So...do you want to hear how my high school presentation went yesterday?
It went well. At least I think it did. You'd have to ask the class to get the real scoop. I think they liked seeing how I took the strip from pencils to inks to colour. And...I think they liked seeing the pages from my brainstorming book. The one place I think I got muddled was trying to explain the different rhythms of writing.
A few years ago...actually, quite a few years ago...I was chatting with my editor at King and he mentioned to me that he noticed all my gags had the same rhythm. The beats leading up to the punchline all fell into the same pattern. I hadn't realized it but as soon as he pointed it out, I could see what he was talking about. My writing had fallen into a rut. The content was still varied but the way I was presenting it was all based on the same " beat...BEAT...BEAT...PUNCH!"
I tried explaining the "beat...beat" thing to the class but I have a feeling they lost me. I showed these four strips to try to explain how I varied the rhythm and pacing of the gags to make the strip more interesting and not become monotonous and predictable to the reader.
In this strip there are four gentle beats. I say "gentle" because there are no written words and I think the drawings reflect a flow of three soft, overlapping beats as opposed to three individual, distinct beats. The last drawing is the punchline. So - if I try to explain these beats as a type of equation, I would say it goes like this: one quiet extended beat lasting over three beats of time plus one soft individual beat.
You're probably beginning to understand why I think I lost the students in my explanation.
In this strip there is just one strong beat. The punch is at the beginning of the panel as opposed to the punch being at the end of the strip above. This strip is a much quicker "read" because the punchline (or the point of the cartoon) is at the beginning of the strip and your "thinking" is done right away. The first strip requires you to "read" the drawings that lead to the punchline and takes a bit longer. The endorphins strip spells out the gag right away, the ballerina strip is a more thoughtful read.
The most obvious difference in this strip is that it is read in three frames. I would say the most usual punchline in a comic strip is short and snappy. That's not always the case, by any means...but I would say that is the most typical. In this strip, frames A and C have similar word length and the frame B has the "typical" short and snappy comment. I'm not saying that any particular juggle of words or pacing is the "right" way to write a comic. In fact, the whole point I'm trying to make is that there are many ways to pace a comic to keep the writing interesting.
The above strip consists of four frames which is the format I use most often. Of course, the pacing in four frames can be handled in any number of ways, but in this strip each frame is equally wordy. What adds to the rhythm of this strip is repetition of the words, "This is the LAST....(insert indulgence)...I'm eating before I start my diet to lose twenty pounds on Monday." The punchline is actually just one single word inserted at the end of the thought bubble in frame four.
I don't know if I made any sense at all to the students with these explanations or if they thought I was a crazy lady talking about beat-beat-beats.
In any case, I have to say they were a very nice group of students. They had a few questions. Two of them want to become writers. Several of them like to draw. One student doodled during my presentation and I was impressed with her talent. I was surprised at the number of them that read the comics in our local newspaper everyday. I wasn't expecting that many would. And a LOT them like comic books...most were Marvel fans...and a lot of those Marvel fans were girls.
So all in all, it went pretty well. But as I say...I guess you'd really have to ask the students. :)