The webcomics blog about webcomics

One Small Step

Let’s be clear about something; this is not a review of Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang; a review will require me to read the book several more times, to get at the narrative structure — and the metanarrative structure — that Yang is building as he tells a story about basketball, a half-dozen high school athletes, himself, and Superman.

But this is me telling you about one particular thing that Yang does in Dragon Hoops that I think people should pay attention to, and potentially include in their own work. Yang’s got a recurring visual element, and it’s such a small thing, but also it’s tremendously effective. Each time — I actually have to go back and verify that, but if not each and every time it’s pretty damn close — a character¹ is at a decision point and determines the path they’re going to take, he draws them taking a deliberate step forward across a line.

Sometimes it’s a metaphorical line. Sometimes it’s an actual visible line or boundary. From left to right, the direction the reader’s eye is traveling, carrying the character in the direction of the story. The first time, it’s just a panel with a cute sound effect — STEP. — and doesn’t carry any weight. But as the story goes on, as it becomes something of a motif, it gains power. The STEP.s aren’t big splashy, stompy, heroic comic book hero strides, but they convey a resolution that calls to mind everything from Neil Armstrong to the proverb from the Tao Te Ching about the journey of a thousand miles.

It works because it doesn’t call attention to itself and creeps into the reader’s consciousness gradually, to the point that a casual read (or one focused on other elements of the story) might miss it altogether². And if you can find a visual element, a symbol, that brings that kind of subtle (almost subliminal) meaning to the reader? You’re doing comics right.


Reminder before we head out on the weekend: you have one week to get your emails in if you want a chance at a free copy of Junior Scientist Power Hour vol 1 by Abby Howard. Entries must be received by me by 11:59pm EST (or GMT-5, if you prefer) at the address gary, who writes at fleen, which is a dot com. Remember to include a reference to your favorite ancient critter from Howard’s Earth Before Us trilogy!

Spam of the day:

Welcome to Tiffany

The famous jeweler apparently thinks that I am aching to spend on overpriced gewgaws and tchotchkes just because they come in a robin’s egg blue box.

¹ Person, really, since these are all real people and the things they did.

² For example, the oranges in The Godfather, which may have started as coincidence but grew into an actual thing. Yang’s too deliberate a storyteller³ for it to be a coincidence, however.

³ Especially here, where copious notes at the back of the book describe his process and decisions in making the book, as well as a half-dozen times that it comes up in the story itself. Hey, I told you there was a metanarrative here.

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