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The Art of Creating Comics

Creating comics: Behind the scenes

Sarah Leavitt gives us a behind-the-scenes look at creating the illustrations for the Caption This Comic Challenge, including a drawing she hated, an optional ending, and a pose in the bathtub. 

The main challenge was to come up with a series of panels that were open-ended enough to allow participants to arrive at their own interpretations, but also connected enough to suggest a clear progression or narrative. I realized that if I had a clear preconception of what the story was, I wouldn’t be able to create an open enough series. Even at this point, I really don’t know what that naked man is doing, or why. So it’s very different from creating my own comics or even illustrating someone else’s story. 

Here is one of my first sketches. From the start there was a man, flowers and a cat. I really cannot explain why. You can see that I tried to get away with having seven panels, even though CW had asked for three to five. Also I had this idea that it might be possible for participants to type dialogue or narrative directly into the boxes and bubbles I provided. 

After I sent this sketch, CW came back with some requests. They asked me to stick to their original request of three to five panels, preferrably three. And could I keep the story simpler? Maybe take out the second character, keep the main character either outside or inside, not both. They’d also decided that to make the process for participants as easy as possible, they were going to use captions only. As any writer or cartoonist knows, often the shorter and simpler the piece is, the harder it gets…

Here’s my next try: simpler and down to four panels. 

CW liked this version, but felt like it wasn’t open enough. The third panel with the popping bubble and the flowers turned to ordinary soap suds suggested too strongly that the man had been dreaming. Could we keep the first two panels and add a more shocking or surprising third? So I came up with a number of alternate third panels. These were my two favourites:

They went with the 1970 Barracuda, and I started drawing the final versions without any more back and forth. 

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