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. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_McCloud)
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)!
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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.