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How to Research for Your Comic

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, June 24, 2017
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Every comic needs to be researched. Except maybe an autobiographical one, since it’s most likely you already have a thorough knowledge of what is going on in your life.

Or maybe you don’t, and this is your Cognitive Therapy homework.

In any case, a few exceptions aside, just like the autobiographical genre of comics, maybe some slice-of-life ones (but definitely not all of them), it is an unavoidable truth that you can’t create a comic without doing some sort of research.

You might need to research anything from the very vague (“I need to research Egyptian culture”) to the very specific (“I need to research flintlock pistols strictly within the 16th century Northern Europe”).

Obviously, the more specific the object of your research is, the easier (and faster) your information gathering will be.

What happens though when you need to know stuff about something that is either too vague (“I need to learn about French People”) or too vast (“I need to know about mythology”)?

It’s very easy to get lost in a sea of information, and end up feeling less and less confident about using what you learned the more you read. It is amazingly easy to keep researching and end up stagnating yourself or be discouraged from actually creating, especially when you need to employ a lot of detail or know a lot of specifics as well as a lot of general trajectories for your comic project.

So how do you become both efficient and keep the creative juices flowing while you research?

1. You construct a list of questions you absolutely need to answer

Just like the “How-When-Where-Why-Who” questions of constructing a story, there’s a similar list of questions for setting a frame for your research. Those are:
What do I need to know?
What do I need to know it for?
Who do I need to know it for?
What are the absolute vital things I need to know to feel safe that my characters react properly in the setting/environment I’m intending them for?
What are the things that aren’t vital, but will give my story an extra flavor or better immersion?

2. Start your research from the mainstream, summary sources.

Don’t go for the obscure sites, digging in the old book shops, or get tangled up in forums full of actual or self-proclaimed connoisseurs. First go to Wikipedia, and read what there is there on the subject of your research. Down at the bottom there are usually links for references. Click on the ones that look most appealing/ most promising to hold more of the information you need. The more you educate yourself on the basics, the more you will be ready to go to deeper waters, to primary sources, analyses or very detailed chunks of info without choking.

While you’re doing this, always keep your comic in mind- the character or the setting you are doing the research for, as well as the plot. Often, research will reveal information that will make you change your plot development: either because of a necessity to correct inaccuracies, or because the accurate info offers a more efficient way to advance the plot or because it simply gives you a ‘cooler idea’ as you read.

ALWAYS keep yourself open to that. That’s how your story will begin truly coming alive, because you will wrap your fiction in reality. Even if you are writing fantasy, keeping elements of the real world in it (e.g. a consistent history, proper weaponry, realistic politics, a consistent set of magic or religious facts AND fiction within your story) will help your story draw the audience in and bolster suspension of disbelief.

3. Keep archives of your data!

Preferably organized enough that you can easily go back to retrieve information, reference material, photos and the like at the drop of a hat. It will make you feel comfortable with what you have learned and give you full control on when and how you work the info into the story, without needing to agonize about it.

4. Don’t be tempted to show off your work. Sprinkle it in the story.

This is by far the hardest to do, at least for me: after having researched and gathered this amazing mass of information, having constructed with painstaking detail everything around your comic, how can you keep it in the background and only let the story’s light shine on whatever is in its way, rather than forcing it to shine on all your work?

But that is crucial. If you don’t let your story naturally develop within its setting, and the characters only speak about what they’d normally say, then you’re info-dumping and you will inadvertedly bore your audience. Research is your salt mine, and the info yielded is your salt. If you put too much in your story, it’ll be inedible and your audience will vomit it out. If you put too little, then your story will be bland and your audience won’t be moved. You’ll need to find the perfect balance of saltiness that perfectly offsets the flavor you want your audience to taste.

And that’s it! How do you conduct your own research for your comic?

comment

anonymous?

bravo1102 at 2:08AM, June 25, 2017

Another by the way; there are things you can bend and research you can fake. Street names and corners in well known cities for example. The geography in most movies and fiction about New York City is abysmal but it rarely ruins the story. Military operations rarely work the way they do in most fiction, especially movies, but the spirit is there. So exact operational sequence or precisely what the military really would do as opposed to the needs of your story in the end doesn't matter. It's your story, not a tech manual. But if you portray a specific technical action, like immediate action for a stoppage on an M16 rifle, do the research to get it right. If your characters would know what a stoppage and immediate action is and the acronym SPORTS, you better too. Don't go through all the trouble to concoct this beautiful epic tale of a soldier's life and have him doing things he would have learned in basic training NOT to ever do.

bravo1102 at 10:57PM, June 24, 2017

Writer's Digest Books put out a great series of "writer's guide" on different historical eras. Gives you the meaty details like how much stuff cost, medicine and personal hygiene. Now if I could only find them. I am a voracious reader and when I see something interesting I take notes that I file away for future use. And a little secret; an easy way to do historical research is to read novels by authors noted for their historical research. ;)

Avart at 5:21PM, June 24, 2017

This is a must do, even if you aren't going to show all the stuff you've researched. But sometimes just throwing a specific detail here and there it's enough to catch the readers attention and, if they're hooked, they'll make their own research to confirm what you're saying/showing in your comic. Nice article! :D

KimLuster at 4:10PM, June 24, 2017

I'm fascinated by Quantum Theory and I had such a hard time not dumping TONS more info into my pages that I did (in all honesty I probably did way too much anyway...) Where I had to do a good bit of research was military info (tactics, equipment, etc...)! Most of my knowledge was 'movie' knowledge, and I wanted to feel at least a little legit, so I researched and I still got TONS wrong!! Some complicated and encompassing topics you really just can't know without being involved in them in some manner... Thank god for forgiving readers!! :D

Udyr at 2:44PM, June 24, 2017

Library is a good way to find material, and those books aimed for teens/children mostly, they got books about EVERYTHING from ancient rome to space ships. Often they're written very easy to understand as well, and filled with alot of pictures and documentation. I also look through magazines with information about subjects I need (mags about science, history etc is worth get a hold to) or if i see cheap books on stuff i buy it. Youtube is good for research if reading isnt good enough.

Tantz_Aerine at 5:50AM, June 24, 2017

Bravo: Definitely! To quench my infodumping needs, I created all the peripheral essays, but even there I felt I might bore people if I put in too much detail. Still it helped. // Ozoneocean: Yeah the vague goals are the toughest to tackle. I always take a bit of time to whittle it down to some more specific aspects before I dive in.

ozoneocean at 1:06AM, June 24, 2017

For bottomless waitress I researched what diners look like, their layouts and the types of standard uniforms :)

ozoneocean at 1:05AM, June 24, 2017

Very, very wise words!! Especially about avoiding being overwhelmed or grabbing at obscure sources! Most of the research I did for Pinky TA was visual and it had to be pretty specific: " what did Tunis look like in the 1920s?", "What was the French coat of arms in the 1920s?", and so on about uniforms and titles weapons and political maps etc. But where it got hard was when I wanted to know more general stuff like about the nature of the Tunisian populace, or what the Crimea was really like and its history (this was before the Putin invasion). Then the data overwhelmed me and I had a hard time finding anything useful.

bravo1102 at 12:50AM, June 24, 2017

And is it really necessary in your comic about security guards to have a scene where a character explains the Electoral College with an analysis of the debates in the Constitutional Convention? Or just say that the guy was a walking encyclopedia?

bravo1102 at 12:45AM, June 24, 2017

Great analogy with the salt mine. To avoid info dumps, ask whether the character would know all the details you're putting into his mouth or would he take it for granted as a "given" in his world? To use your 16th century pistol, would the character be explaining snaplock versus snaphaunce or would he just hand over the pistol and say "cock this and pull the trigger " or even use the word milequet which wasn't even used to refer to proto-flintlocks until the 19th century? Think about in terms of something you take for granted like the ignition on a car. Would you explain it in info-dump detail or just say "turn the key"...


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