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Thread: Week 34- Grab Bag

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 34- Grab Bag

    Hello, everyone. I'm guessing it's Tuesday, so it's time for some more Bolts & Nuts.

    Time flies when you're having fun, huh?

    Okay, this week is going to be something of a grab bag of stuff. I'm going to grab stuff from here and there, and see where it leads us. It'll be fun! Let's start.

    Item: Space in comics. If you don't already know, I've started another column called The Proving Grounds, right here on Project Fanboy. The ultimate thrust of that is to edit scripts for you, showing you what's being done right, but more importantly, what's being done wrong. As anyone who knows me slightly will tell you that I'm hard but fair. So, keep sending in those scripts! It's first come, first served, and of this writing, I have 9 weeks worth of scripts in my inbox., folks. Alright, that's done.

    Now, I was editing a script and noticed some things were going on with it. Besides boring me to tears [that's going to be another item], there was a misappropriation of space.

    I may not have said it here formally, and if I haven't, then I apologize. I know I've said before that when it comes to the comics page, panels are time. A splash page takes less time to read than ten panels on a page. So, the correlation is that the more panels you have, the more you slow the page down, and the less panels on the page, the more you speed time up. I've said this before, so it's nothing new.

    However, what I don't recall saying is that the more panels you have on the page, the less space each individual panel can take up. (Steven, of all the stupid...) Trust me, if I didn't see it for myself time and again, I wouldn't be bringing it up. It's simple physics, I know, but it has to be said.

    I want you all to think of a box, decently sized. Let's call it a moving box. The bigger the items you put in the box, the less you can fit in it. The smaller the items, the more you can pack in there. Simple, yes? Well, the comics page is the box, and the panels are the items. (Saw that one from a mile away...) I know. Now, the more panels you have on the page, the less text you can fit. I've said that. That's not new.

    What's new is the panel descriptions. The more you pack into a panel description, the further away the camera has to be. If you didn't want all the information to be in the panel, why are you putting it in there? If you're telling me that it's a sunny day at the beach, with seagulls in the sky, footsteps being washed away with the tide, and we see Aunt Bunny laying on a towel, soaking up the rays, shades on her face, and you want a close up of her bikini bottom, why put in all the other information? Almost everything else in that panel description is a waste, and you're misleading the artist into thinking they have to frame that from a wide angle when instead they need to come in tight on the bikini bottoms.

    Yes, I'll call you on it time and again.

    I also want you to understand that except for a nine panel grid, a comic page can only comfortably hold 7 panels. More than that, and you're going to get panels that are smaller and smaller. If this is something you're realizing and incorporating into the setup of the page, that's fine. If you're just writing and not realizing it, that's not fine. You're going to try to put a fa-billion panels on the page with about a million words, and you're going to wonder why it's not coming out the way you want it to.

    Do yourself and your editor a favor. Keep your word count down to about 200 words on the page, and your panel count at or below seven. (Steven, you're stifling my creativity!) No, I'm not. I'm trying to help you get a job. Once you get some writing credits under you, once you get some trust from your publisher, then you can start stretching your wings. However, when you go read comics, actually look at what you're reading. Study what's going on with the page layout and how many panels are on the page. You'll see that I'm telling you to toe a certain line. That line, if toed correctly, will help you get work.

    Item: Being boring. There are few things that frost my buns, and being boring when you tell a story is one of them. The bulk of you reading this are still trying to get your shot, hoping to write the epic of Pen-Man. That's fine. That's great, in fact. Don't be boring about it. Boring is death.

    Here is your situation: you're writing the first issue of a limited series. It's your baby, and you're sending it out to publishers, hoping for a nibble. You wrote the issue with pizazz and panache, and think you've got the Great American Comic on your hands. Riches and glory will be yours! But all you sent in was a script, and all the interesting stuff starts on page six. The editor didn't get to page six. The editor threw it in the trash by page three. Why? Because you bored them to death.

    As a new writer looking for your first gig, you have to hit the reader fast, you have to hit them hard, and you have to be on target. “Almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. START OUT WITH YOUR BANG! Don't try to be subtle and try to get your point across. Subtlety only helps to get you thrown in the trash. Grab your reader by the short hairs as soon as you can, and don't let go until there aren't any more pages to turn. If you think you're going to do a slow burn and have it be interesting, I'm going to be the first to tell you that the only one who's going to find it interesting is you. You're a new writer. You don't have time for a slow burn. You need an explosion, and you need it as soon as you can get it.

    Anything less than that, and you're not going to get the gig.

    Here's a sample of what I'm talking about: I'm writing a graphic novel, and I'm doing it as a webcomic. [You'll be able to see it soon enough.] {UPDATE! is one, and is the other!} On page one, my main character starts to see things they know aren't there. One panel, things are normal, the next is the vision, the next is the return to normalcy. BANG! Got your interest, didn't I? You want to know what that vision was about. Then I go have them pop some pills. You're now asking what that's about, right? Then they go home and have a flashback. Woohoo! Some questions answered, more asked. Little things to grab your attention, and the more I grab, the harder it is to let go. By the time I reach page seven (SEVEN?! Steven....) Yes, page seven. Why? Because I peppered you with attention grabbers up until then. By the time I reach page seven, I should have you, and I'm not letting go. If I didn't pepper it, if I just told the story without any flashbacks or visions, I wouldn't have your attention until page seven. I'd probably lose you by page 4, unless my dialogue was interesting enough to hold you.

    Start with your bang. Don't be boring. I want you to live.

    Item: Goals. What are your goals, and how are you going about achieving them? Whatever your goals, I thank you for making Bolts & Nuts a part of achieving them, and I'll be looking for name checks, real checks, and outpourings of gratitude in your books from here until eternity. [That's a joke, folks. I thank you for reading the column, but everything after that was said with tongue planted firmly in cheek.] But really, what are your goals?

    Goals are something that most people don't know how to manage. The first thing you have to realize is that a goal has to be identifiable, quantifiable, and most of all, achievable. They also need a plan, and that plan has to be implemented. If anything out of that is missing, it's not a goal, it's a dream. Dreams are great, and even achievable if they're turned into goals, but goals and dreams are not interchangeable. Never think they are.

    Goals. Setting goals means you need to have a plan in order to achieve them. If you don't have a plan, you don't have a goal. You have a dream. I guess it's time for more sharing.

    My goal: in 2011, I want to hit the Big Apple Con and SDCC with my own table and three books of my own. I've identified and quantified my goal. I think it's achievable. So what's my plan? Do my three graphic novels on the web, and then collect them in order to sell them. Okay, that's a plan. We'll see if it's decent later. I've implemented my plan already: I have one artist working on a story already. I have another artist working on a different story, but they want to try traditional publishing first. So, that'll be submitted when it's ready. If the publishers give it a pass, I'll turn it in to a webcomic and we'll go from there. So, we'll call that 1.5 stories. I need another 1.5, right? I have another artist who's interested in doing a story with me, and we're going to move on that when he's free. He's doing cards for Topps or Upper Deck or something right now. So, I'll call that another .5. So, I just need 1. (What about Fallen Justice, the book you did with Cary?) Gravy. It's extra. (And the big project in the wings?) Dessert, if it comes together. I still need 1. (Are you looking?) Not yet. I have a formula that seems to work, and I'm just waiting until I have enough money to do it.

    The important thing to take away from it is this: I have a goal, and the tools to achieve it. It's already implemented. The last part of having a goal is implementing the plan to achieve it. Really, if you have everything needed to achieve a goal but haven't implemented the plan, then you don't really have a goal but a dream. Goals need implementation of the plan. Dreams are good, but I believe goals are better. Goals mean you're moving forward. Just remember to set them appropriately. Short term ones that build up to long term goals.

    My long term goal? Do some writing for Marvel. My dream? Get an Icon book. See the difference there?

    Item: Procrastination. I love to procrastinate. I do. (Coulda fooled me. You haven't missed a week yet!) I know. Like I said before, I like to work ahead as much as possible. This allows me to procrastinate!

    I'm going to tell you now, procrastination is the devil. Doing nothing is so nice and relaxing and seductive and pretty and sexy. We'd all do nothing if we could. As it is, we do just enough to get by. [Don't get me started...] But procrastination is the devil, and I'm going to tell you to resist. When it comes to writing, the more you don't, the more you won't. (Seems I've heard that before...) [Sounds really familiar, don't it?]

    Right now, I have two stories to write, and I've been putting it off for a while. I'm almost thirty pages into one [the webcomic], and about twelve into the other. One's horror, the other sci-fi. Because the artists are working on them, and I'm not pressed for script at the moment, I've been putting it off. Instead, I've been getting ahead on these columns, editing the scripts for The Proving Grounds, and thinking about other stories, as well as doing some paid editing work. But, because I work ahead, I'm able to do the little bit of procrastination that I do. I'll be able to jump back into those stories and not have either of the columns or the paid work suffer because of it.

    If you procrastinate, you'll always be under the gun, behind the eight ball, running behind, choose your metaphor. It's not the best place to be, and few of us produce quality work under those conditions. Right now, you don't have to worry about it—you're still trying to get your first gig. And even then, your first gig may be something short. If you're going to bite the bullet and self-publish, you're going to need the discipline of writing every day in order to stay ahead, because being behind is death. (Lots of things are either death or the devil, Steven.) I know. Disheartening, isn't it? But if I can save one of you from either death or the devil, I've done my job.

    Item: Staying current. If you have a Gmail account, you have access to an RSS reader. There are others out there, and I'll be the first to admit I'm not the most hip when it comes to technology, but I like Google. I use Google Chrome as my browser, and I have four different tabs open whenever I open up the browser: Digital Webbing, Gmail, Reader [by Google], and one other. I come to Project Fanboy a lot and will leave the tab open about half the time, but I don't have it set as a homepage.

    I set the reader to subscribe mostly to comic book stuff, and a little tech stuff. [And tennis...] I no longer have to go to all the sites in order to stay current, and this saves me a TON of time. I scan the headlines, and read what interests me. Even the things that don't interest me, I'm aware of. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: as a comic writer, you have to be aware of what other people are doing. You have to. If you don't, you're setting yourself up for failure. It doesn't get simpler than that.

    So do yourself the favor of setting up whatever RSS reader system you're comfortable with and stay current. Here are the things you're looking for: anything that impacts a story you're writing or want to write [Mark Waid's Irredeemable is a great example of this for me], anything that impacts indy comics [Diamond benchmark changes, anyone?], anything dealing with craft, anything dealing with interviews with editors. Be informed. This will make you a better creator. It just takes some time.

    Item: Tyler James asks when should you decide to self-publish. The answer, unfortunately, is not satisfying. “It depends.” Let me explain.

    If you're trying to sell a tale about a zombie cellphone that's married to a dark lord of the Sith, with a side story about a troupe of rabid monkeys out to take over a Styrofoam peanut making plant and you're not getting any traction with any of the places you're submitting the stories to, then it's time to take a hard look at what you're submitting. Is it the artwork? Is it the story? Is it something that's just quirky and won't fit anywhere? Or are you a control freak, and just want to do it all yourself? Is self-publishing something you've always wanted to do? Everyone's situation is different, and their reasons for self-publishing are myriad.

    The reason most people start self-publishing, I would think, is because no one else wants to publish the stories they want to tell. Just because you're afraid that the fuzzy bunny slippers are trying to take over the world and want to communicate that with the rest of the world doesn't mean that Dark Horse wants to publish the story. Decide for yourself if this is something you want to sink a lot of time and money into.

    Unsatisfying, I know, but there it is.

    Item: Submission Do's and Dont's. While I'm on the subject of self-publishing and Tyler James, he also asked what to do and what not to do when it comes to submitting work.

    Submissions are pretty simple. When you go to a publisher's website and look up their guidelines, FOLLOW THEM. Follow them to the letter. They're there for a reason. If there are no guidelines, write and ask for them. If they're not interested, they'll let you know.

    I'm going to tell you right now, there are few companies that are interested in us as writers. There are a LOT of us out there. My grandmother can throw a rock and hit about five of us in the head, and she's got cataracts and isn't in the best of health. Recently, someone went through a lot of work to catalog the companies still accepting submissions. Even of those, there are a lot that aren't looking for writers, or not just writers, so it's hard for us to get our foot in the door. Sucks, but that's the reality we all have to live with.

    The sad part? Some of you have trouble following directions. You're in such a rush to get things out the door that you don't slow down and take the time to make sure things are right. A perfect example is The Proving Grounds. My rules are simple, and still, there's at least three of you who haven't followed the directions. One I corrected, one corrected themselves, and one hasn't noticed yet. I placed my rules in a certain way, and put up a sticky for them for all to see, so it wouldn't get buried under a ton of posts.

    The simple rules are these: DO follow a company's submission guidelines to the letter. DO NOT give them more than they ask for, DO NOT try and put the pages in a pretty colored binder with page protectors and other frippery that won't matter one whit in terms of story or publishability. They don't care, and the money you spent on that could have been put to better use.

    This is most important. If and when you get rejected, DO NOT make snide comments, get indignant, name-call, or make any type of demands. DON'T do it in public. DON'T do it on their site. DON'T do it on your blog. DON'T do it in any place where you can be traced. All you're doing is making sure you won't get work from that publisher. Ever. Either ever, or until your as big as Moore, whichever comes first. I cannot stress this enough. Just don't do it. (Vehement much, Steven?) There are stories of people doing just this, and then they wonder why they don't get work anywhere. They've shown themselves to be unprofessional, and really not someone another person wants to work with. They brought things on themselves. I don't want you to be these people. Be polite, thank them for their time, and move on.

    Item: Camera angles in panel descriptions. Been going over this a lot recently in The Proving Grounds, so I thought it was time to bring it up again. There's a vein of thought that camera angles aren't necessary, and that they constrain the artist. Here's my take on camera angles in panel descriptions.

    A lot of it depends on the writer. Camera angles aren't always needed, and sometimes, they're needed to get across exactly what you want. If I can see a panel in my head, then that's one thing. If I can't, then a camera angle is going to be needed as a frame of reference. [This is predicated on the assumption that the panel can be drawn.] Let's take Harry Durnan's script, which was first up in The Proving Grounds.

    Harry didn't put much of camera angles in some of his descriptions, and I couldn't really see some of the panels in my head. Some of them worked better than others. There was one panel in particular I remember where I said it would be better if the view was from slightly behind the council of wizards, looking down on his main character. I said that in my edits, and then when I finally saw the artwork a few days later, that was exactly how the artist drew it.

    If there are multiple ways a panel can be drawn due to the way the description is written, then as the writer, you need to do one of two things: you need to either put in a camera angle, or you need to tell the artist you're not particular about the angle. Let me say that again: you need to either put in a camera angle, or you need to tell your artist you're not particular about the angle.

    Thinking that putting in a camera angle for an artist hampers them is crap. It's not going to do anything but let you be lazy. If you're not writing every day, then you're lazy enough as it is. The more information you put in your script, especially one that doesn't have an artist attached to it, the less work you have to do later. The artist can always ignore what they don't need, but you'll be answering a lot of questions about what you need if the artist likes to be told what they're going for in the panel. You're just starting out. Unless you've got a lot of money hanging around, you're going to hook up with an artist that is also just starting to get credits to their name. Do yourselves both a favor and put in the camera angles when they're needed. Knowing when they're needed is something that I can't tell you. Just like there's no set way to write a script, there's no exact time as to when to put in or leave out a camera angle. It takes some time to get a knack for it.

    Item: Page layouts in the script. I'm not a fan of them unless they're used for a specific purpose. Let the artist know that you're going for a specific look, and that's why you're laying out that particular page for them. If they understand what you need and why you need it, they're more likely to get it right when you need it. Don't be afraid to make whatever notes need to be made in the script in order to get your vision across. A sample of what I'm talking about is simply this: “Graeme, I'm seeing five overlapping black panels, and they should form an eye in the middle, but if you have a better idea, go for it.” Notes aren't just for the artist, they can be for anyone in the creative team.

    Item: Talking to your artists in the script. Like I wrote above, it's totally okay and appropriate to “talk” to your artist in the script. To “talk” to anyone in the script, really. You're breaking the narrative a little in order to get across exactly what's needed. If the script is a set of instructions, then talking to the creative team in the script is akin to an illustration to make the point. I wouldn't suggest overdoing it, but its something that definitely can and should be done within the confines of the script to get your point across. Just try to keep the notes short. No one wants to read rambling unless it's both genius and pertinent.

    That's really about it for this week. A couple of different topics to talk about before getting to webcomics, though. Don't worry, it's coming.

    See you next week!
    Any specific questions, ask them in this thread, and I'll answer them. If it's something of a more delicate nature, e-mail me. I check my e-mail constantly, and will do my best to get back to you within twenty-four hours, depending on the number of you who decide to flood my inbox. No attachments, please. They'll be deleted without being opened. (I know, I know, but blame the virus-makers.)

  2. harryd Guest

    First! And, for those of use who are hoping not to self-publish, it is nice to see a new article on a different topic.

  3. JohnLees Guest

    Really enjoyed this week's column. A nice selection of helpful nuggets of advice. And I'm sure to spend much time looking into that submission list link.

  4. JamesFreeman Guest

    Another nice column, but a little question. Does your little 7 panel per page rule still apply to a dialogue heavy page?

    I'm currently working on a script with a three-by-three grid pattern for a long conversation.

  5. StevenForbes Guest

    Hey, James. Thanks for asking.

    You can do anything in the script you want, just as long as you let the artist know what you're going for. Tell them to leave a lot of space for dialogue. That often helps. It also helps to pull the camera out a lot. You don't have to worry about covering detail with text that way. But the less panels you have, the more space you have for text. If you try to put 500 words in a 12 panel page, that's not going to work at all. An extreme closeup of someone's face with more than 10 words on it doesn't work well either, in my opinion.

    (An aside: I've never been a fan of the word "little" to describe something that isn't. It's belittling. "He went out with his little friends." If they're not midgets or grenade launchers, then they're not little. Using the word "little" to describe something that isn't can lessen the perceived value--either in someone else's eyes, or what they perceive your thoughts on the object in question to be.

    ("He went out with his little friends." The person saying this can be perceived to think the friends don't have real value. This may be true, or it may not be. What's more likely is that the person saying this will be perceived as not liking the other person's friends.

    (Sensitive about it? More than likely, and I'll fully admit that. If you're going to ask me a question about craft, and use something I said in your question, I'd appreciate it if you didn't describe it as "little." Used in the manner here, I personally take it as a term of disrespect.


  6. CalvinCamp Guest


    I've asked this before, I know, but I'm really trying to wrap my head around this and not succeeding. So I figured it couldn't hurt to ask again.

    You say that you're not a fan of putting panel layouts in the script and seem to advise against doing it. What I can't figure out is why you don't like it. You say it's okay if it serves a special purpose, but I can't help thinking that getting the page I see in my head is a special purpose. So...

    Why do you feel that it should only be done in special circumstances? What is the reasoning behind your preference?

    How is including panel layouts detrimental to the process in a way that calling out a camera angle isn't? If calling out a camera angle doesn't hamper the artist, then why does calling out a specific panel layout hamper the artist?

    Switching topics...
    Your webcomics look pretty cool. I'll be sure to keep an eye on them.

    One thing, though, on Bullet Time - the image is really pixelated & jaggy. Makes the art less slick than it could be and the lettering really hard to read.

  7. StevenForbes Guest

    No problem, Calvin. I'm here to serve.

    Here's what I mean by special purpose: if the page has to be laid out a certain way in order to get across the mood/enhance the story you're telling.

    Page 3
    Graeme, it's been raining on so far in this story, and I really want to drive it home. I want this page laid out something like a gutter on a house, with the rain dripping off it. The top panel will be widescreen but thinnish, with the bottom edge dripping water/panels. The panels that run underneath the first panel should all be formed like raindrops, and will hold small moments in time. There's going to be a LOT of these panels, but I need at least five decently sized ones in the forefront. The rest can contain whatever you want, and be placed in the mid- and background.

    That's what I'm talking about. What I've done here is told Graeme McFreelancer how I want the page set up, and why. Hopefully, it's enough to get him in the mood I'm trying to evoke, and when the thumbnails come in, it will be something near what I asked for.

    Laying out the page is VERY intrusive. The more seasoned artists don't like it. (Then again, a lot of seasoned pro artists don't like full scripts, either.) You can cut up the boards, you can splatter ink all over them, you can go over lines in blood. Need a dash of mud for an effect? Go for it! Mess with the layout? That can piss off your seasoned artist.

    If you must do it, do it sparingly.

    Camera angles in panel descriptions, on the other hand, is telling how you see it. When you start working with artists, a lot of times they'll ask you if it's okay to change around a panel. They have an idea to make it more interesting, and they're helping to serve the story. I have yet to work with an artist who didn't ask me if it was okay to go a different way with a panel or a page.

    My stock answer is this: Graeme, unless I'm specifically calling for something and it needs to happen a certain way, just think of the script as a guide.

    You tell that to an artist, and they'll love you, because you gave them freedom to do what they think would be best for the story. They'll also try to stick closer to what you want or are trying to get across because you gave them that freedom. It's almost like an unconscious need to be worthy of the freedom you've just given them.

    You've told them they aren't just the artmonkey, they're a part of the team telling the story. And when you need to lay out that page or the camera angle HAS to be from the sun, they'll respect your wishes and draw it that way. If they think they have a better idea and you called for something specifically, they'll talk to you about it.

    This is why I advocate communication. Talk to the artists, either on the phone or through the script. Use e-mail. Get some kinks straightened out before they start drawing, and get the rest out on a case by case basis.

    Keeping this in mind, you'll have happier artists working with you, and they may even come back for more.

    Switching gears:

    Thanks! Has everyone seen the second page of Group? This once a week update is KILLING ME! I want you all to read it and read it NOW! I'm dying over here!

    As for Bullet Time, it may be the scale. I'll look into it, see if I can fix it. I'm going to ask you to shoot me an e-mail in a little while, tell me whether or not it looks better. When I open it on my browser, it looks fine to me.

    Thanks again, Calvin.

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