Four panel gag manga, or Yonkoma, is a traditional form of entertainment in Japan. Each comic is comprised of four panels (read left to right, then top to bottom) each with a distinct job used to tell a story. This instructable will contain the basics, and tips on creating your own.
Step 1: Step One: Structural Basics
To be a true yonkoma, the comics must follow a structure seen in most Japanese stories called Kishōtenketsu. Each panel represents a part of the Kishōtenketsu, as you will soon see in our homemade example.
Step 2: Panel One: Ki 起
The first panel is used to set the scene, providing a setting, situation and characters.
Step 3: Step Two: Shō 承
The second panel builds upon the first panel. It should progress the story, but not provide any major plot changes.
Step 4: Panel Three: Ten 転
At this point the story sets up for the pun, often using a slight twist. It is similar to the climax in western stories, the pun serving as the falling action.
Step 5: Panel Four:Ketsu 結
The fourth panel bring the story to its concision, usually in a comical matter.
Step 6: Now to Make It Good!
The structure isn't everything though! The comic has to be funny and keep the reader's interest. Most commonly, the humor is based on a witty comment made in the last panel (as shown by our home made Yonkoma), or a visual gag using over-the-top expressions to convey emotions.
Step 7: Small Panels, Big Faces
First we'll take a look at the use of expression to create a story with an example from the grandmaster of the genre, Kiyohiko Azuma, and his strip Azumanga Diaoh. In the first and second panels, the expressions aren't grandiose. That's okay, they are just there to set up a story. However, if you take a look at the third and fourth panels, the expressions of every character help tell the story with no words required.
Step 8: Let's Talk Jokes...
The alternative to a silent strip is wit-dependent. The panels should attempt to progress a story to a punch line, like our example story in the structure explanation. This does not mean crazy expressions are off limits, in fact, they can help display the joke's effect on characters. It just means that you can not rely on them alone. An easy way to create these is to start from the punch line, and think how that conclusion could be reached. You can even draw up situations in your own life! We'll be taking another example from Azumanga Dioh to help you understand. (As much as we like our own strips, Azuma has lots of professional, published, and legible examples available.)
Step 9: Mo' Strips, Mo' Story
Each four panel strip can be fun, but what if you wanted to make a broader story? Strips can accompany other strips to make one large story, some last two strips, other 20. It just matters on what you want to create. To help you get the idea, here's a two strip story arch about the Azumanga girls getting jobs at a fast food joint. The pros who write these for a living create whole worlds and fleshed out characters. Just look at how big Azumanga Diaoh is!
Step 10: Get Crackn'!
Alright! You should have a good understanding of yonkoma, and how to make them. So the next step is to go at it! Don't worry if your art is bad! If the jokes are good no one will care, just look at our homemade one. We really want to see yours too, post them in the comments or send them to us at: email@example.com
We're really looking forward to all of your creative submissions! But if you don't feel quite confident enough, try picking up a Yonkoma for yourself. Our favorites include Hetalia: Axis Powers, K-On, and, of course, Azumanga Diaoh. Have Fun!