Stop drawing stupid pictures and tell a story (How Eminem & Megan Fox can teach you a lesson)

This is a post for comic book creators…if you’re not an aspiring writer or artist, you’re still allowed to read. 🙂

Have you ever watched a movie or a TV show with the sound off? Could you tell what was happening based solely on the actors’ gestures and expressions, the sets, the lighting, the editing and the camera angles?

Or were you scratching your head, wondering what the hell was going on?

Although some directors rely more on the ‘show’ (visuals) than the ‘tell’ (dialogue) as a comic book creator you need to be equally versed in both. Even on the writer’s side, you need to craft a compelling visual tale that your artist can easily follow so she can bring it to life on the page.

Take a look at this video: Love the Way You Lie by Eminem and Rhianna. If you’ve never seen this video before, watch it on mute and just follow along with the visual narrative.

Even though the events happen out of sequence, you get a very good sense of what is happening, and the emotions clearly come through without words (Yes, Megan Fox can emote! Someone call CNN!)

Anyone can draw a goddamned picture.

OK, that’s not exactly true. But if you study lighting, anatomy, and a couple basic principals for long enough (and fill enough sketch pads) you will produce a decent drawing at some point.

But a great artist does not always = a great comic book artist.

Some of the best artists in the world – technically proficient wizards with pinpoint accuracy – are terrible storytellers. And some artists who can’t draw anything more detailed than a poorly-sketched manga character produce a compelling visual narrative page-after-page.

This is by far the most overlooked element by comic book creators.

Of course I’m not breaking any new ground here, or telling you anything you probably don’t already know. But to design a great comic book page, you need to walk the reader, panel by panel, through the story with perfect clarity. And you can’t rely on dialogue alone to do the job.

Here are five things I personally would like to see a lot more of in the magical medium of comic books.

(Side note: I’m far from an expert. If you want to learn from the pros, I suggest starting with a Scott McCloud book – when it comes to telling a story through sequential art, this man writes the bibles.

1. Start wide. Don’t zoom in on everything. Set the stage with a long shot (fancy insiders sometimes call this an ‘establishing shot’.) How the heck are we supposed to know where the story is taking place if you don’t show us?

2. Don’t break panels. This isn’t Image circa 1992, and you don’t need to have every character smashing though every panel as if all hell is about to break loose. This is often confusing, cluttered, and takes away from the story.

Basically pick up any Rob Liefeld comic and see what he did back then…and then don’t do it.

3. Keep it moving. Don’t dwell on any one action unless there is a good reason.

Someone is drinking a coffee? One panel – done.

I don’t need to see a panel of the milk being poured, the spoon mixing in the sugar, the guy blowing the steam off, the first sip, etc. (unless there is a REALLY good reason).

4. Stay dynamic. Throw in an overhead shot, a unique angle or an exaggerated perspective shot once in a while. Keep the reader interested.

5. But not too dynamic. Sometimes an artist can overreach. If you’re new(ish) to the drawing thing, better to keep things simple than push it too far beyond your capabilities. Perspective can be tricky, so don’t go overboard with craziness (see point #2).

Finally, if you’re in the mood, here is a fun exercise you can do in 20-30 minutes, and I promise you’ll learn a lot:

Put on an action or sci-fi movie that you love. Pause it periodically, and sketch what you see. Then play, pause, and sketch again. Try to do 5 pages of storyboarding with different angles, and you’ll have an idea of how the pros lay out a scene.

Every movie has at least a few guys (sometimes current or former comic book artists) that storyboard their films, and layout the entire film, shot-by-shot.

(This is better than just going through a comic book and copying the layouts and artwork, because you’ll be drawing from an image rather that someone else’s art.)

So go out, kick some asses and tell us a story.

We can’t wait to read it. 🙂

Love you guys (and girls)!
Blake xo

PS: Want a new BFF on Facebook? Me too! Send me a friend request and I’ll approve you. Unless you’re a creepy stalker, part of a cult, or Glen Beck.

PPS: Follow me on Twitter if you’re not already!

PPPS: More blog posts will be coming in short order…I promise! If you have a suggestion for one, please let me know by sending me a DM on Twitter or a message on Facebook.

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10 Responses to Stop drawing stupid pictures and tell a story (How Eminem & Megan Fox can teach you a lesson)

  1. “1. Start wide. ”

    Best. Advice. Ever.
    I totally miss seeing wide panels showing scenery, or say, a large group of people. Whether it be a full two-page spread or a small panel, I want to see some depth in my comics.

    Awesome read.

  2. DeemarCCW says:

    I pretty much concur

    I’d say for any aspiring comic artists (Me included) Jr Jr

    That John Romita Jr, is the guy to pay attention too, master storyteller. He’s not flashy, but he gets it done.

  3. DeemarCCW says:

    Oh and Megan Fox emoting? Pish Sha!

  4. philbyday says:

    Real good insights. I’m going 2 find a way 2 implement much of what u said if I ever get my comic off the ground. Also…u can’t go wrong w/Scott McCloud, but if it’s not 2 intrusive I’d like 2 also suggest Will Eisners: Comics & Sequential Art and Tom Nguyen’s: Incredible Comics. The former; a book that stresses storytelling by way of illustrative staging, as well as using light and shade 2 emphasize a story’s tension and whatnot. The latter is more of a paint by numbers book,…kind of an updated How 2 Draw Comics The Marvel Way, but minus the Marvel characters

    Just my two cents. Regard or disregard as u wish.
    Thx 4 giving a damn, Blake.

  5. Sharon says:

    Fantastic advice.

    And i agree with the first responder, establish!

  6. Jaime says:

    nice!!! I really need these!

  7. Yeah it’s been said but there are still artists out there that always make me go back a few panels to make sense of what happened. Like Chris Bachalo. He has a great and unique style, but did anyone understand what the hell Steam Punk was all about? His stuff has gotten better, but there’s still those panels that feel like I’m deciphering hieroglyphics like I’m effin Indiana Jones. And I agree, JR JR is a master and the nicest guy in comics.

    And on another note… The LOTR movies and LOST episodes didn’t compare to the 2 or 3 days of shooting make-out scenes with Megan Fox, for Charlie here (aka Merry). He’d give up the shire to do it again, I bet. Claire who?

  8. Tony Cal says:

    Very good post! I love the part about old Image and Liefeld panels. You bring up some good points indeed.

  9. Aldo Ojeda says:

    Nice article. When I write a comic, I think it as if it were a movie, so I pretty much agree with you. About point 3, it depends on the pace of what you’re trying to tell. Hace you seen the cartoon Samurai Jack? In one long, slow minute you see him drink tea and in the next few seconds, you see slicing dozens of folks, the final outcome is a high contrast about the peace before and the action moments after. This can also be achieved in comics.

  10. Pingback: Woman with blog who likes comic books… honest! | Christopher Williams Books

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