Improv Comics from Principles Class

Every so often you have to let off steam after a long project. This year’s Principles of Cartooning students at SVA did a great job on their biographical mini-comics, that we took a session to do guided jam comics. The four below represent some of the best.

All worked from a set of rules: the page layout is identical. Content was guided: Panel 1 had to feature a character doing something specific. Panel 2 (a new creator) had to feature another character doing the same thing. Panels 3 and 4 (still another single creator) had to establish the relationship between the two characters. (* see note at end.)

Stupid Fighter:Jam Valley Fighter

As I’ve said often in my essays about improvisation in comics (see here) the rule for stagecraft improv of YES AND applies in comics as well. In any storytelling. The best improvisers agree with what is already on the paper, in the story, and will offer more to the next improviser.

Look at “Stupid Fighter.” Panel 1 and 2 establish a pretty common mirroring of actions: a chase. Panels 3 and 4 (hurray for Sarah Costello) introduces some great new details that run through the rest of the strip: panel 3, guy#1 has some sort of animal skull, and panel 4, chasing lady is a bit on the like, unfocused side. Her super-specific dialogue gives the next improviser (Kate Dwrecka) a great opportunity to add: she stops her chase to take a phone call. Kendra Wells has a long expansive panel next to elaborate on the character’s priorities, and YES ANDS a gun into the picture. The rest is just lovely. Great agreeing, very funny.

Dancing with the Stars:Jam Dancing With Stars

“Dancing with the Stars” by the same team has some great YES ANDS. Notice the detail of adding “I’ll seduce him and then set him on fire and then get a movie made about my life…” All the details you could possibly need to see this story through. They get kudos for delaying the fiery climax until the second to last panel (that panel of them in their locker room tryst is priceless.)

Many of the others were quite wonderful. I’m posting a couple more here, including a one where the initiating action was merely bending over. It shouldn’t have worked, but the improvisers were all on the same low-key page and turned out a pretty funny one.

(* this particular guided jam is based on a very simple process taught in improv classes. One improviser gets on stage and starts doing something. In lieu of doing something “creative”, the 2nd improviser mirrors the first and from there a story is built. The sooner a relationship between the characters is established the better, and the more detail, the better. In my meager practices as an improviser, I always chaffed a bit against this mirroring instruction, wanting instead “conflict!” because isn’t that what drama is made of? But as the jams here show, those stories and conflicts come from the relationships and not merely from opposing actions.)

Pants:Jam with Pants

Singers:Jam Singing