Writing for Comics – Don’t Leave Me Hanging!

First; a quick apology for the missing entry last week.

I apologize.

This week’s entry deals with something very specific to modern comics; very few comics today are “one and done” adventures. This practice used to be far more common. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of any – outside of “Brave and the Bold” and “Jonah Hex” – that are single-issue adventures. The reasoning is simple; at some point, it was realized that even more money could be made with serial adventures.

As a writer or creator of comics, you’re fully aware of the effect a good cliffhanger has. But knowing isn’t enough; you have to be able to use it.

The standard approach will be something tantalizing left to close out the issue. A secret threat, perhaps? Or a new twist that “will change everything forever!”. You know the type.

Let’s think about this, though; you’re using the natural end of the format to create tension. This is effective, but let’s face facts – we can do better. There’s multiple ways to accomplish any given task, and a cliffhanger is no exception.

We are taught to think, “The end is the perfect place for a cliffhanger!” But, in reality, a well-done cliffhanger can take place in any part of an issue. (Don’t take this to mean that an issue should be filled, beginning to end, with cliffhangers; while I’d love to see something like that work, it’s probably best to decline that challenge) For example, an abrupt plot change in the middle of the issue, accompanied by a new perspective (following a different character in the plotline, perhaps) can be a cliffhanger. A truly bold move? Tossing in a cliffhanger in the very beginning of an issue.

Don’t doubt that it’s possible. But let’s brainstorm, shall we?

Say we have a hypothetical adventure comic about a teenage boy, his treasure-sniffing dog, and a loveable greedy uncle. They’re in the Louisiana Bayou, searching for a lost shipment of Confederate gold – racing against time, a paramilitary group, and rival treasure hunters. What are potential cliffhangers we could place at the end, middle, and beginning, respectively?

Brains at the ready? Go!

-Ryan

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