You’ve probably seen those around. 30 Day Drawing Challenge or Draw Every day February-or-whatever-month-is-convenient. And those are fine, to an extent. At least they get people motivated to draw daily. Unless you’re serious about comics or illustration as a career, then, you should be doing them anyway in the first place.
So, with that intent, I thought of a couple of drawing challenges that I think are more helpful into teaching you something about narrative in comics.
The first one I posted it some time ago on my Tumblr, but kind of got lost there, so I’m placing it here since I barely update this site.
1.- Write and draw a 20 page comic without using dialoges/words, at all.
Your whole story has to be told in pantomime, and it needs to be clear to the reader. It’s really up to you what it’s going to be about, and which style you want to draw it in. There’s no silly rules, you don’t even have to post it online if you don’t want to. It’s a personal challenge (both are, actually), to prove and improve yourself as a storyteller.
This will help you, in the long run, to be able to tell more with the body language of your characters so you don’t have to rely heavily in dialogues. Yes, sometimes you get to fully know the personality of a character for what they say and the way they say it, but also from the way they sit or engage in situations. And, when you don’t have any words to lean on to, those other important characteristics raise a lot. Which brings me to the second challenge:
2.- No word balloon should have more than three lines of text.
I know sometimes there’s a lot of things you want to say in your comic, a lot of explaining to do, a lot of setting up, and lots of exposition. But exposition should be weaved into the narrative, not dumped to the audience like a boring pile of bricks. And, everything that you’re writing could be super interesting, but it doesn’t take away the fact that having a wall of text on a panel, especially in EVERY panel, feels like a chore. So, if you don’t want each panel to look like a cluttered wordy mess like one from a Penny Arcade strip (or like this), learn how to edit your texts. Think of it like having a Twitter-like characters limit per page.
This will help you learn how to synthesize the information you’re giving to the audience. To get rid off redundant and/or over-stating words and descriptions. Which, mixed with the previous challenge, creates a “don’t tell me, show me” scenario. But, if you have a longer dialogue that “HAS” to be in just one panel, you can break it down in parts.
THIS is what I mean (and yes, I’m using my own work as an example, thank you very much). The first and last panels are broken up that way. Instead of the character having run-on sentences in one pile, it gives more of an idea of time between statements than a coma would do. Also, the example with panels three and four. You regularly see those two panels mashed into just one because they’re basically part of the same statement he’s giving. Why divide them, then? To give the narrative pacing, and to let two actions express more (and give more meaning to the punch-line) than just one.
That’s a big word here, folks: PACING. Some people would argue that having a limit on how much text you can put in a word balloon will cause to extend the story because more panels will be needed. Yes, that’s the idea here. To have a more organic and smoothly paced narrative instead of a roller coaster that stops every five meters to smash into a wall.
No page limit on this one, but give it a try on a story longer than 15 pages.
That’s about it for now of these “challenges”. Mostly because these two complement each other and work great together. But, if you have ideas for other actually useful challenges, let me know and we’ll work them out here in a future post.
Bonus tip: If you ever have to break a word in syllables because it’s too long and half of it is in one line of text and the other on the next one, only separated by this “-“, just take the whole word and write it down in the next line. It looks like crap when words are broken down like that. (I refer back to this, where it happens in almost every single panel, but that’s mostly the letterer’s fault)