Comic Strip Process Interview with Young Huer (2 of 3)

Young is a neurodivergent cartoonist, storyboard artist, and animator driven to draw stories from the heart. Having grown up in a multicultural Korean-Colombian family, Young grew a love for studying people, cultures, and stories from around the world. Young is currently developing a middle grade graphic novel titled, The Intimidators, about an autistic sixth-grader in special education named Anne-Diane who starts her own school club.

What inspired you to make comic strips and why do you make them?

As a cartoonist, I’ve always wanted to make a name for myself in the local scene. I took my chance when I entered the University of North Carolina and joined The Daily Tar Heel, a college newspaper that’s been running for 130 years with a long history of student cartoonists. 

Although I aspired to create long form graphic novels, I figured it was smart to start small with four-panel comic strips, having been inspired by my favorite Sunday funnies such as Peanuts, Garfield, FoxTrot, and Calvin and Hobbes. I created an original comic strip series called, CollegeTown, about a jaded UNC student named Izzy who struggles to fit in and keep up with campus life.

Could you tell us how you approach creating a four-panel comic strip?

I took a super interesting workshop that delves into the comic strip technique of cartoonist, Ernie Bushmiller, creator of Nancy and considered by many as the greatest gag comic strip artist of all time. 

The workshop was run by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden, two cartoonists who researched Bushmiller and wrote the book How to Read Nancy, which I highly recommend! It was through that workshop and book that I really began understanding the structure of a gag comic strip at the fundamental level.

At the same time, I was also looking into Japanese yonkoma and their use of Kishotenketsu structure. I analyzed the similarities and differences between western comic strips and Japanese yonkoma, specifically on how they would set up a gag and deliver the punchline within four panels. I would say doing so influenced my own approach of writing for CollegeTown, which I feel fluctuates between western and eastern comic structure.

When writing a four-panel comic, Japanese yonkoma follows Kishotenketsu structure while western comic strips follow something closer to the three-act structure with a goal, conflict, and resolution.

In Japanese yonkoma, I notice that the punchline typically starts in Panel 3, the twist, and Panel 4 would expand and play with the punchline even further (which is an essential part to Japanese humor). But in western comic strips, the punchline typically ends up in Panel 4, after three panels of building up to the punchline and leading into a humorous impact at the end. Kind of like reaching the climax of a good three-act story.

So when it comes to writing for CollegeTown, I would first decide which would be funnier: If I revealed the punchline earlier and played with it further, or if I don’t reveal the punchline until the very end for humorous impact.  

Here are two examples of CollegeTown strips that take place when the COVID outbreak started:

This comic strip closely follows the Kishotenketsu structure seen in yonkoma. The punchline is revealed in Panel 3, the twist, but is expanded and played with even more in Panel 4.

Meanwhile, this next comic strip is closer to western story structure. Develop the context, goal, and conflict until the punchline is revealed at the last panel for a humorous climax!

*Note: FDOC is short for “First Day of Classes”!

What was the journey from making comic strips to a full graphic novel like?

You have worked on comic strips, are concepting a one-chapter adaptation for Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, and currently developing a graphic novel titled The Intimidators – could you tell us the experience of approaching these different sized projects?

After comic strips, I felt the next step was to do a one-shot, which in the comics world means a standalone story that is roughly 30 pages or a chapter long. I wanted to make something manageable with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. Something that I could actually start and finish and show to people that I can tell a full story. One of my favorite books of all time is Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, and there was one specific chapter from the book that I wanted to adapt into a one-shot story. Even in long form comics, I think it’s still good to start small before leaping into your magnum opus!

Making comic strips beforehand has certainly helped me with approaching my long form comics. The neat thing about story structures, whether eastern or western, is that you can also apply it to just a chapter, or even a single page! When it comes to Kishotenketsu for example, it’s common for Japanese mangaka to layout a comic page with Kishotenketsu as a guideline. Here is a sample page from my graphic novel, The Intimidators, that demonstrates Kishotenketsu at the page level:

Intro (Ki): Anne-Diane introduces the classroom to Eddie. Development (Sho): Anne-Diane offers the vice president role to Eddie, but he’s hesitant. Twist (Ten): Eddie asks her what her club does. Anne-Diane says she doesn’t know yet. Conclusion (Kestu): Eddie is confounded that Anne-Diane has nothing planned yet.

And these structures I’ve demonstrated don’t just have to be used for setting up gags and humor! My one-shot of Stargirl for example, is incredibly whimsical, sweet, and romantic like in the novel. While writing these moments, I use Kishotenketsu to help me emphasize the majestic and serene moments between Stargirl and Leo as they bond in the Sonoran Desert.

What have you learned from creating comic strips and what advice would you give to other creatives making them?

I’ve learned from making comic strips just how flexible story structure truly is, and that comic strips are a great way to understand story at the fundamental level. You can use just four panels to tell any story, whether it’s humorous, dramatic, spooky, or action-packed (in fact, it’s common to see various genres in Japanese yonkoma). 

Experiment with various genres and emotions in short form comics, and you’ll strengthen your storytelling to help you on your long form comics! If you find yourself stuck while making a long form comic, try making a four-panel comic with the same characters in your story and use it as a deconstruction tool. Don’t underestimate the simplicity of comic strips, it may be the key to helping you tell your bigger stories!

Last one! Where can we find you and what you are working on?

You can find me on Instagram and Twitter! Aside from working on my graphic novels, I am also a storyboard artist aiming to break into the animation industry. You’re welcome to follow me on my journey!

In our last post, we interviewed Stan Yan.
Before that we went over structural frameworks of comic strips.

Watch out for our final cartoonist interview coming out in the next few days!

About Jade Vaughan

I am a non-binary storyteller who dreams of one day owning a mango tree. I grew up as a military kid traveling the U.S. and Europe. We never stayed at one place more than three years but between all those moves Studio Ghibli films and magical girl anime were my constants. I love fantasy, magical realism, & slice of life with queer and whimsical characters. I want to work on projects that balance humor, hardships, and heart!

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