A few years ago, I shot my first short film as part of a weekend contest. I soon realized that my filmmaking skills were really bad. I wanted to take a class but they either cost too much or took too long or both. So I contacted my friend Sean Sullivan, Pratt film instructor and owner of Digido Productions and asked him how much he would charge to teach an intensive weekend course. He said $1000. So I booked him to do the workshop at my apartment and I invited other people to join me (and charged them $200). The weekend workshop was awesome and though I learned a lot in those two days, here’s my favorite lesson:
Top the Topper
If you watch the first 20 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, you’ll notice that as Indiana Jones goes deeper into the jungle and later the cave, the threats keep getting more and more dangerous. First a dart on a tree, then a gun from a traitorous guide, then a whole bunch of tarantulas, then a giant blade and so forth. That’s what Sean called, topping the topper. Cranking up the danger, builds up the tension and excitement. As each new obstacle is overcome, the audience can breath a sigh of relief but then they’re confronted by the next life-treatening situation. In fact throughout the whole movie, the danger increases. This might be obvious and common sense, but sometimes, as writers, we forget these things.
After the workshop, I applied this concept to my next film. It may not be a Lucas/Spielberg production, but this is a text-book example of trying to “Top-the-Topper!” It’s called Time After Time and was accepted into a few Film Festivals across the country.
Even though this was a filmmaking lesson, the same concept can easily apply to comic book storytelling. Of course, it would help if the situations serviced the overall story. ‘Even better if some of the threats were funny. Like when Satipo turned around and there were literally dozens of tarantula’s on his back.
Building tension and excitement is one of the tools that can really help you keep your reader captivated. Use it wisely and have fun creating comics!