Wednesday, April 28, 2010

All Mediums Have Arbitrary Rules

2 major rules of the modern comic strip medium seem to be:
1) Design the characters so that they don't have faces-make it hard to figure out where the eyes, nose and mouth are.
2) Use the same drawing and poses in every successive panel.
I don't know who makes these rules and wonder if someone broke them, would they get fired? If I were to submit a comic strip to a newspaper editor and you could tell where the faces were and something happened in each panel, would it automatically get rejected just because it didn't follow the rules?

Does the editor actually tell the artists up front: "Make sure you repeat the same drawing in every panel. Don't make anything up." Or, do the artists who grow up reading these kinds of comics just sub-consciously absorb the rules and have never thought about it? Will they read this and have a revelation?:" Wow! Of course! I could do a new drawing in every panel!"

I'm not picking on this strip; I don't even know what it is; I just found it at Ger's great blog. But it looks just like so many other strips that it makes me think that there must be an actual strict rule book.

I think media has always had some sort of arbitrary rules, but they seem more narrow and strict than ever today. I had a pitch meeting once and the executive asked me if my stories followed the acceptable plot formula of all the sitcom cartoons. I didn't even know there was a formula, but they explained it to me with much sincerity. Supposedly, you have to have an "a" plot that takes 8 minutes to establish-then you drop it altogether and purposely frustrate the audience. There also has to be a "b" plot that sneaks in at some pre-ordained moment and who knows, maybe some "c" plot that doesn't go anywhere as well. Do they really think the audience cares about any of this? Or thinks about it?

I may be nuts, but it seems to me that if you have to have everything tailored to an equation, you aren't really going to be very creative. I always thought the idea of being creative was to have the ability to make things up. - and to have great skills that wow the audience. All these formulae and rules tell me that anybody can now do these jobs. You just plug in the assets to the equation. Homer asset, Homer-like character asset, assertive female asset, sarcastic baby asset etc.

As far as the comic strip rule that makes it ok to have characters with no faces, I think that may have started in the 60s with this strip:

The rubber stamp poses might also have started with Tumbleweeds.
I remember thinking how strange this was when I first saw it. Were these mistakes or just laziness? I never would have imagined that one guy's quirks would eventually become a mass religion that would take over the whole art form. Before this strip, there was a wide variety of techniques and everybody had faces, and each panel had different poses. That was expected. Now it isn't.

I'm noticing this mass-trend style thinking more and more today in everything I look at. All movie and TV posters look the same. "Reality" shows all have the same format (or maybe there are 2 or 3 variations). All networks have "bugs" and ads that crawl all over the screen while you are trying to watch your show. These are all things that almost nobody likes. People like variety and interest-yet someone who is in control imitates all the other mistakes that other people in control make.

I wonder if the idea of "creator driven" custom ideas and content will ever become the norm again.

Who came up with the idea that regular everyday dumpy people should try to look tough when they pose for their reality show posters? And did congress sign it into law?