I’ll start by addressing a good point by Markku:
The important thing is to understand that this is a difficult format, and approach it with the effort it requires. Entire plotlines may have to be abandoned simply because they can’t produce a joke in every strip.
A graphic novel would give more freedom, but this is not it.
Which begs the question, why not? This is the internet, not a newspaper. So why not use whatever number of panels the joke demands?
Funny he should have mentioned XKCD.
Let’s take a look at this week’s strip (click it for to get a properly formatted version):
Vox’s take on it:
For example, this week we learned why four panels is the standard. Doing it in three panels broke the timing.
Incorrect: the writing broke the timing. There was no setup for the punchline. You need the one-two combo at the least because the foundation of humor is logic. The simplest example is to set expectations, and then break them:
You expect A
Just kidding, not A!
Hilarious, I know. But seriously, it works in practice:
Note the setup-punchline combo in the third panel. If the setup “you expect A” isn’t there, there’s no logic. It’s just a statement. Maybe it’s true, but it’s boring. And that’s the trouble with Hypergamouse to date: It’s true without being funny. It needs to be true and funny.
Another problem with Hypergamouse’s third panel is the disconnect between the visual and the verbal elements. Gamma-Mouse spouts a 5-8 second sentence while the hot mice flee in noticeably less time. If you took away the text, how much time would the panel appear to represent? The same amount of time required for the mice babes to flee the conversation: about 2 seconds. If you only had the text (or better, you could hear it aloud) then the picture would be impossible. In reality it would sound more like “Wait! If you don’t…ah, dammit.”
Vox is a genius, but geniuses sometimes need stuff explained to them too. The car analogy works here. He’s working with a big, fast engine (albeit an old model), but he hasn’t driven very far into comic country yet.
1) Change the format to fit the joke, not vice versa.
2) A punchline requires at least one logical setup.
3) The verbal time-lapse per panel must match the visual time-lapse.