Monday, October 17, 2011

Mining Story Ideas

Story development is difficult at best (even for the professionals) and nearly impossible for most student candidates, especially during the pressurized semester involving the pre-midpoint scramble to develop thesis project concepts.

In order to get back on creative track, I've suggested to students that they consult some tried-and-true comic material for idea mining. The best iconic, single gag material can be found in one-panel illustrative comedy.

My favorite source material is the one-panel work of Bernard H. Kliban (B. Kliban) who rose to some critical fame in the 70s, his protege, Gary Larson (Far Side) who carried his torch in the 80s, and the cinematic multipanel work of Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) who was all the rage in the late 80s, early 90s. This single-panel material is concise, the gags clearly identifiable, and the humor bizarre enough to generate some intellectual activity in the viewer, and hopefully, in the blocked thesis story developer (you).

This is not about ripping off ideas that have already been made. The point of the exercise is to assimilate combinations of gags in order to hone your own unique comic voice. Sometimes you just need a little nudge. Without sensitizing yourself to single-panel gag material, you'll not gain the ability to critically assess why bizarre juxtaposition works comically. Single panel work is typically shock-layout material.

I like to keep this type of reference handy for ready inspiration. I've probably read each one of these a dozen times and have pored through dozens more like them.

I believe that you must be a consumer of this material in order to write it. You can't just wear a funny hat during a single course in a masters program and call yourself a writer or an animator. You need to breathe, eat, sleep the medium. If you can't do that, quit now and save yourself some cash.

So, if you get stuck developing comic story in the coming semester, try looking through this type of single-panel comic. Immerse yourself in wacky single-concept humor and let me know how it goes. If you're an animator and you're not looking to develop a comic story, you're probably going in the wrong direction and you should consider transferring to a documentary film program instead.

Watterson's panels are gorgeous and are really conducive to animation layout. His illustration background really shows in his work.

In fact, most graphic novels feature unique layout ideas ... every animator should be familiar with the most successful of the graphic novel illustrators!

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