📈Giving Comics the Business
Panel by Panel Profit
Every episode of Into the Storymaze = writing ideas or writing-in-progress; something creative I’m excited to share; a highlight from my comic book writing; and a quote that’s worth a think.
Here’s the essence of the Storymaze: what seems one thing becomes another.
Recently, I was asked to be on a business-oriented podcast. The host, a savvy guru of content marketing named Keith Reynolds was intrigued by my comic book background and advertising achievements, and thought I could offer a unique POV on how comic storytelling can help businesses communicate their message.
I was all in, natch, and did quite a bit of additional research and prep to hit the high points. Like, I’m talking hard core Googling; and notes; and putting those in order even! To paraphrase Ghostbuster Ray Stantz, “In the real world, they expect results!”
As you probably expect, after a short bit of historical “How’d you get into comics?” the conversation touched on many things related to marketing — *except* that very unique topic of comics. Sad trombone. 😭
But — never let good words go to waste. Herewith, then, those topline thoughts I had planned to share in front of the mic that day, on where comics go from entertainment to serve in terms of education, communication, and corporations. This was structured to 'splain to folks who don't really know comics, might be doubtful of them — but could be swayed with examples. ("Real world evidence," as the biz-speak goes.)
Students of the comics craft will note where I've leveraged great thinkers in framing out some ideas, especially Scott McCloud's observations on what makes comics different — and work so well for storytelling and standing out from the crowd. In truth, I could probably create a whole ongoing newsletter on just this! But let's get through this first…
What's a comic?
This might be very obvious to readers of this newsletter, but so we're all on the same page — in this case, a comic book page!
A comic is a sequence of images put in a deliberate order and associated with words or data to communicate ideas, directions and especially stories.
Comics rely on a structured "visual language." If you want to get pseudo-intellectual about it (and sometimes you do — it impresses certain audiences you may be presenting the idea to) you can date them back to hieroglyphics.
How Comics Connect with An Audience
A minimal use of text when telling a story can engage an audience differently than a long blog post or business white paper.
More freedom is given to the reader to draw their own takeaways from the short message on the page.
The foundational principle of comics is closure: taking two or more fragmented images and making meaning out of the combination.
Humans do this on a daily basis. When presented with an incomplete image, idea, or story, we fill in the gaps.
When we fill in gaps we relate that closure more personally to our background knowledge, our interests, our lives.
So…we tend to be more invested when we read comics.
"Simple Style doesn't mean simple story." — Scott McCloud
How Comics Connect: Amplification through Simplification
The simpler the drawing, the more amplified the image.
Amplification means a broader and more connected audience.
The style of illustration and the style of a comic image — from simple to detailed — can connect with different audiences to varying degrees.
(“Amplification” strikes me as a particularly strong word to work into a biz presentation!)
Where Comics Fit In
Comics have a distinctive visual language that can reach and hold an audience's attention in a unique way. Part of this is in the art style itself. Comics can be as simple as stick figures, and as lush as a fully rendered 3D illustration. The art style you choose should align with the the themes or message you're looking to communicate.
In a similar manner, consider the setting or genre of your comic book story. While comics can sometimes be relegated to the humor section at an uninformed bookstore (sigh) the truth is comics encompass many genres: horror, sci-fi, drama, memoirs, history — and far more than the commonly expected superhero.
Knowing that your audience will relate to some topics and themes more than others, your business goals will benefit greatly when you choose a genre that will make the strongest connection. For example, a personal health story told in the style of a memoir; or a story of technological research in the style of a science fiction epic.
Comics Prove Their Worth in the Workplace
Bringing comics into your business storytelling doesn't mean you have to break new ground. Big names have successfully shown the way and demonstrated success. (Prior examples can be useful things in selling a new approach. For as much as many businesses say they want to be “groundbreaking,” they are more comfortable being “close followers.”)
When Google launched their Chrome Web browser, they used a comic to explain the technology and potential of this new software.
Lowes creates "what's next" comic stories to share new ideas from its Innovation Lab with its C-Suite. These regularly then become new products or initiatives for the company.
Educating on the Effectiveness of Comics
There are many studies on how powerful comics can be to teach and communicate. But this one from the University of Oklahoma may be worthwhile in helping to get business heads nodding — and get the inevitable business naysayers to quiet down.
140 grad students studying strategic management were split into two groups. One group studied from a typical textbook. The other group studied from a comic book containing the same information. Both groups absorbed the concepts equally.
But the comic book students had better verbatim recall. This is an excellent indicator for how strongly comics can deliver a particular message and make it last in the heads (and hearts) of readers. (Or in business speak: employees, clients, and customers.)
"By reinforcing text with vivid pictures, comic books communicate in a fun, fast and memorable way to readers of all ages. For instructional content, comics may be one of the very best tactics available." — Joe Pulizzi
Putting Comics to Work
What are some ways that comics can work for business? When you rethink your message or communication as a comic, you can:
Turn that written blog into a comic blog.
Serialize a story about your product, service or a customer as a comic on your website.
Create a comic as a print or PDF giveaway at a trade show.
Use comics to tell a story in a piece of direct mail.
Turn your text email marketing into a comic.
It doesn't take much imagination to start seeing more and more ways to incorporate comics into traditional media channels. (But of course imagination always helps.)
Comics as a Mark of Innovation
Every business wants to stand out, and the mere fact that comics are different and likely unexpected will make a business program or campaign that uses comics come across as more innovative and memorable.
Comics' special qualities — turn the page, follow the story from panel to panel — almost certainly lead to higher engagement: a holy grail in business.
Even the simplest of comics will stand out among common stock photo images or stock illustrations and typical business visuals.
As an "out of the box" way of presenting ideas and messages, a comic-based communication is something an audience is more likely to reserve time to enjoy, and possibly choose to retain.
The Creative Team
Creating comics successfully depends on professionals with an understanding of the medium and the best ways of telling a story using its unique techniques. Some of the key roles you may seek out or find on a complete team are:
The Writer. This is the person responsible for the plot (the events that drive the action from page to page and panel to panel) and the script (the words the reader sees on the page). The writer may very well work in close collaboration with…
The Artist. Depending on the art style that works best for your comic, this may be a single person (a painter or illustrator) or may be broken down into different specialities (such as a penciler and inker*). In any style, the artist is responsible for the visual story flow: the panel by panel, page by page breakdown, visualizing characters and scenes for dramatic and narrative effect, guiding the reader through the story. Some artists also serve the role of writer.
The Letterer. This individual designs the word balloons (not bubbles!) and caption shapes, as well as the words within. While this was once hand-lettered, nowadays most use digital typography for both readability and dramatic effect. Some letterers become responsible for determining where the script goes on the page. The letterer will also design the sound effects that add additional punch (and klak and slam) to the art/story.
The Colorist. This artist adds another layer to the storytelling, with full or single colors. The approach can be fully rendered, simply shaded, and everything in between to create the tone and advance the storytelling for the characters, the story incidents and the readers.
* Pencilers typically focus on the line art; inkers work over the pencils, reinforcing that layer and adding new qualities with light and shadow.
The Right Ingredients
No matter if you bring in an accomplished team or give it a go on your own, your comic book storytelling should include:
Truth. This is authenticity, and will make your communication believable.
Suspense. This is conflict, and that's what makes any message truly interesting.
Human connection. This is how your business product or "offering" makes the audience's life better. Many businesses or brands make the mistake that *they* are the hero of the story. The fact is it is the audience, and a comic can help connect what your audience wants to what your business offers to serve that desire. "Human connection" enables your audience — readers and customers — to see themselves and make an emotional relationship.
(Truth, suspense and human connection are really good for any form of storytelling!)
Many businesses will go on with "what's worked before" — even if it hasn't, or has become hackneyed. It will take work to overcome prejudices that comics are "kid's stuff" or "not serious enough for our serious business!" Fortunately you have the points to change thinking and behavior, and create new opportunity for your organization's communications. (Not to mention new opportunities for some established or new comic creators.)
Here's the wrap-up: People are naturally hardwired to consume and remember visuals better — and it doesn't get much more visual than comics. In your final push to win comics a place that helps a business to win more business, focus on how they are amazing communication tools.
1. Comics tap into an innate form of communication
From cave art and hieroglyphics to the latest and greatest graphic novel, the multiple instances of closure that comics are based on dovetail with the human inclination to look for story. As audiences connect the two through their experience of reading your comic, they will be more inclined to pay attention to your business proposition.
2. Comics disarm sensitive topics
The apparent simplicity of comic book art and word balloons is a form of jiu jitsu that can introduce serious subjects in an approachable format. The flexibility of comics gives you the power to mix and match the fantastic and realistic, the diagrammatic and emotional in ways that few other formats will allow.
3. Comics suspend disbelief
A good comic book story is immersive. (Emphasis on the "good" part.) Within, your audience will suspend their critical faculties, and come to believe in something else for the sake of enjoyment. In the process and along the way, they will come to recognize something new that your business can serve. (Or if you want to get crass — take advantage of.)
4. Comics have powerful alignment properties
Because you are creating interest through character and situation, your audience will be able to recognize themselves and their similar needs. This makes it more likely they turn to your business for their solution
"I'm a huge fan of comic books. I think it's a gateway drug to storytelling per se." — Ian Rankin
Feel free to use these points in selling a client or your company on using comics. And feel free to call me in to help. 😁 Send word of your victory!
Know a business that could use a comic kick-in-the-Powerpoint? Send them this link…
At the top of the episode I name checked Scott McCloud's work, and it therefore makes perfect sense (and good karma) to offer his book up as this week's treasure. Understanding Comics is both a guide for the newbie, and a refresher course for the established pro.
It has remained relatively timeless since its publication close to 30 years ago (yikes!) and remains one of those books that almost always draws me in to reading more whenever I pick it up. By breaking down and and explaining what makes a comics work *as* a comic, Scott delivers the full experience that demonstrates technique and potential.
When I first read it I also found his observations about non-linear storytelling to be hugely inspirational in terms of digital storytelling. They were ahead of their time then, and I'd argue still as timely and exciting to consider when thinking about storytelling possibilities today.
What are you seeking to understand in your Storymaze?
This episode already has plenty o' comics talk, so we'll pick up on another full title or issue next time around. Which isn't to say there aren't fine moments to be found in even a panel or three.
I've always had a special place in my keyboard for this exchange from Daredevil. On the cusp of the crime boss Kingpin's comeuppance, he discovers he's been duped by the terrorist forces of Hydra. One of their leaders, Lt. Garrote, delivers an especially delicious burn.
"You are only a criminal, Mr. Fisk. And we…we are conquerors."
I’ve no doubt I kicked back from my Apple IIGS and just patted myself on the back for that one. 🔥
The path I choose through the maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being--one of many ways--and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.
— Daniel Keyes
Thanks for taking a break from the dark web to check out this share-out of projects I’m working on, plus things that have me jazzed. I’m D.G. Chichester. If that looks pretentious, feel free to just call me “Dan.”
I earned my word-cred writing comic book titles like Daredevil, Terror Inc., Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, along with digital widgets in the world wide web of advertising. I keep my storytelling cred by trying new things — this is one, with more on the way. I like weird tales, so if things here bend that way — now you know why!
Folks seem to like the comic book adventures I’ve written, so if you haven’t checked one out — please do. Many are now available in fab collected editions.
For the eager moments between newsletters…
@dgchichester — 280 characters from the Twitterverse
@dgchichester — images via Instagramland