Thursday, December 15, 2005

Top Ten Worst Offenders, Part I

Some cliches can be stopped. To help you avoid cliches, here are the Top Ten Worst Offenders:

10) Vampires. They're dark, angsty and supernatural. Perfect for artists that are trying to explore their dark sides.

Unfortunately, few think vampires all the way through. They look at the angst factor, mostly the night-onnly existance and the parasitism, but not the advantages of being a vampire. Once you get past the need for blood and darkness, you don't have to pay taxes, the money you were paying for most bills and food becomes disposable, and you can concentrate on what makes you happy. Okay, so you can't have kids either, but that's sorta plus/minus.

On the flip side, there are those that try to find psuedo-scientific reasons for vampirism. Obligatory: Huh? They haven't thought one major thing through: Vampires only work when they are mysterious, and they end up not working as well when their secrets are grounded in reality. Not saying you can't do it; just be aware of the problem.

If you are going to use vampires, don't get drowned in the angst, and consider that they would revel in their advantages (such as their heightened senses, the ability to pursue things for a longer period of time, and immmunity to a wide variety of things). If you can't, just remember that not enough people use werewolves.

9) Collector Comics: This is a corporation's favorite: A comic with a built-in collectible. Although there's only two major offenders (Pokemon and Yugi-Oh), there are a lot of minor ones (Digimon, for example). However, it goes far behind just toys.

The basic idea is that a hero (or group of kids) are looking for a group of objects or animals in order to solve his (their) quest. Although great in that success is measurable, and tension is guaranteed to mount with each piece collected, it starts getting monotonous as battles start to mount, especially if every fight is the standard "old trick gets negated, hero almost loses, finds a new trick, wins" formula.

This is great if there are just a few pieces (Dr. Who's Key of Time only had seven pieces). But there's a reason it works great in games, and not so great in comics: Each goal accomplished limits the time left. However, try to avoid this one unless you have a good reason; the reason that it's on this list is because (besides being used a lot) is because too often authors use it as a crutch (by setting measurable goals, you feel good when you have accomplished one, and feel better if you know the path has been that much more finished), and there is the temptation to add/reveal "just one more" collectible.

If you can keep to the objects that you have revealed, and have fun with it, go for it. Otherwise, avoid like the plague!

8) Magical Girls: I'm not trying to be anti-feminist, but heroic girls set the feminist movement back by ten years each time they show up. ("Super-Sailor Charon, let's defeat Masculinor and then go to the mall! Magnifence Cherry Beam of Cheeriness!"). Yuck.

I'm sorry; this is just a genre that needs to either mature or die. But, since it comes up, how do you deal with it?

First off, make sure that none of the girl's involved are Mary Sues (almost-perfect with special abilities, flaws that are more dramatically appropriate than real, and worry about their perfection). If you do have them, kill some of their specialness, and give them normal issues, not hyped-up petty ones (she needs to defeat the bad guy quickly in order to make a date, not because he messed her hair-do).

Second, make the guys real. I like WITCH because the recurring males are realistic guys, not merely foils for the girls. Even without powers, Caleb (the rebel leader), Blunk (the "pet"), Matt (Will's love), Martin (their fan), and Uriah (Caleb's friend) are just as vital to the fight as the girls, albeit in far different capacities. I could have an episode with just those characters, and it would be interesting. Contrast that with the guys in the Winx Club, who are easily replaceable. They have enough problems just being on-screen; there is no way they could sustain an episode by themselves.

Third, and last, don't try to be feminist. It invariable works against the story. Just let them evolve as characters. I cannot emphasize that point enough!

7) Game Comics: This is not to say that there aren't great game comics. Penny Arcade and Goblins are great examples. However, because gamers tend to be computer literate, and some are decent artists, they try too hard to relate what happens in games to others, and it just doesn't always work.

If you are serious about making a comic based on a game, do up a script, and then show it to someone who is not in your immediate circle. If they think that's entertaining, go for it. Otherwise, just put it down and either try something else, or just do it for yourself and your immediate circle of friends.

6) Conspiracy Theories: Every action has a reason for happening, right? And, as we're interested in looking for reasons behind why things happen, we're liable to assume that if we can't see the reason, then someone made the decision. Most people realize that some decisions are by nature arbitrary; a decision needed to be made, but several options were acceptable, so one was chosen.

Others, however, believe that there is no such thing as an arbitrary decision, and that every decision is made for a reason. The next leap of logic is that the reasoning behind the decisions is part of some struggle, and that there is some sort of war going on, making every decision important. Thus are conspiracy theories born.

A lot of writers like them, as they feel powerless in their own life, and seek to demonstrate this by showing how powerless the average man in a world where all his decisions have already been made. They then make the hero someone who rebels against the conspiracy, proving that there is free will in the universe.

The issue here is that it removes free will from the situation. After all, the easiest way to deflate tension is to make it obvious that any decision that's going to be made has already been made. Think about this for a moment: You have two organizations that have been going against each other for milennia, and they can predict the other's moves.

So, if I belonged to one of the big organizations and I knew someone would be making a choice, and I knew how the other organization was going to react, then why not give him some sort of information that affects his decisions, and then affects his decision towards my preferred result? Thus removing any actual choice, and gaining an ally against the enemy organization because he feels so good that I allowed him a choice, even if he thinks that he's acting against mine as well.

There is the question of whether or not there really is free will, which is rather depressing. The ironic thing is that the writer usually says that he is an atheist because he thinks that God has a destiny for everyone, and that there is no free will. And then he then proves himself that everything is, in fact, pre-destined.

Just pointing out that when you start down the path of conspiracies, you remove a lot of dramatic tension from your comic, which rely on dramatic tension.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What exactly is "cliche"?

The biggest problem you will have is the cliche problem. Far too many people will use it as an excuse to hate yoiur comic, and so this needs to be discussed.

A cliche is anything that has been over-used. You know: magical girls, card games with living monsters, giant ships with bigger guns. Something that you see way too often.

Cliches tend to be used either by beginners or commitees. For beginners, cliches allow them to stay in a safe area, roughly akin to bunny trails and shallow areas. There's very little danger, and they know the curves. For comittees, it means a guaranteed success; after all, the idea has proven itself over and over and over, and works as new viewers who haven't seen it but saw the old generation like it. Yes; an entire generation that hasn't seen Card Captor Sakura, and to whom the magical girl show is actually new! Weird, but true. And it's that new audience that allows cliches to be perpetuated.

So...how do you avoid cliches? Think it through and plan. If the idea is that you will fall back on cliches when you need something safe, don't put yourself in a position where you need that fallback. By planning ahead, and taking an honest look at your script, you can avoid the vast majority of cliches.

Also, know the industry. Before you get really interested in your idea, take out a piece a paper and list every comic you can think of that even looks like your idea. if there are more than a handful, then odds are you're dealing with a cliche. Another way is to go to your favorite comics spot (like Buzz Comix or Comic Genesis), and use keywords that would apply to your comic and see how many comics pop up.

I point this out because far too many beginners replicate almost word-for-word ideas that are just a few years old, and then get quickly frustrated when a number of people point out that their great original idea is already cliche. The best way to avoid this, obviously, is to know what has gone before you.

Hmm...Guess some examples would help....

Let's Start With An Idea

You know, instead of giving an instruction guide, I think I'll just show you how to make a comic, and reference the workbook every so often. If you don't like it, deal.

So...Where do you get an idea from?

Better question: What do you want to do? Make a list. And don't be afraid to put titles of anime, comics, TV shows, movies, or even books. Heck, even put in random word if that works for you.

Or you can ask a question.

Oh yeah: Don't be afraid to steal.

You need to be aware of the originality issue. There are two sides to it.

The first is that there is nothing new under the sun. On the other hand, everything is new under the sun.

Consider Romeo and Juliet. Basic Plot: Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They find out that their families are at war. They get married. They commit suicide. Everyone is happy.

Now, more importantly, consider the variations. One, both or neither die at the end. It can be a boy and girl, two boys, or two girls. Marriage is an option, or can happen after the final act. Heck, replace "fall in love" with "fall in hate" and save the romance until after the onflict. Or they can continue to dislike after the conflict.

You can even change the conflict. Instead of "different, warring families", make them of different social classes (he's poor and she's rich, or vie versa). Or they belong to different gangs. Or he's a geek and she's a cheerleader (wait, that's different gangs...). Or even ideological differences. Or one's an alien and the other's human. In essence, as long as the conlict complicates the romance, you're good to go.

You don't even have to start with a conflict. Road trips movies are always fun, as the trip changes those on it. Or you can compare societies and show that they are the same. At this stage, you can be as specific or as general as you want. Here's my scripts, and what started them, if it helps:

Miner's Glory: I just wanted to do a Western. I'm a big fan of A Man Called Horse, and I wanted a gatling gun. I was in South Dakota, and so it's Gold Rush and Native American culture fitted in. Also, I wanted a woman avenging her slain fiance.

Ogre's Pendant: I wanted something fantasy. Also, ever notice how easy it is for someone who has never met anyone in the party can become friends so quickly, betray them, and the party never blames the new member? Wouldn't it be great if they had protocols in place to deal with it?

Chinese Chess: Don't you get tired of seeing dragons slain or gone to as sources of wisdom? How about making a treatu with one for self-defense?

Hinami Neon: I'm a big BubbleGum Crisis and Blade Runner fan. Plus, I wanted to see just how nasty I could get. This answered a lot of questions in that regard.

Sex Percussions: Someone entered a title contest with this. I had to steal it. It started with a group of performing capoieristas, and degenerated from there. Now, I am using to systematically make fun of everything that I can...

Brass Ring: The basic idea was that there is always a another chance (some carousels have a brass ring that you can toss into a hole for a prize; you have a chance at the brass ring at every pass). In the Champions RPG, it's mentioned that the worst enemy a hero can have isn't the most powerful villain in the universe, but a detective with obscene skill at observation. So, what would happen if a telepathic detective went after super-heroes' secrets, and used them to make them play fair? And what would happen if those secrets were released?

Strip Poker: Everyone that is a big fan of 80's movies knows that there were a lot of movies that featured the beginning of a strip poker game, the middle of a strip poker game, or the end of a strip poker game. I wanted a full game, darn it.

Shorn Wool: Ever notice in the stories of the Three Fates you rarely hear of where the wool comes from? What if it's a metaphor for beginning your life? (Yeah, I know it's from a herd of Apollo's sheep, but what kind of story is that?)

Hope's Last Stand: I wanted a sitcom pilot script, and all I could think of was combining my work experience (at the time I was working at Taco Bell), and T-NBC was sort of fun to watch. So you got this woman reforming a fast-food joint on the edge of the parking lot with a crew of teen-agers and a pair of misfits as her assistant managers.

So what ideas have you thought of?

Monday, December 12, 2005

How To Create Comic Books Handbook

[Remember I said I would be plugging my products? This is because I'm trying to help beginners (and some more advanced people) make their lives a lot easier. I'll publish an "instruction book" a bit later...]

With this handbook, you will be able to: ---Plan your comic; ---Be able to set up your comic online; ---Know what your characters look like, how they interact with your world, and possibly even why they do what they do; ---Have pictures of your settings, and know who hangs out there; ---Have pictures of your bases, vehicles, weapons, and other sundry equipment; and ---Have plenty of space for notes and drawing!

Cafe Press: $7 Lulu: $.60 (download)/$9 (book)

Publishing Info Making A Plot Character Info Group Info Setting Info Equipment Info

Enjoy!