Creator Confessions: The Limitations Of Comics

by Frank Martin

As a writer of both novels and comics, Comicon contributor Frank Martin has a lot to say about the process of making fiction a reality. In Creator Confessions, he offers some of the discoveries he’s made in bring a story from initial idea to a complete, published reality.

Creators talk a lot about the power of comics as a medium. Which is true. Comics are an incredibly versatile form of storytelling. There are a lot of tools in the comic creator’s toolbox — but creators don’t often talk about the limitations of comics as a medium, which is arguably just as important. To know the limits of the medium means to know what you, as a storyteller, can and cannot do. Plenty of people will try to bend the medium (and rules can often be broken), but still, it’s important to know why they’re there in the first place.

One of the most important things to understand is that the comic page is a static medium; a story made up of a bunch of still images not in motion. Of course this may seem obvious, but it’s something that has to be taken into grave consideration when writing a story. Comics exist somewhere between traditional prose and film, yet both of those mediums can accommodate motion. You can describe a character in a novel walking across the room or see a character perform that action in a movie, but you don’t actually see someone walking in a comic. All you see are a series of still images communicating that someone is walking. This is very important because creators need to be reminded that only one action can happen per panel.

Another limitation is sound. You can describe a sound in a novel or actually hear it in a film, but comics are unique in that sounds are displayed with visualized graphics. It might seem like a goofy quirk of comics to rely on onomatopoeia, but it’s quite important. Personally, I’m terrible with sound effects and actually spend time making weird noises trying to see what sound effects make sense with certain circumstances.

There are tons of other little limitations with comics, but the last one I’m going to talk about is dialogue. Specifically, comics and monologues don’t go well together. Comics are all about pacing, especially in a twenty-page floppy. The story has to get moving, and having one character going on an introspective tangent is not a good use of space. Huge chunks of text not only block out art but also slow the story down tremendously and can turn off the reader.

Again, a lot of this stuff might seem obvious when talked about, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget these things when writing a comic script. Like anything else, it’s all about practice. The more comics you write and the more feedback you get the more writing specifically for the comics medium becomes second nature.

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