Well, last Friday’s strip is one of the reasons I like doing Workshop Wednesday. Sometimes, a strip just doesn’t do what I want it to do.
I went through my sketches while trying to come up with a strip and I thought I had one. You’ll notice how far back I went: the initial sketches for this one are horizontal:
This one actually became the “Pirates plot best in the dark” strip. But I had also played with the idea of it being the mom trying to get Mike to do an unpleasant parenting chore.
You can’t really see it in the above version, but the light blue in the upper right hand corner is the son saying, “Hey, mom! It’s broken!” For some reason, and I can’t really put my finger on it, this one just wasn’t working for me, but I pursued it some more.
So I switched the conflict to something more apparent: the two folks actually in the panel. And that went nowhere, too.
I think it’s reasonable at this point for you to ask, “Um, hey, Brad: why not just go with another idea?” Because I often hit a wall like this and I have found that wrestling with it often pops an idea out unexpectedly, sometimes really good ones. Here, however, was not one of those times as we shall see.
Then, for the one immediately above, I kind of took the idea that Mike is just sitting on his butt (as usual) and added the idea of something breaking, but making it an explosion in the second panel. This gave me Mike’s expression in the second panel which I really liked. I also had Mike whipping his head around to his wife, and I also thought that was funny.
Ah, but, um, what is being said there in that third panel. I’ve been down this road before: the dreaded third panel. What’s going to pop here? What will surprise the reader? A reversal of expectation?
The fact that it’s the wife seemingly getting away with something here is a reversal in itself. I think this also accounts for some of my confusion: for the first time, in my opinion, I’m making the wife the center of the humor. She is the cause of our laughter: oh, that wife! She’s trying to get away with something! And I like that idea because I’m not terribly interested in her just becoming a shrew. I’d like her to show why Mike fell in love with her. She is her own variety of pirate.
Unfortunately, a dry run like that with a new dynamic probably doesn’t work well when you’re trying to crank out a strip. And I don’t think it paid off here. I finally ended up with the incredibly elaborate, loonnnnnnnnng way to go gag that the wife had blown up the washing machine in order to get a new one. Oy.
Anyway, just the fact that Mike has so much to say is the most obvious clue that something’s wrong. Even if it’s funny, boy, that’s a long time to wait for a joke to land.
On reflection, I think I’ve also identified some other issues here in addition to the ones I’ve already noted above. The biggest one: why point out that Mike’s watching a baseball game? And then why have him indicate that he’s going to wait until the break in the inning? If I can’t answer those questions, those details are superfluous. With three panels, I have no room for superfluous. That detail needs to be cut.
Also, I’m not so sure I pull off that the wife is being sneaky in that first panel. That lack of clarity is death to the premise: that we want to know what she’s up to. Without that premise, there is no tension to build on for the second panel.
Lastly, and this point is related to the previous one, if we don’t clearly understand that the wife is up to something (and her reaction in panel two doesn’t do much of anything to tell us one way or the other, so that one should have been changed, too) then her reaction in the third panel makes no sense or at least it’s unexpected and the only way it gets resolved is if you put up with Mike basically explaining everything in that last balloon: she blows up the washing machine every year in order to force the need to purchase a new one.
But why blow them up? Because she’s a pyro? I like the idea of her being destructive for the sake of enjoying the destruction, but that character trait is not developed enough either in this strip or in prior ones to work here. So the gag appears arbitrary here, in my opinion.
Anyway, I’m not sure my analysis is on point, but those are some thoughts I’m considering. The other lesson: geez, for pete’s sake, just spit the strip out and move on! I just watched a presentation by Ryan Hudson of Channelate fame, an often NSFW strip that just makes me laugh every time. I think he regularly nails that last “pop” that often makes a strip enjoyable.
Anyway, he recommends writing 10 strips at a time. In other words, spit’em out and then scavenge. This approach reminds me of a number of other suggestions I’ve read about regarding generating ideas, so I think I want to give it a shot. We shall see.
In the meantime, in one more bout of self-abuse, I tried re-doing the strip again just for today. The results were . . . meh:
And then . . .
I had yet another one (Mike says, “Funny how our appliances tend to explode every year.”) But at this point, let’s all agree that this one, in a better world, would benefit from a little bit more time percolating.
Nevertheless, I think this strip is amusing (I fell in love with that second panel), but I also think it’s a miss, ultimately.
If you’ve actually read all of this (TL/DNR!), let me know your thoughts. I’d be curious to hear what other folks think.
See you Friday!