I’m lucky. Scott McCloud is a neighbor. Not next door, mind you, but same town. In fact, we used to have offices in the same building. Don’t know who Scott McCloud is? He’s a cartoonist of Zot! fame, and a student of comics. He wrote Understanding Comics in 1993, Reinventing Comics in 2000 and Making Comics in 2006. He’s working on a graphic novel right now. (You can see his TED talk here.)
Scott is a master of the third law of subtraction: limiting information engages the imagination. That’s the heart and soul of comics. Why? Because the action isn’t in the panels drawn. It’s in the white space between them…the gutter. That’s why I spent time with him: he’s half a chapter in my upcoming book The Laws of Subtraction (October 26, 2012).
This past weekend, while most people were rooting for the Giants (I know, I know, don’t zing me), I was attending his 2-day “Making Comics” workshop at the Los Angeles School of Figurative Arts, to learn more about the art of visual storytelling, and to experience a new dimension in communication. It was not a drawing class–no skill was needed–it was a visual communication class. I learned the subtractive art of comic storytelling, which is actually quite difficult but engaging, because the fourth law of subtraction (creativity thrives under intelligent constraints) is in play.
I learned about the 5 choices: choice of moment, choice of frame, choice of image, choice of word, and choice of flow. If you think about it, aren’t these the five choices everyone needs to make no matter what they’re trying to communicate?
The workshop consisting of some theory, and exercises, with critique. The critique was not centered on technique, but rather a single criterion: did people “Get it.” On day one, for example, he handed out 6-sentence stories. And they were weird, nonlinear, and random. Everyone got something different, and you couldn’t reveal the script. You had to draw the story in six panels or less, using NO words. Then people had to tell you the story, and you couldn’t give hints, like you can in Pictionary.
Here are a few of the renderings. Mine’s in there. See if you can guess which one. I’m no sketch artist, but I do have some ability.
Right now your brain is undoubtedly working overtime to make sense of these stories. The challenge of course is there is no context or backstory, so you must rely solely on the images. Can you “get” the stories? The fun and enlightening part was the critique:
Let’s see…some of the stories:
A businessman walks into a grocery store. The cashier wave hello. The man looks at the watermelons. A rhinoceros falls from the sky. The man puts it in his cart. He walks to the cashier and checks out.
A robot walks toward Big Ben. A person on a bicycle crashes into the robot. The robot’s head falls off. It rolls away. A football player picks up the robot’s head. He kicks it over Big Ben.
A mom takes her three children with her to the hardware store. Two of the children have a sword fight with rakes. The third child gets on a riding lawnmower while no one’s looking and drives away. He leaves the stores and drives onto the freeway. He drives to a speedway and enters the race. He wins the race on the lawnmower.
A king walks into hamburger joint. He orders a king size hamburger. The hamburger is delivered to the king. The king puts his crown on the cashier. The king puts the hamburger on his head. Mark Twain drinks a toast.
Like I said: random.