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Interview With Ryan North
Excerpt from interview:
Follow-up to Q2: It seems like almost all comics are constrained by style as well. A comic always develops into something, it evolves until it reaches a certain point. Once it reaches it, it just sort of grooves there, as if it's constrained to a set of rules. Calvin and Hobbes started a little rough, but by about the point where Watterson was drawing the half-page Sunday strips, it had hit it's groove. The characters were developed, the drawing style was established, and the only thing that changed were the stories and situations. Penny Arcade has followed an interesting progression and continues to evolve but seems to have hit a pretty solid groove in the past year or two. Even if it evolves further, it's going in a particular direction according to set of rules. There is an entity floating in the air which is imposed by a combination of what the artists wants and what has already been established. An idea plus a person seems to have an eventual conclusion which both parties are constrained to for an optimum result. In that way all the best comics are constrained, making the term seem a bit redundant.
When a comic is new, it is undefined. You're not sure what it's going to be. The characters are not real yet. But after a certain number of impressions or situations, it becomes a thing. Not everyone likes to read Garfield, but all comic readers can identify those characters and have the same brand come to mind. People are aware of the thing. What are your thoughts on how a comic becomes an entity of it's own? How long do you think it takes before a world becomes established in a person's mind? And how would you measure that? In frames? In story time? Or possibly time thinking about it?
I think for this I'd think about Star Trek TNG, which has a great example of a rough first season with SOME promise (Conspiracy), a rough second season that starts to hit something interesting (The Measure of a Man) and then a third season that really showed the series had arrived.
I think part of it is how we plan things: when you're starting something out, you say "Okay, it's gonna have these characters in this situation, maybe I'll want to talk about this or that", and then you start doing it. With Dinosaur Comics the main thing was the layout, but I went with the first one I came up with, slightly modified after I discovered it sucked and I couldn't write comics with it. Then I wrote 10 or 15 comics on one day to make sure that I could tell more than one story with the pictures, and then I started, and here we are!
I think if you look at DC you can see in the early episodes a lot of things I no longer do now: experimentation to see what worked and what didn't. T-Rex and Utahraptor use articles in front of their names ("I hope I see the Utahraptor today!") and there's some clunky structural things there that worked poorly. I'm still experimenting to see what sort of things are possible with the pictures, but in the earlier days there was a lot of low-hanging sucky fruit that I've already picked, taken a bite out of, said "gross", and thrown over my shoulder.
In a sense I think maybe series hit their groove when they become predictable, which sounds bad (we want our entertainment to be novel and entertaining), but I mean it in the sense of "we know these characters and how they'll behave". Early Picard on Star Trek seems like an incredible hardass now, but at the time, that was who we thought the character was. Early Utahraptor and T-Rex are way more antagonistic than they are now, but that was before I realized they were friends. Once you've sorted out who your characters are beyond descriptions on a sheet of paper, you can start being consistent and, hopefully, reliably entertaining.
I'm thinking of counterexamples, of things that emerged fully formed, but even when you look at something super planned out like Babylon 5, the first season is way rougher than what came afterwards. Maybe Graham Lineham's comedies are good counterexamples: he values having characters stay consistent for comedy's sake, so you can watch a series one or series three episode of Father Ted or The IT Crowd and they'll be hilarious all the time. Maybe you should ask this question to Graham; I think he's nailed it and can hit a groove right out of the gate!
I think music can be a good analogy to comics. I like to think of stick figures as stripped down bare-bones music, where better artwork is like elaborate or symphonic music. So I suppose Dinosaur Comics would be closer to a capella? Either way, I think both sides of the spectrum can be impressive. It's impressive when an artist can articulate elaborate visuals to tell the story, and it's impressive when an artist can articulate the story without elaborate visuals. I'm certainly impressed that DC continues to work so well and it's mind-blowing what you've been able to do with a single image and MS Paint. It does remind me of a well performed a capella piece, which holds up on it's own without a lot of other instruments. Also, I find the image of T-Rex singing quite humorous.
Thanks! A capella is an interesting analogy because if writing is singing and drawing is instruments, you've replaced the instruments there with singing approximations of them. That's not exactly what I've done, but I do use the writing to recontextualize the images all the time ("LATER:" or "MEANWHILE:" or "SUDDENLY, IN TUDOR ENGLAND:" help quite a bit). But I always argue that the drawings ARE important, and they're what make Dinosaur Comics what it is. Without them you lose a lot of the character (and characters) and warmth of the comic. I write the comics as text and then lay them out, and the comics, when they finally become comics, are so much better than the script I started with.
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