I feel funny about reblogging this but I see wannabe comics people knock Jeph Jacques’ artwork so often and it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes a comic work. I comment here purely because I am being used here to represent “right” and Jeph “wrong”.
Artwork has very little to do with what makes a comic work for an audience. I think I’m close to the truth when I say that QC has ten readers for every one of mine. Jeph has succeeded in making people care about, not just one character, but dozens, in a narrative that progresses at a gentle speed that readers supposedly “can’t handle” on the post-Tumblr internet. For my money it’s almost the perfect fusion of manga pacing/accessibility and functional, comic strip art. Here’s one of - let’s not soft soap this - America’s most popular comic creators, a straight fellow who at least has the courage to write about queer people, trans people, actually takes time to step outside his comfort zone. Is the work perfect? No, because nothing is. But find another burro to hit the back end of with a banjo. There’s nothing wrong with criticism, but I think that saying QC is sometimes stiffly posed and simplistically paced misses the point. It’s not one strip, it’s thousands. Instead of looking at what doesn’t work here, look at what does, and maybe inform your work with that. II don’t think it matters how well you can draw a house or a car if no one cares what you’re saying.
Comic Comparison Triple Threat!
Bad Machinery is pretty good. Nothing I’ve read about it makes it jump out as The Best Comic Of All Time, but it’s got good art and competent writing. I like it, and I recommend with my only reservation being that I haven’t read all that much.
Let’s compare this random, frankly unexceptional workhorse BM page to today’s QC, and the third page of FCA, which I consider a bit too slow (a better comparison would be page 5, which is a bit too cluttered, but I….haven’t lettered it yet because I’m procrastinating it). Also, hey look, a page of Falls Count Anywhere! It’s real! And….I suppose contains a spoiler but it’s literally page three and the comic won’t go live for like a month and a half :|
The Bad Machinery page is 700 x 1063px
The QC page is 800 x 1160px.
And the FCA page is 778 x 1185px (like 98% as big as QC)
So the QC page is about 25% bigger than the BM one. That’s 25% more space to tell a story! Space matters a lot! This FCA page is a little bit fucked-looking because I had too much stuff in my script and Cody had to stretch to fit it in. I got this mage and went “shit, I need to put less stuff on a page or it gets messy”.
But let’s think about what’s happening in these spaces.
BM (And let me just be clear that BM is the best of the three, I’m still learning page pacing a bit) has nine panels. One panel is a double-size establishing shot, and panel 4 doesn’t show any of the characters, which I think is at least partly to keep the comic from looking repetitive. Panels five and six are small, because there’s not a lot of text in them. In this comic, we establish Ryan’s relationship with his dad, get a sense of Shelley and Ryan’s relationship, have the two doing something more visually interesting, set up the next page (presumably) by having them catching a fish, and have a joke. Most of the space, besides all the text, is used to set up a bit of a melancholy mood, giving the conversation more context and more effect than if it were against a single-color wall with moth characters standing ramrod straight.
FCA is heavy on establishing when and where this the story is. The previous page with Nicola getting hit with a DDT so hard the comic went black and white,
subtly setting up a recurring visual metaphor I came up with after the fact. This comic shows that she was injured pretty badly by it, and that her mom is worried about her, but pretty muted in her response. Plot-wise, there’s not that much going on here (not enough, maybe?), but I made an effort to include visual details. Nicola is playing with the roll-up thing for the windows next to a bag with the old McDonald’s logo on it, giving some indication that this comic takes place in the past, as does the car itself, which I think is a 1987 Ford Hatchback.
We also learn, a bit from panel 1 and a bit from the very well-done panel 8, that they’re not in the richest neighborhood. From this, we can get a sense of their class. I spent a lot of time writing this page going “Well, if they’re in a car, what can I put in the car to advance the story”. The cross hanging off the rearview mirror in panel 3, for instance, was something I put in the script specifically, as was the older McDonald’s logo. I looked up cheap cars from the mid to late 80s to determine what kind of car they were in. Is the fact that Nic’s mom is Christian going to be relevant to the story? Almost certainly not, but it cost no space that detail in there, so I did it.
I tried to fit as much information into that space as I could, because I’m paying per-page and want to get as much value for my dollar as possible (I later, sadly, go overboard on this a bit. Getting the pacing right has been a bit of a challenge, since I don’t want to waste pages, but need to give things room to breathe. Page 5 is a bit too cramped)
(Also, I think the text in the first panel should be a speech bubble coming out of the car, but then having a box in panel 2 looks really weird. If I put a word balloon in panel two, where does the tail go?).
I don’t know if I succeeded, or what I could’ve done better, but I tried to fit shit in. Bad Machinery, if you go back to its start, has a lot of visual details, too. This dude is upper-middle to upper class since he’s got a big room and a big computer monitor. He’s a nerd because of his posters. He goes to an upscale school because of his fancy uniform (or is British). We know a lot about this guy because of the visual details, even without reading any of the text.
Questionable Content is three beat panels and a line. A woman is eating cereal.
Having nothing in the background isn’t just lazy art. It’s lazy storytelling. We’ve spent several pages in Claire’s mom’s house, and we know nothing about her except what’s in the text. The only useful visual information is that she looks like Claire. Even if she’ll never show up again, that’s so wasteful.
Don’t think of art and writing as two separate ideas where never the two should meet. BM’s visuals give it’s conversation a lot more context and meaning, and it’s much stronger as a result. It’s not even that he drew well. It’s what he drew that gives the conversation its feel.
Again, a wonderful, yet respectful rebuttal from John Allison. As Scott McCloud said in “Making Comics” there is no such thing as a right style. Only the style that works for the artist.