Essay The First: Formalism
(or: Getting y'all up to speed.)

Zwol is an experiment. I have never written and drawn a comic strip, so this will either be the first effort in a long line of comic-related works that will eventually compose my legacy, or it will be something that I once tried, for a little while. Either way, as I work on Zwol there are certain things that I am keeping in mind and chief among these is this: the properties of comics as an art form are unique.

What is a comic? Will Eisner defined comics as "sequential art" and Scott McCloud has most recently suggested that comics are a "temporal map", but both definitions keep in mind the fundamental thing about comics that makes them unique: a picture followed by another picture can express an idea. The ideas can be fiction or non-fiction; humorous or serious; iconic or specific.

The comic strip sub-form imposes just 1 rule on the general idea of comics: this form of comic is short. They may appear one time only or be issued serially; be self-contained or part of a larger narrative; be found anywhere from newspapers to books, magazines, or even (you knew it was coming) the internet.

You can see that this is a pretty non-restrictive format: A short sequence of pictures expressing an idea. The public's expectations combined with the demands of mass media make the modern newspaper's comics page what it is today. Any shortcomings you may find are due, not to the form (i.e. comics), but to the content (i.e. the subject matter).

What I've mentioned above is just the groundwork, to let you know what angle I'm coming from. Zwol is my attempt not to write off in advance any possibilities, not to imitate anyone else, and not to be restricted by what others have done so far. Check your expectations at the door since just because Zwol is a comic, you've no reason to expect it to be a certain thing. Do comics need jokes and punchlines? No they don't. Do they need cute talking animals or sarcastic kids? Nope. What demands that a comic strip be simplistic, formulaic, and unintellectual? Absolutely nothing.

I think about these things as I work on Zwol. I'd like you to think about them as you read it because, though the form it takes is that of a comic, some of the assumptions you have about comics may not apply. Zwol is an experiment, so you can watch how it develops from a few basic ideas I had into something more complex and, ultimately, more satisfying to read. Even the growth between the first few strips I drew to those that I am working on now is amazing to me. As I've wanted to go back and 'fix' things in older strips before you see them, I realized that I can't- the difference in my approach is too drastic. Better to let you see the work as I did it, and allow you to see the change as I've learned how to better use the comic form.

Because as far as I'm concerned, that's what it's all about: the form. Zwol is a comic. Within that, well... we'll just see what happens, won't we?

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