If you've ever wondered, like me, what exactly is the difference between comics or graphic novels and picture books, prepare to be enlightened. We are honored to host Tracy White on our blog this week. She is a webcomics pioneer who began publishing her work online in 1996. A native of New York City, Tracy has made comics for gURL.com, AOL, and Oxygen TV, as well as a docu-comic for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum about the experiences of immigrant teens living in New York. Her webcomic has been nominated twice for an Ignatz Award. Tracy is currently an adjunct professor at the Interactive Telecommunication Program, which is part of NYU's TISCH School of the Arts.
How I Made It to Eighteen is her first book. Booklist called it "a compelling and highly textured story." "Stacy’s story of anxiety, abuse, self-harm, addiction, and depression, is also a story of an interesting, creative young woman and her friends..." said VOYA. "White’s novel uses stark black-and-white imagery to construct her frank and honest story of a fraught adolescence." In this blog post, Tracy offers tips and ideas on the myriad ways of combining words and images.
Tracy White: Storytelling through comics
My favorite way of telling a story is through comics. Comics are different from picture books because images in a picture book generally re-enforce what the text says to help young children read. Go on, take a look at one you have in your house (there must be one somewhere). If there’s a sentence like “It was a bright and sunny morning when Henrietta Pig ran into town”, there will, in all likelihood be a picture of Henrietta the Pig in the morning (the sun will be rising) running down a road that has a sign pointing into town, or some variation on that scene.
Comics, on the other hand, often use a combination of words and images to create a new idea, each aspect providing one part of the bigger picture so to speak. In a comic the sentence “It was a bright and sunny morning when Henrietta Pig ran into town” might be accompanied by an image of Henrietta sneaking away from a farm with a mean looking farmer wielding a knife nearby. Or you not even have the general description words like “bright sunny morning”, “Pig” and “run” because those details are in the drawing. So the sentence above your illustration could end up being “Henrietta thought it’d be a good idea to take a trip”.
If you like the idea of combining words and images, but prefer to focus on the words, you can collaborate with an artist/friend who’d rather draw. Or if you like the idea of also doing the graphics but don’t know where to start, or drawing seems daunting you can try using photographs (pose people, dolls, action figures) or cut outs from magazines or any other idea that comes to mind. Don’t underestimate stick figures. They work really well too. Just check out “Diary of A Wimpy Kid.”
Of course there are many other ways to manipulate comics like the use of color. If the story is sad you could have all you drawings in a shade that suggest that emotion. Your choice font can express a mood too: A pointy, jagged thin font conveys something totally different from a round, flowery cursive one. And then there’s placement of objects within a panel, layout of the pages, the shape of each panel, lighting, detail vs. simplicity; the list goes on. Each of these decisions, like the paragraphs, periods, commas, verbs, nouns and parenthesis that we use in text based stories, can help forward your narrative.
Mostly though, just enjoy playing with the virtually unlimited number of ways to present your tale.