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Thread: Silence Is Golden: a workshop

  1. LeeNordling Guest

    Silence Is Golden: a workshop

    We’ve spent no small amount of time discussing how comics aren’t film, and that remains the case.

    As we’ve discovered, trying to write film on paper comes with a series of potential craft-related problems, not the least of which is that the creator’s intent often doesn’t translate to the reader’s perception of the printed page.

    We’ve discussed how time flows inside panels, and how to become a Comics Panel Time-Master.

    We’ve discussed how time warps between panels, and how to control that aspect of Your Own Private Wormhole.

    We’ve also discussed how you can use Your Own Private Wormhole to hop from any real or imagined place to any other real or imagined place.

    And we’ve shown how to create all of this with intention, so your reader has the best opportunity to perceive what you wished to convey.

    But we haven’t yet discussed how comics are like film.

    “Yay!” shouts the class in unison.

    “Yay, indeed,” I reply with restrained but real enthusiasm.

    The sequential art medium is heavily influenced by cinematic storytelling and lighting, dating most notably back to the early work of Milt Caniff and Will Eisner, and we need to recognize that particular influence on our toolbox as well.

    In an excerpt from a recent memo to TV writers, David Mamet wrote:

    REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING.

    IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.

    IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION, INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM - TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

    THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO START.

    ***

    Much of what Mamet wrote here translates well to aspects of the sequential art medium.

    Not everything, of course, because our use of the written word in dialogue and narration doesn’t necessarily decrease the potential for great sequential art stories or storytelling.

    In this memo, Mamet is pushing writers to abandon narration and speech as the first solution for solving the dramatic goals of stories.

    He knows full well that the eventual use of these tools is probable, if not inevitable, even where the goal is to create a “silent” film, because most of those had title cards with some dialogue or narration.

    “If he knows folks will ultimately need to use dialogue and narration, why does he suggest withholding it?” you ask.

    “I’m glad you asked,” I answer. “It’s because of his use of the term ‘crutch.’”

    When you use dialogue and narration as the first resort for unfolding a drama, the images then get attached to support them.

    Too many writers, especially the ones who aren’t artists (and this refers even to working professionals) begin their scripts by blocking out the dialogue.

    “What’s wrong with that?” you ask, a defensive tone creeping into your voice.

    “Nothing, if you’re writing a stage play,” I reply.

    Write the talky stuff, break down how the balloons will separate into x-number panels you have planned for a page, then figure out the best possible images to go with it.

    It is the primary default for writers who don’t think visually, or don’t first think visually.

    In a medium that remains primarily visual, blocking out space with dialogue as a default process to begin storytelling is too easy…or as easy as dialogue ever gets. It’s a crutch that doesn’t allow you the opportunity to consider how else you might best convey the visual drama of a scene. Further, beginning this way immediately eliminates too many potential, and perhaps better, visual opportunities.

    Why would you ever want to do that, except that it’s a default, and it’s easy?

    “What if starting with dialogue is what I’m best at?” you ask.

    “You’re always going to be better at something you’ve been practicing than something you’ve never tried,” I respond. “Once you’ve got the hang of it, how do you know that using a more balanced storytelling process might not make you a better comics creator?”

    “I don’t,” you confess.

    “Which is exactly why we’re going to give you the chance to find out,” I reply, “in the same way David Mamet gave his TV writers the chance to find out.”

    Beginning stories and scenes by blocking out dialogue is how too many non-artists approach writing for visual media, and it’s the “crutch” that Mamet is attempting to snap in two.

    When you tackle storytelling from a purely visual approach, you’re involving the reader in every element inside the panel, from character acting to camera position and focus.

    Readers can’t just read the balloons and captions to figure out what’s going on. They need to involve themselves more fully; they need to examine what’s going on in each panel, within the context of the ones that preceded it.

    Once again, I tout David Mamet’s book, On Directing Film, as a masterwork for how to determine a choice of images that will help you advance a visual story.

    I won’t use too much space to rephrase his thesis for determining juxtaposed uninflected images, except to say that Mamet espouses a fascinating perspective, which I’ve never forgotten.

    Referring to TV in the ‘80s, he suggested (for some very interesting reasons) that the visual presentation followed characters, like a steady cam, and that film utilized juxtaposed uninflected imagery (cuts) that required the viewer to piece together separate images (like different comics panels) in order to figure out what was going on. The result of the latter is that it requires the viewer to think and become involved, instead of just having to watch the steady-cam character doing whatever the character is doing, while simultaneously explaining everything he’s doing and why.

    For example:

    In TV, in one shot, a man is walking down a hallway, grabbing the doorknob, opening the door, and walking into a classroom. There’s not much thinking involved in understanding that.

    But in film, we see shoes walking on a hallway. Then we see a hand on a doorknob. From inside the classroom, we see a man walking through the door.

    Instead of seeing A to Z, we’re seeing A, P, Z, and our brains work to connect the dots.

    That’s my Reader’s Digest version of Mamet’s thesis, which is based on Eisenstein’s theory of film. I strongly recommend each of you get Mamet’s book, just so you’ll have a better explanation for how to grasp and apply the process to your own work.

    It changed my storytelling life.

    When I reached writing the third part of a three-part graphic novel, I discovered I had too much story for the twenty-four Disney Adventures pages, especially considering that five panels per page pushed its digest-sized limit.

    I had all these great plans for how Mickey Mouse helped the slaves from the planet Throgg join the rebellion, how the gigantic space battle with Goofy and Minnie leading the other half of the rebellion would bring their cause to the brink of disaster, how Mickey’s infiltration of Throgg’s secret chambers would nearly be discovered, and I still needed to finally reveal to the readers the identity of the mysterious storyteller, etc.

    Too much.

    My process for writing comics at the time was to dialogue through scenes, but I just knew if I began this particular story that way, I’d end up having to cut it into something so messy that the result wouldn’t make sense, or worse, wouldn’t work well dramatically. I was stumped. Truly stumped. Four months without writing a word on it, and thanking the gods that the artist was still slogging through his work on the first two painted parts. But I was running out of time. I was getting prodded to produce a draft.

    Then I read On Directing Film, and my life changed.

    As soon as I put the book down, caught up in this new way to approach sequential art storytelling, I grabbed a pad and jotted down, in order, every image I needed for the story. I knew I could bridge these images later with necessary dialogue, but my goal here was to get in every image I absolutely had to have, hoping that this would show me where I had room to fill the story out, or, if necessary, how much actual plotting needed to be cut.

    I was lucky, win-the-lottery lucky, because, after I completed the page breaks, my choice of images fit the story space perfectly.

    I had no room to add or delete a single image.

    My next task was to bridge those images with dialogue and narration (it’s one of my personal strengths), and my lesson was learned.

    I had a new way to write comics.

    My best explanation for this process is that it’s a writer’s version of the plot method, otherwise known as the Marvel method, for creating comics.

    In the plot method, the writer gives a story synopsis to the artist, the artist then draws the story, making it as visually interesting as he or she can, then the writer adds word balloons and captions to have the story make sense.

    It’s the primary difference between Marvel and DC Comics from the ‘60s. Marvel was plot method, and DC was full script.

    Each approach has strengths and weaknesses.

    The big weakness to the plot method is that the artist must be a good sequential art storyteller. If he or she is not, if he or she cannot unfold the drama without a script, the drawn pages often require the writer to use too many captions and too much expository dialogue so the damned thing will make sense.

    I hate the plot method approach to creating comics, but that’s a personal choice, because some great comics have been created through this particular approach, most notably the Silver Age work of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Stan Lee.

    However, I love plot-method writing.

    I love unfolding image upon image without dialogue.

    Holding focus on a scene lets us explore what’s different between panels.

    Panning or changing focus allows for a slight increase in visual drama.

    Panning and changing focus brings us a dynamic shift in tone.

    Cutting from close-up to long shot (or visa versa) of a character in different locations allows us to show great passages of time.

    In contrast, holding focus on a character in a series of shots with different background locations keeps our attention focused on the character.

    There are too many wonderful opportunities and options to list. Perhaps some day we’ll catalog them.

    For now, though, let’s simply acknowledge the potential for brilliant “silent” (or wordless) storytelling in masterpieces like Raymond Brigg’s The Snowman and Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.

    And that’s what we’re going to work on this week.

    Write two wordless sequential art pages, which contain at least five panels per page.

    So there’s no misunderstanding, I do not wish to see so much as one word balloon, thought balloon, caption, or block of floating text. The use of signage and sound effects is fine.

    I don’t care what the pages are about.

    We don’t need extensive character descriptions; let’s assume they’re elsewhere.

    I don’t care which sequential art tools you employ.

    Here are the only three things I care about:

    1. Write each panel from left to right (because you’re a Comics Panel Time-Master);

    2. Write with intention, because that should be your goal as a creator;

    3. Have the two pages make sense in some way as a wordless progression. That’s right, it doesn’t have to be a story, I just need to see something that makes some kind of sense.

    Clarify your trim size: comic book trim, digest, manga, magazine (8.5 inches x 11 inches), tabloid, whatever. We need to know how much space you’re intending to fill.

    If there is one word of explanation about what you intend in the description that a reader of the finished comic will not understand, then you have failed in your assignment.

    If you write that something in your page takes place in New York City, and I don’t see anything in the imagery from which the reader will know they are in NYC, then you have failed. If you write that it’s a city like NYC so the artist will know what to draw, then there’s no need for the reader to have to know it’s NYC, and you’ll have passed (on that point). If you write that it’s NYC but that the reader doesn’t need to know this, then there’s no need for the reader to have to know it’s NYC, and you’ll have passed (on that point). The difference between these three examples is intention. If you expect a reader to understand something, then you have to do your job as a creator to lead them to that point of understanding.

    If the distinction between these examples is not clear to you, then please prompt me for clarification about what confuses you.

    One tip, which I strongly suggest you consider: don’t get tricky with camera angles. This is about specifying a series of wordless images, and the more time you spend on the minutiae of what’s in a panel, the more you’ll lose the flow of the page. Caveat: that is if the minutiae are not vital to the point of the story.

    I’ll go first, with a slightly revised two-page excerpt from my Digital Webbing anthology story, Silver-Hair & the Three Xairs. The artist is my ol’ pal Scott Roberts, who’s worked on Patty Cake, Rugrats, Prince Valiant (color).

    Format: Comic book trim

    PAGE 1

    PANEL 1 (big panel)

    Establishing shot on another planet, with strangely colored ground, tree-things, and sky, perhaps with two or more moons so we’ll know we’re not on Earth. An oddly shaped “walkway” is contoured more like a swale for something to flow through than like something on which somebody is intended to walk. Silver-Hair, a cute little six year-old, is skipping happily up the “walkway,” which leads to a strange-shaped alien abode. At a glance, the abode obviously doesn’t accommodate a human shape or size. Perhaps the thing that looks like a door is round or oblong, rather than tall. “Round” or “curved” are the predominant design shapes for the creatures that built this, which is in obvious contrast to the rectangular or sometimes-triangular nature of human design. I’m thinking “round” or “curved” because the aliens will be revealed (at the end of the story, not here) to be sometimes-gelatinous and sometimes-fluid, and perhaps they’re pear-shaped, so round and cupped (like a fruit bowl) would be more naturally comfortable for them to sit, sleep, or relax.

    PANEL 2

    Silver-Hair has just pulled the “door” aside--it’s like a draped flat-noodle (something that’s vertically and horizontally flexible, not solid, maybe like heavy window drapery) that is hung rather than hinged--and she has to duck low to be able to peek inside.

    PANEL 3

    Inside the alien abode, with an angle on Silver-Hair, who has just stepped inside, looking in wide-eyed in childish awe at...

    PANEL 4

    ...the huge, open space that is unlike any room she’s ever seen. She’s walking through it, looking up (still in awe) at all the stuff that might or might not be furniture. It’s attached to or hanging from the walls and ceilings; it’s stuff that indicates the creatures living here don’t JUST live on the floor like people. We should wonder what they are.

    PANEL 5

    Silver-Hair is looking in a different direction than the previous panel, so we know she’s really scoping out the place. While doing this, she’s walking toward something we MIGHT think is a sitting area, but let’s not make this visualization too on the nose, because it probably isn’t a sitting area (and nope, I don’t know what it really is for, because, like her, I’m just an ignorant human).

    PAGE 2

    PANEL 1

    Still checking out stuff, she eases her fanny onto a sofa-like cube suspended a few inches above the ground (and nope, I don’t know how it’s suspended; it simply seems to be floating).

    PANEL 2

    Her alarmed attention is quickly switched to the problem at hand, which is that she can’t seem to un-stick her fanny from the cube. Pushing back from it, the cube stretches out of shape to keep itself attached to her.

    PANEL 3

    Then it has SNAPPED to send her flying away from it, humorously head over heals.

    1 SFX: (the point where SH and the cube have parted) snap!

    PANEL 4

    Lying with her back on the ground, like Charlie Brown after having missed kicking the football, she’s pissed, and at this moment we just KNOW this is a kid that doesn’t like to be crossed; definitely more Calvin than Charlie Brown, or Pippi than princess.

    PANEL 5

    Silver-Hair is up to one of her knees, suspiciously eyeing the perfectly innocent cube that hovers inches above the ground.

    PANEL 6

    She glances back at the sphere on the ground behind her.

    PANEL 7

    With skepticism, she pushes a finger into the surface of the sphere, and it gives a little, like a sofa cushion.

    PANEL 8

    Silver-Hair is watching closely, eyes narrowed, to see that her finger hasn’t stuck after she has pulled it back from the sphere. She’s obviously being more careful; if one was generous, I might even say she’s learning, but that’s yet to be determined.

    PANEL 9

    Silver-Hair carefully eases her fanny onto the sphere, and we see it giving a little to her weight, then...

    (BONUS PANEL FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT)

    PAGE 3

    PANEL 1

    ...she has fallen so far into the sphere that all we can see are her flailing arms and legs. Bill Watterson would’ve loved drawing this panel.

    1 SFX: (the point where SH has collapsed into the sphere) schluupp

    ***

    Here are the drawn and colored images (which still lack sound effects lettering):








    ***

    Now, this was just part of a story that has ten out of twelve wordless pages. In my bonus panel, we clearly leave off with Silver-Hair once again in humorous complication.

    My panel count is pretty high, but yours doesn’t need to be.

    I added a bonus panel, just so interested readers might want to know what happened next, but I could’ve easily just stopped at the end of page two and satisfied the assignment requirements.

    Also, my first page here isn’t the first page of the actual story, so I tweaked it to fit this exercise.

    The point of this exercise is not to write a two-page story, though some of you will no-doubt embrace that challenge.

    The point is to see if you can write a succession of wordless panels that advance some form of narrative…for two entire pages.

    Here’s another example:

    PAGE 1

    PANEL 1

    Centered left and right in the foreground of the panel, a rock sits on the near-molten material, with a gushing volcano in the background.

    PANEL 2

    The rock is on the cool ground, with sparse flora in the background.

    PANEL 3

    The rock is on the mossy ground, with little prehistoric creatures scuttling about.

    PANEL 4

    The rock is on the grass, with monstrous dinosaurs battling in the background.

    PANEL 5

    The rock is on the frozen ground, with dinosaur skeletons in the background.

    PANEL 6

    The rock is on the cold ground, with a wooly mammoth in the background.

    PANEL 7

    The rock is on the grassy ground, with early man chasing a deer in the background.

    PANEL 8

    The rock is on the hard-packed ground, with Romans chasing Goths in the background.

    PANEL 9

    The rock is on the hard-packed ground, with, in the background, Romans being chased by Goths in the opposite direction.

    PAGE 2

    PANEL 1

    The rock is on a concrete street, with two groups of 21st century people arguing with each other in the background. Each side holds protest signs, and it doesn’t matter that we can’t read them.

    PANEL 2

    The rock is on the concrete street, with a nuclear explosion in the background.

    PANEL 3

    The rock is on the cracked concrete street, with desolation in the background, and dingy dust still not settled, hangs in the air like putrid fog.

    PANEL 4

    The rock stands up on the cracked concrete street, its three thin legs long and spider-like, with desolation in the background.

    PANEL 5

    The rock stands on the cracked concrete street, stretching one of its legs to the left, with desolation in the background.

    SFX: (The stretching) urrrrgggghhh

    PANEL 6

    The rock stands on the cracked concrete street, stretching two of its other legs to the right, with desolation in the background.

    SFX: (The stretching) gurrrgggghhh

    PANEL 7

    The rock is on the cracked concrete street, and is stepping to the right, now clearly no longer in the middle of the panel, with desolation in the background.

    SFX: (The stepping) step step

    PANEL 8

    Now off-center in the panel, the rock has lowered nearly back down to the cracked concrete street, the motion lines above it support the idea that it has just lowered. Its legs are folded at the joints. Desolation remains in the background.

    PANEL 9

    The rock is sitting on the cracked concrete street, still off-center in the panel, its legs hidden. It smiles, with desolation in the background.

    ***

    That was written for this assignment in no more than a half hour, so if you simply concentrate on the basics of this assignment, and don’t over-think it, it can be quick and easy.

    Be creative, have fun, and don’t worry about anything except the constraints of the assignment. If there’s a story, there’s a story, but don’t anguish over it, because you only have one goal: to properly address the assignment.

    Here’s my best suggestion, which I encourage the more adventurous among you to take: first try this simply. Don’t be fancy. Just try writing the two pages that make sense. If you pass that version, then stretch a little on the next one. And so forth.

    This isn’t about doing this once and thinking you now understand everything about it; this is about doing it a lot so that you get good at it, so that it becomes natural.

    What’s a PASS? If you address the assignment, and the script you intend can be perceived as you intended by the finished comic’s reader.

    What’s a FAIL? If you don’t completely address the assignment, or any aspect can’t be perceived as you intended by the finished comic’s reader.

    Who’s the arbiter? Yours truly, the editor-instructor.

    Treat this like a job with a deadline, where there’s no time for revisions. (Yes, you’ll get to do revisions if they’re needed, but if you treat this assignment as though your job depends on it, you’ll start applying a necessary level of self-scrutiny.) Read over your draft a few times to make sure that it fully meets the assignment requirements.

    If you rush posting it, you’ll probably regret it; make reviewing your work for correctness part of this assignment. I reviewed my second example the morning after I wrote it, added a polish and fixed some typos, did it again the next morning, just to be sure it still worked, and the total revision time took no more than another half hour.

    That’s your job, too: making it right.

    David Mamet agrees…er, or visa versa, and I agree with him.

    Let’s begin.

    ***

    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; Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 10:14 PM.



  2. danialworks Guest

    Let's just go with regular comic.

    Page One

    Panel 1.

    A hand has just pushed a key into a deadbolt lock.

    Panel 2.

    A badly-lit apartment building hallway-- there's a hint of daylight from a window at the back. Sam is standing in front of that open door-- he's looking through his mail.

    Panel 3.

    We're inside the apartment before Sam, looking through the open doorway into the bedroom. All we can see is the corner of the bed and a pair of old shoes-- and a human shadow falling onto the floor at the middle of the room.

    Panel 4.

    We're still inside the apartment, and now so is Sam. Motion lines around his left foot show us he's just kicked the door shut. More motion lines run from his right hand to the mail having just landed percariously on a mock foyer shelf. Obviously, our boy is NOT in the bedroom.

    Panel 5.

    A refrigerator door blocks our view of the rest of the kitchen as Sam drinks OJ from the bottle. Safe and sound at home!

    Panel 6.

    Same shot as panel 3, looking into the bedroom. That shadow is closer to the open door. Uh-oh.

    PAGE TWO

    Panel 1.

    Sam's living room. A couple of curtained windows-- curtains drawn. Sam is behind the sofa, looking at his tv remote-- our POV being where the TV would be from another angle. That open doorway-- lots of shadows, and the slightest hint of the shape and color of a human hand at the right level. A bookcase-- a holstered gun on top.

    Panel 2.

    A much bigger hand than Sam's has just brushed against the bedroom door.

    Panel 3.

    A profile of Sam-- the look of a man who thinks he may have just heard something unexpected-- but our focal point is Sam's ear-- because he HAS heard something.

    Panel 4.

    Right on Sam's face-- his eyes gone a little wide. Not so safe and sound!



    Panel 5.

    The holstered gun on the shelf.

    Panel 6.

    The shadowy-shape of an indistinct but very large man in the bedroom doorway. Sam has just turned and jumped for his gun--
    Last edited by danialworks; Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 12:59 AM.



  3. LeeNordling Guest

    Danial, ambitious, lots of stuff, wish you'd tackled something simple.

    I'm sorry to say this FAILS.

    Your page 1 panel 3 & 6 description doesn't really make sense.

    In short, I don't know what you want. I half-read that shot as not including Sam at all (because he's not described in the shot). Now, my biggest problem is that I don't know where that shadow is coming from, so I don't know where the person/whatever casting it is located.

    Your page 2 panel 1 description really confused me. I cautioned against using camera angles for a reason, and that's because I really don't know what you were intending about our POV and the TV.

    Next time, use the KISS rule: Keep it simple, stupid (no offense, that the rule, not me).

    PG2/P2: A bigger hand than Sam's has "brushed" against the bedroom door. The "brushing" action isn't clear, and we really don't know how big Sam's hands are...so how does the reader know they're bigger than Sam's. If this was important to you (and presumably it was), this is lost on the reader.

    Now, the more interesting and potentially debatable images were PG2/P4&5.

    4. Sam's eyes wide.

    5. The holstered gun on the shelf.

    P4 was to let us know Sam saw something, but then we've got this gun on a shelf.

    Now, I believe the gun was highlighted to let us know what he was going to leap for, which is nice.

    And maybe this would've worked.

    But if there was an image between the two, holding the angle on Sam, showing his eyes shift to the right...THEN showing the gun in the next panel, we'd have made a connection and thought Sam was looking at the gun, and the last panel would've been that much more dramatic.

    There's a lot of tense dynamism here, so I see the mood building.

    But the writing isn't as clear as it needs to be.

    If I can't understand it, there's a good chance the artist won't understand it, and that's why this is a FAIL.

    ***

    I want to caution each of you that if you try something big before you really get a handle on this then you won't get much from the experience.

    You'll get an edit, some suggestions to fix stuff, but you won't be able to write these pages every time without notes.

    We've spent a LONG time just working to get you to write clearly.

    So, please, each of you, start simple, and make sure we don't get lost in your creativity, as I was with Danial's.

    Danial, if you choose to revise this before the next one, please post the entire piece with the corrections. This way we won't have to go back and forth to track it.

    Thanks going first, and I hope the next person heeds my advice: start simple, get your sea legs here.

    --Lee
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 05:06 AM.



  4. drgerb Guest

    My attempt. I'm not even going to guess whether it's a pass or a fail. I also have to admit I still struggle with the whole writing from left to right thing. I imagine drawing my own stories, so while I see the panels in my head as I want them to appear, I have a hard time describing them to others in left to right fashion. I still place a scene, then drop the characters and elements into the scene in order of importance. That's something I'm still trying to work on though, in case I do have to settle for hiring other artists.

    It's comic book format. And I also put down the panel layout for both pages so we know also how much room we've got for each panel, which panel is the focal point of the page, etc.

    Page 1 (6 panels; Top 1/3 is one panel, middle 1/3 is two panels, bottom 1/3 is 3 panels.)

    Panel 1. Wide out shot from across the street of a downtown scene in small town, midwestern America. There are a few shops / buildings, names and appearances which don't matter, but in the center is a restaurant and through the window, Frank stares back at us. Zombies are shambling about while corpses, garbage and random fires fill the scene.

    Panel 2. We are now inside the restaurant with a close up shot from over the shoulder of Frank, who's still looking through the window.

    Panel 3. Medium shot of Frank, who's now looking downward and to the right, at one of the restaurant tables. On the table rests an axe.

    Panel 4. Close up shot of Frank's right hand reaching towards the axe. Frank's terrified reflection in the axe stares back at us.

    Panel 5. Medium shot of Frank now facing the door. To the left of Frank is the door knob, while the axe is at his side in his right hand.

    Panel 6. Close up shot of Frank's left hand reaching for the doorknob.


    Page 2 (6 panels; Top 1/3 is two panels, middle 1/3 is three panels, bottom 1/3 is 1 panel.)

    Panel 1. Medium shot of Frank standing outside the restaurant looking to his left down the street. Most of the zombies are now aware of him, either staring at him or slowly shambling towards him.

    Panel 2. Wide out shot of Frank running away from us, the viewer, down the street. There are now even more zombies shambling about, coming out of open doorways, from behind buildings, etc.

    Panel 3. Close up shot of Frank's shoe, as he trips over a pothole.

    Panel 4. Medium shot of Frank as he's falling, in mid air, trying to block the fall. He accidentally lets go of the axe and that is falling away from him.

    Panel 5. Medium shot of Frank on the ground with a terrified expression on his face.

    Panel 6. Medium-long shot of Frank who's now holding his arms up and over his face in defense, but still sitting on the ground. The zombies now have him surrounded.



  5. LeeNordling Guest

    Roberts's grade:

    This is a PASS...sorta.

    What you want is clear and can be drawn.

    The last image epitomizes the "sorta": a medium shot on Frank, sitting on the ground, surrounded by zombies.

    If he's surrounded by zombies, how can we see him in a medium shot? If we bring the camera inside the circle of zombies, then we're close on Frank, not medium.

    Now, an artist would probably draw an opening in the zombies, through which we can see Frank...and that would be fine.

    But that's not what you intended; the artist just drew something different than you asked for in order to achieve your intent.

    Which is what happens all the time, writers.

    The artist saves your bacon, when they can figure out what you meant.

    I get that you're an artist, Roberts, so this won't really happen to you.

    Still, there's a disconnect between what you're putting in the script and how it's going to be interpreted in the art, and that's what we're trying to fix.

    As I wrote, this is a PASS, because there weren't any clear "errors," and, believe it or not, I don't want to nitpick you guys to death.

    But here's the thing.

    Roberts, had you left out every single camera angle, this would have been an enthusiastic, full-throated PASS.

    In spite of advice, you chose to go with camera angles, though. They mostly get in your way.

    And when you got fancy with the images, a reflection in the ax that was being reached for, as an example, I thought: there's no way this image is going to work well, since our protagonist and the ax head is so far from each other, even farther than the ax handle, and that's still out of reach.

    This was, in my opinion, an awkward and unfortunate visual note that is easier to write than to draw, and nothing substantive is gained from it, important image-wise.

    It's the minutiae you should have left out...for the sake of the assignment.

    Nope, that wasn't a requirement, but it was a suggestion.

    This now gives you the opportunity to evaluate why it was necessary to include it.

    And this becomes part of that self-editor aspect of this exercise.

    But you cleared a hurdle, Roberts.

    Let's see if you can do it more cleanly next time.

    Thanks.

    --Lee



  6. Rain Guest

    Comic trim

    Page One

    PANEL 1

    A darkened bedroom, with a shadowy figure laying on a bed to the left of the panel. The person on the bed is covered in pillows and sheets, asleep. Directly beside the bed sits a nightstand with a clock. The digital display reads 2:59 AM. A bedroom window is on the right of the panel, the shadowy silhouette of branches falling across its panels.

    PANEL 2

    Same shot. The figure on the bed has still not stirred. The clock on the nightstand reads 3:00 AM. The branches silhouetted on the window are no longer visible, as bright white light blasts through the window frame. The room is partially illuminated by the light coming from outside.

    PANEL 3

    Same shot. The figure, a man, has jolted awake and is sitting up in bed. He's looking in horror towards the window, where the white light still blasts through -- but even brighter, now. The clock on the nightstand still reads 3:00 AM.

    PANEL 4

    Same shot. The man is now pawing at the sheets, frantically trying to throw them off and get out of the bed. The clock on the nightstand still reads 3:00 AM. In the window light continues blasting through -- but even brighter, nearly washing out the room. Within the window frame now stands the silhouette of an elongated, humanoid figure. Its hand is extended, one finger pointing at the man in the bed.


    PANEL 5

    Same shot, but the room is completely white-washed by the light from the window. The only things left visible are the dark elongated figure, still pointing, and outline of the window frame it's standing in.

    Page Two

    PANEL 1

    From the point of view of a patient on an operating bed, looking towards a bright light that hangs overhead.

    PANEL 2

    Same shot. The light still hangs above. Before the light a dark, elongated hand (as seen on panel 5 and 6 of previous page) passes an intricate knife from the left of the panel towards the center. (This "knife" has all sorts of do-dads and whirly gigs attached, like a suped-up Swiss Army knife.) A different dark, elongated hand on the right of the panel is reaching towards the center of the panel to grab the instrument.

    PANEL 3

    Same shot. The light still shines down from above, but the hand on the left is now gone. The hand on the right has brought the knife -- do-dads and whirly-gigs now spinning and gyrating -- closer to our point of view on the table.

    PANEL 4

    Same shot, but blood splatters across the panel. All is blocked out by the blood except for a portion of the light that hangs from overhead; letting us know we're at the same location, in the same position.

    PANEL 5

    Back to the bedroom featured on page 1. A figure is laying on the bed, covered in pillows and sheets. Directly beside the bed sits a nightstand with a clock. The digital display reads 6:59 AM. Through the window to the right of the panel flows sunshine, and a metallic disc-shaped object hovering in the blue sky.

    PANEL 6

    Same shot, but the figure in the bed has reached over to slap the top of the alarm clock. The clock on the nightstand reads 7:00 AM. The disc hovering in the sky outside the window has now vanished.

    SFX (alarm): Buzzz-Buzzz-Buzzz



  7. LeeNordling Guest

    Rain's grade:

    FAIL.

    Rain, you were doing great until the first panel on page 2, with a classic writer's "mistake."

    Your panel description: From the point of view of a patient on an operating bed, looking towards a bright light that hangs overhead.

    One question: how does the reader of the comic know a "patient" has this point of view?

    Since all the following images in that room repeat that pov, the reader is never giving this information, and your intent for this particular part of the presumed nightmare is never realized.

    Had you placed ONE establishing shot of the operating room showing the patient on the table then this would've been an enthusiastic pass.

    Or, had the panel description simple read: A patient lies on an operating bed, looking towards a bright light that hangs overhead.

    Since this is an easy fix, start over with something completely different.

    And thanks for playing!

    --Lee

    PS. Does everybody notice that it's the continuing tendency to use camera angles that's tripping folks up? I sure do. This tendency to visually direct the artist is just killing you guys...especially when you write things that get more in your own way than help the artist or clarify your vision.

    PPS. Take the hint, guys. Remember "crawl before you walk"? Here we are again. Simple first, learn what works and why, then stretch...slowly.
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 07:49 PM.



  8. Rain Guest

    TAKE TWO

    comic trim

    Page One

    PANEL 1

    A house is on fire, surrounded by fire trucks and rescue personnel. A white sedan is on the outskirts of the scene, driver's side door open with one foot stepping out.

    PANEL 2

    A man armed with a camera and tape recorder is shutting the door of the white sedan. He wears a PRESS pass around his neck, identifying him as John Worley: Daily Observer. Firefighters rush past him carrying a hose.

    PANEL 3

    The man, a reporter, snaps photos of the firefighters spraying down the home with water.

    PANEL 4

    The reporter holds his tape recorder towards a man in black slacks and a white button up shirt. This man wears a badge on his chest that reads: Capt. Sterling, VFD. Capt. Sterling is moving his hands in a classic, "No, nothing to see here" hand motion.

    PANEL 5

    Same shot, but Capt. Sterling is walking away. In the background, on the porch of a home neighboring the one on fire, stands two onlookers.

    PANEL 6

    The reporter is now standing on a porch, with the home on fire in the background. He's holding his recorder towards the two people seen in the background of panel 5. One of them is pointing towards the house on fire and (seemingly) shouting excitedly.

    Page Two

    Panel 1

    The reporter sits in front of a computer screen. A picture editing program is open, displaying pictures of firefighters battling the blaze from page one.

    Panel 2

    Same shot, but a different photo is opened on the reporter's computer. It a close up shot of a can of gasoline on a roadway, a struck match beside of it.

    Panel 3

    The reporter is sitting at his desk, placing earphones over his ears. The other end of the phones is connected to his tape recorder seen in page one.


    Panel 4

    The reporter is typing text into a word program on his computer.


    Panel 5

    Shot of a Daily-Observer newspaper in a paper stand. Above the fold are the pictures we saw the reporter editing in panels 1 and 2. The headline reads: Officials remain mum on blaze; witnesses claim arson. The byline on the story reads: By John Worley.



  9. LeeNordling Guest

    Rain's 2nd grade:

    PASS...sorta.

    Why the "sorta"?

    PG1/P4: Capt. Sterling is moving his hands in a classic, "No, nothing to see here" hand motion.

    "Moving"? In comics? Really?

    Rain's attempt to show motion as a substitution for balloons is one of the real communication difficulties of silent narrative.

    Next time, I recommend describing a posture that's negative and doesn't require motion. "Holding up a hand to ward off the query, while turning away his head, and perhaps showing a stubbornly closed mouth" would do it.

    Or, since the captain walks away in the next panel, just looking mildly annoyed at the intrusion here would do it, because the walking away in the next panel would complete the idea that he didn't say anything.

    Now, this is a PASS, but the kind of awkwardness above shows a continuing tendency toward film and not comics writing.

    But it's drawable, and the reader will get what you intended.

    Better.

    Thanks.

    --Lee



  10. drgerb Guest

    an artist would probably draw an opening in the zombies,
    That was what I intended but forgot to. Gah.

    a reflection in the ax that was being reached for
    And yeah. I kinda realized that but was just trying to 'shrug it off.' If I were to redo it, I'd have to show him reach for the axe, then use another panel to have him hold it up like a mirror to see his own reflection.

    And a quick question regarding camera angles. You tell us to avoid them. Is that just for this particular assignment? Or do writers normally / usually tend to avoid them and let the artist figure them all out? I understand that artists probably have a better visual imagination than writers, but I thought a lot of writers use camera angles to an extent?

    I'll see if I can come up with a second attempt to clear away any of those doubts / sort of's you pinned on me the first time around. Hehe. Thanks.



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