A comic strip is a series of drawing telling a brief story, typically in a humorous way. If each strip delivers a complete joke, the comic is considered to be in the gag-a-day genre. The gag-a-day comic is usually told in three panels, but can be longer or shorter in length. I will share a few basic structures I’ve used for three, two and one panel gag-a-day comic strips. I will use reference examples from my webcomic Mateys. Before I get too far along, I wanted to acknowledge an article written by Marin Berube that inspired this writing How-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com.
Regardless of the comic strip’s length, the first panel establishes the scene and sets the tone. Drawing a background is recommended to help the reader establish a location and understand the environment. The background does not need to be elaborate, just enough for the readers to have an idea where the action is taking place. If it is an exterior scene, consider drawing grass, a tree or cloud in the sky. If it is an interior scene, consider drawing a wall, couch or a table. The first panel should include the main character. It typically will have a set up to a situation or issue that needs to be resolved.
Three Panel Comic Strip
The most common comic strip is three panels in length. It offers a large variety of ways for a creator to deliver a joke.
The example shown for this article’s featured image, as previously discussed, the first panel establishes a scene. A ninja is outside, on a beach, near a lake, facing roaring lagoon creatures.
The second panel progresses the storyline. It is used to do one or more of the following:
- Build Drama
- Show the passing of time
- Provide additional information
- Deliver dialogue building toward a punch line
- Show the main character trying to resolve an issue presented in the first panel
The ninja points to the “No Swimming” sign. There is drama being built. How will the lagoon creatures react to the strict ninja?
The last panel delivers the punch line. It resolves the issue that was brought up in the first panel. Sometimes the problem is resolved in an unexpected manner. In other cases, the solution the character presented in the second panel fails miserably or causes a terrible reaction. Additionally, in some situations a twist can be revealed, something exposed that was not displayed in the previous two panels. In the last panel of this example, the lagoon creatures sadly exit the pool without a fight and they were wearing bathing suits. How unexpected!
Let’s examine another example of a three panel comic.
This comic could have been presented in only two panels, the first and the last, but the middle panel was used to build up some drama, to give the last panel more punch.
Two Panel Comic Strip
These are not as common as a three panel comic design. The first panel sets up a situation and the second panel delivers the punch line. Two panel comics typically have the main character facing a decision and the second panel shows the impact of the decision. Here is one more example of a two panel comic.
The two panel comic can have a character trying to solve a question then later discovering the answer. In this example the ninja discovers the pirate and his dog took his presents.
One Panel Comic Strip
A one panel comic is referred to as a cartoon or a gag panel. It is a punch line. The audience to understand what previously occurred to the current displayed scene. It can show an impact of a previous decision, action or statement.
In this final example the ninja misunderstood the pirate’s request for chips and queso for chips and a crossbow.
These are just a few ways to make a gag-a-day comic. There are so many more. I hope these example give you a starting point and inspire you to create your own.
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