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Thread: Q: How do you approach panel writing?

  1. Bret Guest

    Lee, you put it much clearler than I'd written. But yes, I totally agree with ya.

    Your response is a vote of confidence for me. (Something I occasionally lack when sitting here alone at the keyboard, writing down the pictures floating through my cranium.)

    Bret B



  2. JohnLees Guest

    Hey Lee! I've really been enjoying your columns thus far. I apologise for not keeping up with the homework - I do intend to go back and attempt those earlier exercises, but I felt for now I'd try and get back onboard by jumping to this week's task and answering your questions. I'm a writer, not an artist, so my answers come from the perspective of a writer - and not an overly experienced one at that!

    Question 1: How much information do you feel is necessary for including in panel description?

    It varies. For a comic script I'm currently writing, in one panel the setting description is just "a street corner". But a couple of pages later, I have a very detailed description of a classroom, right down to the layout of the tables, how many kids are sitting at each table, and the placement of certain children in certain seats. This seemed pretty tyrannical when I looked back on it, but was important for the framing of a potentially tricky panel in the following page. There are of course a couple of things that should always be in your panel descriptions, at least the ones that start a new scene: the when and the where. Say whether the scene takes place indoors or outdoors, and mention whether it's night or day. Now, how much you want to describe the room your characters are in, or whether you want the weather outside to be sunny or cloudy and overcast, that depends on the context of the panel.

    I'd say a generally good rule of thumb is: if you want to see it in the panel, put it in the panel description. Get everything you want - whether it be a character or a background detail - in there, and leave it to the artist to fill in the blanks. The balance may change - in some panels there may be a lot of specific things you want included, meriting a long, detailed panel description, while in other panels there may really be only one detail that's essential while the rest is open to interpretation, leading to a brief, concise panel description. But I tend to think that if you stick by the general philosophy of "If you want to see it drawn, write it down", that works as a fairly strong barometer.

    Sub-question: Does knowing the artist affect that decision, and if so, how?

    I'll get back to you when I know more artists!

    Question 2: How do you feel panel-writing should be approached, stylistically, for yourself as a writer or artist, and why does that work for you (if not necessarily for others)?

    This might be a good place to quote some of the points I made in one of your earlier columns, Lee. At the time I think I was going off on a premature tangent, but it might be more relevant to the topic of this week:

    "Each panel tells its own story.

    And that's the key, something I know I haven't mastered yet. Your panels aren't just window-dressing for you to plaster your lovely dialogue on top of. Every panel is a work of art in itself, something that tells the full story of that one frozen moment in time. So when you're writing up a panel description in your script, what you are doing is selling the story of the image to the artist, if that makes any sense. You're not telling a story in motion. You're looking at the still picture fully formed in your own mind, and you're describing it to the best of your ability. You're trying to do that image in your head justice in your description of it, so that you're giving the artist all the tools they need to capture the spirit of that image in your head with their reinterpretation of it. That one image tells a story. The rest of the images on the page surrounding it join with that one image to tell a bigger story. Then the 22 pages of panels - each with a story of their own - that make up a whole comic book tell a bigger story than that. And so on and so forth.

    Comics are a visual medium, and as writers it can be hard to get our heads around that, to think that's it not about our writing abilities, it's about pitching the ball for the artist to hit out of the park - they're drawing it, they're telling the story."

    To expand on what I said back then, I also think that if each panel tells a story, as a writer I don't want to shy away from being a storyteller with it. Yes, a comic book script is essentially a tool for the artist, that's who you're writing it to. And as such, some are of the school that a panel description should be as sparse and clinical as possible. But still, I want to try my best to make my panel descriptions engaging reads in their own right, trying to write in a way that captures the mood of the story or just the moment. Even if it's just the artist who reads the script, ideally the content of a panel description can engage them in the story, give them a clearer idea of the panel's intended affect. For example, in one of my scripts I describe a character's expression as such:

    "His eyes are closed, and he is making this odd face that looks like an unsettling combination of sexual elation and constipation."

    This might not be a concise, clear depiction of exactly how I want the artist to draw the expression. Instead, it (hopefully) highlights the absurd, farcical nature of the moment, and the odious nature of the character in question, and maybe inspires the artist to get into the spirit of the moment and let that dictate their own interpretation of what such an odd expression would look like.



  3. CalvinCamp Guest

    Okay, to start off with, I'm a writer and an artist. Writing is entirely amateur level, but I've been studying like a b*****d (and playing editor has helped me learn in ways that just writing never did – I'd advise anyone to give it a try. It changes your whole viewpoint). Art I've been paid for and had published, but it wasn't sequential art, so I'm also at amateur level with sequentials, even though I think the general artistic background helps me in some ways (and hinders me in others).

    On to the questions...

    How much information do you feel is necessary for including in panel description?
    Enough.

    That sounds like a cop-out, but it's the pure truth. Any other answer is too dependent on the circumstances to pin down. I've argued over paragraph's (long paragraphs) of panel description, that I was accused of padding, because it was a world-building situation and I felt (and still do) that all those little details were important to get that world across to the reader - which means the artist needs to know them. Where that's not the case, a single sentence might be all that's necessary. It's entirely situation-dependent.

    But, when the world-building aspect does come into play, what seems like it can be hard to get across is... if I start going on about the gargoyles on the buildings and what they look like, it's because they need to be there and look like that, not because I want to type more words. I mean, I wrote that stuff down when I was planning to draw it myself, so obviously I think it needs to be there. I was told (regarding one description) that "none of that stuff is even going to make into the panel," but I looked at the panel I'd drawn and there it all was. And if someone else had drawn it, I'd have expected it to be there too. How that'll work out if I team up with an artist... I don't really know.

    Personally, on the question of sheer volume of description, I think too much is better than not enough. Not enough is DOOM (well, maybe not actually doom, but the potential is there).

    Does knowing the artist affect that decision, and if so, how?
    Not so much, I think. If it needs to be there, it still does. If it doesn't, it still doesn't, and can be left up to the artist in either case. I don't really want to work with an artist that I have to hold by the hand and spell out every camera angle and panel layout, because I figure the artist should really be better at that than the writer, anyway (and better than me, because they've presumably done more sequential work than I have - if they haven't why would I be working with them?), so if they're not... yeah, doesn't seem good to me. So I only spell that stuff out if I'm looking for something very specific for a particular effect – and if it needs to be there for that reason, I'd spell it out, no matter who the artist is.

    However I should also say (since I'm probably starting to sound like a hardass), that I'd be open to suggestions for something different, even where I'm being highly specific. Communication would be the key, there.

    How do you feel panel-writing should be approached, stylistically, for yourself as a writer or artist, and why does that work for you (if not necessarily for others)?
    It should be approached from the left, so it doesn't bite you.

    Actually I tend to describe the background, or setting, first (sometimes even calling it out separately from the individual panel description if it's an elaborate setting for an ongoing scene) and then describing the characters and their actions within the setting. Characters will sometimes get their own description separate from the panels, also.

    As for writing left-to-right... I think it's a useful tool, and I plan to utilize it (more), but if there's something I really, really, want in a particular location, I would probably call it out that way too (so-and-so on the right, etc), because I don't know if all that many artists are actually clued in to the left-to-right scripting thing. So I guess I see that as something to work on (writing that way and letting the artist know that's the way it's written), but not something to count on the artist having a solid grasp of right from the start. At least, that's my thoughts on it so far.

    I also like some dramatic writing, ambiance and emotion, in my descriptions. I might mention the stink of fish while describing a wharf-side slum, or talk about what a character is thinking. It's not going to literally translate to the page, of course, but I believe it helps the artist get into the world or the character's head and FEEL the story. It works for me as an artist, so it's something I like as a writer. It's basically the same kind of thing that was brought up earlier in the thread, about writing the emotions of a character, except that I'll also treat the setting as a character and write about its "emotions."

    where, if anywhere, should the boundaries be for an artist to follow the script?
    I think, unless the artist has been explicitly been given free reign, they shouldn't be changing things without talking it over first. As an artist, I can't even imagine pulling something like that and expecting it to fly - in any other job (but comics, apparently) that's the sort of thing that means you probably won't get paid and almost certainly won't get more work from the client.

    There are degrees of course. If I've accidentally written something that can't be drawn and they need to split a panel or something, to fix it, that's not a problem - though it'd still be nice to get a head's up, maybe a sketch so I know how they're handling it. Changing the STORY without talking about it first... that would be a deal breaker for me. However, if they talk to me about it first, or toss me a quick sketch as a suggestion, I'd happily consider changes. Just don't surprise me with them in the final artwork.

    There's another aspect to this question, though.

    What I said above is how I think it should be when the artist has been hired directly by the writer. But that wouldn't necessarily always be the situation. If I were writing for a publisher... maybe the artist has been given that kind of latitude before, maybe the editor has more faith in the artist than me, maybe it was an editorial change, maybe the deadline is too tight for redraws, etc. In a situation like that, I figure I'd have to deal with it, make the best of it, and move on to the next project. Sometimes what you'd like isn't what you get, and you just make do with what you can get and call it good enough.

    There's also the case of full collaborations, where the artist is intentionally as much of an influence on the story as the writer is, and that would be a completely different approach, I would think. But I also think that something along those lines would be better off if the collaboration started before there was ever a script to deviate from.

    what would happen if we didn't agree on a direction. Who chooses.
    I figure the answer to that question (if there was no compromise that could be reached) would be the same as the answer to the question, "Who's writing the checks?"
    Last edited by CalvinCamp; Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 10:00 PM.



  4. harryd Guest

    With my poor skills at drawing, I fall under the category of novice writer. I also may not be that great at writing, but as someone pointed out previously, almost anyone can push keys and come out with a script.

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    Hi, folks.

    Question 1: How much information do you feel is necessary for including in panel description?

    Sub-question: Does knowing the artist affect that decision, and if so, how?
    From my point of view, anything you want to see on the page should be in the panel description.

    I do think this can change depending upon the artist. If you know who you are writing for, and what they can do (or what they prefer), you can temper your script for them. Basically, if you're a writer working with an artist that you trust, you can take a looser approach to your descriptions.

    Personally, I probably go a bit overboard in my panel descriptions, but so far I've been writing with no artist in mind.

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    Question 2: How do you feel panel-writing should be approached, stylistically, for yourself as a writer or artist, and why does that work for you (if not necessarily for others)?
    Well, there's how I feel it should be approached, and how I typically approach writing them, which are usually two very different things.

    I tend to start with a point of view, if I feel it's warranted. I also usually try to get in some early notes about the time of day, or any weather if it's an outdoor scene, or otherwise called for.

    Heh, being less experienced, I tend to wing it from there I generally then go with what I feel is the central focus of the scene, and expand out with details. I also generally do the foreground first, followed by the background.

    One odd thing I tend to do is Walls of Text. The first time a setting is used, I often give a large section of heavy (for comic panels) description. I do try to space it out from the basics of the action in the panel, and to label it as description for use over the next few panels, or to be reused in later pages.

    I do see merit in the left to right school of thought that Lee previously espoused. I hadn't really thought too much in those terms when I was laying out panel descriptions. It's something that I'll need to try to be more conscious of the next time I work on a script. Another thing that I'd like to be able to do is write exciting panel descriptions. Another good argument made by Lee, is that panel descriptions don't HAVE to be boring. A few of the scripts that I've read (and wrote) tend to be far too clinical.

    Harry Durnan
    Last edited by harryd; Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 02:18 AM.



  5. LeeNordling Guest

    Hi, Harry.

    Interesting comment, which I believe a lot of others share, even if they haven't written so.

    You wrote: "Personally, I probably go a bit overboard in my panel descriptions, but so far I've been writing with no artist in mind."

    Let's not leave it at that, because the reasons for this will be, I believe, telling.

    WHY would you go overboard in your descriptions, and does that, as I suspect, over-describing either the elements in the panel or the layout?

    I suspect this is because you wish for your script to describe your intent as clearly as possible. Is this so?

    Where do you see an artist's interpretation of your work as crossing the line?

    We discussed earlier what one artist did to Gaiman's story; that was from somebody who thought it was okay for an artist to deviate from the script.

    Is this your fear, losing your story?

    Is an artist your partner or your subservient?

    Sometimes one, sometimes the other?

    Yep, a lot of questions, which all get back to that same point I began with: our need to learn to work with others in a largely collaborative medium.

    Some stuff to chew on, and perhaps you could share some thoughts about these questions?

    I know you are not alone in (perhaps) over-writing as a form of self-protection, so I'll ask one last question: how many of you believe this is the best way to write a comics panel, page, or script?

    --Lee



  6. Cary Guest

    Cool! Feedback! Nice work by the way with all this Lee. Interesting stuff! I'm a writer/creator/letterer. I can draw some, but not enough to worry over the questions pointed at artists here. I'm far too slow.

    Question 1: How much information do you feel is necessary for including in panel description?

    I tend to describe panels based on how important they are to the story I'm trying to tell. I know that sounds kinda goofy, but I'll explain. If I'm doing a fight scene, and I really don't care what happens in the panel so long as at the end of the page, or several pages, Dynagirl ends up kicking the beans out of the villain she's fighting, I'll generally describe it loosely, ie: "Dynagirl punches Rhina, large shot here, dominates the page." Not that fights aren't important, but most artists I've worked with like to kinda cut loose with fight scenes, and I'm happy to let them do it provided they turn out like I want them to in the end. In fact if I didn't need to go ahead and work out the dialog at the time I'd probably do fight scenes more Marvel way.

    Now on a panel where there's something important we need to see specifically, like a body, facial expression, an item, or I'm trying to go for a certain emotional reaction based on the angle of the shot, then I definitely describe out the panel pretty extensively, and often go into great detail because these things will matter down the road. If I had to break down panel for panel which ones I describe in great detail and which ones I leave loose, I'd say probably 85% great detail, 15% loose, on average.

    How many of you believe (over-writing) is the best way to write a comics panel, page, or script?

    I'd say in the beginning, because I'd never worked with someone like Harold, who's easy going and actually invested in the project heart and soul, I probably over-wrote quite a bit. I know my early stuff on 48 was pretty description heavy, largely due to inexperience on my part, wanting to do the very best job I could possibly do and all. These days I'm a lot more clean and concise, and since I've learned a lot of script conventions, like POV, worm's eye view, that sort of thing it makes writing them a lot easier so I'm less likely to over do it.

    Sub-question: Does knowing the artist affect that decision, and if so, how?

    Not for me, at least not in general. I write scripts the same regardless of who I'm working with. Now having said that, when working with my regular artist Harold, I'll add little notes and such in the script because we do know each other and we're used to working together. I'll say things like "remember that panel…" and go from there. I wouldn’t' dream of doing that with someone who I'm new to working with because we don't have the history. But in general my scripts are all written the same way no matter who will ultimately be the artist.

    Question 2: How do you feel panel-writing should be approached, stylistically, for yourself as a writer or artist, and why does that work for you (if not necessarily for others)?

    Oddly enough, being a letterer has changed the way I write scripts dramatically. I'll pay attention now to where I have characters standing and such because I've not in the past and it made my life as a letterer an incredible headache. On that note, I also include FAR fewer sound effects than I used to..

    Style wise, I'd say I tend to establish things in the first couple of panels of a given page or series of pages and then leave that out later on, unless a scene change is made. It makes a lot more sense time wise and doesn't make the artist's eyes cross reading the same stuff over and over.

    I also tend to work POV, making sure where the "camera" is pointed all the time because this really is the most important thing for me in getting the feel of the story just right. If I'm writing descriptions in a novel it's easy to set mood and tone, but writing scripts, I've got to go that extra mile to get the angles right, otherwise it's not a far cry from a mystery type story ranging off into a superhero feel, and that'd be bad.

    Where, if anywhere, should the boundaries be for an artist to follow the script?

    Ah fun question. For me personally, I'm pretty flexible. I write a full description "DC style" script including dialog, which is a lot of work. In turn, I hand that to an artist and I'd expect that he follow it for the most part. However, when I start a project with an artist I usually give them "the talk" about the script, relaying to them that I want them to be invested in the story as well, and if they come across a panel or two that they think would look better differently, feel free, provided one that the dialog still fits, and two that I haven't specifically mentioned this panel being EXACTLY like this. I think I've done that…four or five times, because that's how I see the panel and that's how I want it, not to mention it impacts the story and what I'm trying to convey. Giving an artist a little room to move and have fun seems to work really well thus far, and I think in 10 issues of work Harold and I have done together I've had him redraw two panels back to how I had them in the script. So that's not too bad. Once he'd simply missed my instructions to ensure it was a certain way, and the second time his panel change wasn't working so we went back to the original way, and both agreed it was the better choice. I can't say what I would do with someone who junked my entire script to freelance on his own. That would probably piss me off something fierce. If it was good stuff would I adapt? Hard to say. I guess it would depend on where we were deadline wise, and how long I'd had to cool off.
    Last edited by Cary; Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 10:07 AM.



  7. drgerb Guest

    Here's a quick question:

    Some people answered with 'everything' when it comes to how much you put into a panel description. Well isn't there a drop off point where everything no longer matters? Like what is the definition of everything? Is it every tiny minute pointless detail that you can think of when it comes to creating a certain panel / scene? Or is it everything that matters? I think it should be the second. Unless something adds to the feel of the room, the atmosphere, or adds to how a character is (mentioning a cluttered, alcohol bottle infested room will hint at a chaotic drunk character)... That stuff matters. But what color the window drapes are or what brand alcohol it is shouldn't. Unless it does.

    I'm going to bring up something here that I might be getting ahead of myself, but I'm using it as an argument. I remember reading in a series of comic book writing articles, of this thing called 'the mantlepiece rule.' It might have been a general writing rule, mentioned by a comic book writer, I forget. It says if you place a gun onto a fireplace mantle on page one, that gun has to be fired by the end of your story. I could disagree with that, as it might be furthering the character (a gun collector or sometihng) and it might not have to be fired... However I'd turn it around and say if you have a gun that's been fired by the end of your book, you have to show where that gun came from earlier on, whether it be the previous sentence or on panel 1. Anyway...

    This is where I'm getting at with panel descriptions. I think novice writers might throw in too much 'meaningless' details into their descriptions. Details that don't matter two pages later. I think some people can't differentiate between the meaningful details and the meaningless ones. Inexperienced writers may throw in detail after detail thinking it all adds to the story, when half do nothing at all. I think panel descriptions should include anything of importance, anything we see later on, or that adds meaning. But anything secondary or not essential to the story should be left out. I mean if some details don't matter and are just personal taste for the writer, do they really matter in the long run? I dunno...

    Any thoughts on this idea? How often do you cram details into your panel descriptions, Lee, that don't matter in the long run? Or am I wrong in saying this? Do almost all details matter atleast in one way or another? I guess a black lamp shade may make a scene seem more depressing than a bright yellow one? But bleh. I dunno. Anyway.


    Edit: After reading Cary's response, posting just above mine, I totally agree with his. If stuff matters, put it in cause if it's not in, the artist will forget it. If it doesn't matter, why waste time telling the artist to draw something that has little to no effect on the actual story? My two cents.
    Last edited by drgerb; Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 01:45 PM.



  8. drgerb Guest

    I know you are not alone in (perhaps) over-writing as a form of self-protection, so I'll ask one last question: how many of you believe this is the best way to write a comics panel, page, or script?
    Me being an artist (har), I'd say over-writing isn't necessary, and should be avoided if possible. You've done your job as a writer. You've described everything that matters, the scenes, panels, the script. Now sit down and let the artist do his thing. However this is, keeping in mind, assuming you have a great artist. Cause an artist is a great artist. If you're not a great artist, well then you're not an artist in my book. Great artists can make something out of nothing. Average ones can make nothing out of everything. So I'm not speaking when having a shitty artist in mind. No thanks. Go find someone else. Once you find a great artist, seriously, I cannot stress this enough (if you ask me), turn the reigns over to him or her. I understand writers kind of have more credit over a comic book than artists, if anything an artist seems more like the writer's slave than vice versa. But in the end, you hired this one artist for a reason: You thought his skills were good enough to show your vision / story in all it's 2d glory. So trust in his skills and let him do his thing. A writer constantly reminding me of panel shots, background information, the way he sees a panel... Bleh. It'd seem a bit too much like my mother. Anyway..

    My question: where, if anywhere, should the boundaries be for an artist to follow the script?
    My first reaction would be if the artist knows his stuff, then let him do his thing. However after reading that Gaiman bit, I'd say keep a running dialogue between yourself (the writer) and the artist. Keep constant 'check-ups' where you just send him an email, asking where he's at, to let you know what's going on, how it's coming, like an editor. And if he changed anything, or has any different ideas, different from your own, to mention them to you. As a writer, I think you should be game for looking at examples of anything the artist thinks of, but you have the right to say, 'this doesn't work.' if you can give a reason why. I totally agree with the whole collaborative medium aspect.. And if I write a script, I'm not just whoring it off to some wannabe artist who'll put up some chicken scribbles down. Nor am I paying an artist some porn star wage to make some pretty pictures for me. It's a team effort. Any changes should be talked about. However, here's my deal. Our whole talk is about artists changing what the writers wrote. Well here's a question: If writers have the right to talk to, and okay any changes the artists make as they're doing the artwork, well then why can't the artists request any changes for the writer as they're writing the script? It's like a writer sits down on his own, writes an entire script, then when the artists wants to change something, the writer hates it or says 'tell me if you want to change something.' If the writer sat down alone and did his thing, why can't the artist do the same? Granted, sure, you'll run into a few artists who really do suck. But still... There's kind of a favoratism going on here. Screw you writers! Hah. jk. But if you're good enough to write a script that I want to draw on your own time, then why aren't I good enough to draw your script on MY own time? Bleh. Getting ahead of myself. I'm not siding with artists here, I'm siding with whatever makes the best comic book. So yeah. Communication is key. Just don't hand your script over to your artist and say, 'You're so great, you can change anything you want.' cause if you say that, then he probably will.

    I dunno, I guess that's pretty much it. The whole writer / artist thing.. You've got to be (as some have mentioned before me) on the same page. If you're friends, awesome. If you're just business associates, it's best to stay on the same page at all times so nobody goes off and does something on their own that the other doesn't like. This is a relationship. Gives and takes. Every relationship has it's ups and downs. And in the end, a relationship's goal is to keep both members happy (with eachother). As an artist, you should draw what the writer expects, but talk to them if you think anything should be changed. As a writer, you should learn to trust your artist (and as it turns into a friendship / relationship, as you do more projects together, hopefully it'll reach that). However, one thing I forgot to mention:

    A lot of scripts, or beginning writers seem to write with no artist in their mind, which is fine. But eventually it hits a point, where you find an artist somewhere down the line, whose work you love, and who you've love to work with... And you still expect this writer superiority. This, 'If you want to change just one thing, talk to me!' As a writer, you picked this artist for a reason (if you didn't, then you're stupid). You picked him cause you think his skills match with your story, and best case scenario: Maybe you even wrote some of the scenes / panels with this particular artist in mind. If that's the case, let him do his thing. Sure, request emails updating you on what he's changing and why. But really. You CHOSE him for a reason. Don't go back and badmouth him the second he changed one stinkin' panel. And I think this is the problem with some writers. They write their stories and they want their stories THEIR way, and if anything gets changed they get mad. Sometimes your way isn't the best way. Hey, here's a reality check: You're only a writer cause you can't draw. OUCH! jk.
    .peace



  9. CalvinCamp Guest

    I don't know if these were intended as general questions to all, but they're interesting enough that I'll treat them that way.
    WHY would you go overboard in your descriptions, and does that, as I suspect, over-describing either the elements in the panel or the layout?
    This I just find an interesting subject, and it raises a question I'd like to throw out.

    Why do you think your descriptions are overboard? Did someone tell you that, or do you actually think they are, yourself?

    If it's the first... why are you taking someone else's word for it? Or are you? Have you thought it through, based on advice, and decided for yourself that it's true?

    If it's the later... it really does beg the question of why you would continue to write more than you think you need.

    As a side-note... I think I've seen quite a few amateur scripts, by now, and I can't recall, off the top of my head, seeing one that I thought (from an artist's point of view) was seriously over-described. I've seen some that were simply wordier than they needed to be to get the point across (my own early work is a good example of that), and I've seen panels that had more going on than would fit well in a single panel. But that seems like something different than going overboard by calling out too much detail. On the other hand, I've seen a LOT that were seriously under-described, so I think that's a bigger (or at least more prevalent) problem.

    On the subject of too much detail, I think drgerb really cut to the chase when he said... "But what color the window drapes are or what brand alcohol it is shouldn't [matter]. Unless it does."

    Unless it does, indeed. And who should decide if it does? The writer, who conceived, outlined, and wrote the story? Or the artist who may or may not realize the importance of the window drape color or the alcohol brand? The TPG editor (or the person giving feedback on a forum) who has only seen a fraction of the story and can't really know if a detail is important to the story or not? I know my answer.

    Where do you see an artist's interpretation of your work as crossing the line?
    When they ignore things I think are important and start telling a different story than I intended, without discussing it and coming to an agreement with me (or with whoever else might be in charge of the project) on the changes.

    We discussed earlier what one artist did to Gaiman's story; that was from somebody who thought it was okay for an artist to deviate from the script.

    Is this your fear, losing your story?
    Fear? It's definitely something I'd prefer to avoid. And it's not something I would consider acceptable if the artist was working for me (if we're both working for someone else, and they approved of the change, that's a whole different thing - at that point, it's their story).

    Is an artist your partner or your subservient?

    Sometimes one, sometimes the other?
    The later.

    If we're developing the story together, as partners, then we're partners. In which case, I would think the place to start ironing that sort of thing out is in the outline stage.

    If we're both working for someone else, then we're both subservient to them.

    If I've hired the artist, and he's working for me, then I'm paying him to do what I ask. So he should do what I ask. (Which does not preclude giving me suggestions for changes and trying to convince me another way is better, it just means I should have the final say)

    And really, this should work the other way too. If a writer is commissioned to create a story (by an artist, an editor, whoever), then it's not the writer's story. The story belongs to the person who commissioned it, and should be executed as they choose.

    I know you are not alone in (perhaps) over-writing as a form of self-protection, so I'll ask one last question: how many of you believe this is the best way to write a comics panel, page, or script?
    One answer is that I don't believe over-writing protects you from anything. Not when artists are willing to ignore what you've written and do their own thing anyway. So there's no point to over-writing.

    But I think that question also sounds a little like a sneaky way of asking why we're being over-protective about our story.

    The answer to that is... it's my story. I created it, and developed it, and wrote it, and if I'm going to pay someone to have it drawn, then I think I deserve to have it drawn the way I want it drawn (even if the way I want it drawn is wrong). So I don't know that there's such a thing, in that situation, as being over-protective (unless it's just a case of not being able to handle advice or suggestions in any way - which is its own kind of problem).

    drgerb raised the point that I'm hiring the artist for a reason (Not trying to pick on you, D. You just keep bringing up interesting points). And that's true. If I'm going to hire an artist, it will be because I like their work. But chances are I'm not hiring the artist to help me tell A story, ANY story. I would be hiring the artist to help me tell MY story. Will his work influence the way the story is perceived in its final form? Sure, that's a given. But if he's turning it into a different story, without my consent, then I think that's a problem.

    And this isn't writer-arrogance talking. Even as an artist, it boggles my mind that something like that is seen as acceptable, or even defensible. Back when I was doing rpg illustration, the thought of drawing something different than my client asked for never even crossed my mind. I just did my job, as asked, cashed my check, and everyone was happy. Yet that was a collaborative medium too, and I don't believe my influence on the "story" contained in the illustration (based on the client's description) was really much different than the influence of someone drawing the story in a comic panel (based on the writer's description).

    I think a question worth discussing is... Why is it that, in comics, there seems to be such a different perception?

    Is it only that most people are looking at it as a hobby, where they're not getting paid enough (or sometimes at all) to do what someone else wants? Is it because so many projects are "backend deals" where the only certain payoff is getting to do put your own stamp on the story? Because those situations are (or should be) partnerships, not employer/employee relationships.

    Does the attitude change when someone puts actual money on the table?

    Or are there no real employer/employee relationships in comics?

    In the end, I suspect a big part of successfully working together is to make sure everyone is on the same page as to what the relationship really is. Is it a work for hire situation? Is it a true partnership? Is it something in between? Because it's pretty obvious that not everyone's default assumptions will be the same.



  10. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by drgerb View Post
    Here's a quick question:

    Some people answered with 'everything' when it comes to how much you put into a panel description. Well isn't there a drop off point where everything no longer matters? Like what is the definition of everything? Is it every tiny minute pointless detail that you can think of when it comes to creating a certain panel / scene? Or is it everything that matters? I think it should be the second. Unless something adds to the feel of the room, the atmosphere, or adds to how a character is (mentioning a cluttered, alcohol bottle infested room will hint at a chaotic drunk character)... That stuff matters. But what color the window drapes are or what brand alcohol it is shouldn't. Unless it does.

    I'm going to bring up something here that I might be getting ahead of myself, but I'm using it as an argument. I remember reading in a series of comic book writing articles, of this thing called 'the mantlepiece rule.' It might have been a general writing rule, mentioned by a comic book writer, I forget. It says if you place a gun onto a fireplace mantle on page one, that gun has to be fired by the end of your story. I could disagree with that, as it might be furthering the character (a gun collector or sometihng) and it might not have to be fired... However I'd turn it around and say if you have a gun that's been fired by the end of your book, you have to show where that gun came from earlier on, whether it be the previous sentence or on panel 1. Anyway...

    This is where I'm getting at with panel descriptions. I think novice writers might throw in too much 'meaningless' details into their descriptions. Details that don't matter two pages later. I think some people can't differentiate between the meaningful details and the meaningless ones. Inexperienced writers may throw in detail after detail thinking it all adds to the story, when half do nothing at all. I think panel descriptions should include anything of importance, anything we see later on, or that adds meaning. But anything secondary or not essential to the story should be left out. I mean if some details don't matter and are just personal taste for the writer, do they really matter in the long run? I dunno...

    Any thoughts on this idea? How often do you cram details into your panel descriptions, Lee, that don't matter in the long run? Or am I wrong in saying this? Do almost all details matter atleast in one way or another? I guess a black lamp shade may make a scene seem more depressing than a bright yellow one? But bleh. I dunno. Anyway.


    Edit: After reading Cary's response, posting just above mine, I totally agree with his. If stuff matters, put it in cause if it's not in, the artist will forget it. If it doesn't matter, why waste time telling the artist to draw something that has little to no effect on the actual story? My two cents.
    I know writers who feel every little detail is important. Alan Moore is a legendary favorite in this respect (not that I know him).

    I know writers who are more concerned with moving the story than getting the panel details so nailed down that it becomes a straight jacket for artists.

    I think both are valid.

    But both don't work for artists.

    So what's the right way to proceed?

    I work both ways, depending on the project.

    For my sequential art picture books, where I'm bringing in great illustrators, and the publishing culture of this particular category REQUIRES an illustrator's ability to interpret the story through what they do, I work in a scripting style that allows for a lot of interpretation...by an artist whom I've embraced as a full partner. Once they're on board, it's no longer MY story; it's OUR story.

    For certain types of comic stories, where I have very strong views about how stuff needs to look, like my contribution to the Digital Webbing anthology that's being produced, I wrote extensively about how the aliens in that world might live in a dwelling; I needed to be a world-builder.

    I still left a lot for the artist, the mucho-talented Scott Roberts, to do what he does best, but I needed to work to get him to understand MY sandbox, before it could become OUR sandbox.

    This last point may be one of the most important for folks to consider.

    How much do you need an artist to get on your page, versus how much do you need to create the page together?

    I think if you have the answer to THAT question, you'll have a much better idea of what's necessary in the script, not just what might be written filler.

    The hard part is figuring out a personal and professional paradigm or process for something that has so many interchangeable components...but that last "page analogy" is mine, at least a simple distillation of mine.

    Again, just my two cents...but I hope it helps you all figure out what YOU need.

    When you do, when you can really explain it, perhaps your partnerships with artists and/or writers will be clearer.

    It's also important, I think, to understand that YOUR way is only the best way for YOU to work. It doesn't mean that others need to embrace it; they just need to understand it (so everybody isn't arguing about who's "right").

    --Lee



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