Comics are a layered thing – or at least that’s the concept that I want to explore and see what use could be made of it. At their most basic, they are visual and textual and the combination of these things is crucial to the comic concept. But the visual and text elements are themselves composed of a countless variety of delicious layers.
Since I have watched too much Cake Boss lately, I keep wanting to use the word flavors instead of layers. I visualized comics like a cake with layers of cake and layers of pudding or frosting and topped with decorative elements. Very quickly, though, the sheer number of layers and ingredients would become too tall and unwieldy for the mental image to be useful. There is the danger that we’d start to disagree about what chocolate cake would signify as opposed to vanilla and lemon or what comic candy topping means. It’s also not as simple to create a comic as mixing up a box of Betty Crocker comic cake and being successful or satisfied with the results. Let’s not get too mixed up in the metaphor.
Still, the sweet mental taste of cake serves the purpose of enhancing the practical understanding of comics. Each comic has a unique selection of ingredients in select measurements which aggregate to produce a distinct overall flavor. This cake analogy lets us consider each bite as its own part of the experience.
When you are creating or doing the concept work for a comic, it is easy to grab a few components that you want the bites to have. A journal comic might have fruity bits of real life absurdity, mental wandering, bitter daily struggles and a touch of humor. The trick to answer then is what will the comic taste like after many bites? What do you want your reader to remember most?
After reading this, it occurred to me that the voice of a comic is just one of the flavors. Further, there are layers of flavors. Each panel has a visual flavor which is made up of other ingredients. Say you draw a comic in which the art is sketchy with lots of messy line work, spot blacks and wispy panel outlines. Each of those things is a flavor.
Now we should ask ourselves if that is the visual mix we are looking to achieve. If you add very thick panel borders, it changes the viewing experience. And while we primarily need to entertain ourselves, we should remember that some readers might find wispy panel lines bitter while others find them something to savor.
And we can examine the writing in the same way. What voice is used? Does our laugh-a-day comic have a major sub flavor of thoughtfulness with smatterings of being down to earth and the joys of being an imaginative person? That could be one way to describe the voice I hear when reading Calvin & Hobbes. Your slice of experience might be a little different with the same comic – which unintendedly matches with the real world experience of different people liking different comics.
The Far Side could be said to be thoughtful and whimsical with an underflavor of self examination. Let’s just imagine what The Far Side’s visual components add to the text. By using farm animals instead of humans, that added flavors like silly, uncomplicated and even a little weirdness.
We could also begin to discuss layers of symbolism and meaning in both the art and text but that’s where the practical application ends for me. At this point, I’d even recommend not rigorously analyzing popular comics because simply apeing what someone else baked up will not really help us. The baseline impressions we have about our favorite comics should be sufficient to help us determine what we’d like to make. After all, the goal for creators is to keep making our cake and improving the recipe each time.