January 9th, 2007

Ann Vole

Get Fuzzy with story arcs and the spice of life

Looking at the comics in the paper and which ones are the most enjoyable for me, I found that comics with involved continuous stories like "For Better Or For Worse" were not interesting anymore because I felt lost reading many of the strips due to not reading on a regular basis or not in the right order. Other comics like "Hagar" or "Hi and Lois" with no story arcs at all are rather boring because the jokes are mostly rehashing the same jokes based on character stereotyping. The best comics for my entertainment as a casual reader seem to be the ones with story arcs but those story arcs are not really important to understand the strip. The two best examples in my local newspaper are "Get Fuzzy" and "Pearls Before Swine" which I believe both started as webcomics. You don't require reading the previous strips to get the current strip but by reading a few strips in a row will give the added enjoyment of story flow. Some sideline characters may leave for a while and come back much later and give the reader a bigger story in only a line or two. Those readers who have not read the strips where that character originally showed up are not hindered by that lack of knowledge but the desire to read the archives (or buy the compilation books of newspaper strips) is very high. I think the key is to keep the story line rather "fuzzy" where the purpose of the story arc is not very obvious nor specific. Just hinting at events instead of showing them allows the plot to be presented but without dragging new readers to that part of the story through the specifics of the plot that they know nothing about.

Back when I was watching the show Dr Who at three points in it's almost 30 years of episodes, I was addicted to finding trivia about The Doctor. This trivia was lightly peppered into every episode like a spice. The same can go for story... Use plot like a spice instead of the main content. I also say the same thing for puns, cameos, and references to other things like other webcomics. If the reader does not like or does not get puns, they should not be forced to understand the pun to get the strip but those who like puns will like them even better because they are cleaverly hidden. Cameos look cheezy if you are made aware that they are cameos. Those that recognize the cameos will apreciate them but the rest of the readers do not need to know (although credit and links at the bottem adds to the fun for those who like cameos like me).

Good cooking practice is to pick 2-3 spices and use lots of those and not use a whole bunch of others. I think that advice is also applicable for each strip. If every strip has a cameo or every strip has a pun, things get a bit boring. Also if one strip has so many things happening, the reader is going to miss some of the goodies or will get them without the expected timing and element of surprise that makes them so enjoyable.

So what is the main course? Gag strips with few characters like "Garfield" rely solely on character traits for content. They are successful inspite of a lack of anything else (except maybe puns). Some comics only contain puns and some comics only contain the element of surprise. I would argue that many of the "Farside" strips only contain plot where the single image shows what has happened, what is happening and what will happen.

Personally, I really like the exploration of personality. British comedy seems to be heavy on that sort of humour. The thing that makes most of the funny parts is thinking "that is exactly what she would say" or "that is so like him to do it that way". I was watching people watch cartoons that I had seen many times and tried to figure out exactly what parts were funny for most people and the most universal humour seemed to be that very type of character based humour that got a smile or laugh from just about everybody.