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What do you look for in a good comic story?

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What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Randy Clute » Sat Dec 31, 2016 20:49 +0000

Seeing as I want to write and draw comics for a living, and all of y'all obviously have good taste (seeing as you are fans of Stan Sakai), I was wanting to know what made YOU decide whether or not you like a comic, and whether or not you will purchase subsequent books not only of the same title, but by the same creator? Any advice or tips help.
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Steve Hubbell » Sun Jan 01, 2017 12:09 +0000

I really wish I could give an answer to this question because I have found so few comics that actually interest me or keep my interest for very long.

Good (original) writing and good (and unique) artwork.

I do know that I prefer creator owned material such as Usagi, Groo, and The Goon, but I also dislike inconsistency which is something I have been encountering with The Goon.

I love Mignolia's artwork for Hellboy, but unfortunately I am not really big on horror/occult stories, and the use of other writers and artists on the series does not really help endear me to the series. I do love that it has been able to grow into a self-contained "universe" with forays into other series' universes through cross-overs. I just wish I actually enjoyed reading it more. (I would love to see Usagi's universe grow like that, but preferably only if Stan could clone himself)
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Maka » Tue Jan 03, 2017 12:16 +0000

Dear Randy,

I look for art that is has clear composition and story boarding. I like clean lines. But I also like little details that are in the background (The latest Ms. Marvel, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Hellcat artists put a lot of fun details in their backgrounds that aren't distracting to the story but are fun to discover. Stan does this as well with his buildings, lizards, statues, trees, dragonflies, frogs, etc.

In general, I follow writers more than artist. Give me a good story, and I can deal with different styles of art. But if the writing doesn't capture my attention, I'll drop a book.

I love Stan's Usagi because stories are mostly self-contained to one to three issues. The repetition of characters who have set personalities is also great because I "know" how they typically will react. When they do what I think they will do, I feel rewarded for my time investment in these characters for the past 200+ issues. When they don't do what I think they will do, I am pleasantly surprised. Stan never strays too far from their personalities that it is unbelievable.

I don't like excessive violence for shock value.

I do like strong women characters. I like stories that develop their own universe rules, codes of conduct, and social norms that are mostly followed and create conflict that must be resolved when it isn't.

I like cartoony art a lot (Sam Keith, Skottie Young, Adrian Alphona, Adrian Tomine, Jeff Smith, Gene Luen Yang, Los Hernandez bothers, Chris Houghton) and I like artisy too (Dave McKean, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jon J. Muth, Ted McKeever, Mike Allred, Mike Mignola). But story is king for my eyes.

Good luck!

Peace, maka
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby coolray85 » Wed Jan 04, 2017 3:15 +0000

hi Randy,

glad there is someone else out there with the same goals;)

for your question,
I like a great variety of different comics and stories I think. I,too, am a great admirer of creator owned material, I think these offer the most exciting forays into the fantasy of another human being.but that does not at all ONLY happen in creator owned material (it just happens fairly often in that 'type' of comics) as work on the ALIENS or TERMINATOR series by dark horse comics for example can demonstrate.
I enjoy comics that have a clear composition that doesn't distract from a reading or experiencing order..however I have also found comics where there was more than one possible direction and sometimes that can work as well.
I like character driven stroies and I really am excited for the building up of characters over time.like maka, when they don't behave according to my assumption, even better;)
I really really am in love with the mirage teenage mutant ninja turtles (next to usagi of course) and I think for me a big part in that is 1)the eerie quality of their adventures, 2) the family dynamic and 3) the resemblance of real life in that extrordinary world, you know little moments that tell of beauty or sadness of life..you can definatelly find this in usagi as well ('a mother's love' for instance).
I personally have always been crazy about black and white comics and there is such a great variety in the actual final visual appearance of your artwork.of course, this is true as well of color jobs.
I guess I love comics no matter what they feature if they manage to tell an interesting story and maybe even offer beautiful art work to fall in love with.
oh yes, the beauty in the art is also something that heightens my enjoyment;)...stans landscapes and majestically hovering clouds come to mind first..
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Randy Clute » Wed Jan 04, 2017 17:19 +0000

The responses have all been very interesting, and I agree with all of them...

But one of the key things that keeps being brought up is having a character you are familiar with, which of course leads to a better story.
This, however, begs the question on what makes a good first impression when you are unfamiliar with the characters world, or, to put it more bluntly:
What makes a good first issue?
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Maka » Wed Jan 04, 2017 18:38 +0000

Randy Clute wrote:T
What makes a good first issue?



If a comic can make smile at its detailed art and strong characters, I'm usually coming back. If it makes me laugh out loud and I end up showing the panels to my daughters, I'm spending my money on the next issue. If I can't share it with my daughters or I don't have a desire to share it with friends, then I'm not spending more money on it.

As you see from this Dojo, one of the best parts of comics is discussing them with friends. :)

Ms. Marvel was an excellent first issue. The art was so cartoony and it hit my learn about a different culture within teenage drama coming of age story line. Universal experiences (wanting to fit in while developing super powers :) with a cultural spin (being Muslim with immigrants parents with traditional values).

I recently read Ether https://www.darkhorse.com/Comics/30-559/Ether-1 and it sold me. In fact, I liked the writing and art so much, it made me go back and buy Dept. H by Matt and his wife back issues. (disclosure: I loved MIND MGNT and Jabba highly recommended Dept. H).

Peace, maka
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Warren » Sat Jan 07, 2017 12:23 +0000

Steve Hubbell wrote:I really wish I could give an answer to this question because I have found so few comics that actually interest me or keep my interest for very long.

Good (original) writing and good (and unique) artwork.


Ditto. There are a number of things that slowly pushed me away from superhero comics from the big two, so I could more easily answer the question of what I don't look for.
Art-wise, I got a little bored with the typically flashy art where the guys (even the skinny or out-of-shape guys) are covered in muscle and the women look like something out of the Escher Girls blog, and it gets harder to tell who drew what. I like distinctive artists. Aside from the obvious, I like John Romita Jr. (Not to everyone's tastes, but he's distinctive), Gabriel Hardman, and Guy Davis, to name a few.
On the other hand I don't like art to be so distinctive that it becomes muddy to look at and read, or the artist's style becomes style for the sake of it. (Gabe Hardman and Guy Davis' art grew on me; Humberto Ramos', just as one example, still looks like a horrific jumble of misshapen anatomy)

Story is a bigger factor. I found fewer and fewer superhero comic writers were able to write characters who come across as realistic, consistent, or just plain likeable. I think it has to do with the heightening of melodrama in a lot of different ways, making characters unrealistically fly off the handle for different reasons. I could write a page or two about examples I can think of, but I don't know if that'd be useful. I'll point to why I like Stan's characters: while he doesn't skimp on drama, or the conflicts that honour demands, and there's always a swordfight around the corner, the protagonists are almost always pragmatic, thoughtful, fair, compassionate, and/or restrained, in different ways according to the situation or their personality. Their development and reactions feel organic, and realistic. I don't know if I've explained myself very well after all, but I agree with Maka:

The repetition of characters who have set personalities is also great because I "know" how they typically will react. When they do what I think they will do, I feel rewarded for my time investment in these characters for the past 200+ issues. When they don't do what I think they will do, I am pleasantly surprised. Stan never strays too far from their personalities that it is unbelievable.
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Eltanin » Sat Jan 07, 2017 13:31 +0000

Very interesting topic. :D
I'll give my thoughts on it. This is my only point of view, though and some of you may disagree with parts or the entirety of it. It's quite long, and you may also be bored before the end. :lol:

When discussing comics, we generally consider two aspects: the story and the art. I often hear people joke about the fact that in comics, readers pick an issue because of the art and stay because of the story. The two are (and should be) strongly linked, but I'll start by talking about each independantly.

In terms of story, I think the most important thing is to have interesting characters. You can probably get readers interested in almost any story you want to tell as long as you have interesting characters. People want to relate to the characters, whether they like or dislike them. The main character can be a hero or a villain readers love to hate, but they must be able to relate to him to some extent. Try to avoid absolutes: A flawless hero or totally evil villain are often boring. Give your characters motivation and personality traits.
One thing I particularly dislike is when the story feels forced: the characters are doing something not because it makes sense with their personnality, but because the writer needs them to do something out of character in order for the story to move in the right direction. Let the characters drive the story, and make sure they never act in a way that would feel off. When the characters do an action or make a plan, ask yourself: Why are they doing this? If the answer is "because it's what I need in order to reach the next part of the story", then you know you are going in the wrong direction and need to rethink the story.
There are many resources about plot structure and the important parts of a story (Freytag's pyramid for example), and generic rules have been established. Feel free to follow them or play with them. But understanding the classic structures of storytelling is important either way.

Let's talk about the art. The most important mistake you cold do is to think the art is merely here to illustrate the story.
Let me explain: You can can have a comic where the artist illustrates perfectly the story with the panels he/she draws, but it could still be a failure. What would be wrong with that? Well, if these panels are designed independantly, without keeping in mind the bigger picture, then you're losing the main aspect of comics: it's a sequential art. Before thinking about the best way to illustrate a scene, you should think about the best way to illustrate a sequence: the composition of the total page, how the action flows from one each panel to the next (On a closely related topic, you might want to look at art structure, and how to guide the eye of the viewer to the important parts of a drawing. I'm sure there are many resources online). The way you design your pages is a good vector for feelings you want to generate in your reader. A quick succession of small panels can convey an impression of speed for a swift action, while you might consider large horizontal panels to represent a more serene and quiet scene (These are just examples I came up with, not necessarily the best choices). Page composition is an important aspect of comics and a powerful tool at your disposal, use it. Always keep in mind this sequential aspect of things: For example when illustrating a fight: how to best represent it? Should you draw a panel with the character in the middle of throwing a punch, or only when the punch lands, or even skip the punch entirely and go from the beggining of the fight directly to a shot of the winner standing in front of the loser on the ground? How much time should pass between each panel? Half a second, 10 seconds? Your art style is also something to take into account, as it might be better suited to deliver the scene in some ways than others.
All these questions are questions you should always be asking yourself. In my opinion, the best comic creators are the ones who truly understand and can play with this specific aspect of comics: it's sequential, but contrary to the cinema you have a full view of an entire sequence at the same time when looking at the full page.

Finally, I would say that story wise, I like comics able to make me feel various emotions (Usagi is great, since you can have funny moments as well as more dramatic and serious stories. The wide range of emotions conveyed in Stan's stories is one of my favorite aspects of his work).
Art wise, characters must be expressive: I prefer when I manage to understand how a character feels at first glance.

My 2 cents, not sure of how interesting is what I just said, but I'd be happy to discuss further with anyone interested in the topic.
Last edited by Eltanin on Sun Jan 08, 2017 0:34 +0000, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Randy Clute » Sat Jan 07, 2017 20:30 +0000

Speaking of speeding up/slowing down the reader, as Eltanin was saying, I don't know if any of you have read the Eisner/Miller conversations, but in it they talk a great bit about pacing. Manga seems to move too fast by way of eliminating backgrounds, yet American superhero comics tend to be too slow with too detailed of backgrounds and too many word balloons. This idea of using background details to pace a story fascinates me, as depending on the trend you set, detail can slow or speed up a reader. The obvious thought is to use detail to get the reader to stop and look for a while, but I once saw Chris Samnee do the exact opposite with great success in his run on Daredevil. During the first fight scene with Ikari, Samnee used many closer shots with difficult angles and detailed backgrounds, as well as lots of blacks, to create a hectic panic. When they finally take a breather in the fight, he pulls out to a simple mid-level shot of them on a tightrope, with no background and simple figures, allowing the mind to take a break along with the characters. When the action picks back up, so do the backgrounds.
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Eltanin » Sun Jan 08, 2017 0:33 +0000

I didn't know about the Eisner/Miller conversations. Is this the book? https://www.darkhorse.com/Books/11-757/Eisner-Miller-TPB
If they talk about pacing in comics, I'll probably order it, as this kind of things fascinates me as well. (But you probably noticed that from my previous post already. :D )
Is this the Samnee run?https://www.mycomicshop.com/search?TID=22963829
You got me curious, so I might give it a try too.
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Randy Clute » Sun Jan 08, 2017 8:11 +0000

Eltanin wrote:I didn't know about the Eisner/Miller conversations. Is this the book? https://www.darkhorse.com/Books/11-757/Eisner-Miller-TPB
If they talk about pacing in comics, I'll probably order it, as this kind of things fascinates me as well. (But you probably noticed that from my previous post already. :D )
Is this the Samnee run?https://www.mycomicshop.com/search?TID=22963829
You got me curious, so I might give it a try too.


Yes, both books are the ones. The Eisner/Miller book is incredibly fascinating, as they talk and argue about almost everything. On the Chris Samnee books, that is the correct run, but he did not start drawing them till issue 11. In my opinion, the best place to start with those is 23-27, as that is when Chris Samnee and Mark Waid really hit their stride. There is a collection of issues 22-the end that is a nice hardcover that should only run you around $30, and most issues are drawn by Samnee.

Luckily, their run does not end there, and they went on to do another 18 issue run, 16 of which are drawn by Samnee (he took a paternity leave for 2) and pick up where the other series left off. Their is also a Samnee artist edition available. They are now doing Black Widow.
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Randy Clute » Sun Jan 08, 2017 19:58 +0000

Eltanin's detailed post inspired me to expand this post to include any tidbits of information that you know or have heard on storytelling and illustration in general, or any little tips and tricks you all have seen or picked up along the way in your experiences with art, movies, etc, that can be incorporated into comic books or comic strips.
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Warren » Mon Jan 09, 2017 8:55 +0000

Randy Clute wrote:Eltanin's detailed post inspired me to expand this post to include any tidbits of information that you know or have heard on storytelling and illustration in general, or any little tips and tricks you all have seen or picked up along the way in your experiences with art, movies, etc, that can be incorporated into comic books or comic strips.


I was going to respond to Eltanin's post, but realised I had nothing to add. And I figured you had already read everything by Will Eisner and Scott McCloud anyway. :)
But when you open it up to illustration in general, one name leaps to mind: James Gurney. I've followed his blog for a while and it's a smorgasbord of art and illustration theory, practise, history, etc. He recently made his 4,000th post and made it into a great intro and reading list:

http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.co.uk/201 ... posts.html

I'll point out the 'eyetracking and composition' series near the bottom, perhaps most relevant to comic art in that list. It showed me how composition is even more complicated than I thought, and I thought it was plenty complicated already!
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Lobster Johnson » Mon Jan 09, 2017 12:00 +0000

The main things that caused me to stop reading superhero comics were these: repetitive stories and art that looks "cool" at the price of good storytelling. I enjoy Usagi Yojimbo and the Hellboy universe more than DC or Marvel because Usagi and Hellboy comics have permanent, interesting changes, instead of just resetting to the status quo every few years.

I also think Hellboy and Usagi have much better sequential storytelling than most superhero books. I like splash pages when they are handled well and make sense in context of the story (the one in Get the Lobster #3 is one of my favorite comic pages ever, because it superbly conveys the passage of time and what the Lobster is doing (not to mention that the Lobster looks pretty dang cool), but I think they are overused in a lot of comics just because they are a way to showcase the hero in a dramatic pose. However, there are definitely some DC and Marvel comics that avoid this and have great sequential storytelling (the Chris Samnee Daredevil books mentioned in this thread were very good, for example).

Warren wrote:I like distinctive artists. Aside from the obvious, I like John Romita Jr. (Not to everyone's tastes, but he's distinctive), Gabriel Hardman, and Guy Davis, to name a few.
On the other hand I don't like art to be so distinctive that it becomes muddy to look at and read, or the artist's style becomes style for the sake of it. (Gabe Hardman and Guy Davis' art grew on me; Humberto Ramos', just as one example, still looks like a horrific jumble of misshapen anatomy)

One thing I like about Guy Davis's art (especially in BPRD) is how the characters look rumpled and worn out rather than glamorous and super muscular like many characters in superhero comics. I think that does a good job of showing that the characters are realistic people, and it makes them more relatable. The Modern Masters interview book with him is well worth a read.
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Re: What do you look for in a good comic story?

Postby Randy Clute » Tue Jan 10, 2017 20:02 +0000

All of these are super helpful! Please keep them coming. Also, if you ever have something to suggest but assume I have heard it, go ahead. Maybe I haven't heard it, maybe I need a refresher, or maybe the way that you say it causes it to click in a way it did not before. Thank you all again, you do not know how much this helps!
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