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Let's say you wrote a comic book about F1 racing, how would you cover an entire race? Should you spend 10 volumes to cover a single race, or should you just skip times very often? For example, 3 panels for 30 seconds in lap 3, then 4 panels for 40 seconds in lap 18 and 3 panels for 10 seconds in lap 45 and 4 panels for the lap 70, which is the final lap? How would you do this? Because I am trying to imagine how to do it and I am not sure how this is normally done.

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    I'd note that Formula One is a trademark, and you'd need to account for licencing to portray the F1 championship in any capacity. You can however make up a formula racing (aka as open-wheel racing) championship, with your own teams and drivers. Jan 24 at 9:59
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    Would that really be much of an issue? I don't think Max Barry ever got in trouble for his alternate-world dystopian fiction in which he kicked the story off by having Nike's marketing department order a hit on a customer to show people would kill for their shoes.
    – towr
    Jan 24 at 13:10
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    You might want to a look at the manga called “Initial D”. It’s not Formula 1, but it has plenty of long running races in it. Jan 24 at 18:17
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    Depends, is this a comic about racing, or is the race just an event that happens in a comic about something else? That's going to educate a lot of your choices here. Jan 24 at 19:47
  • The setting is a race. But the plot is about how the driver has become psychotic to the point of becoming telekinetic. Or something. I'm not exactly sure wtf is going on in New Tokyo : Running Man : vimeo.com/439100166 - The race is over like half way through but that don't stop him.... Take that video and storyboard it : there ya go.
    – Mazura
    Jan 25 at 3:43

5 Answers 5

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Focus on the conflict driving your story.

And please skip the rest!

Your story hopefully has at its core a conflict. The conflict has highlights throughout the race, and these highlights are the moments you want to be narrating. The rest of the race is a repetitive merry-go-round which gets very boring very quickly.

For instance, in the Ford vs. Ferrari 2019 movie, the entire race, which in real life lasts 24 hours, was only shown for the parts that raised the tension and built the climax.

Examples of conflict:

  • rivalry between pilots, then focus on the moments in which they try to overtake each other (e.g. the final overtaking in Ford v Ferrari)

  • driver vs machine, focus on the moments in which the car failures put the title at risk for the pilot (e.g. the brakes scene in Ford v Ferrari)

  • driver vs track, present the track, its difficult points, and show the moments in which the pilot is about to fail the race because of the trickiness of the track. Unless the pilot is incompetent, this hopefully does not happen at every lap.

  • David vs Goliath, focus on the moments when David is at a disadvantage for lack of resources, and how they overcome it (e.g. it rains but David has no wet tires, yet they manage to overtake Goliath anyway).

It is fairly clear that while the conflicts above can last an entire race, in practice there are only a handful of defining moments that raise the tension and build the climax. These moments can happen whenever you want to and there is no need to intersperse them equally throughout the race. Actually, you could skip the entire race and just focus on the start and the end, and still have a comic about a F1 race.

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    I recommend watching Ford v Ferrari and imagine how you would port the race segment to a comic, scene by scene.
    – NofP
    Jan 23 at 23:34
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    Would this same sort of thing work in a written novel? One of my characters is really into cars and dreams of racing professionally, one day. I want to have either a few chapters or a whole book on her debut race and more - would I be able to translate this same advice into written form? Jan 24 at 3:16
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    Yep, this is exactly the answer, and you can see the same type of thing in good racing manga and anime (and even some non-racing manga/anime, like Lupin the Third). Jan 24 at 13:12
  • An important thing to note about that movie is that the actual race only takes a small fragment of the movie. Most of the movie is spent before the race, showing us the events that led to that race.
    – Stef
    Jan 24 at 15:36
  • There are sometimes good reasons why you may want to add part of that "merry-go-round": building up tension, reflecting the fatigue of the drivers after a long session and so on
    – David
    Jan 24 at 22:53
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A good example is the Michel Vaillant series of comics.

The comic is notable for depicting real-life motor racing background, featuring many real-life drivers, teams and personalities. Michel Vaillant competes in existing motor races and Grand Prix on real-life circuits. In the course of the series, the background in which the characters are featured evolves: the series' environment has always been updated, so that cars, teams and personalities have constantly changed

It's been a while since I've read them, but usually there is an additional conflict other than the race itself, which is often resolved during the race. Races are often depicted in a general sense, with most focus on crucial moments such as overtaking or crashing.

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Have a look at comic strips about football clubs or individuals playing for a club, e.g. Roy Race and Blackie Gray playing for Melchester Rovers.

In these the authors don't cover all the action minute by minute. They focus on the main highlights in which the hero(es) play a part like dirty play tactics and how to overcome them, great goals and saves, odd referee decisions and a constant stream of crowd comment.

I'd apply the same general rationale to your F1 comic strip. You could posit a new startup F1 team with some nationally identifiable (e.g. British, US, French, German, etc) name and its hero drivers competing with other archetypal teams from other countries commonly represented in F1.

Subsidiary characters would be the hero's team manager, chief designer, aerodynamicist, race engineers, engine company chief, tyre company technicians, mechanics, chef, masseur, etc.

To make it interesting you could have one or two female entrants. F1 in the 1970s had an odd one of these like Lella Lombardi and Desiree Wilson.

Buona Fortuna !

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How much of the race depends on what you want to tell.

As other people advised, have a look at other comic books on races or more generally on sports. Movies may also be a good source of inspiration. Here are a few examples:

  1. Michel Vaillant, a French comic about races, as described in @SQB's answer.
  2. The Rocky saga. Most of the movies deal mostly with events surrounding boxing: organization of the fight, training, personal life of boxers,... the actual final boxing fight serves as a climax to the movies after all character development has been made and all stakes have been raised. It is much more intense and shorter (I imagine) than a real-life boxing fight.
  3. Days of Thunder is more about the rivalry between the main protagonist and his rival than actually racing. Races symbolize their actual state of mind and relation.
  4. I think Captain Tsubasa is quite unique as it depicts football games and competitions in an extensive (but rather unrealistic) way.
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Boy, this strikes me as a difficult medium to tell this story in. On TV or in film, you have more of a visual spectacle as cars race around everywhere, and you have a better sense of the passage of time, which is nice to have in a race. In a novel or short story, it's easier to skip over uneventful parts. Comics is almost the worst of all worlds here, but maybe I just don't have enough imagination. Still, many stories about races have been told in comics; Speed Racer was originally a manga. Certainly, you should have a look at it or other such comics to get a sense of how others have tackled the problem.

Anyway, when constructing a plot in any medium, you need to know what your "beats" are: the events that make things progress. Usually, everything in your story should either be a beat or help you progress from one beat to the next. You can construct a plot outline to find your beats (each item is a beat):

  1. Bilbo gives his cousin Frodo a magic ring as a gift.
  2. But Frodo learns from Gandalf that the ring is dangerous and must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom.
  3. Therefore, Frodo, Gandalf, and some friends set out from the Shire to Bree.
  4. But they get attacked by ringwraiths on the way.

...and so on.

I learned a technique just yesterday for constructing a plot, and I learned it from what seemed to me an unlikely source: this video with Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Their advice here applies to all storytelling, not just South Park's style. The tl;dw of the video is you're in trouble if you use the phrase "and then" when connecting your beats; instead, you should try to use "therefore" or "but" (as I did in my Lord of the Rings example). I wouldn't take this advice too literally; the important thing is to understand how the beats are connected beyond merely happening in sequence. I've also found a nice article that expands on this.

Also, a subplot can give you something to cut to when nothing interesting is happening. If you don't know what to follow a scene with, you can cut to something else, then cut back once your characters are back on track. For instance, a fight might break out in the stands, or something else might be happening in a completely different part of town. What else is going on during your race?

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