Episode 1: Pacing
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of writing manga is pacing. Nobody likes a manga that moves at an awkward pace. This means that when you’re drawing, you have to read your work through after you’re finished with it. The way I see it, manga pacing falls into two categories.
There is no middle paced, because there shouldn’t be. You as the artist need to decide whether to make a scene a bit more on the fast-paced side, a bit more on the slow-paced side, extremely fast-paced, agonizingly slow-paced, and so on. Typically, each of these writing styles has a certain role that they accomplish.
Slow-paced scenes build anticipation and fast-paced scenes build excitement. I could go on and on about page turner panels, but that’s another article entirely. Do not make the mistake of thinking that fast-paced scenes are always action sequences. Fast paced dialogue is a great way to raise excitement and keep the reader interested. It gives the subject of conversation urgency. Additionally, slow-paced action sequences are also possible.
Here, an entire page is used for the kunai knife to approach Zabuza, scratch him on the cheek, and for him to react to it. This scene, if animated, would probably be in slow motion, even though the time it takes for the page to play out realistically would probably be about 2 seconds.
This is an slow paced scene from Biscuit Hammer. Entire panels are devoted to small, intricate movements. The character is deep in thought. This is very effective.
Fast paced action sequences are easy to find in manga, especially in the Shonen genre.
Fast-paced action! It’s what manga is all about right? Well, not really. In the end, it’s still about the power and compulsion of the narrative. That being said, as far as pacing goes, a manga really needs to have both. This can’t get any more obvious… without slow pacing, your fastest paced panels will not feel as fast. The reverse is also true. Additionally, there are times where it is inappropriate to pace something slowly. To avoid this… ask yourself the key question… am I wasting the reader’s time?
There’s nothing more frustrating than reading a chapter in which the characters get nothing done, and no plot progression happens. They might exchange a few blows and words, and serious glances, but at the end of the day, a chapter like that becomes forgettable. Make sure you change it up, and not just write a slowly paced manga. I’m looking at you, Bleach.
Generally, successful manga arcs follow a pattern of…
fast (rising action)
slow (climactic buildup)
fast (climactic action)
slow (climactic reward)
fast (declining action)
Within each subdivision, each page will have its own pacing. It’s up to the artist to give it that flavor. That’s what makes it a truly individual and original piece. For example, you might want to throw in a fast paced comedy scene during an otherwise slow paced exposition chapter. Pacing is extremely important and should always be considered in this art form.
Part 3: Perspectives and Consistencies
It’s important to stay consistent with characters, yes. And yes, growth for characters is very important. But it is unsettling when your protagonist starts to feel like he or she is being written by completely different people. Your readers will see right through it. Changing someone’s action because you think it’s cool won’t further your story in any way. Rather, inconsistencies in a character’s actions should be utilized in a literary sense.
You can use inconsistency as a subtle way of revealing something. That way, the reader can look back and think, “Ah, so that’s what it was.” Perhaps you create a character who is fearless when it comes to just about everything. Having him afraid of something would then require a reason.
Having a character behave irregularly is risky. Humans are creatures of habit.
Masashi Kishimoto gives us an inconsistency in Naruto in the scene above. He’s not the type of character to break down so easily, let alone hyperventilate. A reason needs to be given for this type of anomaly, otherwise it seems just like a plot convenient blackout or a cop-out way to transition the scene and move things along.
Another thing that people seem to forget about protagonists is that their perspectives are important. It is difficult to get attached to a character when you don’t know their opinions on the matters at hand. Having a bland character with no inner dialogue or no actions that reveal their intentions is the quickest way to lose readership.
Shinji from the wildly popular Neon Genesis Evangelion is insanely underdeveloped and we are never given much insight into what he actually thinks about the things that are happening to him. Bleach’s protagonist Ichigo and his friends suffer from this lack of perspective, being easily overshadowed by more interesting characters, such as members of the Gotei 13.
When people are introduced to their protagonist, the character that they’re going to be learning about for pretty much the entire series, they are going to want to know what they are getting themselves into. The author has this opportunity to pick a hero, stay consistent (with some healthy inconsistencies mixed in), and give us some perspective on that hero. Otherwise, the viewers/readers will just sit there impatiently waiting for something to get excited about.
Part 2: The Visual Aspects
A good protagonist should be visually interesting and engaging, but not overpowering. Not everyone wants to relate to a protagonist in terms of visuals. Many successful protagonists are superheros who wear bright, primary colors. It is important to understand that these choices were not made for empathetic reasons.
Color has been a key design factor since the earliest ages of art. By the time of the early Renaissance, colors and their meanings had already psychologically imprinted our cultures. Blue was a color associated with harmony, heaven, and sometimes royalty, and was often seen worn by the virgin Mary. Jesus wore pinks and reds, symbols of blood, humility, the earth, and love.
Today, colors take on different meanings for everyone. Your options are limitless… for example, clothing your protagonist in blacks might make him come off as brooding to some, but others may feel humbled by the professional aspects of black.
So when it comes to color, pick something you’re comfortable with. Make sure it says something about the character.
Naruto is a ninja that wears bright orange. He has a loud and forthcoming personality that directly contrasts with his profession. He is one of the most eye-catching ninjas and protagonists of all time. Which brings us to our next subject.
Costuming your protagonist is important. An outfit should reflect function. Don’t confuse this with the idea that outfits must have functionality. An outfit should reflect the function of your character in the story.
Maleficent’s costuming is dark and flowing, and drapes down to an almost inconvenient length. She is pointy, holds a scepter, and is even accompanied by a pet crow, a traditional symbol of death. This costume says volumes about her function. Her outfit is allowed to be hard to walk in because she teleports everywhere with her magic. The horns on her head foreshadow her dragon transformation.
Peter Pan, on the other hand, wears bright, elfish clothing that is easy to move in, not to mention fly in. The color green tells us he lies among nature, away from adult mechanisms like cities. Feathers are symbols of virtue, and red is often a symbol of good health. In Indian culture, the more feathers you have, the older you are. Peter Pan has a single feather symbolizing his eternal youth.
Here we have another example of costumes showing function. Wall-E was built for specific functions, so his appearance reflects that. The dirt that has gathered on him also tells the viewer a lot about the current condition of his surroundings. His “eyes” however, are very finely detailed and are supported above the rest of his body. The viewer is drawn to them because eyes are windows into the soul, and thus, we are exposed to the “human-like” aspects of our robot friend. This empathy is important to keep in mind when designing a character.