Comic Talk, Tips and Tricks

story meets art
StaceyMontgomery at 10:36PM, June 9, 2007
posts: 520
joined: 4-7-2007
One thing that really interests me about comics of all kinds is the way the story and the artwork come together. I've always loved this. Pictures are nice, are prose can be truly great… but for me, there's a special magic when stories are told in pictures. I figure, most people here probably feel the same way.

And yet, we actually don't talk about it a lot. We talk about “writing” comics and “drawing” comics, as if those were two distinct thing, but we don't talk so much about the way they come together. I don't even think we have good jargon for describing it.

But i think about it all the time. I'd love to know how people approach this.

Like, when i do my strip, i start with the “writing.” I figure out what's going to happen. So, OK, Jace and Crow are going to talk about something, and Futurella is going to find an important clue. Right. Then I write the actual dialogue. I'll type up the text and spread it out in an empty template of my strip to see how crowded it looks. Now, I know what's happening here, but I'm only going to draw a few actual panels, so now I have to figure out - what exactly am I drawing? What's important in this sequence? People's expressions? Their body language? What they're doing?

I'll make little thumbnails or whatever, and try to figure out what I can show. Like, I might want to mostly show you what Futurella is doing… but can I show that while Jace is talking? Will everyone be able to tell Jace is speaking when Jace is not on camera? And if the answer is no, I have to go back and start over.

And then there's another whole layer to this - I don't even know what to call it, when I try to figure out camera angles and such, ways to get the artwork to help tell the story? If I look down on the characters from above, I can make confusing relationships clearer… but they characters also tend to look distant. I can draw lots of talking heads for clarity… but the strip can get dull fast that way.

I used to say that I spent all of my time drawing. Now, I'm coming to realize that actually drawing doesn't take me so much time. Its the deciding “what to draw and how” that drives me crazy.

I've noticed, for instance, that sometimes a pro comic will have a writer, and artist, and another artist doing “breakdowns.” That is, they've turned those things into three jobs. I've often been told that comic book artists who are good at breakdowns are often hired by hollywood types to turn scripts into storyboards. After all, the script is just dialogue - its the storyboard that really guides the camera lens!

OK, sorry, this is a long winded speech when I meant to ask a question -

how do you handle this in your comic? How do you figure out how your story and your art are going to come together? And if you're part of a writer/artist team, who does the breakdowns?

last edited on July 14, 2011 3:55PM
Darth Mongoose at 2:12AM, June 10, 2007
posts: 488
joined: 1-7-2006
Well, at the thumbnail stage, I make up dialogue, and create images that match that dialogue. Then I look at the pictures when I've drawn the page, and create dialogue that matches those pictures and the shape of the page. Sometimes if I do an expression really well, the dialogue I would have put in becomes superfluous, so I leave it out. Other times, I have a really good idea at the last minute, or a character's expression makes them just seem to say a line in my head.
“Breaking news today, as Rocket Lune is brutally assaulted by puberty”, was never in an original draft. I just drew the page, and Juliet seemed to be looking at the reader and speaking with a news-reader expression.
In the draft script, she'd just said something like ‘geez, I didn’t know Rocket could get crushes!'
With the characters who speak with a dialect, I tend to write straight dialogue so I know what they're saying, then alter it to fit their accenr later. Obviously, I have to stick in notes for the non-British readers, explaining the meaning of ‘nowt’, ‘git’ and ‘wendy house’ among other things (I'm always amazed by what words you guys don't know. Thank goodness for Harry Potter and Monty Python being shipped abroad, else you wouldn't understand a word!). I have to cut Fortress' dialogue short occasionally, because she speaks in big block capitals.
I guess I just work the words and images together. I think of them as just two ingredients that make up the comic mixture. When I draw, I'm always thinking about what the characters are saying when I draw their expressions. Sometimes though, they just write the comic themselves a bit!
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:08PM
Aurora Moon at 9:53AM, June 10, 2007
posts: 2,630
joined: 1-7-2006
I usually write the scripts first….. although half of the time I don't always follow the scripts when drawing it out. I usually have to go for some minor changes or some large changes while still following the basic idea.

It's just a matter of seeing what I can draw at the time… and how the scene would look best in picture.

So in the end no matter how well-planned I can be, sometimes I kinda just go along with changes and making it up on the spot if parts of the script can't be drawn after all due to the complexity of the scene.

also sometimes the characters kinda take control of the story and makes me end up wondering what might happen next. Dunno if that ever happened to you…
I'm on hitatus while I redo one of my webcomics. Be sure to check it out when I'n done! :)
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:10AM
Sysli at 10:47AM, June 10, 2007
posts: 162
joined: 2-24-2007
Words and images. That is all it is in the end.
Lost is my “real” comic in my mind, and it's always been a bit different talking about it, than about my other art. Or about comics in general. It's photos, not drawings. There's no faces you can relate to, just a “narrator”. But the words and images still have to work together and it wouldn't be a comic, and I'd like to think that I think a lot while I do it… but I don't

First comes the words. I think I could work the other way around, and sometimes I get inspired by one of my pictures, but mostly I start out with something the narrator wants to say.
When I'm in the right mood I sit down and look at far too many photos and pick the first one that feels right. Lost is a very “feely” comic. It's all about what feels and looks right. Sometimes I know what I'm looking for before I sit down, but that is very very rare.
Then I actually put in the text, having a bit of fun making it fit.
Usually it's just about that, but there has been a few times where the text seemed wrong after I finished and had to go back and change things around.

And there it is. Compared to everybody else it seems ridicolously easy for me to make my comic. I could go on about why I choose some of the pictures I did for some of them, but I'll spare you all the endless explanations.
Because I may as well show a bit of pride. ^___^

last edited on July 14, 2011 4:05PM
JustNoPoint at 6:50PM, June 10, 2007
posts: 1,325
joined: 3-16-2007
I don't do the script writing. I tried that once but it makes me forget action more or pretty much anything non-verbal.

First I come up with what my story will be about in my head. I lay out all the key scenes and moments,

Then I write down what I call “Issue Events”

In this phase I write down the main points of that issue. What do I want to accomplish in this issue? What character(s) are going to be focussed on?

An example of what this would look like:
Bob finds a rock, Bob's friend steals the rock, focus on Bob's emotional loss of the rock, remember to point out that he spazzes alot without kool aid too.
Bob's friend squishes the rock with his super squish move and Bob decides to get a big pit bull instead.

In my comic I also put the date in and what day it is so I can keep up with holidays, birthdays, etc that the characters/stories can interact with.

I then simply take blank paper and begin making a draft. I start setting up each scene in my head as an animation, I draw out the scene adding the dialogue I see them saying in my head and fine tuning as necessary. In this phase I sometimes draw stick figure poses with little things that let me know who is who.

Above is my draft and what the actual page ended up being. Most of my rethinking comes when I actually make the page. Camera angles can change, scenes can change, text, whole pages at times. When making my draft I simply think up to a certain point then draft it out and figure what to do from there to get to each key moment and making sure I add things to build the characters and show them to the audience.

also sometimes the characters kinda take control of the story and makes me end up wondering what might happen next. Dunno if that ever happened to you…
With the way I make my stories it can happen a lot ^^
That's another good thing I like about my quick draft method. I can be many issues ahead so if I come up with new ideas or the characters go off in their own way a bit I can go back and revise stuff to make it fit better if need be.

At the moment I am working on issue 8 in my draft and have the key events and story focus made through issue 16. =P
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:12PM
CharleyHorse at 4:12PM, June 11, 2007
posts: 627
joined: 12-7-2006
With Port Infinity I begin with a master concept, or a distant goal. At the moment I'm laying the foundations for the death of one and the creation of another entire universe. Of necessity this storytelling is going to require at least two chapters to complete. While I do have in mind future stories and ongoing needs, I try not to dwell overmuch on these so as not to dampen the needed creativity going on in the here and now.

Logic pretty much drives my writing. I know where I want to end up and I want the process of getting there to be both logical and stuffed with entertainment value, and both without violating the rules laid down regarding character types, known personalities, and just what I will or will not allow to occur at this point in time in the storytelling process. Fortunately these serve to limit and therefore define my range of options.

Once I have the greater necessities filled in to my satisfaction - usually in outline format, it is then time to script the actual chapter. I know where the storyline begins, I know what must be accomplished in the plotting, I know the range of actions and reactions typical of the particular characters involved and so - usually - the imagination flows smoothly during the scripting.

Now, during the scripting I am keeping in mind any artistic techniques that I have been wanting to explore. Do I want things moody or light hearted? Am I going to pay particular attention to dramatic physical poses and actions or will talking heads filled with a variety of facial expressions be the order of the day? So this is where the planning for the art comes into play, and at this stage I am also ready to knock out the dialog and panel sketches.

Later I will go back and sort through the dialog and panel sketches with an eye for cutting unnecessary material and tightening scenes and dialog. That's pretty much it for my method of merging graphic art with the writing process.
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:40AM
patrickdevine at 8:19PM, June 11, 2007
posts: 759
joined: 4-26-2007
I usually script the whole page out then try to draw it in such a way that it doesn't need words to explain what's going on. Then I add dialogue. I find drawing a comic as though it were going to be silent adds something to it. Characters body language and facial expressions become more pronounced because there was a stage in drawing where it was more important. When drawing the initial “silent version” comic I also try to leave some room for word balloon placement. If there's any drawbacks to this method, the biggest one is that the diologue feels like an afterthought almost. Maybe I'll get better with practice.
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:41PM
arteestx at 11:45AM, June 25, 2007
posts: 285
joined: 6-1-2007
… but for me, there's a special magic when stories are told in pictures. I figure, most people here probably feel the same way.

how do you handle in your comic? How do you figure out how your story and your art are going to come together?

It's been very interesting for me watching the convergence of comics and movies in the past 5-10 years. For me, telling a story in comics through “writing” and “drawing” has always been similar to creating a movie in my head.

Obviously, I need to write a story for plot to start with. But in terms of how to tell the story, I imagine it as a movie in my head. If I want to express something, or make the viewer feel something, what's the best way to accomplish it? Is there text or a phrase that can get the idea across? Would a silent look get the idea across better? Maybe the character is saying something he/she believes, yet from the point of view of the viewer, there is an underlying layer to what they're saying. In any case, I visualize how the story should best unfold, and then either write or draw accordingly.

And I have also had that experience where I feel like the movie story in my head is unfolding in ways I don't always see coming. How would the character respond next? What would they do? After they did it, what would be the consequence? How would others react? I don't want to say the story “writes itself,” but I do feel that flow sometimes where the story has a life of its own that I feel like I'm steering moreso than writing.

Xolta is not intended for anyone under 18 years old.
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:02AM
SomaX at 7:58PM, June 25, 2007
posts: 271
joined: 2-8-2007
Personally, I picture what's going on as a tv show, then just pick out the most important actions, and facial expressions for my characters, as well as angles and such for the backgrounds. It's funny, now every time I watch tv I think “that's one pannel” “that's another” “that would be a black pannel with words” lol.
#253 in Comic Book/Story #344 Overall ~*~ #383 in Comic Book/Story #517 Overall
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:49PM
Kohdok at 8:30PM, June 25, 2007
posts: 776
joined: 5-18-2007
I have an extremely visual imagination, so writing stories with pictures comes to me much more naturally than just using words. I'm the kind of person who is perfectly literate (Considerably above average according to testing) but I just can't read a story all that quickly, because I imagine every little thing that is happening in sort of “Real time”. I consider comics to be the highest form of storytelling aside from moving pictures.
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:20PM
Eunice P at 9:08PM, June 25, 2007
posts: 792
joined: 2-8-2006
I'm a visual person than a writer. Like PatrickDevine, I let my drawings tell the story. I always give an ample amount of space for my dialogues that I would include later. 99% of the time, I never go through drafting or writing stage at all. When the drawings are completed, I then decide on the best dialogue to fit in.
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:23PM
cs3ink at 8:04AM, June 27, 2007
posts: 282
joined: 5-11-2007
At least for me, the story and visual style of said story develope at the same time.

With Terran Sandz, I wanted a 60's/70's retro feel because the story always felt oddly Kirbyish. From the cover to the halftones to the type, I tried to pay homage to books like Kamandi (perhaps my favorite Kerby book). If I ever do the sequel I have planned for Terran Sandz, the style will shift to a more unfinished, rougher feel, as it fits the subject matter.

Broken Things started with a single scene (which I can't reference, as it won't happen for a while), and I saw this sorta of simple, B&W, 30's/40's movie feel for that particular image. As the story grew WAY beyond that, the simple visual approach stuck. And since I wanted Broken Things to be completely about the characters, I stripped my style down to the simplest forms & lines I could muster, trying very hard to let the negative & positive space define the mass & depth of everything. I'd rather no one be taken out of the story by noticing either how poorly or how well I rendered anything. Personally, I hope no one notices my art because they're so engrossed in the tale. I'm not sure I've got the skill to pull that off, but it was my aim.

For a horror/action book I'm still developing (& frankly will probably NEVER have the time to work on), I'm leaning toward a very kinetic, almost sketchy style, as I want the world to be ever shifting and nebuluos (sp?).

That's been my approach to these projects. I always come at it from both angles, as I'm responsible for both.

Creator of Terran Sandz and Broken Things, and now Dead. Check 'em out.
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:55AM
Roguehill at 10:41AM, June 28, 2007
posts: 211
joined: 1-3-2007
The development of the story process is, by itself, a fascinating thing.
In the ‘real world’ we may witness an event, remember it, and then describe the event (as we experienced it) to other people.

Fictional storytelling is much the same, except that the initial stimulus, witnessing the event, never happened. We simply begin with a question like “what if this happened?” and then move the even back and forth in time and setting until it's complete from beginning to resolution.

So, initially there is the “imagining” of the story, and different people do that in different ways. Some (like me) are very visual and imagine scenes with people and events. Others are very verbal and describe a scene mostly with words. Either way, a “good” story has to have drama, plot twists, and resolutions.

Then, there is the art of “telling” the story. This is a craft in itself, whereby the creator describes the story, visually and/or with words, in a style that makes it as interesting as possible. Characters and settings are described and actions directed in ways that are involving and make sense.

So, the division of artist or writer is a natural one, in that most people are either mainly visual or textual when describing a scene. Fewer are those people that are fluent in both and can work naturally through either process.

I am one of the visual ones. My ideas typically come to me in vivid images that I build frameworks of story around. When I'm working on my next panel in “Tales of the Revenant”, I often draw the image without nailing down dialogue until later. I know that this sort of style would drive other folks nuts, but it is very natural for me. Strong imagry is what I use to create the feeling of drama in the comic, while the text is almost an embellishment.

Different people approach the process in different ways, and it's been iteresting to read how other folk's minds work.


last edited on July 14, 2011 3:09PM

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