Posted by on Apr 25, 2012 in Digital | 12 Comments

One of the earliest decisions made regarding THRILLBENT was that it would feature serialized stories. That seemed like a no-brainer; after all, I’ve been writing serial fiction all my adult life. Easy transition, right?

Ha.

When it comes to story installments, all my storytelling rhythms are set to comics’ standard 20-22 pages. Yes, I can write much shorter (or longer) one-off stories–but in my entire career, I’ve never taken up the challenge of serializing a story in bite-size pieces, and the secret to it eluded me until I finished Chapter Three of Insufferable.

See, there are several factors that came into play when artist and co-creator Pete Krause and I decided on format and frequency for Insufferable. On the one hand, we want to give you as much story per visit as possible, so we decided weekly was better than daily. Gag strips can do dailies. For adventure strips, I think the reader is less inclined to come back every single day than s/he is to just wait until s/he can read a bunch of unread strips in one sitting, so it’s not “appointment reading”–you don’t train your audience to come back every week at a specific day or time, which seems bad. YMMV, but that’s my belief. So, weekly, not daily.  But how much story per week?

Pete–like most comics illustrators–can do about a page of comics a day, max (or, to put it in Thrillbent language, two screens a day–remember, as a GENERAL rule of thumb, each landscape-format screen of Insufferable equals about a half-page of print comics. GENERALLY). So that limits us to, realistically, no more than eight to ten screens per weekly chapter if we want not to fall behind on deadlines. That’s not a lot of real estate, but it’s enough to get some momentum and, in each chapter, deliver a setup and a payoff, a conflict and a resolution…somehow.  So once we locked on about eight to ten screens a week, depending on where we were in the story, I had to go block scenes and events out to fit.

What a learning experience. Yeah, yeah…I know the giants of Sunday comics strips of yore like Hal Foster and Milton Caniff made it look easy, but for right or wrong, we don’t do comics like that anymore. Still, those two in particular remained my north star and reference point–less in style than in what they were able to accomplish in small spaces.

In time–around the end of Insufferable, chapter three–I accidentally figured out the key to short chapters when I typed the last line, and it’s now advice I give to other creators who are developing for Thrillbent: end each installment by asking a question. Not necessarily a literal question (although that’s how chapter three ended), but just end on whatever beat makes the reader’s next thought a very frantic “Wait, WHAT?”  and their next thought “I NEED TO KNOW!”  Have a character drop an evocative bombshell of information. Let the reader in on the fact that there’s some mystery at play that he hasn’t yet realized.  Have someone do something totally unexpected or make some crazy, unpredictable choice. There are a bunch of ways to go. But end on a question. After all, a question mark looks an awful lot like a hook….

 

12 Comments

  1. D.J. Coffman
    April 25, 2012

    Milton Caniff was a genius. I’m so glad I got to meet him before he passed. Looking at his originals and how large they were, was the highlight of my early teenage years. I don’t think I appreciated it as much back then as I do now! Didn’t realize WHO I was meeting back then but my graphics instructor was friends of the family in Palm Springs. Also, if you can track down copies of Sky Masters by Kirby and Wood… Epic!!!

    Reply
  2. Bill Cunningham
    April 25, 2012

    Never underestimate the power of the cliffhanger…

    Reply
  3. scottstory
    April 25, 2012

    By “ending with a question,” I assume that you have included cliffhangers, gags, and “shock” panels,

    By “shock,” I don’t (necessarily) mean horror movie stuff–in fact, it will usually just be dialogue. The British writers are very good at this.

    For example, some massive reveal of immanent threat, like say Galactus appearing in Daredevil, and Galactus says “A moment of your time, if you please.”

    Well, that’s outrageous, the words and pictures are at odds in an interesting way, creating tension and interest. Readers can’t wait to turn the page or get the next issue.

    (I’m still learning how to do this effectively. Sometimes I pull it off, sometimes not.)

    Reply
  4. George Tramountanas
    April 25, 2012

    It seems like every page/screen needs to be something that will compel the reader to turn the page/screen (just as it would with a comic). But I can see how – at the end of a segment – you need a major question that will get them to come back next week.

    The other question you have to ask is, “Where do you pick up the story in the following week?”

    Do you treat it like the next page of the story? Or do you act like it’s the end of an issue and “back the story up” a panel or two when you pick it up?

    I would think the former if the goal is to eventually go to print. But it’s somewhat hard to say…

    I can’t wait to read this!

    Reply
    • Mark Waid
      April 25, 2012

      Where to pick up next? Really, it just depends on how the story’s going. Let’s play with it, see what works!

      Reply
      • George Tramountanas
        April 25, 2012

        I’m definitely ready to see you play!

        One other thing I’m curious about is your idea that two screens make one printed page.

        Are you actually contemplating printing a collection where you put two screens to one printed page? Or am I misunderstanding your plans?

        Every web-to-print collection I’ve seen sticks with the one-screen-to-one-page format. If you did stick two screens on one printed page, I would think that you’d need a horizontal border down the middle of the page to keep the two pages separate. Otherwise it would be tricky for readers to determine the order in which to read panels, unless you stick with a specific grid format (which I don’t believe you want to do).

        Sorry, just spitballing things here. This is gonna be great!

        Reply
  5. Kurt Christenson
    April 25, 2012

    With Power Play we’ve been doing it as traditional comic length which falls short of 100 panels on average.

    For newer projects, shorter one off stories and serialized graphic novel content, I’ve been thinking 6-8 pages regular comic script, or between 25-30 panels. After breaking it down some I’m trying to plan for one establishing panel per page, then additional panels to pepper it with.

    But what it comes down to is maximizing the artwork, keeping it simple and effective, especially working with a very limited budget this is essential. I feel like I’ve been doing so much behind the scenes laying out and gathering info on programming it’ll be nice to finally sit down and bust out finished scripts.

    Can’t wait to see what Thrillbent is going to be like. Really excited to have some good serialized fiction to read. It’ll break up the issues of Invincible and Savage Dragon I’m buying digitally.

    Reply
  6. CDowd
    April 25, 2012

    Yeah with my comic I always try to end each page with a cliffhanger, or some kind of hook that leads into the next page. Always keep the story moving forward, especially with a once a week schedule. No duds!

    Really looking forward to Thrillbent.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

    Reply
  7. Dan Taylor
    April 25, 2012

    “After all, a question mark looks an awful lot like a hook….”

    True. It does at that. And, an interrobang includes a club if needed. End on a question WITH a bang!

    Reply
  8. Adam Williams
    April 26, 2012

    Installment size and how to write for a shorter serial format is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently too.

    I have been picking up the weekly british comic, 2000AD which has been a great resource for seeing how this is done well with proper longform stories (as opposed to funny comic strips).

    They break there stories up into approx 5-7 pages per week for each strip too, and always end on hook like you have discovered.

    I’m not sure if you guy’s get it stateside but if you do I’d highly reccomend checking them out for a few issues.

    Reply
  9. James Schee
    April 29, 2012

    I’ve been really impressed with how the creative team of DC’s Smallville has handled things so far. Only 11 comic pages, but 20 comic screens, that have worked quite well so far.

    Reply

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