The Secret Language of Comics

A Symbiotic Story

While creating my comic I struggled to come up with an idea at first. I’m a very wordy person and most of my stories tend to run long, so writing a short one with only three panels was really difficult for me. I ended up creating a comic about a clownfish trying to escape a shark by hiding in the tentacles of a sea anemone, thus beginning a symbiotic relationship with the creature. With the idea for the story in mind, the composition wasn’t very hard to figure out. Because I only had three panels to tell the story, the composition had to be very straightforward in order to fit all the important details. The first panel introduces the conflict of the story: a clownfish is being hunted by a shark. The second panel shows the middle: the clownfish finds a solution to his problem and asks the sea anemone for help. Then finally the third panel is the conclusion: The shark lost the clownfish and the clownfish and sea anemone become partners.

This assignment was different than most writing I do because I had to incorporate pictures in my storytelling in a way I normally don’t. Especially because we had so few panels, the images had to be the primary storytelling elements. This, unlike most writing assignments, forced me to extremely minimize my word usage. I tend to write long, detailed stories and for this assignment, I had to pick and choose which details to include in order to efficiently use the space while still getting the same impact. Overall I found the triptych comic challenging, but enjoyable.

“Don’t worry, be happy” – Anirudh Seshadri

The triptych above is a simple sequence of events. A man is sad, someone lifts up the ends of his mouth into a smile, and he stays there smiling.

When thinking of ideas, I thought about my week and how draining it was. Naturally, I thought that this was what the rest of my semester would look like, and because of this, on a Friday night, I was feeling sad with a bleak outlook on the next few months.

The next morning, I decided to just not be sad. I smiled in the mirror for ten seconds and went about my Saturday morning. Making that small decision to just begin smiling made my day so much better and was the inspiration for the triptych.

I think the minimalist style conveys a strong message to the reader. There aren’t any hidden clues or flamboyant imagery that symbolize something, it’s just telling you “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Sketch 5: Triptych

Due: 2/13

Tag: sk5

In How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels, Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden carry out an extended discussion of comics through repeated analysis of the single Nancy strip by Ernie Bushmiller from August 8, 1959 (at the top of this post). They explain that “one of the least tangible yet most significant implements in the cartoonist’s toolbox is the varied use of rhythms.[…] One repetition makes a pair. But add another and the repetitions have become a series, the basic building block of all rhythm. A set of three has the smallest number of elements that can establish a pattern (as well as violate it). Three implies more to come” (134).

For this week’s sketch assignment, create your own triptych comic. As you compose your triptych, I most want you to focus on creating a story with a very clear beginning, middle, and end. Your story can be minimalist, impressionistic, comic, dark, weird or whatever you want it to be — but make sure that each panel of the triptych moves that story forward from beginning to middle to end.

i smile more when i belong

You can draw your triptych, or create one using photographs, maybe along similar lines as the webcomic A Softer World, which ran weekly for about twelve years starting in Feb 2003. Emily and Joey published 1248 comics in that time, each consisting of three panels with photographs and words superimposed on them – often it seems to be a single image cropped into three panels, but sometimes it’s three photos taken as a series – and then the title of the comic appears when you hover your mouse over the comic (creating space for a sort of fourth panel or commentary). The comics tend to be quite dark.

I’m looking for compact and playful storytelling through both images and words. It’s an opportunity for you to play with irony, humor, and/or wit.

Add a paragraph reflecting on your triptych comic. What choices did you make in crafting your narrative? Describe the composition process a little bit. What was challenging about this assignment? How is crafting this sort of comic strip different or similar to other writing you’ve done this semester?