Comics is a medium founded on constraints. Our very sense of what a comic is—whether a newspaper strip, Sunday page, comic book or web comic—is to a large extent determined by formal characteristics or constraints. Strip length, page size and layout, panel borders, word balloons, decisions about drawing style: these and many other formal considerations are the building blocks from which we create all kinds of work.
In 2002 I was named US correspondent for Oubapo, Ouvroir de Bande Dessinée Potentielle (Workshop for Potential Comics), a group founded in France in 1992 under the auspices of Oulipo, Workshop for Potential Literature, founded in 1960 by François Le Lionnais and Raymond Queneau (if that name sounds familiar to you it’s because his book Exercices de style was the inspiration for my 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style). You can find publications by Oubapo here and learn some more of its history on Wikipedia. I’ll be adding more information on this page bit by bit.
The project of Oubapo is to identify those constraints that already exist (2 common examples: using a 9-panel grid, or using a fixed point of view, as in a monologue comic) and to propose and implement new constraints that can generate new comics. These might be manipulations of existing comics or they might be original works (see Exercises in Style). Oubapo’s work is necessarily preliminary, there’s a whole medium out there waiting to be mined and explored. The emphasis of these projects is on play and experimentation, with a belief in the back of our heads that once in a while we might create something truly great.
Oubapo is not a movement that you join or follow. Oubapo is an approach to thinking about and creating comics using constraints as a creative principle.