6. Construction Lines – Mystery Shopper
When I started out on comics, I’d sometimes write lengthy essays about the construction and thinking behind a comic, and this was pretty popular. I haven’t really done this recently, despite considerably more thought being put into the process. I figure I can occasionally use this space for some commentary.
So, let’s look at 331 – Mystery Shopper in more detail.
Firstly, the inspiration for today’s comic came from James, who explained to me recently about how staff in fast food outlets often look out for mystery shoppers and give them good service. Many thanks to James for providing me the impetus for the comic in a sentence.
In my mind, I arrived at the image of them going overboard and rolling out an actual red carpet, and having a sommelier serve wine and so on. This comic isn’t really a joke so much as a humorous thought – so the final image needs to be overblown for it to work at all. The fact that Joey and I are dressed in formal clothes for the final panel kind of helps that I think.
I kind of wanted my fast-food outlet to make people think of McDonalds, while remaining generic enough to stay away from their trademark. I chose my colourscheme to stay away from the colours of every Fast Food outlet I know of.
Scripting this out, I originally had five panels, looking a bit like the following:
Panel 1 (Me and James are eating fast food in a fast food outlet)
ME: AUGH. They’ve messed up my order again, I told them not to put cheese on this thing. Don’t they care at all?
JAMES: You should try the Mystery Shopper Trick.
ME: The what with the what now?
JAMES: The Mystery Shopper Trick!
The staff in these places are really worried about mystery shoppers, but they’re trained to spot them. All you need to do is demand a receipt and they’ll think you’re reporting on their service to their bosses.
ME: A receipt?
JAMES: They need it to prove when they were there, and get the money for the meal back. Real customers never ask for a receipt.
NARR: The next day
Panel 3 (Me and Joey are standing at the counter of a fast food outlet, ordering. The girl at the till has a put-upon exasperated expression. Joey looks somewhere between bemused and annoyed, just draw something that isn’t happy, and go with it.)
ME: And I only want the green parts of the relish, not the other parts. Gherkins don’t count as green. Oh, and I want it cooked a little more than well done. Also, please take the two ice-creams and mix them half-and-half for each of us. And I want a toy.
Panel 4 (Shock reaction from the girl at the till)
ME: Oh, and I’d like a receipt
TILL WORKER: Oh! y- yes sir…
Panel 5 (Joey and Me are eating at what looks like a fancy high class restaurant, ideally at a private table or in a private room. There is a sommelier taking an order, champagne, candles. The table contains some iconography that matches the fast food chain restaurant earlier.)
The first task once you have a script like this is to figure out how much you can cut it down. Anything you can do with imagery rather than words should be shown, rather than explained. Everything you say that can be shortened should be. Speech bubbles take up a lot of room for very little text, so you need to make your text economical. I cut back the dialogue in the early panels, and I lost some clarity for this, but it works well enough.
Panels 3 and 4 set up the final joke quite nicely, but they add very little to the comic in terms of content. The visuals are dull, and the dialogue is somewhat drawn out. You have space in the “unrealistic list of demands” for some comedy, but overall it’s not really worth the effort. Cutting these panels loses the exposition that explains the situation in the final panel, but in this case I felt that it’s pretty easy to infer that something along the lines of these panels happened if they’re absent.
So, the final strip turns in at three panels. Artwork was pretty easy to run, although the table in panel 3 is way too tall compared to the people. I didn’t feel like re-drawing anything after I realized the scale problems, so I kind of fudged Joey in front of the table to cover it up. Worked okay.
With that done, drop the “unreasonable demands” idea into the alt-text, give it a random title, and stick a fork in it.