Data Comic Story Patterns

By Richie Lionell

* Last updated on 5 January 2021

Work in progress

Why story patterns for data comics?

Insight reports usually lack a human touch. Since we find stories appealing, let's introduce comic stories at work to add a human touch. Data Comic stories make insight reports more palatable.

Folks do agree that comic stories are useful & enjoyable, but don't know where to start. To make life easier, we've identified common story patterns and applied them to data comics. We are putting this together as a starter template (Work in progress) in a Powerpoint deck. Please write to us at and we'll share the most recent version.

Common story patterns

You must have come across short comic strips in newspapers. These comic strips communicate a short message impactfully in just 3 to 4 panels. The 3-panel or 4-panel comic comes in handy to communicate insights in short installments. They are useful since they take less time to create and to consume.

Here are common story patterns (WIP) you could use along with the 3-panel comic structure;

  • Then vs Now
  • Assumption vs Fact
  • Can you tell me?

Pattern #1 - Then vs Now

One of the most common reporting scenarios is a comparison of what happened then and now. For example;

  • How much was bitcoin worth 5 years ago? How about now?
  • What was Player A's first-serve percentage at the beginning of his career? How about now?
  • What was Venezuela's inflation rate in October 2018? What was the rate in Oct 2019?

A stark difference in values between a specific time interval makes the case for an interesting Then vs Now story.

Pattern #2 - Assumption vs Fact

People make assumptions of the state of business, the worth of a product and so on. They are in for a surprise when you prove otherwise with data. This brings us to our next story pattern - Assumption vs Fact.

Pattern #3 - Can you tell me?

The simplest way to make someone think is by asking a question. The answer is given supported by a chart as visual proof.

Since these patterns are frequently used, they might get a bit boring on subsequent use. Here are a few suggestions to sustain interest;

  • Use different phrases for the dialogues
  • Try different panel layouts
  • Start a series (for example #AskTheProfessor) with a couple of characters (For inspiration see - Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, Dilbert, Hagar the Horrible)
  • Create gifs once in a while with subtle animation
  • Write catchy headers for each comic strip
  • Use humour when appropriate

The first version of a basic data comic story template is available as a slide deck. Please write to us at for a copy.


  • Bach, B., Wang, Z., Farinella, M., Murray-Rust, D., & Henry Riche, N. (2018, April). Design patterns for data comics. In Proceedings of the 2018 chi conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 1-12).
  • What is Data Storytelling? by Storylabs