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Comic Strips: Art or Writing?

Posted by Carlo Jose San Juan, MD on Friday, January 8, 2010 Under: Comics and Webcomics
So, which is more important in a comic strip, the writing or the art?  The correct answer, of course, is that they are both important.  Nevertheless, everyone's got an opinion about it, including me.  Since I do both in Callous, let's take a look at what I believe they each deliver to an overall comic strip.  By the way, in no way do I consider myself an authority on the matter, so just take the following as an opinion and nothing more.

THE ART - The skill needed by any comic strip artist is not how well he or she can draw something but rather how well he or she can make that something convey what it is supposed to be convey.  Is the character happy or sad?  Whichever it is, the reader must be able to see that.  That's what the artist must accomplish: making sure the reader understands what is going on.  You can be absolutely horrible at drawing the likeness of a friend or family member (I am) but be exceptional at portraying the eccentricities of the substantial and emotional dynamics of the world that is your comic's setting by using your meager artistic abilities!  In that sense, the art and the artist play an incredible and irreplaceable role.  They get the story across.  They carry the tale, give it form, and determine its fluidity.
Did I mention horrible art?  Well, like it or not, comic strips are traditionally a visual medium.  So it helps to have an art style that is attractive to your target audience.  The comic strip must be looked at to be read and understood and won't do anything if the people you're calling out to can't stand to gaze at it long enough to realize what is going on within it.  Nevertheless, art is art.  It should be a form of expression and nothing else.  So the philosophical question arises, if a comic strip is expressively drawn but no one reads it, does it matter?  The answer to that is up to you.
The art of a comic strip, however, is traditionally limited to the story it is meant to portray.  The funny pages won't generate giggles from poor writing, no matter how spectacular the drawings are.  Still, you might get some oohs and aahs!

THE WRITING - Comics and comic strips, in my opinion, are above all else a form of storytelling.  The term a lot of people use is illustrated narrative and with good reason.  The writing, in my opinion, gives a comic its character more than the art.  Garfield, for example, is visually a fat, orange cat.  But it took good writing through the years for us to know that he's a gluttonous, lazy, Monday-cranky, and often playful bully.  You can draw a comic strip with stick figures and still make it good with clever writing. 

In the end, which do I feel is more important?  As I mentioned before, the correct answer is they are both equally important.  However, personally I feel that the most important aspect of comic strips is the execution and that task is usually placed on the shoulders of the artist.  Stand-up comics rely on their ability to deliver a joke than the joke itself.  A comic strip is not that different.  It is usually the artist who guides the reader through the story and decides when and how to throw in the punchline.

Well, those are my two centavos.  Got any thoughts?  Feel free to comment below!

In : Comics and Webcomics 

Tags: comic  comic strip  art  layout  writing 
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About the Author

Carlo Jose Caz is a practicing licensed physician, professional voice actor/talent, writer, and cartoonist. He has been working on the Callous comic strip since 1996, winning several of The LaSallian's Silver Quill awards for his work. He has written several published short stories. He currently lives in the Philippines with his wife and two children.


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