I’ve been hard at work at Henri’s side-story. Please excuse me while I wax poetic about how much it’s making me think.
So, I know comics are a visual medium, but sometimes that feels hard to pull off. A lot of people don’t pull it off, and their characters become a backdrop for telling a story through a million word balloons instead of showing a story through words and actions. I hope we’re pulling it off, because sometimes I’m not sure–it’s very easy to lose perspective on your own work because you know every intimate detail about how the page was made, what your thought process was when you made it, and so on. There’s no speculation, which makes analysis difficult–I can’t say ‘well maybe the artist or writer did it like this for this or that reason’ because I already know why I or Cory did things the way we did, and generally that reason is ‘because we thought it would work’ or ‘because we thought it would be interesting’.
Working on Henri’s side story has already given me a great deal of perspective, because it is without dialogue. It is a silent comic that tells a story through snapshots of Henri’s life, age ten to twenty, which means that I needed things to be clear without the characters spelling it out with actual words. In doing this, I learned an important lesson that I’d kind of been preaching, but didn’t really understand as well as I do now.
When turning my goofy thumbnails into sketched out pages, ready for inking, I came across a scene where I had a really hard choice to make. That choice was to not pull any punches, and tell it like it is, or dumb it down so that people reading it would be less shocked or offended and as a result, really take away the seriousness out of a serious situation. We made a similar decision way back when we decided that Henri would swear like a sailor–he’s a 20 year old with a chip on his shoulder, and there was no way words like ‘darn’ or ‘shoot’ or ‘fudge’ were ever going to come out of his mouth instead of the words that I often see authors substitute words like darn, shoot and fudge for in comics. It would have made us PG, but if I was a reader, it would have seemed weird, forced, and pulled me out of my sense of suspended disbelief. People have sent us letters or made comments on our page that informed me that they liked our comic, right up until Henri showed up and opened his mouth, and that we’d lost them as readers.
The scene in Henri’s sidestory felt shocking to me as I looked at the finished sketched page, which was shocking in itself. I usually get so tied down with trying to figure out how I’m making the audience feel that I rarely think about how things might make me feel. I drew it and I actually sat down and contemplated erasing it and taking the panel in a different direction. I made my decision by asking myself ‘is this something a real teenager would say or do, and the answer was yes, and anything less or edited would make hypothetical-me-as-a-reader think that I have no idea what teenagers are like. I had to think long and hard on that, because I somehow managed to throw myself for a loop. Who knows? It’s possible that you guys will eventually read the sidestory and not know why it’s such a big deal, or why I reacted enough to make vague references about it in this post. I guess I’m just feeling introspective.
What do you guys think? Would you be happier if Henri had less of a foul mouth? How do you feel about comics addressing topics that might make you uncomfortable? How do you feel about authors who censor themselves to make sure they stop on as few toes as possible? Inquiring minds blah blah blah.
Aaaand that’s enough of that.