Notes On Comic Humor: 1

I've been hard at work on some strip ideas that ultimately I plan to use to expand Malcontent. The hope is to produce something fuller than what I've made so far, to create a character-rich, fully realized universe. Perhaps to make something I could even submit to the syndicates.

So when I say I've been hard at work, I mean it. I've been drawing like mad, and thinking constantly about this strip. But not both at the same time necessarily. I've made character sketches; and I've made character notes. And I've obsessed over possible scenarios to put these characters in, but it's been hard and I've been disappointed with my ideas so far. Creating characters is one thing. Writing stories is altogether different.

Tonight I sat down and really tried for the first time to write some stories to introduce my characters. It was slow going at first. I drew out some ideas I'd written down, but they came out lousy. At some point I decided to look at some of my favorite recent strips I'd made, strips I felt worked on some level.

I'm particularly fond of Bad Design, and looking at it I realized that what made it work so well was the physicality of the drawing. Writing-wise it's just your typical Malcontent strip, but the comical drawing adds another level. The drawing makes it funny. And that's when it hit me, and I learned something vital — obvious, for sure, but vital nonetheless: funny drawings make comics funny. Or at least funnier.

After having this epiphany the strips just started flowing. I sketched another very physical idea I had about dog hair on the toothbrush. Then, starting from a purely visual standpoint — that is, starting with just a funny drawing idea — I made one about the dog, and the punch line just fell into place. Usually I write my comics first and work from there, but it turns out it's often a lot easier to build from a funny visual than to start with the writing.

After doing this a while I started getting ideas for storylines for the characters. I got four  strips about a cranky bear who wants to be human, and I even got an origin strip for a zombie character. They all have decent structure and solid punchlines. But the humor originates with the drawings. For the first time ever I'm seeing the importance of integrating the writing and the visuals, after all these years. And for the first time, I'm able to execute this concept. I'm finally starting to get it.

And it feels amazing!