On the Topic of Topicality

The question was raised in another article about how comics artists feel about being topical with their comics. The “why” of being topical is obvious enough; to bring in fresh viewers that aren’t acclimated to your pre-existing story. But the “how” and “when” aspects of this conversation raise some pretty interesting points.

Artist Jorge Cham of PhD Comics tends to break continuity of his story-lines to bring topical issues to light. His strip about the CERN Hadron Collider was actually what hooked me as a regular viewer at his site, but it has absolutely no connection with the strip’s continuity.

Strips like Penny-Arcade and, more true to the topic, PvP use pop-culture references seamlessly in their regular story-lines. To be fair, Penny-Arcade rarely uses story arcs, but they’re still a good example of real life influences being used as satire regularly.

It would be interesting to hear these same kinds of examples being used in print. Whether the satire is used in a story’s continuity or used to break the monotony of a story-line or used in some completely different way, how do you as artists use pop-culture references in your strips?

13 thoughts on “On the Topic of Topicality

  1. Online content, specifically webcomics, seems to have the advantage in topical offerings, as the contents arrival on happens as soon as the creator can make the content.

    Print would have to pass through an editor and then wait for the next published edition. That seems like it could be fairly limiting on topical situations that could be tackled. A one-off daily event might be harder for a print artist to satire and still seem relevant, then a broader ongoing socio-political issue or event.

  2. Comics don’t necessarily have to reference politics or the latest movie to be topical. I started my comic story a year ago about an athlete coming to America in hopes of making it to the Olympics. I keep my storyline closely tied to current events in the sport, mentioning tournaments as they are happening and chronicling an athlete as she participated in the Beijing games. My goal is to wrap up the story shortly after the London games in 2012. I also try to dress my characters seasonally, at least as much as I can.

    While the concept has provided me with a timeline in which to place the story, it has also tied my hands in other areas. For example, I may have to wrap up a storyline prematurely in order to get onto the topic of a crucial event that drives the plot. I’m curious if anyone else is using this concept and how it is working for them.

  3. The best comics are those that people can not only relate to today, but still relate to tomorrow. If you’re too topical in the way you approach a subject, the humour will eventually be lost on future generations.

    Ex. Walt Kelly’s Pogo … I love the original stuff I’ve seen, but have no idea what he’s talking about with some of the latter.

  4. My comic strip started off topical – completely – but then I got bored with it and now try to have a nice, gentle “mix” of current events, lasting topics and other stupidity (not to mention frustration).

  5. Topicality should come naturally in whatever you are writing. Your subject matter or characters should flow naturally with it. If it doesn’t seem to, you need to rethink what it is you are trying to convey.

    There’s nothing worse than a strip or a story or a film that has ideals that are obviously forced into it’s story. These come off more preachy than anything else. This is one of the things I hated about Wall-E. Which in my opinion is actually one of the worst stories pixar has brought to the screen. It’s message relentlessly hits the viewer over the head. Enough to where I kept thinking, “Okay okay, I get it! Geez!”

    The writer naturally absorbs and is aware of the social or political environment around them and that bleeds through to their work.

  6. …how do you as artists use pop-culture references in your strips?

    A pop-culture reference is different from a topical reference. Swine flu is a currently topical issue. References to movies, celebrities, TV shows (gag) and the like are pop-culture.

    In my Swine Flew cartoon, the swine flu is the topical issue. But I also have a character repeat a line out of Animal Farm, so that could be considered pop-culture if enough people get it. Otherwise it’s just an obscure literary reference.

  7. Tom, Animal Farm is one of my favorite books (and films) because of it’s allagory rich prose. So Animal Farm is not only a pop culture reference, but a great social comment as well.

  8. Regardless of the practical how/why of content topicality or inclusion of pop culture, I think there is a natural affinity for this kind of stuff at a bit deeper level.

    In other words, seems like the comic strips/cartooning work that strikes the strongest chord with readers (and therefore creates the draw) tend to be those that do in fact :

    a) reference current events, because people like to compare what others think of things that are going on/in the news, and

    b) point out characteristics of the current state of society, for which pop-culture offers an outstanding road marker.

    One of the reasons Tintin was so popular for so long (apart from the draftsmanship), from what I have read, was Herge’s ability to consistently capture those things as an integral part of Tintin’s adventures.

    Some other more “recent” examples? – besides Walt Kelley’s work – Alley Oop maybe?

  9. hi,

    i was wondering where can i watch or download full metal alchemist the 2nd episode 11 been searching for it…
    no of the links are working….

  10. Good morning, I’m a student from Tanzania.
    I have to develop a homework: “Visits duration and for websites.”
    I have written to website owners and asked them about the visits duration of their website.
    There are websites which are a guilty pleasure for many. They have an addictive appeal, and lend themselves to at least 30 minutes of browsing per day.
    But there are sites which only have a visits duration of 30 seconds. Does anybody know where I can get the visits duration of as many websites as possible?
    With the results I want to draw conclusions from visits duration about user´s engagement.
    Thanks for your help!


  11. Hiya, I’m a student from Emirates
    I have to write an article about time someone spend on internet.
    I asked people how much time they spend on internet.
    They told me something about their visits duration of websites.
    There are websites which are a guilty pleasure for many.
    But there are blogs which only have a visits duration of 40 seconds.
    I would like to know how much time do you spend on internet (day/week/month).
    Thanks for your help!


  12. Hiya,
    I’m a broke state employee from Texas. I have to pay bills and so I spend time on the Internet avoiding it. I asked people for money as an idea.
    They told me ugly things about my mother and how my head should visit other bodily locations.
    There are objects they then throw they seem to bring them special pleasure, too.
    But when hit in the head I only state awake for duration of 40 seconds.
    I would like to know houw much you give money to me to spend(nickels/dimes/quarters).
    Thanks for your help!


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