When thinking about what Thought Balloons meant to me, I always came back to the things it taught me. Plus, everyone likes listicles. So, here are three valuable things Thought Balloons gave me:
1) Economy - When you only have one page, space matters. You can tell a complete story in one page, or hint at a larger one, but you have to be ruthless. For a page to hit, it has to be pared down to its base components.
What idea are you trying to get across in the page? What larger themes, stories or character beats, are you hinting at? All of these elements have to be taken into account and then ratcheted in on. There's no space for fancy flourishes or sprawling monologues.
This brings me to dialogue. Never at a premium anyway in comics, it has even less room with one page. Every word counts.
Cut, and cut some more, cut until only the essential survives.
2) Consistency is key - Writers write. Some of it may not see the light of day, some of it moves around and changes in the future, but finishing and consistency is key.
With Thought Balloons one page had to go up every week without fail. What this kind of deadline does is begin to strip away any pretensions you have about the work. You can't be too precious. Sometimes the page will work, firing on all cylinders, sometimes it won't, and the words will just sit there like ab-rollers, pristine copies of War and Peace, and other things you thought were a good idea at the time. Deadlines are agnostic. The work has to go out anyway.
The notion of a weekly deadline also gives you another valuable writing lesson -- the key to leveling up your skills is consistency. Finish.
Done is the engine of More.
3) Camaraderie - When you're in the trenches with someone week in, week out, bonds start to form. This can be seen in the larger comics community too. Team #makecomics is a big family, one that wants to see everyone do their best work.
Thought Balloons taught me the value and importance of feedback. Writing is a solitary game. Sometimes we can be too close to a script, not seeing problems and potential changes because we're a slave to our individual visions. But a fresh set of eyes can cull the weeds, see heretofore invisible patterns, and make you aware of alternative approaches.
When you find those who bring out the best in your work hold them close. They'll be your allies in the battles that lie ahead.
My stint at Thought Balloons introduced me to a bunch of like-minded people who I now consider confidantes, collaborators, and most of all, friends.
It taught me that I can do this.
We can do this.
- Dan Hill