Make Great Comics! Part 1: Concept and Brainstorming

With the relaunch of the site, I felt it was a good time to start with some fresh tutorials. Manga from Scratch was a bit old, a bit verbose and not clearly planned.  So I’m doing some new ones. This is ‘Make Great Comics’, and this is our first instalment: Concept.

One of the questions often asked of creators is ‘where do you get your ideas?’ The idea or concept is simultaneously the most and least valuable commodity in the creative process. Obvious without ideas we are nothing, a good idea is a wonderful thing, after all, but in the end, it is an insubstantial concept and its success depends heavily on the execution. An idea that never gets made into something that can be shared is functionally worthless, a good idea drawn and written badly is a waste and meanwhile, a very dull sounding idea can transcend its humble foundation through excellent writing and art. Ideas are literally the stuff of dreams.

-How do I come up with good ideas?

The first thing should always be to consider what you find interesting.  A place, a feeling, an action, it could be anything. Have you ever been just in a place and seen something interesting and your thoughts have gone off on a strange tangent? Or observed something in your life that your mind squirrels away for later? A good creator sees gaps and oddities and thematic links between things.  You need to open your mind to those links and start thinking ‘outside the box’ to use a horribly clichéd term. Personally I like to start with spider diagrams! I love spider diagrams! You start with a word and come up with words relating to that word, and words related to those words, spinning out a web of fascinating links and ideas. Let’s demonstrate here. I’ve given myself the starter word ‘Chess’:

A simple idea can take you a long way

This is just a small, quick one (five minutes or so). There are avenues I haven’t explored such as ‘game’ and ‘man vs computer’, but this is just to show you how it works. As you can see, a pretty basic one word idea has taken us to some very interesting places. Our chess themed comic could be about a working class black guy fighting an unending struggle for social mobility against a society run by powerful white people. It could be a fantasy story about a Knight who has a strange, pathological desire to take the most convoluted path they’re presented with, unable to settle down and take the simple ‘straight ahead’ road. It could be a story about a Woman who has to work twice as hard as her male counterpart and achieves far more, yet is never seen as important. It could be a story about a battle that keeps being fought, yet both sides forget it has taken place the next day and go to fight again. All this from just the name of a boardgame! Try taking a word you like, or flicking to a random dictionary page, and seeing where your spider takes you.

-Idea Katamari

I have a few comics which I call ‘Katamari Comics’. A Katamari is a ball of collected bits and bobs, like in the video game ‘Katamari Damarshii’. Sometimes I have an odd idea, and I think hmm, that is an interesting idea, but on its own it’s not really enough to make a whole comic about, so I file it in my head and/or write it down in my ‘ideas book’. If I come up with another idea that is of a similar ilk, I may tack on other ideas to it, creating a resulting combination of ideas. My webcomic is just like this. It’s a combination of a couple of characters I came up with for another comic which had a very lacklustre concept so didn’t make, but liked the two knights (Rekki and Subo) mixed with a desire to make something that was like a shounen action manga but with a female lead and aimed at a more female audience, mixed with an idea for a fantasy setting where it’s the 1960s/70s.

-Idea Books and Boards

It’s a good idea and very inexpensive to get a book or a computer folder set up for jotting down ideas and collecting inspiring images.  I use mine to record interesting thoughts, concepts, things I’ve seen in dreams, character ideas, word play, mythology… Just about anything I think is interesting! Any old notepad from a stationary shop will do. Just keep it to hand. Look for thematic links between your concepts, read lots of books, try different hobbies and visit interesting places. There is inspiration everywhere if you just look for it.

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