What Happens Next?

The Lay of the Lacrymer by Molly Hayden does a very simple thing that I’m surprised (and a little sad) that more comics don’t do.

It makes me wonder, on nearly every page, what’s going to happen next.

Simple as that. A little thing, really. And yet, in the end, it’s everything.

[Thanks to @geminica]

Discussion (18)¬

  1. Dave says:

    Would I be correct in thinking the ‘little thing’ is essentially asking a question (either visually or literally) on the last panel of a page, and answering it in the first panel of the next? I seem to remember that being a consistent method of Hergé’s, held over from the serialisation of Tintin in magazine form.

    So I guess I have a question. How can you achieve the same effect with a page that has size constraints (and therefore panel restrictions)? Any A5-sized comic might just have 3 or 4 panels on a page. Is there a solution?

    • Scott says:

      I think the last panel strategy can’t hurt, though making such questions compelling is the real trick, and that comes from a dozen other sources related to basic storytelling.

  2. Hey Scott… great pondering!
    Reading the comment by Dave, it made me question: how does one approach this, when your comic usually has a punchline in the last panel?
    Does this mean that the punchline cancels out this resource?
    I know most gag based comics -a la penny arcade and such- have no real sense of continuity… but some do!
    What would be your thoughts on this?

    • Scott says:

      Yeah, I was mostly just thinking about the online equivalent of comic books and graphic novels. Gag strips have their own physics.

  3. John MacLeod says:

    I remember a minicomic back in the late 80s that, technically, had nothing going for it, rudimentary art and script, etc., yet somehow the creator had mastered this one thing. I couldn’t always tell you WHY I wanted to know what happened next, but I always wanted to. I respected the hell out of that guy’s achievement!

    • Scott says:

      Exactly! It’s like *BANG* “Oh yeah…reading! THIS is what it feels like.”

      I’d even hazard a guess that the Sandman series floated so quickly to the top, in large part, on an ocean of that feeling.

  4. Clint says:

    Since I write a “longform” webcomic that currently only updates once a week, this sort of thing is really crucial, and is something I’m constantly trying to achieve. There’s certainly inspiration to be taken from the old newspaper serials where they would be telling an ongoing story in three or four panel increments, sometimes with one panel taken up entirely by recap!

    As for whether I personally succeed, I don’t know. I don’t think any creator can truthfully answer that question… you can do your best, but in the end it’s the readers that determine how well you’re doing.

  5. darrylayo says:

    A revelation. It’s something that I *know* but hadn’t put the words together in that precise order to allow it to sink in.

    Clever serial writing is based around provoking the reader to ask questions!

  6. This “what haapens next”, also called sometimes cliffhangers is really a key element, not only in comics, but also in novels. Dickens, Balzac and quite a few others. Al Sarrantino and Neil Gaiman have just published a short stories compendium, all of which end up with this “What happens next”.

    • Scott says:

      Actually, cliffhangers are an extreme version of what I’m talking about, but the kind of effect I’m noticing happens more subtly and continually with a good story and doesn’t depend on high stakes last panel tricks.

      I’m thinking more of a kind of emotional traction where the reader feels invested in every turn of events and every potential turn of events,
      as if he/she were a part of the story.

  7. Dave Morris says:

    Such a simple, all-important point and so easy to forget 🙂 Mamet nailed it in his memo to The Unit writers:
    though he does say “make the audience wonder what happens next” and I’d be inclined to say, yes, sure, absolutely – but first of all make them care.

  8. Mark Crilley says:

    Another nice thing that one doesn’t see enough of is the story in which you feel quite certain that you know what will happen next but you are repeatedly proven wrong. (I only wish I were capable of producing such stories!)

  9. modemeter says:

    I fully agree with Clint–trying to find a balance between posting one page a week that should stand on its own AND fit into place neatly in a long story line is quite a balancing act, but a very delicious one, when it comes down to it. I read a lot of older comic serials growing up and am also a huge Dickens fan, but had not entirely realized what I was getting myself into when I started Lacrymer (I’m a very amateur writer). Pretty much I just try to figure out what would interest me, so it’s wonderful to hear that it’s reading for other people as well :).

  10. mountainmike says:

    Admittedly, I’m biased. Molly is my daughter-in-law. That said, I have viewed/read/marveled at each week’s installment since the start. And I’ve returned to earlier installments many times to be sure I caught the nuance of continuity. That, to me, is one of the powerful things about Mo’s work: it’s not just that each week I have a need to view the next, but also that the plot is complex and requires rereading in order to appreciate the full story. And the art is beautiful, whether interpreting what souls look like or illustrating the character of her actors as well as their appearance. If you haven’t become a Lacrymer fan, you’re missing something REALLY good.

  11. Dark Infusion says:

    As a writer/artist, we need to remember to keep our stories INTERESTING. Nobody wants to be bothered with charictars that we care nothing about. A good writer can cause the reader to empathize with the antagonists / protagonists. This was what got me hooked reading the STRANGERS IN PARADISE series. The girls were cute, but I wanted to know more about them!
    In a similar vein, I believe this helps to keep us watching Doctor Who. We have bits and pieces but we are never told everything there is to know about him.

  12. […] too long ago, Scott McCloud posted in his blog praising a webcomic (not ours, don’t get excited…) for accomplishing a very simple, […]