Personal Storytelling Through Comics

February 5, 2018

Calling all creative-types: Have you ever wanted to document or share your personal stories in a creative, visual way? Were you ever discouraged from pursuing the idea because of what might be a massive effort required? Well, I’ve got some ideas for you.

“Gina Needs to Get It All Down”

Personal Storytelling Through Comics

We all have stories. Throughout my childhood, my dad would tell me about life on the job as an emergency crewman working for the New York City Transit Authority. As he spoke, I imagined myself right there with him, walking down dark subway tunnels and speeding in a truck through the streets of the city. Those tales had a serious impact on my life; his experiences and the things he learned from them helped shape a sense of purpose and identity in my formative years. Even as an adult, the stories have never left my mind.

Dad deserves movies made about him; like big-budget, Martin Scorcese-type stuff. While those may not be in the cards right now, I still have options to tell his stories in a visual way. It took me some time to get there, but I finally found a special, practical means of doing just that: personal storytelling through comics.

Early art from “The Maintainer” comic project. c. 2008

What I mean by “personal storytelling” is the anecdotal kind; whether you want to share something that happened to you personally (autobiographical), or whether you want to share a story that was passed onto you directly by someone close to you. The idea is that you are recounting events that you understand on an intimate level, hold special meaning for you, and you would like to document.

Of course, such storytelling is a tradition that’s been around for ages. We connect with it. Perhaps the cliché that comes to mind is older folks regaling the younger ones with accounts of times gone by; but think about how vivid those stories are in our minds now. Those stories meant something to us, even if they took place in some far-off region in some far-off time, because we connected with the passion of the storyteller. It’s about that connection; about learning from others who have lived their own lives.

At its heart, the custom really hasn’t changed. We love to hear about experiences; from heartfelt letters or e-mails from people at a distance, to one-on-one conversations, to large gatherings. Even business meetings are made more pleasant by the addition of personal stories.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…” – Roy Batty, Blade Runner

Don’t be like Roy Batty. Get it down!

And what I mean by “comics,” is, you know, comics — those little sequences of image panels which express ideas. For now, let’s put aside any preconceived notions of what a traditional comic might be (Charlie Brown, Garfield, Superman, etc.). Those are all well-oiled commercial properties. We’re not looking to match any such popular comic books or comic strips in terms of visual detail or polish. As we say around here, “Anyone can make comics.” It just takes a little enthusiasm and a little push.

If the thought of comics being only suitable for children bothers you, there’s little reason to worry. Thanks to a great number of literary works such as Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking graphic novel Maus (published in 1991), which eloquently told the story of his father’s time spent in a Nazi concentration camp, comics have come a long way. They’re a valued part of our culture. Like a play or a film, a comic is simply another way to tell a story.

To boil it down, a comic is an arrangement of image(s) and text — and sometimes not even text. This is an opportunity to get crafty; you may have photographs, simple drawings, reference images, or diagrams to place in a sequence. Remember that even the crudest of drawings can still be charming. It doesn’t have to be pretty; make it fun. Even if you have to write labels and draw arrows to the items in your panel to clarify, try it out! Don’t get hung up on your dog not looking like a dog. You just write “my dog” above that lumpy potato and proceed! Give it some practice, and don’t be hard on yourself. Be uniquely you.

If you’re using our handy Pixton software (proudly built to empower everyone to communicate with comics), not only can you upload all the aforementioned items into panels, but you can also quickly design and add characters (and props, speech bubbles, etc) to them. Those things can then be posed and arranged as you like.

If you’d rather work solely with Pixton, you can even opt to choose a pre-made background from the extensive archive. No drawing/uploads required.

As for Me

Earlier I mentioned the importance of my dad’s work-stories to me and how wanting to share them led me down the rabbit-hole to making my own comics. Well, beyond the short comics I make on a regular basis, I’ve been working on a more ambitious book project about Dad called The Maintainer. I asked him to jot down memories from the early days of his career; I then compiled those into a story, and designed a 50-60 page book (note: this is quite ambitious) using both text and images in a comic format. I’m currently drawing the completed panels, and on my way to wrapping it up. It’s meant to be a tribute to him, and a special gift to my extended family.

Dad with my older brother, before I was born. c. 1984

As it turns out, a unique, modern tool like Pixton was the thing that helped me overcome the seemingly backbreaking task I threw myself into.

Now, I won’t bore you with details of my life, but I believe it’s crucial for me to tell you this: I’m not paid to make my book. I’m a pretty busy person with a full-time job and personal responsibilities. I find and make time for it because it means a lot to me, and the process continues to be rewarding. So why am I telling you this? It’s because I want to make it clear that you don’t have to be a professional artist or author to tell your stories – you just have to want to tell your stories. It can be a fun, constructive hobby, and a particularly meaningful one that can, among other things:

  • express yourself in a direct, creative way
  • save a story for posterity
  • celebrate someone special
  • provide a fun way to journal your day
  • reassure others that they’re not alone in their troubles

I hope this gives you something to chew on.

Some Examples

There are quite a lot of examples when it comes to personal storytelling through comics. Here are 3 from the world of webcomics. All content is copyright its respective authors.

  1. Allie Brosh, The God of Cake, 2010, Hyperbole and a Half
  2. Randall Trang, Achievement, 2013, RandallTrang.com
  3. Scott McCloud, My Obsession with Chess, 1998, Good Morning, Comics

Our Outstanding Pixtoners

We’re also quite proud to share the following comics made by Pixton members. For us, they demonstrate the true power of storytelling from experience. Take a gander at what others were inspired to make, and consider what stories and memories you’d like to share!

GIVE PIXTON A TRY

Please feel free to share any relevant and constructive questions, comments, stories or art links of your own below in the “Leave a Reply” box! Not only do we here at Pixton love storytelling, but we’re also huge supporters of connecting, learning and checking out new things!

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