I spend a little bit of time each morning with a sarcastic rat, a bazooka-wielding duck, and a bunch of incompetent crocodiles. I know there are others like me, fellow fans of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine, drawn by Stephan Pastis. It always makes me laugh.
I love comic strips, and I admire the artists who create them. They can tell a whole story in a few panels, or sometimes in just one. Gary Larson’s Far Side had many such memorable stories, and I like to study them for clues on better writing. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but many of these strips can be described briefly with the caption and be just as effective. The best ones use a synergistic mix of artwork and story to maximize the giggles.
I also love graphic novels and comic books, longer works in a similar format. The artwork can be breathtaking, as in Frank Miller’s Sin City. I hope someday to be able to depict whole scenes in sharp-edged black and white the way that he does. His artwork screams noir, and I love to listen to it howling in the night. Cue the saxophones. A longer format also allows for creative uses of the panels themselves—Spiderman can explode out over the page, or characters can walk between the boxes. Graphic novels are a rapidly developing form of literature with its own visual vernacular. I hope to someday be able to create one.
While graphic novels are short stories or books, some comic strips are serial adventures. If you read through a few collections of Peanuts strips you’ll see relationships evolving. Certain pranks arise again and again, and it deepens the laugh when Snoopy ambushes Lucy, as he often does. Pearls Before Swine often continues with the same storyline for a week or two. It’s nice to see how an artist keeps the strip fresh over time. This also has lessons for writers to study. In the meantime, I need to see what the pig is doing with the duck. They’re both sideways in the strip. This should be fun!
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
87. Read a few comic strips. If you’re feeling more ambitious, check out a graphic novel. Libraries are starting to collect them, and your local bookstore probably has them available, too. There are themes and styles to appeal to all. I particularly recommend the comic strip Pearls Before Swine, available online and hopefully, in your local paper.
Link, should you desire it: