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Keeping Things Light

HippieVan at 12:00AM, Sept. 9, 2016

This newspost is inspired by ozoneocean’s recent thread and quackcast about evoking emotion. I've recently been struggling with the opposite issue in my own comic. The whole project is really just a light-hearted excuse to draw my favourite things and write odd characters, but it's also held together by a narrative. The issue is: how do I introduce conflict, and engage readers, without making things too serious and veering away from my intended tone?

For my comic's prologue, I think I've just accepted that it's going to be a little bit heavier than the rest of the comic. I'm keeping that bit brief so I can get straight into drawing cats and trains, and throwing in some background jokes so that readers hopefully won't get the wrong idea about what to expect.

In my first draft of the following chapter, I had simply written myself a note to “keep it light!” But re-reading that draft, I didn't feel like I had succeeded. I re-wrote it with the same plot elements, but added an obliviously irritating character at the most emotional point to keep the protagonist (and the reader) from just wallowing in her feelings. I'll probably use a similar technique of throwing in dumb jokes here and there for later tense points in the plot.

I would be interested in hearing everyone's techniques for keeping things light! Even for more dramatic comics, I'm sure there are times when you want to keep things from getting too dark. Aside from dumb jokes, how do you keep the narrative moving along without things getting too sad? Or, conversely, do you totally embrace the idea of evoking emotions from your readers, even if your comic is generally more light-hearted?


Phinmagic has a pretty incredible milestone this month! From phinmagic:
“October 3rd marks the start of my 25th anniversary issue of Phineus, commemorating the 25 years since his first comic was created in October of 1991.
The issue will continue through until the end of the year. It will recap all that the characters have been through in the first 25 years and set up things for the next 25.”

Have a comic milestone, a community project or some comic-related news that you'd like to see here? Do you have original art for our newspost image database? Send it to me via PQ or at hippievannews(at), or leave a comment below!
For more info on News, please check out this DD Help Site article:



Udyr at 9:18AM, Sept. 10, 2016

I dont think its bad with sad stuff, it makes the comic more interesting. As long as it weights out with something nice as well. I struggle with keeping things dark, i end up doing stupid jokes here and there. But in a way that's the type of stories I like doing. A mix of both :)

usedbooks at 4:59PM, Sept. 9, 2016

Oh, and don't forget the comic relief. If it's not your protagonist, it's usually a friend or secondary character. You can get comic reliefs on the antagonist end of things too. Maybe a particularly likable or fun-loving henchman.

Banes at 1:27PM, Sept. 9, 2016

And congratulations to Phinmagic! 25 years! That's phenomenal!!

Banes at 1:27PM, Sept. 9, 2016

It might be pacing, too...moving on after the feelings of hopelessness and sadness have been established, but before it feels like "wallowing"...that can be a tough call, but fun, too, to figure out how long to hold on certain scenes or emotions...a constant struggle to figure this out methinks...

Banes at 1:25PM, Sept. 9, 2016

Fantastic question, Hippie; I agree with Used Books that how the characters behave and react to their conflicts and emotions establish the tone the best. I didn't realize it until she said it, but I agree! Another way might be to have a B story that can lighten the mood if the main narrative is getting too heavy. Even if the stakes are life and death, the characters seem to be the thing. Even if you have a somewhat maudlin lead, maybe there's a cohort that can keep things from going too far. Or the maudlin lead can have a sort of gallows humor about the whole thing.

usedbooks at 12:29PM, Sept. 9, 2016

@Hippie: I love whodunnit shows, but I'm super picky about tone. I need it realistic but light. Police procedurals usually suck at that. Monk was a good one for a light tone, and Castle was great at it (except for season finales; their finales sucked so hard at tone, I stopped watching for a while -- it's really jolting when you're accustomed to clever and funny and get slapped with no-relief drama). Miss Fisher is okay too.

HippieVan at 10:51AM, Sept. 9, 2016

@Ironscarf: imo, your writing style lends itself really well to a good balance of the two.

HippieVan at 10:50AM, Sept. 9, 2016

@usedbooks: I'll have to check that out! The show "Psych" usually did a good job of keeping things light despite constant murders, but they used a shallow, narcissistic protagonist to do it. It works, but it's not a direction every story can (or should) take.

usedbooks at 10:23AM, Sept. 9, 2016

I tried that. I fail harder every year. But honestly, no matter how serious the conflict, it's the reaction of characters that set the tone. A really optimistic protagonist will feel the pain and drama but recovers quickly and provides strength to his/her companions. (If they feel nothing, they are callous anti-heroes, but those can keep it light too...) One of the best examples of serious storylines kept light mood by sheer strength of character is Steven Universe. Steven is the most light-hearted protagonist and he lifts the mood brilliantly without ever becoming shallow or callous. He has a very "This was terrible, but we're still here, and that's awesome. Let's have pizza" attitude.

HippieVan at 10:08AM, Sept. 9, 2016

@Bruno Harm: Haha! "She's dead, but look over there!" is a spot-on description of that technique.

Bruno Harm at 7:54AM, Sept. 9, 2016

This!! I struggle with this all the time. So far I've gone with a LOT of jokes, and also keeping the character's emotions somewhat in check. I also have a fast pace so there's a little bit of, "She's dead, but look over here!" My current story is about a kidnapping, and I'm kind of going on a "Home Alone" approach. I'm always trying to avoid the "MASH" approach with high hilarious peaks and low emotional valleys.

KimLuster at 4:41AM, Sept. 9, 2016

Keeping it light...?!! Yeah, I have a little trouble with this...!!

Ironscarf at 4:40AM, Sept. 9, 2016

I like to think you can be deadly serious and have all kinds of of the wall humour going on at the same time. I'm not sure subscribers agree as I'll tend to lose one or two when the tone of my comic shifts from say, violent action to polite cocktail party chit chat! I'll stick with my recipe anyway because life is not one or the other, it's a great big steaming gumbo of mirth and misery.

Genejoke at 4:20AM, Sept. 9, 2016

It's a fine line I've sought to balance with Blood and water. I don't intend for it to be a comedy, it's a drama/thriller so I have to rely on the characters being funny or doing silly things that make sense within the context of the story. That it is focused on two young men helps as their banter carries it through some very dark material.

bravo1102 at 1:32AM, Sept. 9, 2016

And use Yiddish. A Yiddish word in the middle of a tearful monologue will get them every time. "And he was such a skutz! "

bravo1102 at 1:30AM, Sept. 9, 2016

So the audience laughs rather than cries. In this cynical meta trope savvy time it's pretty easy to turn up the melodramatic smaltz to an eleven and get the audience rolling rather than crying.

bravo1102 at 1:28AM, Sept. 9, 2016

All kinds of comedy works have used the distraction technique. It is even discussed on the "making of" featurettes on the Scary Movie and Hot Shots dvds. Or make the great emotional monologue totally ridiculous where the formative story of one's past is Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Or ends with "let's all give one for the zipper" with the Notre Dame theme playing. Give the audience a familiar evocative tale but twist it with a punchline. Something totally out of left field unexpected.

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