Making a graphic novel 15: CLEAR, PUNCHY, and TIGHT

I was pretty quickly learning that good graphic novel pages are built on good writing, and that ‘good writing’ means clear, ‘punchy’, and ‘tight’. Not for the first time, I was feeling grateful to my old English teacher who used to make us do something called ‘précis’ as a class exercise. You were given a paragraph of writing. The competition was to re-word it so that it said exactly the same thing, but in fewer words. The kid who could get the lowest word count and still keep the original meaning clear, was the winner. The winner was usually me.

Dergunov, Gagarin and canine cosmonautsWe played this game, week after week, and as my skills improved, I began to notice something interesting. The shorter versions often packed a much bigger punch than the longer ones. They didn’t just convey the same meaning, they conveyed it better, more clearly, and with more impact.

I thought I was good at the précis game, but writing the text for Yuri’s Day forced me up a level. The technical explanations had to be kept to panels that wouldn’t swamp a whole page, the dialogue had to be as snappy as a thriller.

This spread was also an opportunity to bring in the human and emotional side of the story. Yuri’s resilience is being tested to the limit by the stresses of his flying job, while the story about the dog cosmonaut, although amusing, is also a glimpse into Korolev’s difficulties as he struggles to turn the R-7 rocket from a risky prototype into a reliable machine, safe enough for human flight.

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