Storytelling in four comic panels: Yonkoma practice

The vertical four panel comic is a format commonly used in Japan, for good reason. A yonkoma, as it is called in Japanese, serves wit and humor in a nutshell. It provides a reduced, very efficient framework to train visual narration – a reason why I’m using this format in my workshops to get creative processes going. The more people contribute to a yonkoma development, the easier it gets to bring diverse matters into a smart sequence of images. And the richer the result.

Yonkoma four panel comic storytelling

After years of training varied audiences, I decided to introduce this interactive storytelling method to the Berlin Manga Club. Since we first teamed up in 2009, we’ve been working together on eight now published manga anthologies and numerous drawing workshops, sharing manga related talks and literally never getting tired of it. Drawing yonkoma is nothing new to most manga artists, but creating them together is something different.

So I was really looking forward to see the outcome of such a teamwork-storytelling. And I wasn’t disappointed: When you get interested and skillful people to interact, the learning process becomes both dynamic and playful. Before long, vivid cooperation among seven artists led to a row of seven entertaining short stories, done in about an hour. Guiding that process, I realized once again how much I love to encourage and to channel teamwork, and how well-suited yonkoma comics are to do so.

A couple of years ago, what I needed most when I started to draw comics on a professional level (i.e. getting paid for it) was the confidence of not being alone with my interests. To be able to make a living only out of comics (manga and western style alike) may be still somewhat exceptional in German culture, but we passionate artists don’t come alone, there’s a bunch of us. And this is what ultimately gives us strength, I think. Every now and then, we come together to produce something new, and since it is fun… chances are high there will be sequels. So be on the lookout for more to come!

2 responses to “Storytelling in four comic panels: Yonkoma practice”

  1. Your drawing is exceptional, love this and the newer (manga) work at the top of your blog.

    I live in Japan and so am surrounded by manga. Broadly speaking there are two categories: Weekly manga and series. For whatever reason they rarely put that much artistic integrity into each panel but focus on the work as a whole. Quantity over quality is the norm.

    I love comic books and graphic novels much more than manga. Each panel is a mini-painting I can get lost in.

    Do you have any favorite manga? The last one I really enjoyed was Death Note, but that’s a bit old. 🙂

  2. Thank you!

    I discovered manga quite late, one big fav is Jiro Taniguchi (most of his work). I love short stories & oneshots, maybe for the reason you mentioned: longevity doesn’t always work in favor of the art. Smaller series like Taiyou Matsumoto’s ‘Tekkonkinkurito’ or CLAMP’s ‘Tokyo Babylon’ were perfect for me. I love artists like Hiro Kiyohara (she collaborated with the author Otsuichi) and Inio Asano (e.g. Nijigahara Holograph). Kazue Kato’s short story collection “Time Killers” is also great. Takeshi Obata whom you mentioned has drawn the superb ‘Hikaru no Go’ series… I could go on, maybe a good blog post topic (^-^).

    Graphic novels tend to capture my interest when they reflect urban life. For me, true force lies in the ability to connect what is seemingly separate. I believe in cultural encounters, be it on a human level or stylistically. Merging manga & comic features is what some of the aforementioned artists already do. My own journey’s about exploring this further. So far, it’s been a lot of fun ;-).

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