Word Balloons as Art Form

I’ve been taking this course for the last few weeks: Writing For Comics Part 1, taught by Ty Templeton. Ty used to do this gig as part of the Toronto Cartoonists Workshop, but he’s now put out his own shingle that reads “Comic Book Bootcamp” at the new Comic Book Embassy in Chinatown.

The course has challenged me, I must confess. Not in the sense that “it’s hard” but rather that what he’s teaching feels very formulaic. His style is very much about teaching these template structures for different story types: Plot-driven stories, Character-driven stories, etc., and then explain to us how to fill in the details. For my part, I find that my brain wants to resist these structures as somehow a dumbing down of the writing process.

But I’ve been trying to keep an open mind. When I’ve talked about this course with friends, I’ve often told a story about the Theatre Directing course I took in university. As our final project, each of us directed a short, one-act play. One of my classmates did a very advant-garde production of e.e. cummings’ Santa Claus: A Morality. It, um, was kind of wretched. And I remember one of my profs kvetching that it’s important to learn the rules before deciding to break them all.

So that’s the frame of mind I’ve been trying to hold myself in: Ty says that these are the rules; I’m gonna try working with the rules and see what I glean from the process. One of the things that has been interesting is that we’re able to do in-class writing exercises that take, like, fifteen minutes or half-an-hour and which produce interesting output. That’s kinda neat, in my opinion. If writing is more free-for-all, I think it’d be harder to produce stuff on such constrained timelines.

(I’m having a bit of a think, though. I think we did a lot of writing in <genuflect>Stanley’s</genuflect> writing course at York. He was a Buddhist hippie dude whose approach to teaching writing was to tell us to clear our minds and meditate and the words would rain down like tiny drops of… hell if I know.)

This is something true of the classes that I’ve seen Ty teach: he very much seems to say, practice doing A and B and C and D and E and those things will get the job done. In a sense, he’s teaching concepts, but they’re all concepts that are laid out in a very pragmatic, usable way. I especially liked that in the Inking class I took a few months back. In the writing class, I’m still finding myself mentally resisting: my brain is all, like, “Nooooo! Don’t constrain me! I need to be free to imagine anything I want!”

Anyway, the final class is on Tuesday night. I’m almost-certainly going to take another class immediately afterward, and I have two choices: Writing for Comics Part 2 or Layout and Story Telling. I suspect that a fair percentage of the people in my current class will take the next writing class. So, I suppose some continuity of people would be interesting, but it’s not like I’ve developed deep bonds with any of my classmates. On the other hand, part of me is thinking that layout would kinda mix things up a bit, although I suspect that I’ll find drawing exercises harder. I tend to do a lot of pondering and refining of stuff I draw — my earliest sketches of things are indecipherable to anyone but me — and I think I’ll find in-class exercises stressful (especially if we do any of that “review your work with the person sitting next to you” thing).

Ick. I’m not one who usually has difficulty deciding on a course of action, but I seem to be doing my best waffle impression.


  1. Mark Rosewater, Head Designer of Magic: the Gathering always says “Restrictions breed creativity.” Too much openness for a task leaves your brain flailing for a direction. A restriction gives you something to push against, to steer toward and a guide to follow.

  2. avatar Amy says:

    I love following your art journey and hope you remember to have fun!

    My rule of thumb for facing such a fork in the road is to follow the Path of Least Regret. For this sort of fork, I’d guess it’s the Regret of Lost Opportunity. Which course would you most regret missing out on?