13 May
by Darryl Ayo

I have been off of the blog for a few weeks to let some bad vibes blow over and get out of my system. Comix Cube in general and Freestyle Friday in particular are not supposed to be about anger. When it comes to ME, the mission statement is always “talk about comics.” I know that a lot of us comic readers are striving to create spaces in which to discuss comics and discuss visual culture, art, literature and ideas. So let’s go.

Here is my little space. I’m working on the kinks but essentially, I want Freestyle Friday to be like a casual party. I’ll put on some visual music and you can dance with it or just nod your head or whatever it is that you do at parties.

One thing that I’ve always been interested in and have found myself falling deeper into lately is setting. I love place, I love environment, I love the worlds in which stories can take place. People who know me personally know that my default joke set up usually involves a police station with a detective and “the chief.”

The more I tell these jokes, the more vivid the scene becomes in my head. It begins with a generic office, a desk and two people, the detective and the chief. But after years of telling the same genre of joke, the details began to feel more solid in my head. There’s the water cooler, the cruddy little nonflowering office plant on the windowsill, there’s the somewhat repulsive color of the walls, the permanent stack of papers in a corner that has begun to gather dust.

In comics, one of the most difficult hurdles is the repetition. In order to tell a story with sequential pictures, those pictures must represent various subjects multiple times. This seems to be quite daunting to many novice cartoonists. It shouldn’t be intimidating, though. Detailing the worlds that contain a story is one of the more fascinating parts of cartooning. Or at least in my opinion. Is it still necessary to cap off any position with “in my opinion?” Anyway.

Water the plant. A comic–or at least the type that I’m most interested in reading–will find its creator hopelessly lost within its pages, discovering details and aspects of the world of the story, sometimes for effect, other times just to hold up to the reader’s attention and say “look!” But good, believable environments need not be wild fantasyscapes or heavily nuanced-to-the-pebble realism. I just think that there needs to be something present with weight and scale and dimension for the characters to move through. What’s important though, is that the environmental setting tells the reader something about the story, even if it’s only to set a tone.

Of course, once the tone of a story or series has been established, it can be interesting to poke at that, take jabs at the expectations that have been set up.

Take your time. As I suggested in my example of telling detective jokes, this process of world building can take a lot of time. In comics, it is often an ongoing process; the created world deepens the longer a cartoonist works on a particular story or series. The more time and energy devoted to a world, the more rich and complex that world is bound to become. Don’t fight it, but try not to rush it either, artists.

Me neither. Let’s go.


Nonplayer is (c) Nate Simpson.


  1. kevinczap May 13, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Yes yes, I have been thinking a lot about this topic… Good work, my friend.

  2. Liz (S) May 13, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Hey me toooo

    I’ve been trying to figure out lately exactly WHY a rich setting for the characters to move through matters so much, especially in instances where it feels only tangentially related to the plot. But then I think maybe there’s no such thing as setting only being incidental? It hugely affects the reader’s (and like you said, creator’s) ability to be immersed in the little world on the page. Even just a hint of some detail I think gives your brain the little push it needs to fill out the rest; example: there’s one Wet Moon panel of just the moon against a medium-gray gradient sky, but because it’s not just a sun hanging there or a moon in a black sky I know it’s that time of day when the sun’s gone down but it’s not dark yet, and I know what color the sky is, and where the shadows are, and what the air feels like, and how the characters might be feeling at that particular time in that particular atmosphere. All these things not on the page, just from one little panel of one particular detail.

  3. Mr. Esty May 13, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    It’s something I’m been really looking hard at for my own stuff. It can affect pacing, and if you’re not careful, giving the reader a ton of detail to languish over… can slow down the book at the wrong place.

    Properly done, of course, as you said: it believably transports the reader, and that’s a pretty amazing thing.

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