One of the things I love the most about comics, is the prep work, which may not be obvious by the countless amount of times that I’ve stated that I’m doing absolutely no prep work as of now for Scorned; but when I worked on Scarred Eden, that project was all about prep work.
Recently in the Duck discord someone had asked about how do you determine the amount of pages you will get, or what consists of a page, and so on.
This is honestly just a discussion I love to get into.
First of all, never limit the amount of pages you want for a chapter/arc/volume.
Why? Doing so can hinder your storytelling.
But what if you need to absolutely know the page count? I highly suggest working on your script and working out those details thoroughly, that way you can have a good idea of how many pages you will have for whatever you need.
How can you work out those details in your script? That entirely depends on how you write your script. Some people just do a general movie-like script format, some do a storybook format and some just make little notes. Personally, I try to do a movie-like script format because I think it’s a good mix of the storybook and the little note taking; I’m not overwhelmed with detail and I also don’t have to figure out what I mean by “Hel is thinking her gloomy thoughts while she holds a banana” – like… what are those thoughts? I must know!
One of my answers in the Duck Discord (if you haven’t gotten the hint, I’m asking you to join the server.) was to make a set of boxes, fill each box with the appropriate amount of dialogue and details of the scene, whatever you fit appropriately into that box is now your frame for your page.
I mentioned this in one of my articles about layouts that I strongly believe each page should have its own story, such as an introduction of a character, and I’ll gladly use an example here! In this page we’re going to be introduced to Evina – this is all done in one page, we see her car, we see her and then she introduces herself, I’m not using two pages or more to just introduce this character, yes there was a “mention” of her in the previous page, but that was an information given to the other character, not an introduction, I could have actually just never showed Evina until way later, but the next page was all Evina-intro because it made sense and the window was wide open.
Another example for making things work in a page, establishing a shot, you don’t need two pages to let the audience know that we’re not in Kansas anymore. How you get to these minor mentions is up to you, but when it comes to displaying it on paper, you really don’t need more than 1 page per subject.
Of course, there are exceptions, such as if it is story-heavy, but there should be a good break, such as a conclusive statement that opens up a door way for another character to chip-in in the following page or even maybe a question that will lead into a further discussion in the next page.
How do you write a chapter?
Figure out the goal of your chapter. Your chapter may be one that provides questions and no answers or maybe finally, this chapter will be the chapter that provides answers to questions that were in previous chapters. The chapter could be about a character, once again, self-promo because I know my own comic best, in Scorned, for the prologue we got an introduction: Hel, we learned she’s from Scandinavia, we learned she had a rough childhood and she’s very grim and gloomy because of her past. Towards the end of that prologue, we also learned that something is wrong with her, the goal of the prologue was met, we met the main protagonist, we got the deets: where she’s from and what she does and it ended with a question of “what is her deal?” - and it ends there because we don’t need to learn every detail about her and that can be saved for a future chapter discussion.
How do you write a volume/arc?
To me, each volume has a theme, could be a very depressing one, could be a very happy one. Just like the chapter, there is normally a goal, that volume should not end until that goal is complete or has a proper ending. Basically, it should make sense, you should not end the volume out of nowhere on a random chapter that might not even have the most to do with the volume as a whole.
Once again, using my own comic but this time, Scarred Eden, because I actually made this mistake.
because I’m aware that not everyone wants to read a big pile of comic info that they probably have no interest in, feel free to skip this section but I feel it provides a better explanation since I have personal experience with this, but anyway, I’ll let you know when it’s done.
Volume one was originally going to consist of 4 chapters: the prologue, chapter 1, chapter 2 and chapter 3; chapter 3 was going to be the end of volume one, why? Because Beatrice had reached the goal of chapter 3 and that was to have a very lovely meeting with Dream-Woman and the combination of all these chapters already had the page count around 120 pages, so it seemed appropriate, HOWEVER, when further writing out the chapters, I realized this all looked very misplaced, and how did I realize that? I realized this because I noticed that I decided to end the volume on a goal that’s solely based on a chapter and not a story as a whole like I stated above. I decided to end volume one because chapter 3’s goal was met. But the goal of the volume was not or it felt VERY inconclusive. I’m not even going to bother to warn you there are spoilers because truth be told, I’m rebooting Scarred Eden to the point it might not even be recognizable. The first volume should have ended on chapter 6. Why chapter 6? Because chapter 6 is the chapter the Dream-Woman is fully released and she gets her body back, the body we saw in chapter 5. That should have been the actual goal of the first volume, get Dream-Woman back to her body. What was the theme of this volume? It was a journey of internal conflict longing for answers about the past, it was a mysterious dream that started to develop into a very serious situation that involved Beatrice’s deceased mother and was now directly affecting Beatrice, and her being who she is, wanted to complete her mother’s very last quest. It was a whole big thing of adventure and questions. Volume 2 was going to be the volume where Beatrice gets most of her answers, she finally learns Dream-Woman’s name, she learns about her mother’s past and she learns more about herself and where she comes from, the theme of that volume was going to be about receiving answers but not being satisfied, you know things but you’re still struggling, you’re unable to accept what you’ve been told. Etc.
it is doneeee
When you introduce a situation into a story, you should understand how it’s going to end and have your options open, let’s think of this as a game, mainly a fantasy RPG, you receive a series of side quests (the chapters) that make up a main quest (the volumes) that eventually forge a path deeper into the story of the game (the entire comic).
Now, your final question might be, how do you even begin to write your story? And this is a question that is hard to answer, I’ve always been the person to know the beginning and the ending and I would forge the middle as I went along. My advice, for if you want a very clean path of story-telling is to start by doing small note taking. Don’t flesh anything out immediately if you don’t have clear answers on how your story will be written.
You can have the beginning and the ending written down and do your best to fill between the two with some bullet points.
“The protagonist is set on a path of revenge after witnessing the murder of their parents by gruesome bandits.” (I promise this isn't a Batman story)
Prologue – to me, the prologue has always been an introduction to the MAIN character(s) and what kickstarts their story, not necessarily a full fleshed chapter with more than 15 pages, prologues can be very short and to the point:
-protagonist loses parents to a group of murderous-bandits, they’re hurt, they want revenge.
Chapter 1 – doesn’t have to be content heavy, we’re just getting into the story, but there should be a moment of impact, or something to impress the readers, these first few chapters do matter because no one is committed to the story yet:
-protagonist is committed to get their revenge. (a moment of devastation and a vengeful intent can be the moment of impact, the reader could be like “Oh damn, I need to see where this goes.”)
-they leave home on the pursuit to find these bandits (the reader knows they are serious about this)
-maybe they meet some side characters that can point them in the right way, MAYBE GIVE THEM A MAP?? (the reader is aware now that the protagonist won’t be going around in circles)
-conclude the chapter by going on that path (the reader knows what to expect for the next chapter, they have received a satisfying ending)
Chapter 2 – use the information provided in chapter 1, don’t be afraid to throw some side stuff in the protagonist’s path.
-Protagonist has information on these bandits, a map that should provide info.
-maybe the protagonist gets side tracked either by a group in need of help or maybe a brand new set of bandits wants to rob the protagonist.
-Protagonist has nothing to lose so they don’t go down without a fight (could be another moment of impact for the reader)
-These brand-new-robbing-bandits learn of protag’s quest because of the map and these bandits also have beef with the murderous-bandits, so they’re like “Wow, sorry we were asses, let’s help you.” (the reader has flipped their shit because it’s possible this revenge-driven protagonist now has allies)
Aaaand then chapter 2 can be about the introduction of the member of the new bandits and what happened to them that they have beef with the bandits that murdered Protag’s parents but still continuing the story that is set.
“The Protagonist is face to face with the big bad that ordered the hit on their parents, they're set on taking out the big bad, not because they lost their parents but because this big bad has done so much harm, it's no longer personal, it's for the world and boom they defeat the big bad”. END.
When you got the small notes listed down, proceed to tackle each part of the story, so go into details about the prologue’s small notes, then move on to chapter 1 and so on.
Eventually you will start fleshing out the story you need, and don’t be afraid to break it into parts! Such as work on the prologue up until chapter 2, then start to draft up your pages, flesh out the dialogue, the scenery, figure out the frames, the page count. When the details are fleshed out you will start getting a good view of how your comic will look and the route it will take.
Comic prep work is a lot of heavy lifting, but if you’re looking to have a VERY clear script, this might just be the way to go.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, have a great day and I’ll see you next Sunday!!
Feel free to disagree and offer your own advice! My articles are simply opinions and lessons I’ve learned along the way of making comics! I’m always willing to learn more from you! :)
Comic Prep Workdamehelsing at 12:00AM, July 4, 2021
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hushicho at 4:50PM, July 6, 2021
I like the article, and it tells us a lot about the process that works for you! I think that's good, and it's good for everyone to have a flow that serves them well. I'd like to say that I do disagree with one of the assertions, and that is to say that I think sometimes limiting your page count can be helpful, rather than hurtful. By challenging yourself to stick to a strict count, it requires you to be creative in your storytelling and makes it necessary to learn more about pacing and panel design. But overall, I think it's great to develop a flow that works for you individually, and oftentimes it's best not to set too many limitations, so you can let your creativity unfold freely.