Monday, August 25, 2008

The strip that broke my brain

Since my work area is currently plunged into darkness, I'm going to combat the situation with something that won't solve anything: WORDS! (And, later, sketches!)

There was a reason the first batch of Precocious strips ended right before things got complex. Not only was I about to take on complex perspective, but the hard-to-draw Dionne was about to take center stage. When it came time to rise to the occasion, I instead ran and hid in my sketchbook. Awesome.

During the gap caused by fear, I took time to reevaluate the whole of the first storyline. While I'm still very proud of it, I wasn't satisfied with the transition between the recruitment of Suzette and the soliciting of Dionne. Originally, after Suzette signed up and I would cut to Bud and Jacob peering out a window at the scene, alarmed to see the enemy's numbers growing. It was fine, I guess, but it felt like it came out of nowhere. *I* may know Jacob's house is located in the center of the neighborhood, but a reader doesn't find that out until later on. (Yes, since this storyline is meant to establish the characters and settings, there is a strip devoted to where everyone lives in the neighborhood. I am awesome like that.) Abruptly showing the boys in a house without any establishment seemed like lazy writing. To add to the confusion, Jacob's mother pops up for one line later on in the story without any prior introduction. It became clear to me: I needed to add in a strip to establish Jacob's house.

The timing wasn't going to be a problem. The new strip would appear before the girl's recruitment drive, establishing that the boys were watching Autumn's effort with puzzled curiosity. By introducing Jacob's mother at the same time, not only do we establish the house as Jacob's, but we know who she is when she leans out her window later to ask why Autumn is trampling her petunias. ("Collateral damage, ma'am!") Even better: By having the eternal optimist that is Deirdre Linkletter point out that the neighborhood is full of children - they're just not students of the Poppinstock Academy - I get to reinforce the insular and elitist nature of my children. Perfect!

Here is where my brain exploded. How the heck do I cram all this into four panels? We need the establishing dialog to cover all the pertinent points, but no so much it obscures the complex perspectives this strip requires. Draft after draft went by where something was just missing. I debating splitting the topic into two strips, but there really was just one worthy punchline. The current version works well enough, but it's best told with five or six panels. Too much for one strip; too little for two. I think I can do it, but it requires masterful use of space and perspective. So, yeah, a master cartoonist could pull this off. I am decidedly a n00b here.

Here's the current incarnation:

Panel 1:
(Jacob and Bud peer out a window in Jacob's house)
Jacob: I'm confused.
Bud: What are those girls doing?
Deirdre (entering): What's wrong, boys?

Panel 2:
(The boys and Deirdre look through the window to see the girls in the foreground working on the booth.)
Jacob: They've set up a booth, mom!
Bud: There's no one to recruit here!
Deirdre: Actually, the neighborhood is full of children your age.

Panel 3:
(Back to the interior of Jacob's house)
Deirdre: Just because they don't go to your school doesn't, heh, mean they don't exist!
(Bud and Jacob give her a blank stare)

Panel 4:
Bud (turning back to the window): What are those girls doing?
Jacob: There's no one to recruit here!

Ok, it's not the strongest of strips, but it's vital connective tissue. I *should* just plow through and get it done, but the perfectionist in me is both frightened of failure and unsatisfied that I couldn't solve my problems with more grace.

My solution to everything is MORE SKETCHING and MORE PRACTICE - which is great but also means NO RESULTS! Below I share a bit of the sketchbook effort to solve my brain rot.

This is a rough of how the first panel will look. This is doable - speech bubbles and character heights align perfectly.

This sketchbook page chronicles a few failed attempts. Panel two is friggin' complex and I can't even set up my characters in their window yet. The stare down - which *should* be its own panel, but can't for space reason - shows how I still lack a full handling on my characters' proportions. Bud's feet appear while Deirdre's body continues. That, frankly, will not fly. Only time will fix that problem, but that is just not soon enough for me! PRACTICE IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE PERFECT! All I'm doing now is unlocking more and more ways to vary how my characters look, thus muddling the issue.

Let me also point out that I draw one lousy water balloon, which is also a bad sign as this storyline revolves around a water balloon fight.

I know what you're thinking. Filtering out the insults about my character, you're wondering why I don't just skip the strip and move on to easier tasks. Well...

1. It's not like the layout is getting any easier. I've been quite ambitious with my design.
2. Since I'm still relatively early on in development, my drawing technique is still changing with alarming frequency. It's been a few months since I last drew a strip already, should I press on and come back later, the stylistic evolution would be alarming clear. When one works with cartoon animals, one should avoid doing something that will jar a reader out of their suspension of disbelief.
3. I'm crazy. Rationality has no impact on me!

There. Another inspirational post from me. YEEHAW!

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