When Writing Enhances Art

In preparation for the dash to the outline finish next week, I’ve spent some time reading about writing. Why waste time doing that instead of just writing the story? Well, for one, I get a lot of inspiration out of reading books about writing.It fascinates me to see another’s perspective on how to tackle the ever allusive plot and sometimes adapt their techniques into my own. But then there’s also the idea of constantly building storytelling skills– which I think is highly important to all comic creators. Even if you don’t write scripts, you need to understand the elements of basic storytelling. Not only will it help you choose your moments for each panel, but it also will help you identify the “why” if a scene, or the script itself, is not working. Comic artists who only draw the pages, tend to not put as much emphasis on story, and just want to make a comic that looks cool. What we should be striving for as creators is to seamlessly combine story and art to encompass one thing. This is what grabs people. Immerses them into the world. Comics are a medium where art tells a story, therefore the art should become part of the story. It should enhance the story instead of just sit there on the page as a series of images. There are several comics that I dearly love, that upon first glance, the art looks terrible– or bland. But once you start to read the story, you see how the art and story work together, and the art style elevates the story to another plane.

For example, Suki. Dakara Suki ( すき。だからすき) by CLAMP– one of their most overlooked comics in my opinion.

Think back to 1999. CLAMP was on top of the manga scene with titles like Magic Knight Rayearth, the adorable Card Captor Sakura, the breathtakingly decorative Clover, and the ever popular X. CLAMP was even dipping their toes into shounen waters with Angelic Layer and showing everyone just how pretty a battling comic could be. With CLAMP you were guaranteed beautiful art, with a strange kind of story that… sometimes worked. Each title had a distinctly different style, all beautiful. When a new title was announced, everyone was excited for what CLAMP would bring us next. Surely it would be worth a delay in X. And a love story? CLAMP were experts at writing super operatic relationships that tugged on your heartstrings. It had to be amazing!

This is the cover of the first book.

WHAT? THAT’S CLAMP?” you say? For artists that were known for doing amazingly elaborate illustrations and plots, to “downgrade” to something that looks so bland and boring was shocking. Where are the sakura petals? Where is the lightning?  Why no amazingly detailed armor? WHY IS NOTHING IN THE BACKGROUND? Just this cover turned off so many people. It just wasn’t “CLAMP.”

But oh the gem that was waiting inside!

The story is simple in structure, because our main character, Hinata, is just a simple girl. She’s in high school, but despite her age, she loves teddy bears and children’s books about teddy bears. We find out that she lives alone… for some reason (we find out later)… but other than that, she’s just average. Childish, but average. So this “average” looking art, when we know CLAMP can do so much more, works WITH the story. Even the title is simple. It literally means, “I like you, therefore I like you.”

One day a new neighbor, Asou, moves into the vacant house next to Hinata. He turns out to be her new science teacher! What a coincidence! But the coincidences start building into suspicion, as Asou has curious conversations with the young girl. The readers start to suspect this new neighbor might have some nefarious purpose. Which is unfortunate, seeing as Hinata is falling in more and more in love with Asou each time she sees him. We learn he has nothing in his house, save for some TV equipment, which he is desperate to hide from Hinata. Then we learn that Hinata is the daughter of a very rich man, but she lives alone because she’s been kidnapped for ransom 10 times (why she would want to live alone after that is kind of silly… she doesn’t want to be a bother or endanger others). So this makes the new neighbor even MORE suspicious. The elements build more and more on top of each other until the surprising climax, where everything is revealed! (sorry I won’t spoil it for you here…)

The theme of the comic is growing up. What better way to contrast that theme by drawing simple line art that looks a bit more… childish, for lack of a better word, than CLAMP’s normal elaborate style? And while yes they have simplified their style before on CCS, this style is far different, and in many ways more basic. Suki. Dakara Suki isn’t aiming for children like CCS. The title was printed in Asuka, the same magazine that featured X, which is aimed at an older teenage girl audience.

Now I will just come out and say that I love CLAMP. Well… early CLAMP. I have for many, many years. However, they have a tendency to put a twist on stories that sometimes don’t pay off (especially their more recent titles). The twist in Suki. Dakara Suki pays off. Everything builds up to it, and when we finally have the answer, the plot turns again and we learn some more about these characters to have a stronger resolution than we normally have in CLAMP titles. Is it a perfect plot? No. As with everything, it has it’s flaws. However, it has a clear story with understandable characters. At all times we understand what the characters want and we can see their arc by the end of the story. For CLAMP, that can be kind of rare (just don’t get me started on Tsubasa or XXXholic, okay?) .

So when people knock Suki. Dakara Suki for it’s art, I always argue that they should really look at the title again. By the end of the first chapter you can tell why CLAMP chose this style of art to work in, because it works with the story, instead  of against it (cough cough Clover cough cough). In fact, it makes the story all the more heartbreaking as we watch Hinata change.  I love the style of the art for Suki. Dakara Suki because of the story. I love how they work together. I love how they contrast once Hinata “grows up.” It’s absolutely beautiful. But it only works within the context of the story. Could Magic Knight Rayearth been drawn that way? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have worked as well. Or probably at all. The art works because of the story and the story works because of the art. They feed into each other.

And that is something we should all strive to do as comic artists.

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