Multifarious: How to Comic

digital comics museum. ideal romance 005-2

A lot of people were talking about how to comic this week, or linking to older conversations about how to comic. So that’s what we’re sharing with you today.

Deb Aoki started talking American Manga — if you want to be successful, be interested in and supportive of the rest of the industry as a whole.

It’s hard to sell a book when you’re the only one working in that genre, or the only one selling books period. A healthy industry means more chances for you too. Of course with OEL Manga there are other challenges. It has a reputation for being made by “fanboys” (as though other comics aren’t!) and “manga style” is apparently out of fashion with publishers. Siiiigh to that, I say.

She later segued to talking cartoonists who speak deeply about process, technique, and how to build a career. She proposed an anthology of essays — yes, yes, yes! Here are some of her recommendations:

C. Spike Trotman, Here Is Everything I Know: A 24 Hour Comic about making comics and making a living at them. Spike always gives good advice. She’s the kind of creator who genuinely wants others to succeed and gives many of them breaks through her anthologies, and gives the rest of us pragmatic tips and home truths about working as a creative.

Jim Zub, How Do I Break In?: Jim had a new comic out this week, Wayward, and he’s been producing impressive work for years now. But that’s not to say that he wrote his first script and then rocketed to success — of course he didn’t. Like everyone else, Jim worked his butt off making stuff and making friends (to paraphrase his advice here).


Iron Spike 24 Hour Comic page
Page from C. Spike Trotman’s This Is Everything I Know.

Elsewhere, Paul Duffield talked about the importance of visual literacy and visual language. If you’ve been reading comics a long time it can be hard to remember how baffling comics can be to new-to-comics readers. What do I read first? What’s the most important thing on the page? Good cartoonists embed subtle but strong cues into the page, but even so, there are tropes and references and basic elements of graphic storytelling that readers need to learn before they’re “reading comics.” And so crucially,

And because writing skills are more easily accessible, there are lots of people who aspire to be writers, but as a result writing comics is over-saturated and hard to break into. These writers mostly require artists to draw for them, so there’s a demand for skilled artists who can draw stories. There aren’t many people who are proficient at that task, so those that are will easily be able to find a writer who needs them (although a writer who is able to pay them is another matter). This chain of supply and demand quite literally makes up the economic structure of our industry, and ultimately it’s created by the lack of instruction we receive in drawing as a culture, which in turn is because of our lack of visual literacy, which in turn is so deep that it’s embedded in our language. Quite the vicious cycle.

How can we fully understand the potential within comics when creating them requires a skill most of us can only appreciate as an obscure talent we wish we had?

Julia Gfrorer was decoding comics in her TCJ Shadow Puppets column. This week, These Cans by Joe Decie, Who Needs Friends When You’ve Got Terry Gross? by Eleanor Davis, and Actual Trouble by Michael DeForge.

The main character of Davis’s one-page comic starts out listening to Fresh Air while she does housework. Gross’s words are indistinct, the chill droning mechanism of the radio implied by the sharp blue rectangle that contains them, oblivious to the woman’s amiable responses: “What an interesting point, Terry!” and “Don’t let him talk to you like that, Terry” (maybe she means Bill O’Reilly). The woman reads a magazine and anticipates Gross’s reaction to it, then she imagines seeking Gross’s advice about her own life–the artifice of the imaginary friend becomes more absurd the more it responds to the specific needs of the person imagining. By the end of the comic she’s talking to a banana, pretending it’s a phone, the disembodied voice has taken on a life of its own, and in the fantasy Gross is enjoying their conversation as much as she does, neither wants to hang up. This looks like lighthearted lunacy, but it’s also the logical continuation of the emotional process of inviting an imaginary “other” into our life as a friend.

And finally, Evan Johnston made Somewhere In Publishing: A Story About Book Design, which is a fine short comic.

Evan Johnston, Somewhere In Publishing
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Megan Purdy

Megan Purdy

Publisher of all this. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.