I’d like to share a sampling of amusing and occasionally astounding work done by students of mine using constraints.
If you follow this blog or if you’ve read my comics you already know this is approach—closely associated with the French literary group Oulipo—is key to my own work. I’ve found that when people are presented with an unusual challenge—like being asked to make a one page comic where the story can be read backwards and forwards—they take to it like someone who is obsessed with a crossword or a jigsaw puzzle: It’s difficult, it feels surmountable, yet it’s also pleasurable and even revelatory when you have a breakthrough and create something you didn’t even know you had in you.
Below, you’ll find a whole bunch of weird and excellent comics done by School of Visual Arts cartooning majors from around 2009-2011, back when I taught a class there called Obstacle Course. In that class I would present them with a series of assignments based on creative rules or constraints.
The first part of the set consists of one-page assignments, the second part consists of longer pieces delving deeper into a particular constraint. You’ll find brief explanations of the constraints below the gallery.
Click on the first comic and it will open up into a slideshow:
Here are some brief explanations of the featured constraints:
Word Ladder Comic
based on a word game attributed to Lewis Carroll: connect two related words of the same length by replacing one letter at a time, for example CAT>HAT>HAG>HOG>DOG, then use the resulting list to make a comic with the same number of panels as there words.
Restricted Image Comic
the visual field of the comic is limited in some way
a comic where each strip, horizontal or vertical, tells a different story
from the French “mord la queue” or tail-biter, a comic that is an endless loop
making a new comic using panels from existing work
The Five Obstructions
students give each other five constraints they need to observe while re-making an earlier comic
two one-page comics that use the same panels to tell different stories
based on a poetry form featuring refrains
the horizontal strips tell stories which are in sync with the strips above and below them
based on a Malay poetry form characterized by woven-together repeating lines
think “Row Your Boat” in comics form
[note: this post was updated in 2022]