tarentino do something like a CW high-schooler drama.

We even get inspiration from our pets. I would love to expose an illustrator to Wolf Mountain, an MMORPG where you play a wolf, and you can see what your wolf smells. Are cats really all jerks or are they misunderstood? Do they care? Even if sentience is not assumed, a comic about the adventures of a hamster could be seriously fun to do. And that's excluding some of the other animals out there; I'm still waiting for a graphic novel of "Jonathan Livinston Seagull". Octopi are supposed to be one of the smartest creatures on Earth, rivalling dolphins; could you imagine what that perspective must be like, oozing from place to place, watching for prey, and avoiding sharks? There has to be some stories there.

All I'm saying is that follow your muse when she appears and stay as close to her as you can. When she appears know she is going to be fleeting despite your best entreaties, and will disappear quicker than she appeared. Grab a picture, take a note, discuss it with friends: When you see her take what she gives you as quickly as possible and have fun with it or you will regret it, and life is too short for regrets.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Law and Making Your Comic More Realistic

Comic book law usually falls into two different camps: based of actual law and laws created to deal with specific issues. One word of advice: If you are doing any serious writing, eventually you are going to find that you need to know at least how the law works in real life, and that Introduction to Law class can be a great thing. Also, make sure you do your research when it comes to the law; nothing trips you up like not knowing something that should be obvious to anyone in the know.

That said, only create new laws for your universe as you need them. With a little finangling most current laws fit a lot or weird situations. Offensive powers, for example, can be handled by most weapon and assualt laws. Evidence gained by divinatory abilities, such as scrying and telepathy, are probably going to be inadmissible in court as they utilize abilities that while the effects can be proven the method cannot by their very nature. Morphing into someone else is likely to be handled as identity theft. An excellent treatise on the subject would be Trinity Field Report: Psi Law. The Shadowrun "Grimoire" supplement also has an excellent section on how magic and its effects are handled under the law.

However, this is not to say that you won't need some laws for some situations that come up only in comics...well, usually. In a society where werewolves are commonplace, for example, how they deal with those who intentionally obtain the disease would be an interesting situation. For those with traditional vampires, revoked invitations would make for some interesting problems, especially if they led to the death of a vampire who should have had legal right to the domicile. It may suck to be a knight depending on how nasty the Good Samaritan laws are. Heck, supers may even have to register their powers, creating a power registry that can be used for mandatory service or identifying a person from the power used.

Keep in mind that you want to try and avoid creating laws just for story purposes as it may lead to other problems down the road. When editors sought to eliminate Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), they introduced a law that allowed her to become a US Representative; although it worked okay for her, there are a lot of movies that show just how badly that law could have been abused ("Wild In The Streets", for example, as well as The Prez from DC Comics). There is also the issue that a new law can interact with an old law for some nasty ramifications; the "vampire invitation revocation" law could force landlords to register as deadly weapons if worded wrong, potentially limiting the pool of landlords.

The law can be a tricky beast, and so don't give it a chance to mess around. Keep your laws simple and to the point and you should be fine. By the same token, you can get away with some broad interpretations of the law as long as you don't get too broad. It may seem like a simple thing to deal with, after all you set the rules, right? but for some people making them suspend disbelief a bit too much by getting a detail wrong can snap them out of the story, and that is something that you want to avoid as much as possible. The reader can be lost if the details are wrong, so avoid that by getting them right as much as possible, and this can be one of those details that needs to be researched. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Clothing Is A Lot More Than Just Cloth

One of the weirder questions you may have to deal with is a clothing issue. Basically, you're going to make the mistake of asking yourself, at some point, what are the costumes made out of? And no; this does not apply only to super-hero comics, but fantasy as well as horror comics. If your characters have any kind of shape-shifting or size-changing abilities, or any kind of transformative abilities, then you may wish to ask this question.

Marvel Comics has a pretty good solution to this: unstable molecules. Clothing made of these molecules mimics the abilities of any wearer, allowing them to stretch, shift, or otherwise be immune to transformations of their wearers, such as turning to flame or even invisible. At the other end of the spectrum White Wolf had a ritual that convert one suit to clothes that would transform along with its wearer and would disappear when he changed to a non-human form (and appear back when the shifter returned to a humanoid shape). Some variant of these may great for your comic.

Consider also some of the more exotic options. Spider-man's symbiotic suit is a great one; prior to it becoming Venom, the suit could mimic any suit of clothes with a thought as well as mimic some of Spidey's equipment, such as his web-shooters. With Venom the suit allowed some shape-changing abilities. In the Trinity RPG, there is the bio-evacuation suit, or BES; this organically grown suit allows its wearer to survive in space, is comfortable enough to wear under another suit of clothes, and will even pop a helmet up if you end up in space while asleep.

You may have other needs to allow for. If you have energy-based races you may need containment suits so that they can interact with flesh-beings, either because of their radiation or lack of a body. Have a feral race? The outfit needs to be tough, form-fitting, odorless in and of itself, and clasps tools tight in case its wearer runs off. And then there are the Qin of Trinity, a race of worms who rely on their human-shaped body armor to hide their individual identities from the humans they deal with.

Keep in mind that you can have fun with armor as well. "The thicker the better" will always be a good general rule, but you can always develop some sort of special cloth that absorbs impacts or deflects energy attacks. For that matter, you can use cloth that emits a force field when a weak electric current is run through it. Obviously there are no limits to what you can do with clothing, so decide what you need it to do, and it will. So have some fun making up types of clothing and make it do what you need it to do.