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?
Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, June 24, 2017
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