on Mar 5, 2010
Go read the comic, then come back if you like and read a bit about the humor in this strip.
As part of judging the webcomic contest I’ve been thinking a lot about the different humor styles. This one was a very standard 4-panel* “gag a day” style strip: An exchange between two or three characters leading up to a single punchline. It’s not really my strong suit, but it’s interesting and educational to mix things up now and again.
I mentioned earlier in the week that “Sometimes I write the Best Joke EVER and it gets a shrug. Sometimes I put up something that feels lazy and half-finished and it gets praised as the Funniest Thing Ever.” I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that this one will receive a polite but tepid response. We’ll see how accurate that is once it goes live. (I’m writing this on Thursday night.)
The “gag a day” moniker is usually applied disdainfully. I’m not sure why. Pretty much all of the major names of the previous century – Peanuts, Dilbert, Calvin & Hobbes, adhered to this formula in their daily strips. I actually find it a kind of scary style to use. The weight of the whole strip rests on the final panel. If the reader anticipates the punchline or doesn’t like the joke, the whole thing fails. In my own work I nearly always go for the “joke barrage” style. I don’t put too much trust in any one idea. I try to chain a bunch of them together so that even if the last panel is a dud, you might still have found something in the strip that you thought was funny or incisive. My goal is to have one humorous phrase, joke, or interesting observation for every panel. I don’t always hit that lofty goal, but that’s the bar I set for myself.
I might spend a few strips mixing things up, just for fun & variety. Stasis is death.
* I had to do it in 5 panels just because I was dealing with screenshots. If this were drawn, it could easily have been done in 4.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.