Pictures Worth Thousands of Words

doodle comic art sketch
Photo by khairul nizam on

I am a huge fan of graphic novels/comics, manga, and web comics. If you asked me, I could toss a slew of recommendations at you for these genres. There’s something about the combination of pictures and words that draws me in every time, perhaps because I dabble in art as well.

Back when I first started writing seriously (and by that I mean writing lots of fanfiction), some of my deepest influences came from the manga I loved: Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya being the primary culprit. That manga has the right amount of humour, drama, friendship, and romance to draw anyone in and keep their attention. It handled its large cast fabulously and while I didn’t always like or agree with all the characters, you felt for them. Even the most hateful ones.

To say I highly recommend reading at least one comic series in your writing life is an understatement. But here are three reasons why I think comics have a lot to teach us novelists:

1) Atmosphere: Just like in a novel, comics must establish their atmosphere to draw in their readers. While novelists cannot copy a comic’s methods exactly, I think studying how comics use their space, colour, and expressions can help novelists better visualize how they might shape their scenes in their own manuscripts. The attention to colour, what/who to focus on, even the inner monologue of a character can still be reflected in prose.

2) Humour: The importance of humour in a novel cannot be stressed enough, though how humourous you get of course depends on your genre. But even dark humour can help your readers connect to your characters, and, especially in manga, the comedy, sometimes slapdash and slapstick, helps to humanize the characters. I think novelists can very easily forget the importance of humour in humanizing characters because of the heaviness of the material we write about, but many manga and graphic novels do not forgo using humour.

3) Drama: Web comics are often serial so literally thrive from drama. There’s a lot novelists can pick up from how web comics have to be plotted: where to insert flashbacks, how to write good flashbacks, how to show connections between characters… While a lot of this can be learned from reading a how-to book, there is a joy to learning from a well-written web comic. Comics also aren’t afraid to let their readership suffer a bit; drawing out the pain with cliff-hangers.

Hopefully this list has helped convince you why reading manga/graphic novels is so important to the novelist. A mantra I often hear from writers is to “read other genres” but I doubt they mean comics or graphic novels. Well, here I mean it. Because in this case, “a picture can help you write 1,000 words”.

Any fans of manga/graphic novels around here? Anything else we novelists can take away from that genre? Feel free to share below! 🙂 And if you have any recommendations for those who want to check out the genre, please share those, too!

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