The Ugly and Unkempt (SOLSC 7)

I’ve been carving out bits and pieces of time to work on my comic.  One of the things that has interested and surprised me about this learning process has been discovering just how many steps are involved in making even a “simple,” 4-page comic.  Not that I assumed it would be easy, but I had no sense of the pieces that would have to be pulled together, or the way making a comic would challenge so many things I know as a storyteller.

I’m learning to be a visual storyteller … and it’s a steep learning curve. Case in point: my teacher said we should layout the panels and think of pictures before text. Even as he was saying it, I was disregarding it. After all, I’m a storyteller, I know how to tell my story, and I know exactly what I want to say. Um … yeah. That’s how my first draft wound up being three and a half pages of text and no drawings at all! So I scrapped that and started the way Dane told us to. This post alone tells you I had a lot of editing to do. Way too attached to words, I am. My finished comic is still super-wordy, even after eliminating nearly all of the original text. Full disclosure: in the end I cheated. I went back to the xtranormal cartoon I made, stole that dialogue and added in some new bits.

When I started Episode 2, I ran into the same wordiness issue, even though I did picture/panel layout first. I’ve got that episode drawn now and am working on the final pencil drawings and have moved on to rough sketches for Episode 3. I’m a little better with the wordiness, but I think that’s more this particular story than my improvement, and I can see some rough water ahead with several of the other stories.

I just borrowed an amazing-looking book from the library, Mastering Comics by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (hurray for libraries pretty much always having exactly what I need!).  There is so. much. to. learn!

Beyond the technical, the skill-building, the work feels familiar: how do I want to present the story, what story do I want to tell? Familiar, and with familiar hiccups.  I knew when I started working on Episode 1 that I wouldn’t stop with one comic (yes, they’re like Lays’ chips), that I would make a series.  I immediately had lots of ideas for episodes and started a list:

Oh, I need to do the story about kindergarten.

And don’t I want to include Michael and Mrs. Workman?

Oh, and what about …

I had a lot of ideas.  Maybe too many.  I went back over my list, looking for stories that could be grouped — episodes that didn’t need to be whole episodes but could be one or two panels in a larger comic because they were making the same point.  I edited.  I streamlined.  I re-ordered the ideas and drafted titles.  I had a neat group, a dirty dozen.

And then I remembered a bunch of stories I’d forgotten to include that I couldn’t see my way to not include.  So the list got longer.*

It still seems manageable at its current number (although it will take me just about forever to complete all of those comics!), and will make a nice thick book when all is drawn and done.

But …

But then I ran into a new problem.  Yes, the drawing of all the things on the list was a serious problem challenge.  Serious, not insurmountable.  My problem was humor.  “Me Talk Pretty” is serious, but I also find it very funny.  Just to be clear: I don’t find it funny when I’m in those conversations, but I find my comic rendering of the conversation funny.  Some of the stories on my list?  Really, really-and-truly, emphatically not funny.  They are ugly.  They are awkward and unkempt.  I picked up my pencil and started thinking about which ones I should maybe delete.

But …

I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of them.

Which was when I had an epiphany the divine equivalent of a dope slap: racism isn’t funny.  Okay, yes, I know that.  Of course I know that.  But I needed to tell it to myself, to remind myself that I’ve had the same struggle with writing I’ve chosen to post here, that my goal with Adventures in Racism is precisely to show the ugly, awkward and unkempt. Racism isn’t funny, but it can be a comic.


See the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers



* And as I typed this post, I thought of another episode that needs to be included!

14 thoughts on “The Ugly and Unkempt (SOLSC 7)

  1. Hey. First, I don’t even know the whole story of how you began creating a comic book- maybe you’ve posted about it before? Let me say though, it’s completely inspiring. I gravitate to anything where I can exercise creatity- produce. I think it’s awesome that you are taking oon such a project. Secondly- it most def does NOT have to be funny- esp in the traditional sense. What it is is art and expression. Just put it out there- in all its disheveled, unkempt glory. 🙂


    1. Thanks, Brighid! One of the things I’ve been saying to people when I’ve talked about this issue of including some of the uglier stories is: “Racism, it’s not always funny.” And that sounds so silly and perfect to me … I almost want to turn it into a tagline for the series. We’ll see.


  2. This was an intriguing read. This idea of presenting something that is not at all funny in a format that sometimes is really demands attention. The Arts in all forms are perfect vehicles for expression. It is interesting to see your storytellling emerge in this new form.


  3. I think the format you are working with is so challenging. Good for you that you are stretching yourself artistically this way? BTW, have you read any Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis and its sequel? She works the graphics in such an amazing way.


    1. Thanks, Tara! I’ve read excerpts from Persepolis and have the book on hold at the library. I also read Brooke Gladstone’s The Influencing Machine last year. Graphic nonfiction really interests me. I love that there’s quite a bit of it out there!


  4. Yep. Yep!! Comics are a medium, like any other medium, and it’s always a challenge to figure out just how to use them to best advantage with the particular stories you want to tell. I’m so excited you’re doing this. 🙂


    1. One of the things I’m loving about this is that it’s creating a way to have a difficult conversation much more easily. I’m curious to see if that feeling continues as the work progresses!


  5. I have the reverse problem. I can pretty much make a joke out of anything. I sometimes have to curtail my natural inclination to snarky humor to get a serious piece to stay serious. I think you balanced both perfectly.


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