I've been stoked to feature John Lechner as my Illustrator of the Month for April. John is a fabulous illustrator, writer, animator, and designer with tons of experience and expertise. To wrap up his frolic on my blog, John is sharing some tips on writing and drawing comics for kids, something he knows a lot about. John has two comic style books for kids published by Candlewick Press, Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest, and Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril. He also posts an ongoing Sticky Burr web comic, which is lots of fun.
Tips On Writing & Drawing Comics for Kids
by John Lechner
All comic artists have their own ways of working and theories about comics. I'm going to share some of my own thoughts and ideas, drawn from my own experience.
To write successfully for children, you need to apply all the rules of good writing, but even more so. The same applies to comics. When you write and draw comics for children, you need to strive for the most clear, well-scripted, well-paced and dynamic story you can create. I don't mean that comics for kids should be constrained or conventional, only that they should be good.
Comics and picture books have a lot in common, they both use words and pictures to tell a story, and the words and pictures usually share the load. The main difference is that in comics, the story is depicted in real time -- that is, the time it takes to read one page is roughly the time it would take for the scene to actually occur. The drama plays out in front of you like a movie or play. This requires many images, so the page is divided up into panels which are read in sequence; hence the term "sequential art".
Because of this unique quality, not all stories lend themselves to comics, just as not all stories make good picture books, or poems, or films. It helps if the story is not too wordy and has some “visual drama” -- that is, scenes that are especially dramatic when you see them played out in front of you. A comic about people having conversations is harder to pull off, though these can work well for older readers if the dialog is good. For younger children, visual action and humor that take advantage of the "real time" nature of comics can be very effective. (For instance, showing cause and effect, or a progression of events.)
Speech balloons are another key ingredient of comics. They don't merely show what is being said, they control the flow and pacing of a page as well. Their placement is just as important (if not more) than that of the images and panels on the page. When reading a page of comics, the eyes should be able to follow a simple and logical path from one balloon to another. If the order is difficult to decipher, it slows down the reader and brings them out of the story. When drawing your comic pages, if you find that your word balloons don't follow a logical path, you may need to change the artwork. And if you find you have so many words that you don't have room for the characters, you may need to trim.
So what distinguishes a comic for kids, as opposed to a comic for older teens or adults? Partly content, and partly simplicity of form and layout, just as a picture book or early reader uses well-spaced text and easy-to-follow pages. Believe it or not, simplicity is even harder to achieve with comics, because you have to convey so much information visually, and perhaps this is why comics for young readers are so hard to pull off.
And just as traditional books often bend the rules and make readers stretch, so can comics as long as you don’t lose your reader in the process. Every word, panel and line should contribute towards telling the story, there’s no room for anything superfluous in comics. It’s an amazing and versatile medium that I’m still learning about myself, and hope to be exploring for a long time to come.
A huge THANK YOU to John for taking the time to share his work here throughout the month. You can read more from John at his Illustrator of the Month interview and read his post on Creating a World in a Picture Book. Plus, you can learn all sorts of things about John and his work at his website http://www.johnlechner.com/
I'm certain we'll be seeing lots of great things from John. I can't wait.