By Darryl Ayo
Apparently I drew this comic on November 7, 2006.
This is a post about structure and design. Two things that I think about a whole lot and never want to talk about publicly. This post is also about joke strips because it’s April first. Slug the vocal person from Atmosphere said “If they like your song, just nod your head and play along; never tell them what inspires you.” That’s similar to the crime phrase “The game is to be sold, not to be told.” But here’s another page from my playbook.
The best comic strip of all time is “THIMBLE THEATRE” (ie, “Popeye”) by E.C. Segar. That guy died in 1938. So in other words, it was all figured out before my dad was even born. Thimble Theatre worked so well because it was written to entertain on multiple levels with the possibility for multiple layers of exposure. If you were a daily newspaper reader who always read the strip, you would be able to see this series of extended narratives continue and develop each day. If you just happened across the strip every now and then, you could enjoy the jokes, gags and punchlines. Segar’s strips always worked as gag strips at the same time that they always worked as long serials. Almost proto-graphic novels.
There’s some brilliant strip design here. This strip is designed on a six-panel grid. Break it down into thirds. The second third of the strip is always two panels. The first third or last third can be one combined panel (as seen above) or they can be two panels (also seen above). In various papers, “Thimble Theatre” would run in different formats.
1) Whole strip, straight across.
2) Strip bisected; first half stacked atop the second half (grid panels 1,2,3 over grid panels 4,5,6)
3) Strip trisected; one-third chunks stacked atop one another.
It was essential to have the middle third always be two panels. It allowed the strip to run in places where editors determined that the strip would be cut in half in their papers. It’s totally brilliant when you look at it from a practical standpoint.
Getting back to the gag/serial aspect, I always felt that this was what pushed “Thimble Theatre” past being “one of the greatest” into being “THE” greatest. I read a quote by Chris Ware in Andrea Juno’s “DANGEROUS DRAWINGS” book in which Ware describes literary comics as telling a moving story through a series of jokes. True to Ware’s form, he was denigrating himself and comics in general, but that quote always stuck with me. I guess my brain “saved” the quote until it could figure out what to do with it. Well, it was right under my nose the whole time.
So how can we learn from the lessons of E.C. Segar and adapt that approach to the contemporary comics world? A world in which we don’t even HAVE thriving newspaper strip scene?
I’M GLAD YOU ASKED:
OCTOPUS PIE by Meredith Gran
QUESTIONABLE CONTENT by Jeph Jacques
SCARY GO ROUND by John Allison
KGB by Becky Cloonan and Hwan Cho
GASTROPHOBIA by David McGuire
APPLEGEEKS by Mohammad Haque and Ananth Panagariya
And I’m certain that there’s more webcomics like these. It’s so basically obvious that I’m a bit stunned that I hadn’t put the elements together years ago when I first posed the question. The simplest solution to a specific question of choice: Which one? BOTH.
All stuff (C) King Features, Meredith Gran, Jeph Jacques, John Allison, Becky Cloonan, Hwan Cho, David McGuire, Mohammad Haque, Ananth Panagariya, Darryl Ayo Brathwaite