Tuesday, November 18, 2008

From script to page

There are a few consideration when sitting down to draw Cold Iron Badge. First is the amount of story to put on each page. Then there is the number of panels to use to tell the story, and the layout of the panels on the page. Then there is the content of the panels. I go through these steps first as a set of thumbnail drawings, often right on the script pages. I will go through twenty or so pages at a time like that. Then I go to artboards and rough out a scene at a time before going back to ink the pages.

When Stephen gives my a script, the first thing I do is the happy dance (because I even though I helped write the story, I don't know exactly how things will go until it is written, and sometimes Stephen adds a twist of his own.) Then I get to work. I will read through the story again and mark off the page breaks. I try to find a good dramatic spot to end a page. The end of scene is good, especially if it has a twist or cliffhanger element to it (think "You want to arrest you partner?)". This presents a mystery or a question to the readers (that you) that will make you want to see what happens next. I avoid having a scene end in the middle of a page. It just seems a really unnatural page to do it. Not to mention that the page itself will end at an awkward moment.

Once I have the pages broken down, I read through the script again and decide how many panels it will take to tell that bit of story. This is on of the hardest parts of the process for me. As I read the script I can visualize the story as a movie. And if I had to storyboard it, there would be no problem. But this is a comic, not a movie. So what I have to do is translate the movie in my head into a limited number of images. This is most difficult for the action scenes. I love action, especiall kung fu movies. And I really want the action in the comic to shine. That means balancing the drama of the story with my desire to show detailed coreography. (More on this later.)

Once I know the number of panels, I arrange them on the page. This step and the previous are somewhat fluid. There are times I need to add or subtract a panel to get the page to end on the right note, sometimes my idea for the action evolves, requiring a new number of panels. Some times the whole page comes to me at once. These are the easiest to do, because I can just jump in a draw them. Usually they are simple layouts or splash pages. Sometimes I get an idea for a panel or a short sequence of panels. These are not bad to work with either. I just place the sequence on the page and fill in the gaps around it. Sometimes I get nothing. A blank. Like right now. I know what I want to put on the page but I am not sure where to start. When that happens I default to a nine panel grid. I originally thought I would do the whole comic in a grid, like Watchmen. I give a great deal of control over pacing to the writer and, most importantly for me, it removes on level of decision making. All the panels are exactly the same. But when I started to draw, the first shot of Puck just screamed out to be bigger. So I decided to follow my gut on that one and I am happy with the results. But when I get stuck, I do fall back on the tried and true.

Once the page is laid out, I compose the images with the panels. I used to hate the rule of thirds, because it struck me as being formulaic. But I have to admit that it does work. Check out the Watchmen, if you don't believe me. The focus of nearly every panel is on a third. So I have been using that a lot. I probably should spend more time thumbnailing the actual compositions but I will admit to taking short cuts here. I follow my instincts at to where to place everything in the frame. This often lead to a lot of erasing and redrawing. But as long as the paper can take the abuse I will continue on.

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