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Comics Feature

Simple Cartooning Tips for The Comics Inclined

Some pointers for future would-be cartoonists thinking about entering the next City Paper Comics Contest.

By Benn Ray | Posted 9/9/2009

1. Give your strip a title. All comic strips have titles. Peanuts? A title. Garfield? A title. Calvin & Hobbes? A title. Christ, even Cathy or For Better Or For Worse have freakin' titles. "Untitled" is not a title. If you can't figure out what to call your comic, maybe reconsider submitting your strip until you do. A title gives your strip form, direction, and context. And as a judge, a title helps prevent us from coming up with less-than-flattering names for your strip. (Also, when you do select a title, make sure it's not something so pretentious it makes readers want to throttle you.)

2. Make sure your strip has a consistent layout design and a regular number of panels. In print, there is a finite amount of space available and that space is usually planned out well in advance. And for comics, that space is usually tiny. Let's face it, horoscopes get more respect. So when you create your strips, keep in mind the physical space they will occupy on a regular basis and apply that to all your strips. Plus, when we look at submissions and see one page with three panels, one page with nine panels, and the next page with one panel, we kind of suspect you're emotionally unstable--and not in the same way that most good cartoonists are.

3. Keep in mind week No. 52. You're trying to win a contest here and the prize is an annual gig. That means you'll be doing a comic strip once a week for a year. If you have a funny idea for a strip and you want to submit it, seriously imagine winning. Then imagine doing this strip every week for 52 weeks. Then imagine what your 52nd strip will look like. If you can't imagine that, the joke/gag/characters can't be sustained.

4. Ink it. Remember, this is going to be printed on newsprint (it's what makes "old media" so sexy). Pencil line work looks unfinished and just doesn't stand out. (And Sharpies aren't always the best tool for every job.)

5. Write legibly. If we can't read it, we won't read it.

6. If you're nuts, just embrace it. We'd rather see full-on crazy than watered-down insanity.

7. Learn how to tell a joke. There are books on this.

8. If you have regular characters and you can't draw them so they look the same in each panel, keep practicing until you can.

9. Stop using computers to make comics.

10. We like weird. So if you're really good, break every one of the rules above. But let's be honest, not everyone is an Emily Flake, Tony Millionaire, Dina Kelberman or Ben Claassen. So maybe try using these pointers first?

Benn Ray is the owner of Atomic Books, publisher of Atomic Book Co. and creator of the comic strip Said What?: Overheards which appears elsewhere. He's also a formerly erstwhile City Paper contributor, but he hopes this piece may bump his ranking back up to occasional.

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Comics Feature archives

More Stories

8th Annual City Paper Comics Contest (9/9/2009)

First Place: Just Ask Larnell (9/9/2009)

Second Place: St. Sebastian Materializes In The Present Day (9/9/2009)

More from Benn Ray

Now Hear This (6/18/2003)
Baltimore's Megaphone Project Provides a Media Outlet for Disenfranchised Inner-City Communities

Murder Won (10/23/2002)
Three Years After the Show's Demise, Fans Still Set Aside a Weekend to Bring Homicide Back to Life

Traveling Salesman (8/14/2002)
A Mount Vernon Peddler's Life on the Street

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