A Space Alien’s thoughts on Comic Book Writing

Sometimes it is challenging to be a fictional cartoon character. One major disadvantage is that your thoughts are not your own, or rather the words that you say are not your own, or rather the words that are printed in a bubble above your head with a line perilously close to your mouth are not your own.

Interestingly, these text balloons are stylized descendents of depictions of breath coming from cartoon characters mouths. In this 18th century cartoon, you can literally see that the breath is coming from the speaker’s mouth, carrying the words right along with it. From my perspective, that’s a rather charming concept. Since I live in outer space where there is no atmosphere, my physiology does not need air. So the concept of text attributed to me floating above my head levitated only by air is just plain wrong. But Walters never listens to me, especially on how to write comic strips.

Comic Strip Adventures

Technically the comic book that I’m currently appearing in is not a comic book; rather it’s a compendium of comic strips. So there is no overarching story that coincides with a traditional plot that you earthlings are used to. You know, the staples of comic book writing: introducing the goals, having a crisis, surviving the black moment. So predictable. And might I add, so unlike your dreary little earthling lives?

Well there is nothing overarching in the construct I inhabit. In fact, you can call the 4-panel prison I live in Attention Deficit World or ADW for short. (Sounds like a defunct airline, doesn’t it?) Case in point: I barely finish an opening observation, the professor says something stupid and before you know it, Zed comes flying in with a punch line. And suddenly it’s over: the final frame recedes and I find myself thrown into another frame at the start of another 4-panel comic strip.

To make things worse, many times the new situation is completely unrelated to the one I was just in. There I am, standing in the fourth comic panel in a field enjoying Zed’s patented (and subtle!) punch line, and then wham: I’m in the first panel of a new comic strip, ducking for cover because the professor is having a mid-life crisis and is taking my flying saucer out for a reckless spin. And in seconds I’m the one that has to come up with the punch line!

Economy Matters When You Write a Comic Strip

As you can see, my larger point is that there isn’t much time in a strip. You gotta make your point and move on. Attention Deficit World is fast paced and the readers are only going to spend a few seconds with you. So here are some quick tips I stole from Robert Walters brain when he wasn’t looking:

  1. Use a few words as possible. This is a visual medium, so if you can say it with pictures, say it with pictures.
  2. Create tension. After a premise is stated, think about how to add tension to the moment. Think this part through: the better the tension the more fun and  effective your punch line will be.
  3. Consider the “double punch line.” This is a technique pioneered by Gary Trudeau and Berkely Breathed in there brilliant comic strips. When you write a comic strip, if you can create a structure that has two punch lines that feed off of each other, you will truly delight your reader.
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