Friday, June 06, 2014

Making Pages more Dynamic and Illustrating Dialog

Illustrators need some help, too. Let's look at the Rule of 180 and The Rule of Thirds.

The Rule of Thirds is simple: Draw three lines that divide the screen into thirds horizontally. Now draw three lines that do the same vertically. Note the points of intersection: Anything interesting should happen at or through these points. Skylines, for example, should either cover the top two spots or the bottom two points. A building placed so that it intersects two such points will seem longer or higher. A character jumping or flying should start at one point and end at another. For talking head strips, the heads should reach no further up than the bottom two points; this allows plenty of room for dialog.

For comics the rule is slightly modified. For a strip, each panel should have its own points. If the panels are big enough (such as a 3x3 grid on a standard piece of paper) each one should have its own points of interest. If the panels are smaller, then you need to use your own judgement as to what looks best.

Obviously this rule is not set in stone, and some variety is a good thing. A table that stretches from just below one of the bottom points to just above the other bottom point is going to look more dynamic than one that stretches from one point to another. Play around with it, and see how it works for you. In general, this is a great rule of thumb for most panels, and will make your art cleaner and make it easier for someone to track the the action.

The Rule of 180 is great for parsing dialog, especially if the characters are in different locations, such as one in a library and one in a forest. The idea is simple: Two characters that are in different locations should be placed so that they are looking at point that is between them but roughly 45 degrees off the plane towards the artist. If you really want to see the rule in action, study some movies and see how they do dialog. In comics the same result is obtained from characters in the same location facing each other but turned to a three-quarters pose.

This can be used to add some extra depth to your comic. A more intense feeling can be created by eliminating the angle; the closer to looking straight at each other the more intense the emotion. Conversely, shifting the point to behind the page can make the characters conspirators. You can also create a more hostile feeling by facing the two characters away from each other, or enhance a feeling of miscommunication. Of course, you can also have one character chasing the other by simply facing one away, or add emphasis to a pleading character the same way. Again, experiment with it to see what works best for you.

These two rules of composition should help you out a lot when it comes to making better comics. If nothing else, you have something new to play with.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Getting Serious About the Funny

If you're going to be serious about comedy, you need to have something to joke about. Too many comedians think that they are funny just because they understand the theories behind humor and the know the Old School comedians and....well, that's it. They tell the jokes that they think will crack everyone up, figuring that if they apply The Rules then they will become headliners with their own show. It doesn't happen that way, and it gets worse when comics writers get in the act. So, here's three basic rules that should help anyone tell the Elephant Joke with some credibility,

1) Know the target. If all you know about the military is from movies, comics, and historical books, you have no right telling a joke about the military. An audience can tell the difference between someone who is merely parroting material and someone who has lived it. You may be able to get away with it for a while, but eventually you will run out of material. Now, if you knew every military movie ever made and you were making fun of military movies, that's cool, and military brats have some great jokes about moving and their travels, but both are out of their depth when it comes to the military and it will eventually show.

2) Respect the target. This is the hard one, but really necessary. Note that I'm not saying that you need to love the target, but that you need to have at least a grudging respect for it on some level. Even those that target the military because they think that the institution should be abolished still like the people, respect the rescues and rebuilding  that it does, and, well, let's get real: Anything that comes with explosions can't be all that bad. But this doesn't mean that they love the conformity, it's basic need to kill other humans, or the corruption that occasionally pops up, and that's fine: The basic respect is there, and that gives them a connection that allows them to really dig into it.

3) Know what the target is doing today. This cannot be emphasized enough. If you tell a joke about the military based on items that are even a few years ago you will most likely lose the audience. Dated material is the bane of the comedian; Teddy Roosevelt jokes are funny for only so long. Keep up with the target and you should do okay.

4) feel free to ignore these rules as needed. If you are only interested in the military as a symbol of a monolithic culture, go for it. You don't need respect or knowledge of the military for that, even though a corporation maybe a better match. You don't always need to swim in the deep waters, and sometimes you can only reach the deep waters through the shallows. So heed this advice only as long as it helps but do keep it in mind.

So there's some basic rules. Now get out there and get funny!

[The Elephant Joke:
Do you know why elephants paint their toenails?
So they can hide in jelly bean jar.
Seen an elephant in a jelly bean jar?
Works pretty well, doesn't it?

I blame Mike Pondsmith.]

Monday, June 02, 2014

Knowing the Material for Joke Purposes

"Know Your Material": This is something that should be tattooed on the writing hand of anyone wanting to write comedy. I recently saw a meme on Facebook where someone re-wrote the old saw about how the military was a death sentence to compare it to the Hunger Games. Whereas it would have been great back in the Viet Nam era when warfare was entertainment and the casualty figures were astronomical, it sort of loses its zing in an era where military casualties are so few that we know most of them by name. Suffice to say it fell sort of flat.

Most of Carlin's great stuff was written towards the beginning and middle of his career. Most of the lines and speeches that are constantly quoted comes from this era, and with good reason: It was stuff he was familiar with and had first-hand experience with. Admittedly his military and broadcasting careers were decidedly lack-luster in and of themselves, but it gave him enough first-hand experience to last for decades, and he was able to use that in some of the best monologues against groupthink and for individuality that have ever been performed. However, as his career advanced, well...he should have retired a good decade ahead of the curve.

When he joined the military it was an army of draftees worried about their survival, and everyone performed pretty much the same job; your MOS didn't matter when you came under attack and if someone with the right MOS was unavailable you learned quickly enough. Today's military is one of volunteers and where specialization has occurred to such a degree that virtually no one can do anyone else's job, even if they have a similar skills package. Suffice to say that survival is also not the issue it once was; most recruits will never be any where near a attack, and that's even allowing for terrorist attacks. Suffice to say he was also unable to keep up with technology; odds are pretty good that even the concept of "Arab Spring" would be alien to him.

This is definitely not to be disrespectful by any stretch of the imagination; his monologues are still classics and rightly so. But by the same measure a lot of his jokes are for a different era, and they would fall on deaf ears. The current generation just has different relationships with his chosen targets, and are finding ways of using ways of using what he saw as the enemy as a force for good rather than evil. He always wanted for people to control the media rather than the opposite, and that has happened by and large through vidcasts, podcasts, blogs, and social media. I'm not sure if he would approve but it has happened.

The point here is that humor evolves over time. What was funny even a few years ago may not be today, especially if public opinion has switched on it, and even punchlines have changed; Miley Cyrus used to be the poster girl for All-Too-Sweet Innocence and now she's a wrecking ball. If you're serious about writing comedy, you need to be able to adapt as well or you will be left behind when someone who is more in touch comes along. You can't just float; you need to be paddling slightly ahead of the current.