TeachingBooks.net is delighted to welcome award-winning author Mariko Tamaki as our featured guest blogger.
Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Voice in Comic Strips
by Mariko Tamaki
Photo provided by Mariko Tamaki, 2010
The incredible thing about comics, to me, is the medium’s diversity. Some people hear the word “comics” and are reminded of newsprint pages filled with superheroes. Others see shelves of manga stacked tight, while some readers are more familiar with hardbound graphic novels and nonfiction volumes. All of these formats and types of books rightly describe comics.
When we talk about comics or comic art, we’re not talking about a single style, story, or format—we’re talking about a medium that encompasses everything from Archie and Jughead to X-Men and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes series. Comics are a way to tell a story and a medium that offers amazing variety: action stories, horror stories, personal stories, and love stories.
Writing for comics is a very specific kind of writing. Of the actual writing only about 20 percent ends up in print. A large portion of the work is in the communication that takes place between the author and the artist. For the writer, this means focusing on and communicating about the few lines of text that will appear in the narration and dialogue.
Dialogue—more specifically, voice—is something that fascinates me. I am a consummate eavesdropper; on the subway, at work, and in shopping malls, I’m often found scribbling down little bits of what I overhear.
Voice has always been a key element of my storytelling. It’s a writer’s tool for constructing a story that is more show than tell. How a character says something is as important as what they say—sometimes it’s even more important.
A character’s voice is a complex instrument, textured and distinct, affected both by what a person wants others to hear and by the voices that they’ve grown up around. Voice is cultural, generational, and situational, but it’s not restricted to any of those things.
Working in comics, I often find a character’s voice develops as the character takes shape both in my head (in the writing and research process) and on the page in the illustrations. I love seeing the initial sketches. Often the illustrator will pose a character in a way that will trigger in me a sense of what it would be like to have a conversation with that person. Additionally, the illustrator’s drawings add to the dialogue, creating spaces within and between conversations—moments where saying nothing suggests as much as saying everything.
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