This is a page containing some background information on my short story ‘Abandon’.
Needless to say, it works best, if you read the comic first.
Here you’ll find:
• The danger of the ‘twist’ in any story
• What’s up with that car
• How I used ‘micro clues’ (what?)
• Sketches and page break downs
When brainstorming stories one day, I suddenly had a clear vision of a dog abandoning his pet-human in the woods.
It was such an absurd notion to me, that I wanted to see if it would work as a short story.
We start with a car, (a Volvo, more on that later) driving through the woods on a lovely sunny day. In it, a guy and his dog.
The narration tells us he plans to leave his dog behind.
We flash back to some sweet memories of the both of them together.
As they walk to a tree, it suddenly turns out that it is actually the dog leaving the guy behind.
Apparently we’ve been listening to his inner voice all along.
[page 1 from pencil to ink]
Using a ‘twist’ in stories (be they short or long) seems to be a bit of a hype, but is actually quite an old narrative instrument (Rosebud, anyone?). Recent movies like The Prestige and Interstellar (Christopher Nolan) and Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) have renewed interest in it.
It is a powerful plot device, but also holds the danger of reducing the story to nothing but a vehicle for a punch line.
A bit like a magic trick that isn’t that interesting anymore once you find out how it’s done (a movie like The Usual Suspects suffers greatly from this, after the Keiser Soze twist, all that went before becomes sort of… redundant).
Then again, when used wisely, I think ‘The Twist’ can be used to re-frame all that went before.
Playing with the reader’s mind.
By for instance twisting perspective, making him/her realise how much of what we perceive in daily life we take for granted.
That’s what I set out to do with Abandon.
When seeing a dog and a guy in a car, we would naturally assume the guy is the owner.
That ‘frames’ the rest of the story for us.
We assume the ‘memories’ on page 2 are memories the guy has.
Only at the end we realise we were wrong.
Forcing us to go back to what we saw and now interpret it with this new knowledge.
I think one of the hardest things to do in any given situation, is not barge in and start making decisions and taking action based on your own assumptions instead of taking the time to see what’s really going on.
Most of the times it’s better to wait until you see the bigger picture.
I’m terrible at drawing cars.
Usually I avoid them altogether.
And when I do draw them, they usually end up looking like:
So when starting Abandon, besides wanting to experiment on a story level, I also set out to… draw a decent car.
I figured that owning a human (taking it to the beach and other daily trips and all) would require a big station wagon. So I opted for the Volvo 240.
It took me some studies to get it right.
Drawing machines and cars we see around us everyday is, I think, one of the hardest things to do.
When you get it wrong, the viewer/reader immediately notices something is off (taking him/her out of the story).
When you get it right… no one will notice the hard work you’ve put in.
It’s a lose-lose situation!
Besides cars, I’m also terrible at drawing animals (seriously, what can I draw?).
So, you guessed it, that was another deliberate discomfort (come to think of it, there was actually zero fun involved in making this comic).
Now, I’m not really a dog person (sorry), so I actually had to do some dog research in trying to figure out which race would be appropriate.
In the end I settled on a boxer.
They are quite weird actually.
Heavy in the shoulder area.
That enormous jaw.
I spent an entire morning browsing what some must consider cute boxer pictures and it was one of the most scary experiences of my life.
The greatest challenge in drawing The Boxer was his face, since I wanted it to have some expression.
But not give it away at the beginning of the story.
It might seem a bit silly (and unnecessary) to put ‘clues’ in a three page story.
Before you spot them, the story’s over.
But, like I said, these shorts are my way of experimenting with what can and can’t be done.
I think comics, or sequential art, give a writer/artist the unique opportunity to use imagery as a storytelling device in and of itself. Because a reader can go back and forth in his/her own pace (much different than in a movie) I think it pays off to carefully craft your panels and decide what we should see in them and why.
This is especially the case for tiny details.
I came to think of these tiny visuals as ‘micro clues’ or ‘micro establishers’ (instead of a big ‘establishing shot’ often used to… establish a scene).
This can add a nice little layer to your story and also give the reader some anchor points to ‘make it through’ the story.
Some clues in Abandon:
The figure hanging from the rear view mirror.
It is actually a human (and not the classic dog you sometimes see). Noose around his neck to foreshadow the faith of ‘the guy’.
The licence plate
A little hint of who’s actually in charge.
In a short story like this, there’s obviously only so much you can put in.
I did find it a nice challenge though.
I makes you think really hard about the way you create a page and a panel.
Which can be a bit of a pain (did I mention not having any fun?).
However, I think a lot of what is considered ‘lazy writing’ comes down to switching to autopilot too soon. Not taking the time to think about how images (words, colours, etc.) can add to what you are trying to say.
In the end, I think the reader (if only on a subconscious level) does feel this and it ads to the overall impact of the story.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
There you have it, the background on Abandon.
Hopefully it gave you some insight in how I build a short story like this. And why I did it this way.
If you have anymore questions, or just want to let me know what you think, please tell me in the comment section below!