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Thread: Your Own Private Wormhole, Part 1: All the time in the world

  1. LeeNordling Guest

    Your Own Private Wormhole, Part 1: All the time in the world

    “We’re going to discuss what happens between panels,” I announce, boldly.

    “You mean where nothing happens?” you ask, taken aback.

    “Oh, something happens,” I confirm, with confidence. “And if you combine this with what we learned about becoming Comics Panel Time-Masters, you’ll have two of the most important tools necessary for thinking like comics creators, instead of filmmakers.”

    “You’re going to make my head hurt again, aren’t you?” you whine, wincing with anticipation.

    “Naw,” I answer blithely, “not if you’ve done your homework from eleven weeks ago.”

    “I don’t even remember who I dated eleven weeks ago,” you mumble.

    Letting the mumbling pass, I ask, “How many of you did your homework and became Comics Panel Time-Masters?”

    Six hands go up.

    “Yay for the six,” I say. “This will be smooth sailing for you folks.”

    “What about the rest of us?” you ask, still wincing.

    “Whitecaps and gale warnings,” I reply, already mourning the Lost Ones, who didn’t even think to bring life preservers.

    Last time we discussed how to fashion the passage of frozen moments of time inside panels, but today we’re going to do some really heavy lifting; we’re going to discuss controlling…

    “Your Own Private Wormhole, Part 1: All the time in the world

    In sequential art, we can jump from any time and place in one panel, to any other time or place in the next panel.

    It’s like having your own private wormhole.

    We make these jumps instinctively, and don’t even have to click our ruby slippers three times to get there.

    However, utilizing this wormhole has become so automatic, so instinctive, that we spend too much time on cruise control. Worse, our cruise control is too-often set to the “think like a movie” setting, so we’re not taking full advantage of the medium in which we’re working.

    This discussion has one goal: to switch your default setting to “think like a comic.”

    Just that.

    And that’s why I’m coming at this subject from a completely unique angle.

    I want to scramble how you currently use this tool. I want you to stop and consider its use, each and every time, until you’ve cast off the default setting of using it like film with CUT, FADE, DISSOLVE, or PAN.

    For those of you crying out in dismay, don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with using a conceptual CUT, FADE, DISSOLVE, or PAN, if it accomplishes your sequential art storytelling goal, but, to write with intention, (a phrase you’ve read from me once or twice before), you need to open your toolbox wider and consider all the sequential art storytelling tools available.

    Then, if you still choose to “think like a movie,” at least you’re doing it with intention.

    In the past, I’ve recommended (and still recommend) reading David Mamet’s book, On Directing Film. In it, there’s brilliant process outlined for how to develop a series of shots (in the case of comics, “frozen images”), which, when put into sequence, will advance a visual story that requires the reader to conceptually connect the dots; it actually involves the reader in what’s happening and why. Later, we’ll discuss much of this and how it translates to comics.

    To get there, however, we need to understand and learn to control our ability to create a wormhole.

    That means discussing the full range of options, and then we get to work on some creative writing exercises, which will bulk up those flabby sequential art muscles.

    “Flabby?” you protest.

    “Underdeveloped?” I rephrase, hoping to mollify.

    “I suspect there’s going to be more homework,” you mumble.

    “I suspect you’re getting better at looking into the future,” I respond, cheerfully.

    Let’s start by separating the use of time and space, work with one, then the other, then both of them.

    One of the narrative strengths of the sequential art medium is that it allows you to travel seamlessly through time, to make the next panel in a sequence one second later, or earlier, or a million years later, or earlier. You can go any-when you want or need to, in as few or as many panels as you like.

    Simple, huh?

    Yes, deceptively so, because it’s easier to say than to do.

    Does it matter how much time passes between panels?

    Often the answer will be “no,” especially in a dialogue-driven sequence, or, just as often, when you’re selecting images from the key points of physical action.

    In these cases, you’re still passively determining how much time has passed between panels, but that’s because it’s not the thing on which you wish the reader to focus.

    However, sometimes it’s critical for the reader to know that the gap between panels is the hour somebody was waiting in his cell for the moment when he’d be taken to the execution chamber, or the three minutes that the egg in the boiling water will take to be ready, or the million years that passes for a very impatient pebble.

    When you have a time machine that allows you to intentionally determine the amount of time that passes between panels it’s a valuable tool to keep near the top of your toolbox.

    So let’s play.

    “Play?” you ask in wonder. “Like something that will be fun?”

    “More like play that’s really work, but if you don’t enjoy it, then you might want to question why this is your medium of choice,” I reply.

    “Joy,” you mutter.

    We begin by creating small measurements of time from panel to panel.

    Let’s start with a single panel that contains sixteen seconds. A man sits in a police station interrogation room. In the first balloon, he thinks: “One, two, three seconds--when are these guys going to show up?” In the next balloon, he thinks, “I can’t take it anymore! It’s been sixteen whole seconds!”

    It’s not elegant, but it’s sixteen seconds, right?

    And it is, of course, silly, which is fine, if silly is your intent.

    Now let’s use our wormhole, first on two panels, and have both of them take sixteen seconds.

    PANEL ONE: A man waits in a police station interrogation room. A caption reads: “12:30 a.m.”

    PANEL TWO: A caption reads: “Sixteen seconds later.” The man is standing and screaming, “I can’t take it anymore!”

    For anybody reading this, the two panels clearly and seamlessly jump from one moment of time to the next.

    It’s also pretty funny, and maybe unbelievable, because who could ever collapse in this short amount of time, at least as we presented it.

    Let’s say it’s important that the reader believe it, or at least feel its impact more dramatically. (Just to establish some editorial context for how it could be made more acceptable and dramatic to a reader, imagine this scene being drawn by Will Eisner for The Spirit.)

    To dramatize this man’s weak-willed nature, imagine sixteen panels on a page, each (until the last) showing him sitting in the same position, with a clock in the background, ticking off one second in each of the panels, at first confident and cocky, then with increased amounts of concern, then increased amounts of fearful perspiration streaming down his face, and simultaneous increased amounts of shaky (nervous) lines, until, finally, in the last panel, he’s standing and screaming, “I can’t take it anymore!”

    You have shown, in sixteen story-seconds, a man transforming from confident and cocky to a nervous and collapsing. We believe it because we experienced each one of those grueling story-seconds.

    Now let’s make this sixteen seconds take even longer.

    Go to your sequential art toolbox and pull out your accredited Comics Panel Time-Master techniques.

    Rather than using a clock, you put the time as numbers in a caption, like so, “12:01:01”, “2:01:02”, etc., increasing it by one second in each successive caption. This would slow down how we read the page. Read the caption; look at the art. Read the caption; look at the art. Read the caption; look at the art.

    Or, still using the caption in successive panels, instead of numbers, we can use words, rather than numbers, like this: “One second.” “Two seconds.” “Three seconds.”

    That takes even longer to read than the version with numbers, albeit, not by much…but longer is longer, and it would extend our perception of the man’s increasing level of anxiety.

    To really push the our perceived length of these sixteen seconds, you can do the following in each successive panel: show the caption, counting up the seconds (as in the last example), and show the man becoming increasingly anxious in a series of thought balloons, wondering what the cops are going to do to him, wondering whether their rubber hoses have spikes in them, wondering whether they know he still had a thing for his first-grade teacher, wondering whether they’ve discovered he didn’t vote in the last election, etc.

    We know, from our earlier discussions about mastering the use of frozen moments of time inside panels, that this version of the sixteen-panel page would take the longest for the reader to experience, thus making these sixteen seconds in sixteen panels interminable.

    Which version is best? It depends on your editorial goals. The importance of this sequence to the pacing of (and placement in) your story is the ultimate barometer; the versions we’ve discussed simply reveal a number of your many options.

    Now, let’s jump a hundred years from panel to panel.

    PANEL ONE: A man sits in a crowed doctor’s waiting room. He thinks, “I think I’m going to throw up.”

    PANEL TWO: Still in a space-aged version of the doctor’s waiting room. The caption reads, “A hundred years later.” The nurse stands by the open door, says, “Next.” The room is empty, except for the skeleton of the man, still dressed in the same clothes from the previous panel (so we’ll know he’s the same man), and perhaps the hair is fashioned the same, too, just for comedic effect, as the skeleton peers angrily at her through eyeless sockets, and thinks, “I think I’m going to throw up.”

    Now let’s see you do it in a creative writing exercise.

    The goal is for anybody to read your examples and know exactly how much time has passed from one panel to the next panel, and we’re only dealing with two panels.

    The assignment: Without changing the location so much as an inch, I’d like to see you each write two panels that take place some number of seconds apart, two panels that take place some number of decades apart, and two panels that take place some number of eons apart.

    And I don’t want you to repeat, in any of your three choices, your technique or use of objects (like clocks) for showing the passage of time.

    If you use captions in one example, you can’t use them in another.

    It would be especially challenging if you could avoid techniques or objects (like clocks) used by others.

    “So there’s a real advantage in going first,” you conclude.

    “You bet,” I respond, “especially if you want to use captions or clocks.”

    “And doing this will help develop my…um, underdeveloped muscles?” you ask.

    “It will help turn them into those of a sleek powerhouse ready to streak out of the sequential art gate,” I reply.

    “Wow,” you say.

    “Wow, indeed,” I reply.

    Let’s get to work.

    Who’s first?

    ***

    Lee Nordling is the owner and founding partner of The Pack (the-pack.biz), a comics-related content provider for the publishing industry. He is also author of “Your Career In the Comics,” an overview of the newspaper comics syndication profession and industry.

    If you wish to contact Lee separately from Comics Pro Prep, please write to him at lee@projectfanboy.
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 03:43 PM.



  2. danialworks Guest

    OK, Lee. Here goes.


    SECONDS

    Panel 1. The masked villian has just fired his gun. Fastman is running straight at us, one hand reaching out-- even as the mayor of Mill City recoils in fear.

    MASKED VILLAIN: Goodbye, mister mayor!

    SFX: BLAMM---

    FASTMAN: Not--!

    Panel 2. Now, the masked villain recoils in fear. The trail of the bullet clearly flies from the gun to Fastman's speed-line covered fist, our hero having just made the save. The mayor is still recoiled, but there's a hint of a smile just started on his face.

    SFX: --MMO!!!

    FASTMAN:--this time!






    YEARS

    Panel 1. Our hero is the smallest of ants pushing a very big pebble up a steep incline that to us is only a couple of inches, but to him? It's Everest on steroids... and he's not getting anywhere. The incline has finally gotten too steep.

    ANT (thought): One more, last one, then the new place is finished... Dolly won't believe how far I had to go to get this one!

    Panel 2. The reader's POV is pulled back a little, revealing our little ant has long since reached his goal on this incline-- but now he has a long white beard trailing beneath him and back down the mountain. Above him, an old lady ant-- our boy's Dolly-- is standing atop a big ant hill made of similar pebbles, surrounded by a whole colony of ants-- the kids and grandchildren.

    ANT: Dolly! I'm home!

    DOLLY: All that time you took-- and you forgot the milk, didn't you?


    EONS

    Panel 1. The starship Demeter is being pulled into a rift space-- our background a stellar system of six planets having just formed around a bright new star. We'll use gases and space dust around our stellar and planetary bodies to help suggest the dawning of this new star system.

    CAP (CAPTAIN): "Look at it-- that's the most beautiful baby we're ever likely to see--"

    CAP (ENSIGN): "Captain!! Rogue warp evveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnntttt---"

    Panel 2. The Demeter is EMERGING from the space rift. Now, our background is the same stellar system in it's death throes, as all six planets are being pulled into the collapse of the star into a black hole.

    CAP( CAPTAIN): "Thhhhhisssssssss is not good!"



  3. LeeNordling Guest

    Hey, Danial.

    I'll add something I now realize wasn't as obvious as I intended: I want the reader of the finished comic, presuming your script is drawn, to know a particular period of time passed from one panel to the next. Look at my examples, and you'll see I worked to make sure the comic reader would always know this.

    So...

    1 & 2. We don't know the period of time that passed. (And I understand that I wasn't clear to you in the assignment.) Still, I doubt #1 will even be one second, unless it's a really slow bullet.

    3. Ditto...and you changed the location, which I thought was a more clear part of the assignment.

    This is a warm-up drill folks.

    You OUGHT to be able to do this in your sleep...but let's see who really can.

    And then let's see who can accomplish this without using any of the sequential art tools the first guy used to identify the period of time that had passed, and then the next guy's really in for it...and maybe or maybe he/she won't be able to do it.

    Try again.

    Seconds.

    Years.

    Eons.

    Begin.

    --Lee

    PS. This isn't our only drill this week, so, pun intended, time's a wastin'.
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 04:35 AM.



  4. harryd Guest

    "
    The assignment: Without changing the location so much as an inch, I’d like to see you each write two panels that take place some number of seconds apart, two panels that take place some number of decades apart, and two panels that take place some number of eons apart.
    "


    1. Seconds Apart:

    Panel 1. Several blocks of C4 are wired to the man tied to the chair. Jack leans over examining the complex wiring, a pair of wirecutters held loosely in his hand.

    SFX (getting larger, and crossing over into the next panel):
    Tick. Tick.

    Panel 2. Jack has pulled out a single red wire, and is reaching out to cut it, as nervous sweat drips down his face.

    SFX (crossing over from the last panel)
    TICK.


    2. Decades Apart

    Panel 1. Bart stands before the door, a look of expectant glee on his face.

    BART:
    Wait for it!...

    Panel 2. An exact copy of panel 1.

    CAP:
    Twenty years later.

    BART:
    Waaaaait for it!...


    3. Eons Apart

    Panel 1. Union and Confederate soliders fire back and forth across a grassy field.

    CAP:
    War.

    Panel 2. Gray and Blue colored robotic soldiers fire ray guns at one another across the same grassy background as panel 1.

    CAP:
    War never changes.


    - 1. Sound effects, you should 'hear' the seconds tick by.

    2. Explicit in a caption.

    3. Implied by the picture (supported by the caption too, thought not quite in the same manner as 2.)

    Well, there's my attempt at it!



  5. LeeNordling Guest

    Harry:

    1. How do I know how many seconds this is? FAIL, unless you didn't read my corrected post before posting. "Implicit doesn't count."

    2. Good. (Captions are off the table now for those wishing to rise to the challenge.)

    3. Implicit still doesn't count.

    And this is proving to be a pretty good challenge, because we are examining the storytelling devices at our disposal which we can use to be spot-on clear about our intentions.

    Next?

    --Lee

    PS. Implicit doesn't count because we're then allowing for the reader to guess...and maybe guess wrong. Let's at least nail the easy stuff, and captions was the easiest.



  6. drgerb Guest

    Wahoo! I've been waiting eleven weeks for this exact post! Muahah. During that hiatus I bought Will Eisner's 'Comics and Sequential Art,' where he discusses this time thing in great detail. There's one sequence where he has a leaky faucet in the foreground, and the character in the background standing still thinking about his predicament. The constant dripping of the faucet reminds us how long this guy is standing there... Fighting off my temptation to just steal from Eisner here...

    Seconds.

    Panel one. A man stands over a telephone with his hand pausing a foot away from the it.

    SFX: Rrrring.

    Panel two. Same shot as above.

    SFX: Rrrring.

    Okay, cheap attempt. The amount of time passing between panels is the distance from one ring to the next, however that may vary by a few seconds from phone to phone.


    Years.

    Panel one. A shot of a gravestone on the left side of the panel, empty grass on the right. The gravestone reads, 'Bob Sanders, 1894-1963. Caring husband, father, brother.'

    Panel two. The same shot, though now to the right side of Bob's gravestone another appears that reads, 'Betty Sanders, 1897-1969. Caring wife, mother, sister.'

    Geeze, I just love taking the easy way out. Gah.



    Eons.

    Panel one. An entirely black panel.

    Narration: Emptiness, nothingness. Despair with an ounce of hope. Before the big bang or before the creator created. Before everything.

    Panel two. A shot of a Starbucks with two fat ladies leaving with coffee cups in hand.

    Narration: Wait on it... They're about to dance.

    Crap I can't tell if my examples work or if I'm just wussing out on this one. The above example would be the number of eons between the beginning of time and two fat ladies leaving a Starbucks I saw yesterday... However many eons that is... I have this hard time calculating how many eons this is, how many that is, etc.

    I also thought of doing a scene in a bar, showing the customers drinking, sitting at the bar, thinking. The number of empty glasses in front of them / which ones are passed out could hint at the amount of time passing. Or show a bunch of drunkards walking in through the door on the first panel, show them all fumbling about, sleeping, stumbling out on the last panel: From opening time to closing. Man.

    Doing exact time frames is tough. It's hardly ever possible unless you bring in some factor of time, like a clock. A man sitting there drinking coffee, reading the newspaper? The first panel is Tuesdays newspaper, the second is Thursdays? But that again is a time calculating device. I dunno.



  7. LeeNordling Guest

    Hi, Roberts.

    1. Nowhere will the reader of the comic know that a specific number of seconds have passed. In fact, if there was a caption in panel two that read, "Ten years later," ten years would have passed. Try again.

    2. Easy? Well, we don't know how many years have passed, we only know there's another gravestone. Maybe the second gravestone is five years old. That said, USING gravestones is a smart use of the medium...but now you have to specify an amount of time from the first to the second. And if you just nail down the second, remember the first panel wasn't necessarily the burial date, either.

    3. Totally misses.

    Folks, if "eons" is giving you trouble, try using some specific number of millennia.

    Hopefully, to be more clear.

    At the top of each example, write the specific number of seconds, years, or millennia (or eons) you intend to accomplish.

    Gosh, guess this is harder than I thought it would be (or I really wasn't as clear on the assignment).

    Back at it.

    --Lee



  8. danialworks Guest

    [QUOTE=LeeNordling;23651]

    3. Ditto...and you changed the location, which I thought was a more clear part of the assignment.

    Nope... I didn't change the location. Same star system, same rift, same space ship.

    But I do see your point about TELLING the reader specific time has passed instead of SHOWING them some time has passed.



  9. LeeNordling Guest

    [QUOTE=danialworks;23668]
    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post

    3. Ditto...and you changed the location, which I thought was a more clear part of the assignment.

    Nope... I didn't change the location. Same star system, same rift, same space ship.

    But I do see your point about TELLING the reader specific time has passed instead of SHOWING them some time has passed.
    If that's a wide shot encompassing everything in both images with a static camera, I see your point.

    --Lee



  10. drgerb Guest

    1. Nowhere will the reader of the comic know that a specific number of seconds have passed. In fact, if there was a caption in panel two that read, "Ten years later," ten years would have passed. Try again.
    I guess the fact that the guy would look the exact same in both panels would kinda challenge the idea that ten years have passed? I was looking at it as the rings were consecutive, and so the amount of time that has passed has been the time in between two consecutive rings. The fact that the guy is in the exact same location, hand in the same spot, and looks the exact same would suggest that chances are closer to 5 seconds has passed rather than 5 years. Or even 5 months or days.

    What if both gravestones had grassless dirt in front of them, where the spot would have been dug out for the caskets? The first panel has fresh soil on the man's gravestone, and the second panel has fresh soil on the woman's, whereas the man's has already grown back in with grass. Would that be enough to describe the amount of time passed being roughly 6 years?

    I'm sure you could find an argument for the panel above, such as there's actually 60 years in between, and the only reason there's fresh soil on the woman's grave is because a graverobber went in digging it up, then filled it back with fresh soil to cover his tracks... But that'd just be silly.


    But that's where the time thing is tricky. Here's one for eons, however after reading the definition of eon, I'd be surprised if anybody can successfully pull it off, short of some kind of morphing / evolving landscape ala The Time Machine.


    Panel 1. A medium shot of a half completed Great Pyramid of Giza with numerours Egyption workers working on the structure. It was finished in about 2551 BC.

    Panel 2. A completed Great Pyramid of Giza, the exact shot as before. Only now there are numerous tourists filling the scene, each wearing bell bottoms, afros, and other 70's style clothing, strongly suggesting that the current time is in the 1970's.

    In that example, roughly 4,521 years have passed, although one could argue that the 70's clothing of the tourists doesn't necessarily mean the second panel is taking place in the 70's. Maybe it's actually the year 35,082, and the clothing trends of that year are scarily similar to that of our own 70's. Though to argue that point, to me, would be pointless.


    Eon: 1. An indefinitely long period of time; an age.
    2. The longest division of geologic time, containing two or more eras.


    Containing two or more eras. So what is an era?

    Era: 2. a major division of geological time; an era is usually divided into two or more periods

    So what is a period? Blah, sorry for rambling.



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