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Thread: The Comics Panel Time-Master--PART 3: Learning To Control Consideration Inside Panels

  1. drgerb Guest

    I must say after thinking this would be totally hard, it really wasn't once I sat down with the intentions of doing it. Just start at point a, add in some elements, and tada: done. I can't tell what I think of any of my examples / added in elements. I can't tell what works better. Originally this panel was an idea for an opening page of a comic but there wouldn't be any speech (other than maybe the first 'Well, Hell...'). There'd be a narration going of, 'It started with a body... S*** always does. Then it usually hits the fan.' I added that as dialogue for one of the characters, rather than a narration. I think that specific quote works much better as a narration than as a speech balloon, but oh well. And having an image like this with silence, or just one character's internal monologue, to me, has a bigger effect on what we're seeing as the reader. And I think leaving it silent brings in the reader faster and more to get them to turn the page to see what the H***'s up. Anyway... Here it is:

    A dimly lit seedy looking room with a table covered with cigarettes, alcohol bottles and poker cards in the middle ground. The background is the wall of the room, a window near the ceiling (but thick glass unable to see outside through). The wall is littered with posters advertising 'the world's largest circus.' Smoke is slowly rising toward the smokey ceiling from the numerous ash trays.

    Tony, a circus clown with long blue hair is standing on the left side of the panel, cigarette in mouth, staring at the ground in front of him.

    Clyde, a second circus clown who is a bit larger as tony is standing next to him on the right, mouth hanging open and scratching his head.

    Donnie, a third obese gay circus clown is standing to the right of Clyde, and is about the size of three average men. He is fighting back a tear in his eye.

    Lou, the fourth and final circus clown is sitting on a wooden chair pulled out from underneath the table a bit to the right of Donnie. He has a blank 'Charles Mansonesque' stare in his eyes, and is holding a grenade with one hand, his arm resting on his knee.

    On the floor of the room and in the foreground (just in front of the four clowns) is a beautiful young girl who's dressed as a hooker, laying face down with a small pool of blood around her face. She has long curly blonde hair, some of which appears 'dyed' red from her blood.

    Tony: Well, hell...

    Clyde: This is some f***ed up s*** right here.

    Donnie: I've never seen something so... (trails off)

    Lou: Don't fret Donnie.

    Lou: Somebody f***ed up all right.

    Added dialogue:

    Tony: Well, Hell... Just when I thought the night couldn't get any worse.

    Clyde: This is some f***ed up s*** right here. Hell, it starts with a body. S*** always does. Then it usually hits the fan.

    Donnie: I've never seen something so... So sad in my entire life.

    Lou: Don't fret Donnie. Nobody dies on our clock.

    Lou: Somebody f***ed up all right. And when we figure out who, there's gonna be Hell to pay.

    Split balloons:

    Tony: Well, Hell...

    Tony: Just when I thought the night couldn't get any worse.

    Clyde: This is some f***ed up s*** right here.

    Clyde: Hell, it starts with a body. S*** always does.

    Clyde: Then it usually hits the fan.

    Donnie: I've never seen something so...

    Donnie: ...So sad in my entire life.

    Lou: Don't fret Donnie. Nobody dies on our clock.

    Lou: Somebody f***ed up all right. And when we figure out who...

    Lou: ...There's gonna be Hell to pay.

    Edit: The hardest part, after rereading my post, was adding in the extra bits of dialogue. Once I threw in the first lines, I had this kind of trail going. And going in halfway, breaking it up into chunks and adding in new dialogue was a bit rough. I felt like I'd mess up the trail I originally planned. Having each character kinda trail off, or elaborate on what he first said seems to kinda kill the next character's bit. I dunno... It just felt a bit weird. But it's good to see a panel with added elements, and judging it in comparison to the other versions.
    Last edited by drgerb; Saturday, January 02, 2010 at 03:38 PM.

  2. LeeNordling Guest

    Now, Roberts, let's try this again, starting from scratch, from left to right.

    Not overview to specifics (the way too many comics writers end up writing stuff that isn't clear).

    Then, as assigned, single image element, add an image, keep adding till there are five. Show each incarnation.

    Go back.

    Add a balloon to the single image panel, then add another to the panel with two elements, etc.

    Think of this as playing scales on the piano.

    Show us each note...from left to right.


  3. drgerb Guest

    Man, it's so confusing. Lol. I first thought my example was an easy way out. Basically one action, and 4 reactions. Bleh. Maybe I misunderstood the lesson.

    Ahh, so how many examples / variations of the panel will we have in the end?

    One panel. One character, add another, add another, another, and another.

    Then one balloon to the first panel (one character), then a second balloon to the second panel (two characters), and keep going until we have five balloons and five characters in a single panel? Right?

    Scales on a piano. Gah, see I'm a guitar player / bassist here. I don't do pianos. Just simple little keyboards to understand the patterns behind the meaning, all that gibberish.

    I was thinking chords. In each chord, there's multiple notes, and each note is often times played more than once. Like an A minor chord (depressing, oo how I love thee) is made up of the notes, A C E... I <3 C major scales. Makes it simple. No sharps, no flats. But you might play an A minor chord with 2 A's, 2 C's, and 1 E. Or if you play another variation of it, you might have 1 A, 1 C, and 3 E's. Hypothetically, anything works. A thousand A's, three C's, and an E. But you NEED those three notes, and only those three notes to make up an A minor chord. Anything more (another note) will kill it.

    Anyway... But yeah... Umm...

    So where did I fail? Was it that I had one static image, a reaction and an action, and four characters reacting to one? I did go left to right. Or are side comments / personal remarks not as good enough as like... Dialogue balloons?

    Are you looking for action here? Adding multiple actions? Rather than just one static image? I mean.. Like... Okay, okay. I might understand... How I went through with it killed my attempt. If I take the same panel / idea, but go about it another way maybe I'll have it. Lemme sleep on it. Then I'll get back to it. Thanks for the reply...

    And anyone who hasn't tried this out yet, seriously. Do it. Try it. Take five minutes, maybe fifteeen if you're a perfectionist, or thirty if you've Calvin (jk)... But seriously, what's fifteen minutes wasted time? No big deal. 24 hours in a day. This is fifteen minutes that'll teach you something.. And how to look at something. And in that, you'll be able to understand it better, to more fully grasp the concept. What's fifteen minutes? Three commercial breaks. I think we all know how many of them we watch in any given day. :/

  4. LeeNordling Guest

    You wrote a scene, then stuck people in it.

    Try writing the scene and people together, left to right.


    Because writing a scene and sticking people in it isn't how your readers are going to view the panel.

    And so it's not clear what is important from left to right.

    As I've written, this is going to seem easier than it is...but until you can do this, you're not really explaining well how you see the there's a good chance it'll get misinterpreted by an artist, etc.


    PS. Looking for action? There is no action in comics, remember? Don't even think that way. I don't care what you long as you think it's important to capturing what's important about the image. For all I care, it could be five statues or five people, from loser to winner, in the midst of running, with different levels of apparent effort towards the finish line of a race, with the winner just crossing the finish line...with the least amount of effort.

    It doesn't matter what panel you write, as long as you write it clearly and...(here it comes)...with intention.

  5. CalvinCamp Guest

    Second question/s (and it's not too early for this one, I think).

    Let's say I want multiple background elements and not just multiple characters with a single background element. Inserting those different background elements into the description would work on the same principle as multiple characters, correct? Just describe them left to right.

    And... I should also break the background elements up to be described left to right along with the character's, correct? Rather than describing only the background left to right, and then afterward describing the characters left to right, I should be describing both the characters and the background, together, left to right. Yes?

  6. LeeNordling Guest

    Hey, Calvin.

    Yep, write the ENTIRE panel as you imagine it, left to right.

    If background stuff is in between characters, then write it that way.

    And we're talking the stuff that's important.

    For example:

    The "DON'T WALK" light is ignored, as Johnny has just stomped off the curb. A jerk flips him the bird, as he hangs out the side of a car that's nearly close enough to run over his toes. A stranded passenger in the center divider is hopping mad, waving a hand at a taxi that's sped by, probably because there's a kid in the back window of the cab making a face and sticking out his tongue at him. Beyond other cars that are at different stages of passing through the intersection on the other side of the divider, an old lady is on the opposite sidewalk, whacking a cowering bum with an umbrella. A newspaper boy is too busy laughing at the bum's misadventure to sell his papers.

    Left to right, from one side of the street to another...with all kinds of crap in between, and lots of context for what each character is doing in this modern day Norman Rockwell portrait of Times Square in NYC. (And yes, at some point, perhaps in a previous panel, this would've had to have been identified as Times Square...and if this was the first panel showing it, I would need to have identified it at the beginning with: "Times Square; NYC. 1979. Night."


  7. drgerb Guest

    Gah. I'm still wracking my head to understand this. It's funny. Last week it was Calvin not comprehending something and probably making Lee bang his head against the wall. This week Calvin comes in, 'So thiss is like this, right?' Lee: 'Right.' And I'm sitting here completely oblivious to HOW the important elements in a panel read from left to right, and WHY. And how does the trail going from left to right have to 100% all the time completely coincide with the line of order of importance?

    For the record, I am an artist at heart, and while thinking visually can only help you as a comic book writer, there's still that whole left - right hemispheres of the brain thing that comes in. Artists are on the one side, the absract thought, metaphors and visual... The other side is the whole mathematical, analytical, language, writing, that side. And the two halves don't work together; They don't intercommunicate and chat back and forth. One half usually takes precedense over the other, and my artsy side is screaming at myself right now, totally confused over this whole issue.

    And the artist inside struggling to get out reminds me of an art class in college I had. The teacher explained all about a piece of artwork (that I'm imagining being a single panel). I hope if I say a painting is just a comic book panel without words and narration, that's a fair (albeit very broad) judgement?

    Well in that class, the teacher talks about this thing called Focus. The Focus on the panel is the thing you immediately look at and the thing you remember (in music, it'd be the chorus, the part you get stuck in your head, and in books, in my opinion, as with comic books, it'd be the meaning / the moral of the story)... So you generally don't put the focus into the middle, cause that's the first place the eye looks at. You throw it somewhere else. Blah blah. But if a painting can be anything other than left to right, in order of important elements, why do comic book panels always have to be left to right?

    When I read a comic book, and maybe this is my inner artist coming out, maybe I read them differently than other comic book fans, I dunno. But when I read one, I move my eyes all across the panel at first. The art, look at the scene, get myself into the scene, then I go back to the left and start with the narration. Because dialogue and balloons DO go from left to right. But for me, the artwork, the characters, the visual part doesn't have to always go from left to right in order of importance.

    Am I just somehow misunderstanding you?

    Man, I know if I was ever JUST a comic book artist or penciler, I'd so mess up any writer's scripts, screwing with order, left to right elements, all that. I feel like I'd almost need to write AND draw my own comics so there's no confusion. But yeah... I dunno. It's still confusing me. I'll go reread the lesson and see if I misread anything, then reread the exercise and give another go.


    Or is the most important ""action"" (hypothetical action) not necessarily always on the left? Is this exercise just important to explain what we see from left to right so the artist follows suit? Like the "Focus" or most important thing in the panel can be anywhere in the panel? Just for the artist's sake, we explain the left side of the panel before the right? Am I almost getting it? Hah.
    Last edited by drgerb; Monday, January 04, 2010 at 07:36 AM.

  8. drgerb Guest

    Okay, going back to my original scene / panel but I flipped it and am going to try to give you the different versions of each panel as I add in elements.

    Lou, a middle aged circus clown is sitting in a wooden chair, hunched over with his arm resting on his leg. Lou's holding a grenade in the hand on his leg and a can of beer in the other.

    Lou: Well, hell...

    (Second element)

    The chair is angled to the right side of the panel and he is looking downward at the foreground. A dead girl with long blonde hair, some of it dyed red by the pool of blood underneath her is laying face down.

    Standing next to Lou and in front of the left edge of the table is another circus clown, Donnie, sombre expression on his clown face.

    Standing now in front of the alcohol bottle and ash tray covered wooden table and just to the right of Donnie (Donnie's left, OUR right) is Clyde, another circus clown.

    Gah, I dunno. I just don't understand. Where do I mention the cloud of smoke hovering near the ceiling? Where do I mention the girl on the ground, if her face is near Lou's feet, but her feet are way on the other side of the panel, near Tony's feet? Do I describe each "section" of the table along with the characters, as I'm describing the characters, left to right? And do I mention every poster in the background in between every character as I go from left to right imagining it? As I make the panel longer and keep adding in elements, at the top of every new element do I have to remember to add in a chunk of the cloud of smoke so the artist doesn't forget to draw that part of it? I mean...

    When I add in a table, I should be able to describe the entire table as I see it, and the reader will understand that the table outstretchs a character to the right of the previous character? I feel like describing each element, left to right, I'd have to constantly chop this table up into pieces, and describe the scene piece by piece. But if I do that, where do I stop? Do I describe Lou's right shoulder first, since it's the farthest to the left of the panel? Or do I describe how I envision the right post of the chair, since that's a bit to the left of Lou? Can't I just describe Lou in his entirety? If a background is a single element littered with posters, or if a table is a single element, littered with ash trays, alcohol, and poker cards, can't I just describe the single element and let the artist understand that even though I described the table BEFORE I described Clyde, that the artist should put Clyde in front of the table? But like, if I already said the table is littered with stuff, I don't have to resay it so the artist remembers to add in the proper amount of ash trays, even though this section of the table comes after Clyde? I mean... Just, gah.

    I feel like I'm mixing up focal points and background elements. Like a background element takes priority over a focal point in the foreground, but on the right side of the panel, just because the background is to the left of the foreground... I mean the elements. Just...

    Do I leave the 'unimportant' ash trays out of the panel description just cause they're not part of the main elements? But what if the artist forgets to draw them?

    I dunno. Sorry for not getting it. And I could honestly probably just take the easy way out and describe a panel like yours. Start with a tree that we see, then add in the angry protestors yelling towards the oncoming bulldozer, in the front seat a fat guy with a hairy beer gut, laughing back at the dirty hippy tree huggers. And chasing behind him is his manager in a suit, clipboard in hand, yelling at the bull dozer to stop so he doesn't have a big first degree murder case on his hands from the tree huggers who won't move. But that panel is boring and it's not something I'm going to write in the future. The clowns are. So I'd like to be able to understand this lesson in regards to one of my own projects. Blah.

    When I picked my clown infested panel for this exercise, I almost knew I'd run into issues and I'd confuse myself. But describing the above panel of tree huggers was easy. But do I like that panel more than my previous sombre mood in the backroom of a circus one? Nope.
    Last edited by drgerb; Monday, January 04, 2010 at 08:17 AM.

  9. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    Hey, Calvin.

    Yep, write the ENTIRE panel as you imagine it, left to right.

    If background stuff is in between characters, then write it that way.
    Perfect. Got it.


  10. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by drgerb View Post
    And how does the trail going from left to right have to 100% all the time completely coincide with the line of order of importance?
    I'm probably taking a big risk here, but I'm sure Lee will correct me if I'm out in left field.

    I'm going to say that the left-to-right trail has jack to do with the order of importance (that's not actually true, but it should put you in the right state of mind). It just has to do with the order of presentation. The first thing on the left of the panel is important in that it's the first thing you want the reader to consider (which is important, but in a different way than you're thinking of it). Just because the guy running, screaming in terror is the first thing you want the reader to see, on the left, doesn't necessarily mean that it's more "important" than the giant slavering monster on the right. It just means that the guy comes first.

    And there are other tricks for highlighting the importance of a particular element, beyond the order of elements. But we're just dealing with the order right now. The other stuff is other stuff, and I imagine Lee will get to that.

    my artsy side is screaming at myself right now, totally confused over this whole issue.
    Just tell your artsy side to shut it's trap for a minute while you explain things to it.

    Try this.

    Go back to the flipping exercise, but don't write your own panel to flip. Grab a comic book, pick a panel (preferably a busy one), and describe that panel left to right. Think about why it's described/drawn that way, and how it effects the story taking place within that panel. Then describe the same panel from right to left. When you've done that, look at the flipped description and think about what it would look like if drawn left to right. Hold the comic up to a mirror if you have to. Think about how it changes the story taking place within that panel.

    You'll probably find that the order is not the only indicator of importance, but you should find that it does still effect the way the panel is perceived as you read through it.

    Maybe being able to actually see the difference, rather than just imagining it from a description, will put your right brain into the right mode to "get it."

    I hope if I say a painting is just a comic book panel without words and narration, that's a fair (albeit very broad) judgement?
    It's not entirely unfair, but it's not entirely accurate either.

    With a painting, or any other single image, you aren't reading it. You don't have the sequence of a panel before it, or a panel after it, making you read (say it with me) left to right. So while some of the compositional rules for making a painting can help you create a compelling image out of the panel, they don't work in quite the same way as they would for a single image. And thinking too much about them right now is going to make your work harder, so you need to let go of that a little - that's something I've had to work on letting go of as well, coming from an illustrator background.

    You've probably seen comics that don't seem like they read well, that come off like a series of pin-ups scattered across a page, right? Well, those come from people thinking like you're thinking right now. A panel is not just a picture with words stuck on it, any more than a dog is just a wolf with a collar stuck on it. It may have a lot in common, but it really is an entirely different animal. And if you try to treat them both the same way, it'll bite you in the ass.
    Last edited by CalvinCamp; Monday, January 04, 2010 at 03:38 PM.

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