Hooking Your Audience – The Opening Image
by James Cooper
When I had come on board to write a story for the new issue of Holmes Inc., I had already written a 112 page graphic novel that had done fairly well for itself in the Toronto indie circuit. I thought I had learned a lot from my mistakes and was ready, willing, and able to put my best foot forward for Ty and the team on Holmes Inc. Possibly the most important thing I learned as a writer during my time working on the issue was the importance of creating an arresting opening image.
Your opening image is arguably the most important part of your story; more important than your deep, nuanced character development, clever wordplay and shocking climax. “Impossible.” you may say. “Hogwash!” but let me set a scene for you:
Someone (let’s call him John) walks into his local comic store to pick up this week’s comics and he begins to browse the shelves. John has never heard of your book, but hey, the cover looks pretty cool, so he picks it up to check it out. First thing he does? Opens it. Duh. What does he see? A page of talking heads. Boring. Puts it down. “Hey, look, the new issue of Batman!”
Now let’s rewind: John has never heard of your book, but hey, the cover looks pretty cool, so he picks it up to check it out. First thing he does? Opens it. Duh. What does he see? This:
Now we’re paying attention!
The opening image should be bold, daring, exciting, tantalizing. It should stare your potential audience member in the face and say “I dare you not to read this.” Everyone that picks up your book has literally hundreds of other options to spend their hard earned money on, so you need to grab them right off the top. Intrigue them. Make them want, no, need to see what happens next.
As important as this is in general, it’s even more so as an independent creator who needs to stand out amongst the A-list. The audience isn’t immediately familiar with the product you’re selling, so you need to give them every reason in the world to buy your book. It doesn’t always have to be something grim and shocking like the example above, but it should be something that pushes the reader to turn the page. Sell them.
The above image is the first panel of my story The Family Name. Thanks to the combination of the strong opening panel and Daniel Wong’s expert rendering of the image, the editorial decision was made for this to be the first story in the issue. So the first thing you’ll see when you crack open issue 2 will be the decaying corpse of Sherlock Holmes. Staring straight at you. Daring you not to turn the page.
– James Cooper