Guest Entry: How to Build a Comic!
How to Draw a Successful Science Comic – by Alexandra Greenbaum
Just as a brief introduction, my name is Alex and I am a fellow science nerd. I often express my love for all things science and technology in the form of funny (debatably) comics. The real key to successful science comics are about living and loving science! The rest is just cole slaw. Enjoy:
For the first step, I introduce some guidelines for getting started.
Number 1: Know stuff!
This is not limited to science by any means, but it helps to be informed. For me and many of my fellow comrades, physics and astronomy provide great material (and I myself have got some engineering jokes up my sleeve). But what are you into? Do you know a lot of history, or maybe you’re a psychology major (I bet that’s a ripe field for jokes). In fact having a less common area of expertise leads to some new creative ideas. Everybody loves a good “positive” ion joke but they get old! Show off your knowledge as well as your sense of humor.
Number 2: You don’t have to draw well – just well enough.
You can impress with artistic ability if that’s your game, but for those, like me, who lack much ability it’s sufficient to draw just well enough so that someone else can tell what it is.
And when all else fails, a little labeling goes a long way. Personally, labeling is my technique of choice. I have certainly been influenced by the cartoonist James Pendergrast, who taught me that text and arrows bring the real imagery to the picture.
Number 3: Most important of all, draw it for yourself! The person to impress is you; if you are amused then you have been successful (at least that is my standard).
Now that the guidelines are covered, let’s take a look at types of jokes.
The power of the pun
Three words: Homonyms, homonyms, homonyms! Never underestimate a good (or bad) pun. The more it makes your friends groan, the more successful you have been.
Things that look like other things
This one is fun for me, because I consider it a quality exercise in metaphysics. That figure you just drew in your notes kind of looks like a dinosaur; mission accomplished. For example, let’s examine a simple phase diagram chart:
Themes are a little more abstract and I find them the hardest. But they have the potential to make excellent comics. By taking a theme familiar to one context and adapting it to another, a thoughtful piece is born.
Just observe – what makes you laugh? If you think of anything funny, don’t let it go to waste. Scribble it down on your notes, on the wall, on your arm, or wherever right away!
The last order of business is the approach:
#1 Doodling in Class or at Work
Doodling in class is a gold mine. Remember to pay some attention to the lecture because you never know when the professor might spark an idea for your next masterpiece. The fact that you are already bored means that your mind is ready and willing to wander. Channel that energy into something amusing!
#2 Thinking Really Hard
This approach is slightly less effective than a context like class where you mind is forced to wander out of boredom. However, it’s certainly possible to brute force a comic. In fact most of this post has been by brute force. It’s important not to get discouraged if you don’t think of something right away. The more you practice comic drawing, the easier the ideas come. Eventually, if you think really hard, chances are you will think of something. Once you have that seed work it into shape and develop the details.
#3 Live Your Humor
This is more of a life philosophy, but let the humor come to you. Be inherently open to funny ideas and live your humor. In other words, be genuine in your attitude toward your expertise. For example, I’ll introduce one exercise I tried a couple of times in my quantum physics class. Every time the teacher mentioned the letter “Psi” (which happens a lot in Qmech) I took a sigh out loud.
Lastly, make friends with someone who has a blog so you can post on their site without having to do any of the work! I want to thank Dan for having an excellent science blog, which I read regularly, and for letting me post some nonsense.
I hope you learned something from this post, in the very least to love and embrace science, or whatever interests you! As a final treat I’ll debut my most recent comic, inspired by the AAS speaker session on the conditions for habitability on earth and other planets.
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