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Comic Strip Writing 101

Ah, comic strip writing–the ideal 21st century occupation for anyone who simply can’t commit to scrimshaw. As the author of Iceland’s third favorite comic strip–right after Butasaumarorpfjorngenghasuntgunssenlaflaff and Matthew Barney’s Snuffy Smith–I have made countles, countless mistakes throughout my writing career, often at great financial harm to my syndicate. Hence, I began Comic Strip Writing 101, a Learning Annex-rejected curriculum founded in the hopes of preventing aspiring cartoonists from repeating my many, many errors (including spending ten years developing a strip only to be told that there already exists an Andy Capp). So get ready as over the next 10,000 months–depending on the likelihood of reincarnation or reanimation–I provide you with all the information you’ll ever need to fill three to four panels with a total of 20 words, maximum. 

–By Francesco Marciuliano

 

LESSON ONE: GETTING STARTED, BECOMING ALARMED

Step One: Prepare Thyself

Getting into the perfect frame of mind to write a comic strip involves many factors, mostly fresh lime and Bacardi. To wit:

The Creativity Cocktail (aka Mojito)

2-3 oz Light Rum

Juice of 1 Lime

2 tsp Sugar

2-4 Mint Sprigs

Soda Water

Step Two: Prepare for Greatness

After a few “prep” drinks it’s time for a nourishing meal (read: Snickers bar) or a nice dinner au jus (read: Snickers bar soaked in Red Bull). A few courses later and your head will be pounding with genius, your heart will be racing with brilliance and your hands will be violently shaking with utter anticipation. This is the moment professional cartoonists call “being in the zone” or “acute myocardial infarction.” This is also the moment you’re most likely to commit a rash, often regrettable, act. An act that–due to poor creative choices and nominal editing time–can sometimes find its way into the comic strip, as witnessed in the following panel published October 4, 1999:

Step Three: Prepare to Wake Up Alone and Wet

Eventually, the sugar high from all the alcohol and dinners will subside, only to be replaced with a crying jag so long and pronounced that toddlers will turn away in disgust. This will quickly be followed by a frightening nosedive into temporary delerium, and then complete unconsciousness. The next morning you’ll no doubt wake to find yourself alone in a place you can’t recognize and covered in fluids you fear to identify. Aborigines would say that you went on a visionquest. Your friends will say that they wash their hands of you. The park ranger will say that you have exactly ten seconds to find your pants. But comic strip writers–paid comic strip writers–will say that you’re finally ready to get down to business

 

LESSON TWO: SEEKING INSPIRATION, FINDING THE DAY HAS PASSED

As we continue with our unaccredited curriculum some of you might be asking, “Who the hell is this guy and why on earth should I give a damn what he has to say about comics?” To which I can only reply, “Who am I? Who am I?! I just happen to be the Vanderbilt Elementary School Fire Safety Poster Award-Winner for both 1976 and 1977, so step the fuck off!” 

Step One: It’s 4 P.M. Get Out of Bed.

Why did BC cartoonist Johnny Hart give himself over to God, and then to total madness? Because writing a comic strip is a lonely, dispiriting, depressing enterprise teaming with self-doubt, self-loathing and self-employment. To combat such demons some cartoonists turn to God. Others turn to drink. Absolutely none turn to sex, given that the average cartoonist makes a Dick Tracy villain look like Clive Owens by comparison. And such a self-realization can be far to harsh for one soul to take. You see, we cartoonists are not a handsome lot. And lord knows few of us can earn a living wage practicing our art. Now true, we do possess hours upon hours of free time within which to masturbate recall or create mental images in the privacy of our bathrooms, but that hardly makes up for not meeting new people or being unable to afford ADA-approved toothpaste. But why is the actual act of writing a comic strip so depressing? Because when you get right down to it it’s just you and your thoughts, and there’s nothing like being left alone with your thoughts to realize that the last creative idea you had was way back in 1978 when at age 11 you decided to make an independent film that you conservatively budgeted at $123,000.

Step Two: It’s 5 P.M. Get Out of Bed.

By now you’ve spent over an hour staring at the ceiling of your apartment (or, if you’re the typical cartoonist, staring at the encrusted flypaper hanging over your pestilential cot at the YMCA) with nary a comic strip idea coming to mind. But just because you can’t think of a single idea doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. You just have to look outside of yourself for inspiration, mostly to your laptop. After a few minutes of net surfing you’ll soon come across something like this, an actual Austrian McDonalds’s ad circa 2002:

 

Soon the mind starts reeling with potential knee-slapping yet though-provoking concepts. “I know! I’ll do a satire of McDonald’s marketing strategies!” you exclaim to your cat, marveling at your ability to connect the idea of “advertising” to an ad you just saw. But then you recall that most major corporations are not known for their sense of humor or litigious restraint. So you say, “I know! I’ll do a comic strip laying bare how a culture of fast food has hastened heart disease, childhood obesity and startlingly poor labor practices!” But then you realize that’s the sort of idea that requires additional research. And that few hilarious jokes can be credited to the spirit of Upton Sinclair. And that writing such a gag will only make you regret having your fourth Enormous Omelet Sandwich in as many hours. So you say, “I know! I’ll do a joke about sesame-seeded breasts!” But by then you realize your cat is shaking his head in disgust.

Step Three: Seriously, You’re Going to Get Bed Sores.

After spending the last four hours in bed trying to work all the humor angles of a picture that you’ve come to realize isn’t so much “funny” as “creepy,” it’s no surprise that you would start having doubts about your aptitude for humor writing. Or your willingness to move, bathe or interact with society ever again. It’s a dark, enervating period that can perhaps best be summed up by the following little-known poem from Emily Dickinson:

Oh Christ, It’s Already Midnight

Oh Christ, it’s already midnight

And I mourn the cessation

Of another day of watching

“Degrassi: The Next Generation”

But just as you’re about to shut your eyes, just as you’re about to forfeit all hope, just as you’re about to decide to give up the comic strip game once and for all and take that job selling Christmas ornaments year-round at “Santa Village and Above-Ground Pool Store,” an idea slowly forms in your mind. An idea so uproarious, an idea so unprecedented, an idea so remarkably insightful that in a drowsy daze you quickly commit it to paper before you pass into sweet, sweet slumber. An idea that, in the light of morning, reads “Make sure to write down an idea.”

 

LESSON THREE: WHY YOU WERE RIGHT TO MAKE THE WRONG CAREER CHOICE

Why do we do it? What compels artists, writers, actors, musicians to dedicate so much of their energy–so much of their very existence–to pursuits that more often then not result in frustration, pessimism, self-doubt and poor credit ratings? What can possibly be the upside to feeling down so often and sometimes so deep? What’s with the miserable, spectacularly disheartening tone of this introductory paragraph? Why don’t I just pour salt in your wounds? Why don’t I just stop typing right now, open up a big can of Morton whoop-ass and pour it into the gaping chasm that is your soul as I sit back and watch you writhe in incalculable, interminable pain?

Because believe it or not, I’m hopefully going somewhere with this and the result just may very well be encouraging. I can’t say it definitely will be so because, well, I’m also crippled by diffidence. But the mere fact that someone as hobbled with apprehension and irresolution as myself could think for even just one sentence that this might all end on a happy note has got be seen as somewhat encouraging, right? Right? Come on, people. Give me some positive feedback. I’m dying here.

Anyway, why do we do it? I’ve thought about this long and hard for several minutes and I’ve come up with the following three possible reasons, all which I believe ultimately support artists’ career choices (just not in the crucial financial way that involves being able to purchase food minus such cooking directions as “stir in seasons from flavor packet” or “can also be used to make a mock apple pie”):

1. To Know You Exist

At the risk of sounding like Neo struggling with the Monarch Notes to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” when you get right down to it reality is but a shared illusion. We don’t feel as if we truly exist unless someone, at some point, turns to us and says, “Hey, glad you could make it! Oh and you just gotta try the dip. I don’t know what Jenny put in it but it’s just freakin’ awesome! Maybe she added chickpeas. Hey, Jenny? Jenny! Did you put chickpeas in the dip? The dip! Did you put chickpeas in the dip?! You did? I knew it! Awesome, man. Just freakin’ awesome.”

Consequently, most artists only feel truly alive when someone takes note of their work, of their efforts, of their goals. Now many of you might be thinking, “But I know plenty of artists who are loners, who seem to actively shun social interaction, who can’t go five damn minutes in a group without making some whacked-out comment that alienates everyone, even after I went out of my way to vouch that he was cool and wouldn’t bring the party down.” But being unable to cope with people is not quite the same as not wanting to be recognized by people. What we can’t say in public without causing people to dismiss us or stare at the table in awkward silence, quietly peeling the labels off their beer bottles and making one feel about as welcomed as a pandemic, we can say in our performance, our drawings, our self-produced EP. Now that might come across as high-falutin’ talk from a guy whose professional responsibilities consist of no more than attaching word balloons to drawings anywhere from one to four panels a day. But my comic strip allows me to connect with people that I would in no other way get to meet or be able to utter hello to without freezing up or immediately apologizing. What I’m trying to say is that we all need to find our own way to achieve recognition. I don’t mean at a pecuniary or even professional level but in a manner that lets us have our identity confirmed. You are an artist. Through your art you substantiate such to others. You go from a concept to someone many will love, many will like, many will detest and many will wonder what the hell you’re doing at age 55 still buying all your clothes from a consignment shop in Williamsburg. You’ve joined the party, you’ve got your name tag, now enjoy the dip.

2. To Know You Are Free

As far as subtitles go, “To Know You Are Free” is about as down-to-earth and humble as “To Know We Duly Possess the Inevitable Facet Crucial to Soul and Sapience” or some other quote I’m certainly misstating and surely misinterpreting from Rousseau. But nonetheless, I’m going to stick with it. Why? Because who among us, even those not in the arts, have longed not to have to work for others? How many of us here today have wanted to say, “You know what? Screw this. And screw you, Mr. Big-and-Mighty Company President! Just who the hell do you think you are, Mr. I’m-All-That-And-Oh-So-Much-More CEO?! Not everyone was lucky—oh, I’m saying lucky—to have your economic and educational advantages! Some of us didn’t graduate from the Ivy League. Some of us graduated from The School of Hard Knocks…otherwise known as DeVry. Of course, ‘graduated’ may be putting too fine a point on it. Classes were chosen. Teachers were challenged. Security was alerted. Apparently knowledge is only for those who fill out an application form and are formally accepted by the institution. But that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it made me the man I am today! After all, some people learn best in a structured environment from accredited professors, others on a slowly sinking oil derrick at knifepoint. I don’t quite remember the particulars of those fateful three days at sea but I do recall being rescued just prior to drowning–not from the oil company who thought it best to cut their losses–but from a tuna ship, which was oddly named considering the sheer number of dolphin the crew regularly hauled aboard. But when I brought up the subject of their ‘additional captures’ they—like the teachers at my unofficial alma mater or the guy from the gas company who checks my meter—seemed uncomfortable with having their actions challenged. And so without concern for my well-being or how I would survive in a foreign environment they dumped me off at their very next port…which, fortunately, was San Francisco. Eventually I made my way back across country, taking odd jobs that mostly involved delivering unmarked packages, collecting ‘dues’ and stuffing envelopes. But with each employment opportunity I learned something about myself. I also received more bruises than a melon repeatedly struck with a ball peen hammer. Sure, I left each position minus any la-de-da ‘benefits package.’ And sure, that means I now have nothing in savings, nothing in checking and no income coming in with the exception of rebates from Crest and Best Buy points. But I’m a survivor. Or at the very least a breather. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Boss Man!”

Clearly we’ve all been there. We’ve all felt the desire not to have to report to people we don’t particularly like or respect, fulfilling tasks that often fail to satisfy us. Your art is your key to accomplishing that goal. Sure, that may sound like a specious argument at best, especially given that most artists have to work for someone else because their craft cannot pay their bills, their college loans or even their parents back. But just knowing that you are in charge of something outside of some manager’s grasp is in itself liberating. Just knowing that you are the key decision maker in a project, a dream, that is not beholden to countless approvals and being dragged through endless meetings or having everyone input their thoughts and objections through some sort of corporate wiki has got to make you feel emancipated from others’ whims and rules. Working on your art is the very moment in your day that you are, in fact, free. That you are speaking for yourself, fulfilling your mandates. True, to achieve your dream of working full-time in art you will actually have to work with others, but at least they will be working on your project, the way YOU conceived it. Unless, of course, they have notes. And, oh boy, do they always have notes.

3. To Know You Can Just Plain Deal with It All

Every decision we make says in some small way how we’ve chosen to cope with this little bungle we call life. Accept a job you don’t particularly like but may prove financially advantageous? You’re saying, “I put the greatest value in personal security.” Opt for an “everything bagel” for breakfast? You’re saying, “To hell with carbs and halitosis, I deserve a little personal pleasure.” Decide in childhood to dedicate your life to becoming a professional cartoonist? You’re saying. “I’m through with sports. Oh, and forget about having a girlfriend until college. Just forget it. Ain’t gonna happen. Well, off to doodle in the bathroom for two hours with the door locked.”

I’ve known cartooning was my calling since junior high school. Alas, that was way back in 1981, when Quarterflash topped the charts and mustaches were the tonsorial choice of more than just undercover narcotics officers, so you know it was an era rife with poor decision-making skills. I mean, come on, who bases their entire life on a career selected in a decade that opened with the question “Who shot J.R.?” and closed with the query “Who the fuck is The Escape Club?”

So why did I stick with it? Because cartooning–and writing–are the only ways I know how to cope with the world and my place in it. It’s a means through which I can address problems both personal and public, organize my thoughts and ultimately offer some response (or, when I’m feeling particularly snide, retort). That’s not to say I’m coming up with any great solutions to mankind’s problems. I’m not. I can’t. Hell, you’ve read this article. It’s a discursive nightmare! If this were a high school report I’d get an “F” for effort. And what the in the world was that nonsense about DeVry and oil derricks a few paragraphs back? I actually graduated from college and the closest I’ve ever gotten to the oil industry is driving past the refineries off the New Jersey Turnpike. Seriously, that’s the sort of circuitous logic that’s supposed to crack open the mysteries of the universe?!

Well, no. But life isn’t about breaking the code. It’s about putting 2 and 2 together and finding out what you believe in and what you need for a happy existence. Through cartooning and humor I’ve been able to draw my own conclusions about politics, relationships, religion, death and 70’s TV programming. Every artist uses his or her talents as a prism through which to see the world. And every artist is fortunate to have that gift. Not every person has a means through which to determine what is right, what is wrong, what is true and what are talking points. True, you may never achieve conventional success. You may never even be able to live solely off your art. But if you keep at it you will be recognized as an artist, you will enjoy the freedom that can only come from pursuing your own dreams and you will find not only a voice but also a belief as you go through life.

Well, what do you know? I ended on a hopeful note after all. Somebody beer me.

 

LESSON FOUR: HOW TO COPE WITH ARTISTIC FAILURE

Rule One: Avoid Successful People

Nothing breeds contempt like another person’s good fortune. Especially when your comic strip submission was just recently passed over in favor of a family feature titled With Three You Get Triplets. You see, I used to keep company with countless successful doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs. Prosperous, triumphant people who get to tool around in cars with four good tires while I have a $200 credit limit and had to give up carbs for financial reasons. Do you know how that made me feel? Do you know what it’s like to be the only black sheep in a pasture where everyone else shits gold?! Do you know what it’s like to attend your own college reunion dinner as the cater-waiter?!? I don’t care what my dad says, that wasn’t fucking funny!

But rather than allow myself to be swallowed whole by bitterness and jealousy, I now make sure to hang out exclusively with people who are far, far worse off than I could ever fear to be. People who make me look like Sam Walton by comparison. People who can’t tell you their life story without using the words “insolvent” or “incontinent.” People who burst into tears of joy whenever they stumble upon a nickel on the sidewalk. People who base all their career decisions on Bazooka Joe fortunes with predictable results. People who consider underwear “church clothes.” People who refer to restrooms as “indoor outhouses.” People who join religious cults for the networking opportunities. People who lose a tooth when they bite into soup. People who when told that I managed to cheat my way into a senior discount at the movies because of my prematurely ravaged looks treat me with the respect I not only always craved but also richly deserve.

Rule Two: Set Short-Term, Attainable Goals

What better way to dismiss the discouraging absence of artistic success than by having a few, smaller accomplishments to celebrate? Instead of focusing solely on the ultimate objective of landing a comic strip deal, a music contract or an acting gig, concentrate on a series of more manageable, less heartbreaking tasks. Like getting out of bed before dusk. Remembering to eat, if not meals than at least mints. Closing your bathrobe before you run errands. Stopping before you enter your fifth straight hour of video poker. Watching the news rather than watching that cobweb get progressively bigger from the vantage point of your kitchen floor. Channeling your frustration into yoga instead of yelling non-stop at your neighbor’s dog through the apartment wall. Taking a walk that doesn’t turn into a mad dash and then eventually a swan dive off an overpass. Selling something other than your hair or platelets on eBay. With just a few little achievements each month, you’ll not only stay motivated during your artistic endeavors but unlike me you’ll also avoid spending your day seeing how fast you can shave off all your body hair, and then six months later trying to break that record.

Rule Three: Know When to Call It Quits

Eventually no matter how much you truly believe in your talent and goals, mounting bills may unfortunately force you to pack it in and seek employment elsewhere. Some may wind up writing copy in marketing departments. Others may end up as the new sommelier of an over-reaching Denny’s. But most of you will find a home in the exciting world of public school teaching. Why teaching? Because today’s schools are so desperate for people willing to toil for a disgustingly low $16,000 a year that they’re more than happy to overlook the fact that you think “Marbury v. Madison” was a title bout. In fact, a few years back I myself taught a third-grade class and it was without a doubt one of the most fulfilling times in my life. We played games. We watched videos. We bet Danny Larkin couldn’t eat all the paste in his jar but then he did but then he couldn’t open his mouth so he got real scared but then it was lunch time and I had two big helpings of tater tots and a Hydrox cookie. Yes, we did it all. Except for any actual studying. But the kids didn’t seem to mind one bit. They would spend the day on the swing set or the slide or any of the other numerous outdoor activities at the McDonalds across the street while the gym teacher and I would take turns seeing who could hit the other the softest (only for it to always end with him laying a roundhouse into my jaw and shouting, “You win!”). All was going so well until the close of the school year when every single one of my students failed the state exam so spectacularly that they were not only denied moving up to the fourth grade but immediately placed in sweatshops, factories and loading docks. I still run into some of them at a local bar from time to time. We laugh and recall the old days but then the lunch hour ends and they have to drag their weary, 11-year-old bodies back to the pork rendering plant. Wow, 11-years-old and already fully employed. So you see, there’s hope for us all.  

 

LESSON FIVE: WHEN TWO SIDES GO TO WAR
Like any person who has a little free time, I have been known to Google my name every 15 minutes or so, all in the hope that I may one day finally comes across the words “Francesco Marciuliano” without having them be followed quickly by the words “can blow me.” And it was during one such search–but only after I took the Which Peanuts Character Are You Quiz and thankfully discovered I was a “Schroeder” and not the “Charlie Brown” I always feared myself to be–that I came across the following sentiment, echoed more than once on the Web:

“How can the guy who writes ‘Sally Forth’ also write ‘Medium Large'”?

Or, to be more precise:

“How can the jackass who writes that working mom thing string two monosyllabic words together, much less have the necessary synapses to write a second comic strip?”

Now, admittedly, Sally Forth and Medium Large are two very different strips. Perhaps the difference illustrates the gap between the necessary demands of the professional arena and the freedom of a personal pursuit. Perhaps the difference is the result of my following the lead in one strip and my getting completely, hopelessly lost in the other. Or perhaps I’ve simply suffered some sort of severe mental schism that cannot be treated adequately with Robitussin.

But perhaps the most effective way I can describe it is by citing the accomplishments of another, far more successful artist who also has to balance two conflicting creative impulses. An artist who is able to write prose that in one case edifies and in the other purely entertains. An artist who is a veritable walking Janus mask.

An artist named Lionel Richie.

Lionel Richie Creative Impulse #1: Philosopher
Yes, innumerable renditions by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of wedding bands have made listening to the already excessively treacly Endless Love not unlike shoving a thorn bush through one’s ear canal. And yes, Easy (Like Sunday Morning) is second only to Norah Jones’s Don’t Know Why in causing automotive fatalities, inflicting almost instant narcolepsy upon the hapless driver who comes across the song on their car radio. But that in no way should diminish the astounding grasp Mr. Richie has had on the nation’s zeitgeist from decade to decade.

Take the year 1983. US Forces had just invaded Grenada. That “sonofabitch” Reagan had initiated the Strategic Defense Initiative. And Karma Chameleon was the number one song in the land. Clearly we were a nation on the brink of utter self-destruction. We needed answers. We required hope. And then, in the middle of one of our darkest hours, one individual had the courage, the conviction and, yes, the chutzpah, to utter the following startling words to a nation hungry for bold new ideas and a brave new direction:

I had a dream, I had an awesome dream
People in the park playing games in the dark
And what they played was a masquerade
From behind the walls of doubt
A voice was crying out!

Strong words. Strong, bewildering words from the poet laureate of pop himself, Mr. Lionel Richie. The very same man who had the stamina to party “all night long,” the temerity to “dance on the ceiling” and, in that one earnest, emotional video, the willingness to say “hello” to a blind art student. A blind art student who responded in turn by presenting Mr. Richie with a clay bust in his likeness–a bust that, quite frankly, could only have been sculpted by a person completely devoid of sight.

Now, to be perfectly honest, Mr. Richie’s Say You, Say Me is not without its faults. The song seemingly introduces an all-together different tune smack dab in the middle where one would normally expect to encounter a musical bridge or, at the very least, the same song. And for years pundits have argued over the precise meaning behind such cryptic turns of phrase as “Say you, say me/Say it together naturally” only to conclude that sometimes expressing a lucid thought comes second to simply finding the necessary number of syllables to utter during a tune.

But that’s neither here nor there. The important thing is that Mr. Richie–philosopher–was willing to share his dream with the public. He saw a problem in our society–a problem apparently having to do with either lax curfews or an impromptu costume party–and sought to address it the best way he knew how…during the closing credits sequence for the movie White Nights.

Lionel Richie Creative Impulse #2: Voluptuary
And then there’s the man who brought us Brick House. If Say You, Say Me was Mr. Richie’s Ulysses, Brick House was his, uh…Fear of Flying? Instead of the penetrating–if somewhat perplexing–social disquisition of the former song, Brick House laid bare the carnal impulses that truly make us human in a succinct dictum that defied criticism. After all, who in their right mind can cast aspersions against The Commodores’ hard-drivin’, rump-shakin’ machine of flat-out funk? Ronald LaPread’s rubbery bass groove. Clyde Orane’s tasty horn arrangements. Walter Orange’s come-hither vocals. Lionel Richie’s slithery stanzas. All these factors helped not only serve up a massive slice of 70’s soul but gave the world perhaps one of the best verses to ever worm its way into the collective unconscious. A verse that captures the conversational rhythms of William Carlos Williams, the atypical syntax of e.e. cummings and the immediate, lyrical intimacy of Rita Dove. A verse that reads in full:

She knows she got everything
A woman needs to get a man, yeah.
How can she lose with what she use
36-24-36, what a winning hand!

So there you have it, people. Mr. Lionel Richie. Bertrand Russell by day. Russell Simmons by night. How he keeps these two worlds from colliding we may never know. But if he can do it, then why can’t I? Why can’t we all?

I say good day.

 

LESSON SIX: NEW DAY, SAME ROUTINE

It has long been posited that the secret to success is a steady work schedule. No more is this true than in a career in which you are your own manager, such as comic strip writing. Sure, cartoonists must work within certain deadlines to avoid facing financial penalties or having a car battery attached to one’s nipples but without the structure of a typical office environment or the ever-present demands of superiors, you must rely entirely on you and you alone to answer the demands of your profession without ever having to hear your editor say, “Ground the jumper cables and take off your shirt.”

That’s why it’s crucial you create–and adhere to–a daily routine. And to help you do so I humbly offer my own work schedule as example. I strongly suggest you take notes.   

6:30 AM: Wake up. Feed cat Natasha. Make coffee.

7:30 AM: Have breakfast while watching CNN This Morning, MSNBC Morning Joe or Simpsons Treehouse of Horror V.

8:00 AM: Go outside to private patio and set up work area. Commence work on comic strip copy.

8:05 AM: Go to Hype Machine and download Ting Ting mp3s.

9:15 AM: Return to work on comic strip copy.

9:30 AM: Lose hour wondering why no one ever puts lettuce on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

10:30 AM: Return to work on comic strip copy. Scan Internet for possible humor ideas. Ascertain with great horror how many sites feature people pleasuring Clydesdales, many with videos that take forever to download.

11:00 AM: Commence daily heated argument with unseen dog in nearby building. Used to be close friends until he suggested betting fortune on University of Phoenix Online to sweep NCAA basketball tournament. Relationship now chilly at best.

12:00 AM: Lunch time! Discover nothing in fridge, cabinets or pants pockets. Briefly ponder just how many Mentos would be required to rid mouth of cat food breath. Return to work instead.

12:30 PM: Realize have yet to bathe. Also apparently spent half of day wearing nothing but a single black sock, fortunately on foot, unfortunately on patio.

1:00 PM: Awake in bathroom in mid-urine stream. Not certain what happened but thank God for pinpoint accuracy.

1:30 PM: Still dismayed to learn I have yet to shower, don additional articles of clothing or get something to eat. Wonder if a Wet Nap can attend to all three needs concurrently.

2:00 PM: Natasha has somehow absconded with my black sock, making walk to get mail even more humiliating than initially feared.

2:30 PM: Starving. Try to dispel thoughts of food by inventing new dance, “The Ces.” Very much like “The Twist” only you do it on a coffee table for 45 minutes to no music.

3:15 PM: Stupid dog doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Climb on top of patio table to engage in further dialogue. Neighbors become alarmed by my prolonged screams and many rub-on Cracker Jacks ass tattoos.

4:00 PM: Growing faint from lack of food. Become convinced Little Caesar’s corporate mascot and I would be best of buddies, given similar ethnic backgrounds and annoying habit of repeating ourselves.

4:30 PM: Can’t stop crying. Recount past failures and future blunders.

5:00 PM: Write insulting remarks all over naked body with Sharpie. Begin to parse each insult for subject, verb and predicate.

5:30 PM: Jump back on top of patio table, underlining body insults with marker while yelling at dog, “Nothing you can say that I haven’t already told myself! You hear me?!? So who’s the big dog now, huh?!? WHO’S THE FUCKIN’ BIG DOG NOW?!?”

6:00 PM: The sobbing is relentless. New York City closets are far too small to provide adequate passage to Narnia. There is no escape from fears or self. Oh God…

7:00 PM: I REQUIRE MORE CELLOPHANE WRAPPING! I REQUIRE MORE OF THAT SWEET CLEAR COVERAGE! MUST HIDE SHAME! MUST PRESERVE ESSENCE! MUST FIND SOMETHING TO CLING TO!!!

7:30 PM: TO HELL WITH YOU, DOG! TO HELL WITH YOU, LITTLE CAESAR’S! TO HELL WITH YOU EASILY STARTLED CON EDISON METER READER! WHEN I BURST FORTH FROM MY SARAN WRAP COCOON I SHALL BE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BUTTERFLY TO EVER ALIGHT ON A ROSE PETAL IN SPRING!!!

8:00 PM: Sara comes home to find me laughing hysterically, naked, covered in Saran Wrap and doing “The Ces.” She is unfazed.

8:30 PM: Sara finishes removing wrap from body, inadvertently tearing off both treasured chest hair and rub-on tattoo in process. She then requests I acquire T-shirt and shorts.

9:00 PM: We order Chinese. I eat both meals. Upon hearing of my lack of food Sara inquires as to why I did not simply order in lunch. I sheepishly point to marker insult on right shoulder blade that reads “Ces Not Worthy of Delivery.” She calmly suggests I bathe with a loofah.

9:30 PM: We discuss our day. She tells me how she filmed videos for MTV News, did promos for her radio show and worked on her book proposal for her literary agent. I explain the secret to “The Ces” is commitment and a slippery surface.

10:30 PM: We watch TV. We laugh. We read. We are happy.

11:30 PM: Realize have yet to submit crucial daily comic strip script. Discover half-completed version on laptop covered in tears and what may be own blood. Write feverishly with little attention to plot or characters’ names.

1:00 AM: Reread copy. See I misspelled “onanism.” Replace word with “budget.” Email comic strip script. Sleep the sleep of utter contentment.

Repeat.

My Pet Poetry from Chronicle Books! (Click on images for more information)
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35 Responses

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  1. [...] you rather be drafted? Thought so. Contact me at fmarciuliano@gmail.com New Medium Large Page: Comic Strip Writing 101 Today’s Link: Retro Thing « Friday, August [...]

  2. Stephen said, on August 18, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Being a comic strip writer is one of my dreams. Seriously. I will use this guide as my main reference in my quest to actually fulfill my dream.

    Joo da man.

  3. [...] be, well, just like tops. Contact fmarciuliano@gmail today. New Comic Strip Writing 101 Lesson: Why You Were Right to Make the Wrong Career Choice Today’s Link: Elon James Is Not White Dot Com « Sunday, August 24, 2008: Special [...]

  4. Steph said, on August 25, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    This is amazing, in so many ways.

    Firstly, it’s amazing how you can have ALL those words crammed inside of you, and still crank out comics filled with brevity.

    B: It’s amazing how only about 12 other people will fall down in self-realization and laughter because, we, too, spend our days at home eating Buddig Ham samwiches and watching tv, er, I mean, writing/working.

    and 3; how much money does a syndicated comic strip writer make, anyway?? it must be enough to ‘get by,’ right? How does that whole thing work? Do you get paid a flat fee, or per-subscription, or what?

    Great stuff as per usual. You of course had me at “4pm – Time to Get Up.” I don’t know WHY I don’t get up earlier…there’s just NOTHING on TV at 4pm (or at 4am, when I’m also watching).

  5. Monday, September 1, 2008 « Medium Large said, on September 1, 2008 at 2:45 am

    [...] You are also witnessing Medium Large’s 700th Strip. Yay. New Comic Strip Writing 101 Lesson: How to Cope with Artistic Failure « Friday, August [...]

  6. R Thompson said, on September 1, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    *sob* it’s all so true *sob*

  7. alwaysbumpingmyhead said, on September 1, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    That was beautiful.

  8. [...] Posted by alwaysbumpingmyhead under Uncategorized | Tags: Artists, Comics |   Comic Strip Writing 101 (New) « Medium Large. [...]

  9. colbycheese said, on September 2, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    Now I feel weirdly justified to spend so much time on something that makes no money to speak of and takes a whole lot of time. …What just happened?

    Nice post. :)

  10. Creedy said, on September 2, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    i ALMOST stopped reading when i saw the word ‘syndicate’. but…otherwise, enjoyable. i’m probably gonna have to read through it a few more times, really let it sink and and use it. hope it’ll help me stay motivated and dedicated to the projects im working on.

    …not to mention making sure they dont suck.

  11. andy said, on September 8, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Lionel Ritche, poet laureate. Who knew? (Well, Ces knew, but I digress …)

    What of the existential madness of Neil Diamond, hmm?

  12. Erin said, on September 8, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Hey, I LIKE “Karma Chameleon.”

  13. Dale Hanks said, on September 9, 2008 at 11:14 am

    I appreciate your analogy in regards to how in the hell you can write both of those strips, very inciteful. Continuing on the Lionel Richie analogy, does this mean that your cat is an anorexic heroin addict? Does your cat drive? Where? Does your cat substitute for you when you are hungover? Does that explain Ted’s homosexual urges? You have a gay cat? Interesting.

  14. Monday, September 15, 2008 « Medium Large said, on September 15, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    [...] Comedy on YouTube! Sarah Palin Vlog Featured on ABCNews.com! New Comic Strip Writing 101 Lesson: New Day, Same Routine Today’s Link: Cat and Girl « Friday, September [...]

  15. Quood said, on September 19, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Simply Amazing….Your schedule is eerily similar to mine…. Except replace the girl with favourite pencil… and the cat with … favourite pencil….

  16. Joe said, on September 20, 2008 at 6:52 am

    too much text…

  17. beegutz said, on February 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    I almost crapped myself reading this, best thing in years since … undictionairies…

  18. Dave said, on March 25, 2010 at 10:41 am

    This actually fucking inspired me to get some strips done…..

  19. John said, on June 27, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Great articles & Nice a site.

  20. Gil said, on March 6, 2011 at 2:14 am

    You exist! Well done…

  21. abrahamtheman said, on March 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    One of the best blog entries I’ve ever read. It pretty amazing that I actually wanted to read the whole freaking thing, cause usually, I don’t read something online if it’s this long. You are a good writer.

  22. Noel said, on May 24, 2011 at 1:45 am

    Excellent article, I recently started a daily strip of my own and I have no idea how someone who has done this as long as you have has not been committed. Your advice is sound and I think it will be helpful to me so I appreciate the time you spent writing this.

  23. Comic Strip Writing as a Career said, on June 5, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    [...] about the comic strip writing life: Comic Strip Writing 101:  Francesco Marciuliano (Sally Forth, Medium large) writes a nice tongue-in-cheek guide to his [...]

  24. goku said, on November 3, 2011 at 9:45 am

    good allow me to read and get i dea am new

  25. Kristina P. (@KristinaP901) said, on November 7, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    I’m in a club called “The Comic Club” at school, where we sit around and write comics. This is great inspiration, I think I’m gonna share it with other Comic Club members.

  26. lucyloftus said, on April 17, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I needed this!

  27. Person Somebody said, on April 23, 2012 at 11:12 am

    This was a pretty interesting read. It both made me never want to see a comic again and made me want to continue working on them.

    Good show.

  28. [...] just like writing poetry or writing short stories.Articles about the comic strip writing life: Comic Strip Writing 101:  Francesco Marciuliano (Sally Forth, Medium large) writes a nice tongue-in-cheek guide to his [...]

  29. raleighmorris said, on June 13, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    My god, it’s full of stars.

  30. RussCartoons said, on September 7, 2012 at 5:00 am

    That is THE funniest and truest article I have ever read.
    Sincerely-thank you! I’ve been going through my ‘dark teatime of the soul’ with my comic strip for the longest time now and you’ve made me laugh about it.
    Brilliant, my friend! If I could afford it, I’d buy you a beer.

  31. Leah G Cartoonist said, on September 7, 2012 at 8:13 am

    Wonderful, you’re a genius :)

  32. Mike P said, on September 7, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Wonderfully written, cogent comedy! It really should be in a book. (No really–my tuckered peepers can’t read a screen screed for that long without bursting out in protest.) Besides, it’s too damn brilliant to be confined to the Web.

    I’ve been doing strips off and on (mostly off) for decades and only recently have decided to become more serious about being funny full-time. Everything you wrote that I read rings true so far.

    I only wish you had added a byline so I know who you are and whom to thank!

  33. http://tinyurl.com/everwaine17812 said, on January 11, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    I actually question precisely why you labeled this
    specific posting, “Comic Strip Writing 101 Medium Large”.
    Either way I really enjoyed the blog!Thanks a lot,Pablo

  34. Nate said, on May 12, 2014 at 6:25 am

    Genius!

  35. […] If you’ve ever read the funnies in the newspaper, you’re familiar with comic strips. They are drawings that follow in a sequence to detail a story. While there’s more art involved than prose, there is still some writing to be done for them. If you’re considering comic strips, you might want to work on your drawing skills. Udemy has a great article on pencil techniques, and they even offer a class on drawing and painting comics. Medium Large also has an article on writing comic strips. […]


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