Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stopover at Catalyst: Nice but Niggly...

I'm not sure how I found Catalyst. It's been on the edge of my radar for quite a while now, but I never did remember how I found it.

However... I came across it regardless, on a whim I went through the archives recently. It's quite a fun read... the art is gorgeous, the characters (well some of them) are interesting and the world is nicely different and original.

I won't say the writing is bad or anything per-se... but I will be honest that after getting to the end of the archive, something really niggled me about the story, especially when I can't help but feel that something is missing.

I frequently think about what makes good storytelling. In fact I've been accused of (and plead guilty to) of thinking too much. In my previous entry I think I mentioned a phrase that stuck in my head shortly afterward: 

Some good writers are bad at telling stories.

This is something I feel quite keenly, because I have a feeling I myself sit in this demographic; that is, I have a pretty good command of the English language, I can write fairly decently and I'm aware what makes for bad writing; I can come up with unconventional original ideas and plots and have the added bonus of being able to draw somewhat.

But damn me, telling them stories well is where I run into all the problems. More often than not what I end up with is a faded, meandering, afterimage of what I envisioned, with the important things left out and what that does remain being arranged out of order. 

This is particularly prevalent in my experimental comic, The Longest Sojourn. Granted, it IS a comic I started when I was a gawky teen, when I wasn't aware of the importance of scripting and storyboarding. You can see it by how the chapters jump here and there, and how the plot gets more caught up with the characters's development it forgets about the direction and all that and meanders unnecessarily. Part of it is due to schedule, of course. Having to rush pages in-between real life commitments and flights and buses and trains doesn't make for smooth storyflow. Still...

Anyone can tell a story. The telling it well part is the hard thing.

Hm... about that something about Catalyst which still niggles me, even though I'm willing to bet most of the readers will not notice it on a conscious level- I think I know what it is now. I see too much of the same storytelling flaws I've made in it to be comfortable. 

There's a good story in there, make no doubt about that, but means of execution did not do it justice, and that was the niggling feeling. It could have been amazing and it only ended up pretty good.

There is a reason why I turned to scripting entire stories and getting them proof-read and rewriting the flaws out of them before even committing them to paper. Storytelling flaws, once executed, sadly cannot be corrected.

And I knew all this, but sometimes I forget them too.

Well I always did say the main reason I write this blog is to improve my art and writing skills.

Once in a while, I re-learn a lesson I forgot too, and be brought into awareness on how there's a gap in my knowledge that I still need to fill. 

And make use of.


  1. It took me ages to change my attitude, but I went from enjoying the pressure of deadlines to running an average ten week buffer on all the comics I work on (Lil Nyet, Scratchin Post, and one coming out later this year).

    The reason: It gives me time to step back, and cherry-pick the best material while discarding the worst. OK, I still make mistakes, but overall, this seems to be the single most sure-proof way to improve the writing, plotting, humor and suspense.

    I haven't read Catalyst, but it sounds like it might be worth trying as a way to improve what sounds like a promising title. Your review may do its creator a favor by spotlighting the area you find most in need of improvement.

  2. Story telling is tough. It's easy to, say, explain an issue of proportions or confusing paneling in a comic...It's not so easy when it comes to figuring out why the comic is boring, or why a character isn't interesting. Books on writing fiction are a really important resource when it comes to that. Conflict, pacing, characterization, foreshadowing, managing the flow of information, raising the stakes, suspense...@_@ Seriously complicated stuff. Some beginners think they can just show a bunch of events taking place and that's all they need to take into account.

    I read a bit of Catalyst. I don't remember much; it failed to catch my attention. Maybe I'll check it out again. *does so*

    I just read through the prologue and first chapter. To me, it seems like the story skipped around between characters and locations too much, and there were too many pages where nothing of real importance occurred. Of course, that's just looking at a very small part of it.

  3. @Sophia: That's an interesting analysis. Storytelling is Indeed, HARD, because there are a lot of very subtle qualities that make the difference between a well-told story and a boring one.

    On a second look, I think the problem was that the story lacked focus. A lot of the stuff that was there was superfluous. Sure, there were many "cool" and dramatic scenes, but they also didn't really add much to the overall story. It wasn't until the more recent pages when the plot got a kick to get into gear.

    Like writing, I think comics need beta readers as well. That's providing people actually do scripts that can be beta read.

  4. Interesting, I might check out this comic...
    I often wonder what makes a good story, but havnt really often thought about how you can TELL a good story, and I guess execution reeally is an important part of a story. I know pacing is something that alot of people seem to get wrong- your comment you made on focus is interesting. Its something I have always found is quite apparent in keeping apart 'alright' films to 'amazing' films. Some films have all the great things in there- the epic amazing battle scenes, the emotional or dramatic momnents. But they lack this 'focus', as in they dont have any build up to these amzing moments or emphasize on the moments, they just go from moment to moment like a string of events, and thats a great moment goes past, but as a reader/audience you're like 'that was great! but...where did it come from? Why did that happen exactly?' Is that maybe what its like in this comic too? I find also some people seem to not mind it when there is a lack of focus...their mind works in a way where they just take each moment individually and are not fased by the lack of emphasis or build up.

  5. This is 'theorah' BTW, I have many faces XD

  6. Theorah/Bex,

    A think the majority people who READ are not that particular about what EXACTLY makes something great and what makes it merely fairly good...

    But I do believe on a subconscious level they do notice it even if they do not know what it is called, and I'd like to apply science to art and isolate what is it that makes something unforgettable.

    I've just been reading full length Moore graphic novels (V for Vendetta and the Watchmen) and the difference and the conciseness in the writing is quite distinct when you compare it to a lot of web efforts.

    Of course, some might complain it's not fair comparing the two, but I'm talking about the difference in the writing method and quality. I don't really care if one's a pro and the other is an amateur. Work is judged based on merit, after all.

  7. Hey, I'm Crystal, the one who draws the comic. :) I've actually read TLS for awhile. Slackened off recently though.

    I agree with you on a lot of the points. xD Catalyst's script was written way back when I was fifteen, and it was almost a sort of experiment. I'm sticking with it now because I think that even if it wasn't great, it's still pretty good, and I don't really like dropping it halfway. The writing is especially atrocious in the beginning.

    But anyway. Thank you for taking the time to go through and read and write something! :) It actually does mean a lot to me.

  8. I forget to mention that I actually do have a full-length script for Catalyst. However, you are right that the first half lacks focus. I think it's a common problem; webcomic authors tend to be eager to 'get down to it' and we forget to go back, read over, and see about getting our stories in order. For myself, I was so concerned about 'setting up for greater events' that I forgot I had a plot, really :P

  9. Hi Crystal, thanks for dropping in!

    Thanks for the points you raised.

    I think it's all part and parcel of first comics. We don't realize the important of streamlining the script, but then we wouldn't have realized it until we've experienced or at least witnessed the mistakes.

    BTW totally identify with you on the starting a comic as a teen and wanting to finish it thing.