Plot Twists

Surprising The Audience: The Webcomics Way

Storyteller in any medium want to surprise their audience from time to time. If the story is are about adventure or drama, or told as a thriller, delivering surprises effectively is paramount. And whereas humor can often be achieved by surprising the audience with something totally unexpected that makes no sense even when you rethink it, drama works best when the surprise comes, well, surprising in the moment, but makes a lot of sense in hindsight.

Surprising, yet inevitable is the holy grail of any kind of storytelling involving drama, suspense or mystery.

To achieve the surprising, yet inevitable effect, the surprising thing has to be there already, but cleverly hidden, before it is revealed.

  • In theory, textual media have an advantage here, because – again, in theory – the author can simply omit to mention the fact before it is revealed.
    • In practice, this can be used wonderfully in short stories.
    • It it will usually work rather badly in a novel, if the reveal happens late in the story and the surprising fact has to be omitted for to long: “WTF. You gave me a whole chapter with the hero trimming his nose hairs – pretty gross, by the way – but you forgot to mention he has a f****** computer chip implanted in his brain???”
  • Visual media need to use tricks to surprise the audience, often hiding things in plain sight so they are seen but not noticed.

On the screen, in movies and TV shows, good camera work, editing and visual effects can produce astonishing success in this regard, but I’d argue that webcomics have an advantage here because, as I mentioned last week, they can naturally get away with arranging shots and panel layout in a clever way, whereas in movies or TV shows advanced techniques are more noticeable.

First I will present examples from two of my favorite webcomics I haven’t mentioned before: Protege and Drive.

Further examples will come from two comics I’ve already presented in earlier post: Deep Dive Daredevils and Space Mullet.

Since talking about anything that is supposed to be a great surprise is by definition a SPOILER, please make sure you are up to date on these comics, or don’t care about spoilers, and CLICK for more to read on (and maybe write a comment).


Digging Your Grave One Shovel At A Time

” … brought me in to fine-tune the plan. I’m a details man – figuring angles, covering bases – that’s what I do. [… ] I’m pretty damn good at it.”

That’s how McCrae, called Digger, protagonist of Gravedigger, one of my favorite webcomics, describes himself. It’s an accurate description of the two creators as well: They are details men, and pretty damn good at it.

Me, I’m a details man at the receiving end. Movie, novel, TV show, or webcomic: Gimme the small but significant details!

Digger also asserts he is “one stylish son-of-a-bitch”, and again this can be said of each of the two creators as well.

Here ends the similarity: Digger wants his plans to go straight, smooth and steady; the creators want the plot as twisted as it gets, very tense, and fast-paced. Guess who wins!

This post will focus on what impresses me the most with Gravedigger, the diligence on details.

As I told you in Cooking Success With The Ingredients Of Failure, that’s the same thing I like the most in the novel The Silence Of The Lambs, so I’ll include examples from it as well.

But first, here’s another example (Minor Spoiler ahead) from Opportunities In Space:

  • On this page, we see a couple of ladies standing by a pool discussing where to have a party.
  • The most prominent feature of the page is the open panel in the middle right with a closer look on Sara Emmett saying:
    • “I know for a fact that Ben will not mind.”
    • This line is a subtle reminder that Ben has already met his fate, ahem, I mean there was a family emergency, and that Sara is only posing as his secretary, but really belongs to some group of (alleged?) terrorists.
  • Visual details support and enhance this line of dialog with wonderful effect:
    • That she breaks out of frame into the other panels emphasizes that she is the most important person on the whole page.
    • The washed-out red background alludes to her being an accomplice to murder.
    • In contrast, the positioning of her body in the frame draws attention to the fact that she’s wearing, well, let’s say, pool attire, proudly presenting her fine figure.
    • In one sentence, we see a dangerous evil that is well hidden behind a desirable body, a pretty face, and a friendly smile.
  • What’s more to wish for?

More to come, talking about Opportunities In Space, in futures posts.

Before I continue, I encourage you to check out the archive from Gravedigger. It contains two stories, The Scavengers and The Predators, of 28 respectively 48 pages.

Also, you may want to brush up on The Silence Of The Lambs.

Now, if you are back, or don’t mind the SPOILERS AHEAD, click for more, read on, and discuss.


Daring To Dive Into The Deep And The Dark

One of my favorite webcomics is Deep Dive Daredevils.

It’s set in 1938, on an American submarine that seems to be contemporary, but is equipped with some futuristic 21st century style technology.

It’s a great webcomic, because it features, among other things:

  • a unique combination of adventure, (retro) sci-fi, drama, and humour
  • its own distinctive visual style, easy on the eyes, with details to dwell upon
  • its own distinctive narrative style, easy to read, with hidden depth to muse about
  • good use of tropes – following, avoiding, inverting, transcending them as appropriate
  • the courage to go to dark places (stretching the limits of its proclaimed family friendliness)
  • great pacing, both when read in weekly updates and in an archive binge
  • excellent plotting – diving immediately into action, and descending deeper and deeper into the thick of it

The archive contains several different Deep Dive Daredevil stories,  all of them wonderfully written and drawn, and I have the highest hopes for the ongoing story and the future.

In terms of plotting, Pitch Black Day is the masterpiece.

It’s also the story that goes to the darkest places, not because of mere bloodlust, but because the creators have a ruthless, Breaking Bad level determination to follow the story where it goes. There is also, in fine Breaking Bad style, a surprising amount of humour, of the kind that never breaks tension or drama.

Before I discuss the excellent plotting of that story, please go and check out the archive.

It will be worth your time.  If you want to focus on the story Pitch Black Day, you only need to read 63 pages (chances are you will want to read more, though).

Now, if you are back, or if you don’t mind the SPOILERS AHEAD, click for more, read on, and discuss (that’s what the comments are for, duh).