This is the companion piece to last week’s post about pitching and how comics could play a bigger role for animation studios looking for new ideas. SPX from the previous weekend was a great experience and although I had to whoosh by everything in one day, it proved a productive and rewarding test of my theory. To prove it, here’s five comics (and a few honourable mentions) by independent artists that contain plenty of animated potential given the right resources and effort.
Last Dollar Comics
Created by Jim Coon, these are, literally, $1 comics. With single panels spread out along 16 pages, they are short, self-contained stories that inevitably build up to a punchline. Flipping through “I Was a 50 Foot Cheer Leader” there is superb establishment of the character, setting and dilemma they are faced with with enough space for a few gags thrown in too.
Although lacking lots of substance, comics like these are perfect for very short-form content. That is, 30 seconds to two minutes. They could be created quickly and cheaply and if they prove popular, could move up into longer shorts or episodes. As a concept, they’re also a great way of testing ideas to see if they have any merit before committing substantial resources to them.
Created by Paul G Jones, this is a webcomic in the more traditional sense. Currently in its third storyline, it revolves around Mary Sunshine and a frog called Gallant and their quest to find his lost princess. Evoking the spirit and indeed style of the classic Mario games, Gallant Adventures is an original take on many of the tropes associated with princesses, frogs, love and downright hilarity.
There are many great things that stand out about this comic. The style is professional and could easily be adapted into animation thanks to the use of colour and some great layout and pacing. The comedy is a splendid mix of physical and spoken word (“I don’t know if I can trust a man with eyebrows that big”) that has general appeal but most importantly plays off the characters in addition to the humour.
Gallant Adventures appear best suited to the web episode format. Short bursts of story with a climax that fit into a larger tale would make it an ideal candidate for regular updates for an online crowd used to such things. Naturally the Nintendo references is also in vogue on that platform so that certainly do its prospects no harm at all.
This comic I actually came across at the Baltimore ComicCon a few years ago. Having crashed through book one, it was quite exciting [personally] to be able to buy book two at SPX. Good thing I went on Saturday too as I managed to grab the last one! Princeless appears to be the usual twist on the traditional princess story, but creator and writer Jeremy Whitley takes things a bit further than most.
Princess Adrienne has been locked in a tower by her father to await a prince to rescue her. Being rather bored with herself, she one day discovers a sword under her bed. After promptly rescuing herself, she sets off to save her six sisters who have been similarly imprisoned by their father with lots of adventures along the way with newly-found sidekick, Bedelia.
This was a comic that stood out to me immediately as having animated potential. Besides Whitley’s excellent writing and humour, it is the characters that really drive this comic. Yeah we’ve all seen the plucky princess before (coughTangledcough) but Adrienne is set on much more that getting herself out of the tower. She sees a higher purpose in life that Whitley imbued in her after seeing too many female characters in comics that he considers as poor role models for his own daughter; one particular trope is lampooned in chapter 3: ‘On Sexism in the Armor Industry.’
Princeless is a more traditional comic and as such seems better served by the half-hour episode. It’s large cast of characters (kids on the one hand, parents on the other) represent multiple storylines that would only be capable of being played out over longer running times.
In the end, it is the characters of Princeless, protagonists and antagonists alike, that form the solid foundation for the traditional rescue-adventure storyline. Good animation is currently crying out for these kinds of characters and while plenty are exemplified in the Legend of Korra but one series alone is simply not enough.
This webcomic has only five pages posted so far so consider its inclusion as being a bit more speculative than the others. However, even in those five pages, there is a lot of potential for this series.
Kick-ass groups of girls are nothing new to comics or even animation. Sailor Moon was there 20 years ago and has been a high bar for anyone looking to follow since then. Thankfully Zodiac Starforce is more than worthy of comparison to that perennial favourite with the brilliant design of Paulina Ganucheau and the sharp writing of Kevin Panetta setting a very promising stage for plenty of character development and stress as they must balance the mundane requirements of school with saving the universe.
This web comic straddles the line between an episodic format or a longer feature but that could change once more pages are posted. Either way, the design works heavily in its favour in terms of an animated adaptation (great use of colour) and the writing gives it enough appeal for an older audience of, say, teens and above. The broad range of characters in the core group also give it the edge when it comes to finding an audience.
The Cute Girl Network
This graphic novel isn’t technically on sale at the time of writing but preview copies were available at SPX and it was a good thing I took up the opportunity! The Cute Girl Network is a romantic comedy that takes the genre to a different level. Jane is our skateboarding hero who by chance crashes right in front of Jack’s soup cart. Now, ordinarily, this is were such a story would follow the two as their love grows for one another, but not this story! Instead, the Cute Girl Network steps in to stop Jane making a potentially devastating mistake.
The strengths of the Cute Girl Network lie yet again in the characters. Jane is the skateboarding, rebellious type and is independently minded and strong enough to weather the many storms that are thrown her way. Jack is the good-natured, simple-minded man in the fine mould of Homer Simpson; always trying his best but somehow always managing to fall short.
Surrounding our heroes, is a myriad of supporting characters who alternately balance and unbalance the story by pushing and pulling Jack and Jane in one way or another. The eponymous Cute Girl Network itself exists to inform women of what they’re in for when they date a guy and Jack is unfortunately not on their ‘good’ side.
Clocking in at about 180 pages, the Cute Girl Network is prime feature material. There is a large and varied cast of characters, the story is self-contained and sorted into chapters and the story itself is entertaining and leaves the reader wondering just what the final conclusion will be. Jane is, after all, smart enough to look out for herself even if Jack is not.
Written by Greg Means and MK Reed and expertly drawn by Joe Flood, the package as a whole is essentially a ready-made animated film that is begging to be made. To put it simply, Scott Pilgrim has nothing on the Cute Girl Network as far as quality of the characters and plot go. This is a comic that the contemporary feature animation landscape desperately needs.
No list would be complete without a few honourable mentions of comics that are good, but slightly outside the scope of this post.
Santiago Casares’ love letter to rubberhose and silent animation, it features an anthropomorphic hobo cat who like to get himself into trouble. Be it getting chased by a policeman, a train, looking for love or just buried treasure, these wordless comics almost always end with out hero giving us the thumbs up.
A comic that would work really well in either GIFs or very short form animation.
Dumbing of Age
The strength of this webcomic by David Willis lie in the twin pillars of character and comedy. It’s been running for a few years and I regrettably passed on buying one of the collections at SPX. That said, it seems more than suitable for some fine, character-driven animation.
Fire For Effect
The humour in Alex Ayala’s semi-autobiographical comic is indeed, on fire. Not entirely suitable for the kiddies, but hilarious nonetheless, Fire or Effect is another comic example of a comic that could thrive as super-short animated spots.