I bought Scott McCloud’s Making Comics as soon as it was published and dug in right away. It’s always a joy to read his stuff, but this volume in particular struck a cord since it’s exclusively about storytelling and using comics format and techniques to convey a story. I love comics and graphic novels, and have long been interested in how I could use comics’ storytelling techniques in the information architecture practice.
What makes this book different from his other books is that this time it came with extra goodies: “optional” exercises. Optional is in quotes because for geeks, it’s really not optional, so I tried to do it (one, at least). The first exercise in the book tells you to choose a story you know (a movie) and tell it using drawn panels by picking the 16 most relevant moments. When I first tried, I just wanted to see if I could immediately apply this to an IA problem I had at the time, which made me stop halfway because my “story” (the flow of the information through the user perspective) wasn’t well resolved to begin with. This is not a new problem – that’s why we create flow diagrams; so that we can communicate the storyline and look for any gaps.
After having tried and failled (and given up many times), I figured I needed some peer pressure to get me going. I asked Dan what he thought and we decided doing something like a book club might be a good way to get this going. Today, we kicked it off. This time it was even more challenging but I didn’t let the procrastination take over me (yaay for peer pressure!).
Dan went for The Princess Bride, Austin with Romeo and Juliet and James with The Matrix. I chose Resident Evil. I think Austin picked the best story for this challenge because the core aspects of the story are very clearly laid out and it’s easier to choose and communicate. The princess bride was also great, but lots of the sub-stories had to be left off. The Matrix was complex but James did an amazing job.
I chose a shitty storyline – Resident Evil is based on a video game, which has a plot but the story is open ended, because you pretty much have to play the game for the story to be realized. That notwithstanding, I used the movie storyline of “biohazard in the secret lab that causes people to become zombies”. As with most video games, what makes Resident Evil compelling is the backstory (The lab belongs to the Umbrella Corporation who owns everything, nobody can stop them, the lab is controlled by a computer, etc, etc, etc…). This made me lose track of the core ‘story’ and biased my comic to much of the scenario/context.
I started by writing down the title for 16 core scenes I wanted to represent. I went back and forth for a while – I started drawing but was already on panel 5 to convey the first 2 minutes of the movie, so I reviewed the 16 core scenes a few more times and finally decided to tell the story of “biohazard in the secret lab that causes people to become zombies and the rescue party that goes in to retrieve the antidode”. I finally broke the story down to four big pieces: Disaster, In, Challenge, Out – I decided to draw around four panels for each. That rationalization helped a lot.
Drawing out the panels was challenging in itself because I don’t really draw much and hadn’t exercised any drawing muscles in a long time – but the quality of the drawing wasn’t really our focus so that wasn’t a problem. While we were drawing, Dan said “I miss Visio”, which made us all crack up, but sounded very true (though my tool choice would be different). All in all, it was a fascinating exercise and I feel like I learned a lot by going through it, hard as it was. I’ll be looking forward to the next one.