Comics with Clea Chiller: Teen Writing Bootcamp
In June 2023 artist and illustrator Clea Chiller taught the art of writing and drawing comics to young writers in her Teen Writing Bootcamp classes. Below she shares some tips and reflections.
We started with comic conventions, which are some commonalities all comics have. We discussed how although these were important factors in making our comics comprehensible, there would always be room for experimentation. Everyone in the session made a three-panel ‘gag’ comic, which proved to be trickier than expected. Because even in three panels you need motivation, action and resolution. I saw a range of three-panel comics from the participants, ranging from quirky to moving. We had a great time workshopping how we can tell our comic stories more effectively.
The following week was fun – it was when we got into character design. We discussed visual cues that tell us something about our characters, for example things like clothes, hair and props. We played a game of ‘guess who my character is’. We showed each other our characters and tried to guess what they were like just from their looks. But we don’t want to rely solely on character design, because in comics we don’t know how long a reader will look at an image. We can’t solely rely on how a character looks – we need character development too. How do they relate to others and their environment? What are their deepest thoughts? Leading from these deep thoughts we ran through expressions and how to use them effectively. In comics, expressions often need to be larger than life to quickly convey a feeling.
Our third week was spent on setting. We discussed splash panels and comics that make location the centerpiece of the story. Where do our characters live? Why would you want the location to be so critical? Well, you might be writing a genre comic where the setting is a big part of the story – making sure we know exactly what kind of story we are in for. Or maybe you want your characters to interact with a certain location that tests them and really shows the reader who they are. We also discussed using comic settings in different ways, maybe more as scenery for a dialogue-driven story. If we have two characters talking about their feelings at a bus stop, is it crucial to show a detailed splash panel of the bus stop? We can imply the bus stop with elements – for example, a sheltered bench or a bus driving by in one panel. We might mix how we use setting even in just one story, it may be more important in one scene and less so in another. There may be times when we want no setting, shifting the only focus to be on a character.
Our last session was where we put everything together, and also learnt that a lot of comic making is planning and thumbnailing. You don’t want to start drawing a detailed comic if you don’t know where it’s going. It always hurts when you draw a beautiful panel and realise you need to cut it out. Thumbnailing is rough storyboarding that allows you to work out how your comic needs to be laid out. I got to see some amazing comic ideas in our final session.