3 Rules for Writing Comic Strips

The comic strip world is in shambles. Back in my day, we had good comics.

Call them the “funny pages,” do you? These simple line drawings are the touch-stone of our culture!

Or – they should be…if they hadn’t been infected by lazy writers who don’t know what they’re doing.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: it is I, knower of everything, who have come to share exactly what is wrong with modern comic strips (that even goes for classics like Blondie whose current strips are being written by contemporary wannabe hacks)…and how anyone can produce a quality comic strip with my three easy steps.

Listen to me. After all, I know everything there is to know…and I am here to offer my gracious instruction to all you young whippersnappers.

1. Look Pretty

In the good old days, comics were nice to look at. Maybe the characters weren’t beautiful, but they weren’t a pile a squashed polygons that look like a made-in-China Picasso.

The lines were clean…the shapes were pleasing… You could tell what the backgrounds were, and what the characters were supposed to be.

3 Rules for Writing Comic Strips — Kimia Wood

Image courtesy of xkcd

Even “ugly” characters were somehow cute – or at least funny.

Minimalism is okay, too. But even simple designs can still lead the eye smoothly and give it satisfying shapes to look at.

Bottom line – in the old days, you could stare at the drawings without going blind.

You want to be a real comic strip writer? (Of course you do!) Then draw characters you wouldn’t mind hanging full-size on your wall!

If the people’s heads look like a pumpkin had an unfortunate accident with a tall building, you need some more work! If you don’t want your characters attractive, or cute…at least make their designs funny. You’re a comic strip writer.

2. Be Funny

Listen, my friend. You hold a valuable piece of our republic in your hands.

The comic pages are the one and only reason my grandpa buys a newspaper at all…and then only on Sundays…

And only for Sherman’s Lagoon.

You’re not competing with paint drying, you know. Put in a little effort! Do you want your character’s face used to light the fire in the morning?

Or do you want to hang on the bulletin board at work, for all the coworkers to see?

3 Rules for Writing Comic Strips — Kimia Wood

Image credit: ComicsKingdom

Trust me, your fellow comic writers are scraping the bottom of the barrel. (The next person to invent a fresh joke about Black Friday sales is getting the Pulitzer.) You don’t have to reach that far above them.

We all get that social media is a thing, now. Unless you have a really, truly unique gag about that inane fact (or about wives dissing their husbands, or kids whining about school, or any of the other tired, boring stereotypes) then just leave it alone.

Make your characters do interesting things. Force them to say interesting things.

If they’re just floating aimlessly across the page – nobody is going to care.

I don’t! And I am the gold standard for everything. (I also know everything, in case you’ve forgotten.)

There are loads of hilarious things in the world! Use some of them! Like the time our goat got so snarled around a tree with her cable that she literally got her hoof stuck in her collar.

Yeah, I just had to chuckle while I was untangling her.

Be the strip we tape to the bathroom mirror so we can wake up happy. Don’t be the strip that we read – and then feel absolutely nothing.

3. Aim for Timelessness

I don’t think I’ve said this part yet, so let me be clear:

You’re writing a comic strip.

This is not your personal editorial column, or your MySpace page. (Though if you can’t get published anywhere but MySpace…there might be a reason for that?)

By the way, no reason but I saw this hilarious comic strip skewering President Ford the other day. I can’t decide if that, or the one mocking Caesar Augustus, is my favorite –

Said no one ever!

Look. Shakespeare made bank with Julius Caesar because he tapped into the emotions of pride, jealousy, and betrayal that span all humanity.

Hamlet is still performed because it speaks to the doubts and longings common to our shared human experience…not because the Danish royal court is “relevant” or anything.

Yes I just compared Shakespeare to comic strips no I’m not sorry.

Sure, everyone else calls you the “funny pages” and uses you for a coffee mug coaster. Is that who you want to be?

Close your eyes and imagine five years from now…ten years from now… You’re holding the anniversary collection of your strip in your hands.

Are all the jokes lame and nonsensical because you’re mocking political figures that ran out their terms of office before your kids were born?

Who’s going to be laughing then?

No one! That’s who!

And your job is to be funny, for Calvin’s sake. (Calvin and Hobbes, of course.)

If no one will be interested in buying hardcover collector’s edition books of your strips because they’ll be meaningless after the next election cycle – think about that for a moment.

Crafting the Perfect Comic Strip

My time as your muse is drawing to a close. Just remember these three crucial points:

  1. Draw pictures you can enjoy looking at…staring at…and coming back to.
  2. Write plots and dialogue that actually get a chuckle. Or a wry grin. Or an appreciative snort.
  3. Dig deeper, aim higher, and create something people will come back to again, and again…and again, to read to their kids.

Unless, of course, you’re just here to make sure Frazz still has newspapers to distribute his genius.

In that case, I bow to your sacrificial support of the greater good.


3 Rules for Writing Comic Strips — Kimia WoodKimia Wood currently lives somewhere in the American Midwest with her family…including the brother people mistake for her boyfriend.

She’s bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for periodic updates on her latest reading and writing exploits. You’ll also receive a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier!

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