Outside the Box

Heard Millar talk about his method for story structure on a podcast the other day, praising Seinfeld for apparently informing his approach to putting together a comic book. Yeah, no, I don’t see it either. But yes, because I am not beneath comparing myself to one of the biggest names in comics today, I lean back against my douche throne and ask myself… Outside of comics, what prominent works could have put creases in my brain deep enough to directly influence my own work (and I use the term work very loosely)? Too many people fall into the trap of learning to make comics just by collecting shiny things from the comics they’ve already read, and that’s okay if you don’t plan on bringing anything new to the table, but I always figure that the biggest hindrance to being able to think outside the box is when you yourself become the box, Daniel-san. Thanks, Mr. Miyagi.

Everything I know about facial expression, I learned from watching Chuck Jones cartoons as a kid — Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, The motherfucking Grinch, I’ll yell it loud and proud, sir.

For gesture and body language, I drew from the TV sitcom Friends — nothing beats the visual comedy of contrasting personalities, especially in the first few seasons… when everyone was overacting, I thought (sorry, Perry).

I learned pacing from Spielberg movies — when I saw Sam Neil shakily take his shades off and stand up in the theme park jeep, I think I might’ve clenched in anticipation so hard I later crapped a diamond.

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Fairly easy to name the cinematic influences, but it takes me a while to figure out what single biggest thing feeds into my shot design and camera placement, aside from the occasional Wally Wood flowchart or Frazetta piece. I laugh when I realize that it’s probably my gaming. Now Alex “Awesome” Cipriano (he made me do it) will cackle like an oversexed harpy and slap me with a dead horse’s cock and say that I’m not even a real gamer, and he’d be right — give me a Playstation controller and I’ll throw it back at you thinking it’s a batarang. Thing is, as I was getting serious about my comic art years ago, I saturated myself with a shitload of first-person shooters every time I needed to unwind, and the immersive experience cut such a deep groove into my mindpeach that it got to a point where I’d run around de_dust maps in my fucking sleep. I can still describe building ruins in COD’s Carentan map, and I sometimes still replay insane Quake III rocket launcher frags when I drink my coffee.

A little sad, I know… but I draw comics, what’d you expect? Existentialist discourse?

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All things considered though, it’s true up to a point when people say you can actually learn to make comics just from reading them, but a big part of me likes to believe that it’s the outside influences that add the real flavor to the stew that eventually eventually becomes your style. It’s a little tragic though that because I’ve simply been too busy lately, I’ve had to uninstall what little games I did play just to avoid temptation.

Counter-Strike…

Call of Duty…

Sexy Beach 3…

…what.

That HD Modern Warfare trailer looked hella sweet too.

Fuck.

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Can’t quite recall if it was Sears or Capullo who said it, but I’m pretty sure I gleaned it off one of those How to Draw Comics features in an issue of Wizard (yeah, yeah) — someone who knew what he was talking about said the true function of the thumbnail is to let you take in the entirety of a page in one quick look.  Sure it sounds sensible enough, but it didn’t really make sense to me until I actually pulled my head outta my ass and started doing thumbnails myself for the first time, which was in high school.

See, when I drew comics as a kid I would just jump right into the page without any regard for panel flow and whatnot.  It wasn’t until I read that all-powerful Kubert School Cliffnote (heh) that I actually understood the importance of — wait for it — Planning.  So fine, my kiddy shit was awful, but it helped me realize that the layout process is simply too sensitive to do on the actual page (read: when Johnny’s already working on whatever Johnny’s working on), and the comic page being as big as it is, the occasional loss of perspective just doesn’t help.

And so I make sure I take the time to whip out the straightedge and actually put down some mock pages and play with page designs and fuck around with layouts and experiment with self-assuredly clever paneling and yeah, maybe even Read The Scripts from time to time, because that’s usually a good idea.
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I work on thumbnails about one-eighth the size of an 11×17 sheet.  Don’t ask about specific dimensions because numbers choke up my brain veins and when I write I like to… not die.  One-eighth.  Half of a quarter.  Ouch.  Anyway some friends tell me them numbers dance a bit on the big side for “thumbnails,” but my headspace being the slut that it is, I like things being clear.  Thumbnails are mental notes for me, so I make sure everything reads as clearly as possible lest I forget.  As a comic fan myself, I have me as my first audience to please.

I find that having solid and thought-out thumbnails pays you back three-fold.  Firstly, writer and editor get to work out story kinks with you in this phase, so if you do this well enough, an email with the subject “Revision Needed, Asshole, Eat My Fuck” will be unlikely.  Second, you get to flex your artsy fartsy mojo and tackle composition without having to worry about style just yet.  Feel like dropping a Ringo grid? Do it.  A Madureira splash?  Fuckin’ A, bring that shit.  This is your story still raw and malleable, play when you can.  And third, you can take comfort in the fact that most of the hard work is done.  You literally already have the comic drawn… now it’s just a matter of making it look good enough to print.

On the whole, the layout process will eat up its own precious chunk of time, but it’s indispensable if anyone wants the finished product to be halfway decent.  When it gets tedious, I remind myself that Mignola said in a Two Morrows interview that it was his favorite part of the comic creating process.  So I say be like Mike.  Eat your greens.  Do your thumbnails.

Woof!

Felt the sudden urge to dive back into the HORROR CLASSICS series today and drew my version of the Wolf-man.  I’m not a big fan of the classic “shaggy man” look Nicholson sported in “Wolf,” and the Lycanthropes in “Underworld” I think just resemble balding bears; but I remember this film entitled “Bad Moon,” and I recall that rendition being nothing but absolutely badass, so I’ll try bringing some of that into my piece.

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It’ll also be a bit of a departure from the previous three pieces coz I’ll have to pull the camera back a bit to convey a sense of size to the creature.  Here’s hoping he doesn’t end up lookin’ like Yogi going postal though.

What’s Wrong with Comics?

My buddy Sully and I have had many discussions revolving around qualms and drawbacks with the comic medium, and he just recently found a chunk of time to dump it all onto a work journal mega-entry of sorts.  Being a fledgling writer more than just an avid collector, he has a bigger stake in caring about the sequential art form than most, so it makes for a pretty comprehensive read.

Check out the entries, you might even learn a thing or two:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Our own discussions often devolve from How can we fix things to How can we fix what we use to fix things… and then to boobies.  There’s also the occasional and unavoidable comparison between comics and manga… also he’s a gamer… so be warned… he tends to wander.

Dyslexic penguins go, “ploo ploo ploo…”

The Zuda Challenge (Part II)

If you’re just blowing in, this is the second in a series of posts documenting the tribulations I went through in adapting to a widescreen-format comic.  Co-conspirator Justin Jordan discusses the writing aspect of the challenge here.

So I’ve been dissecting some of the most recent and highly effective double-page spreads I’ve seen to try and decipher what logic the artists might’ve been operating on.  Reverse-engineering, if you will.  I figure if I stare at these babies long enough I may be able to extract remnants of whatever special cut of LSD the penciller was on when thumbnailing, and use then-acquired zen state on projects such as JENNY STRANGE.

Because hey… like Thomas Edison probably always said, “When in doubt, steal from the best.”

immonen-usmIn Ultimate Spider-Man #124, Immonen uses the top half of the page to establish the environment and mood of the scene, taking full advantage of the panoramic view.  The tall narrow panels of the lower half splits the events into tense, almost choking, moments.

burrows-crossedSimilarly, in Crossed #1 Jacen Burrows splits the spread into a top and bottom half.  The top however is employed as an illustrative piece to essentially convey a definitive shot of the story’s backdrop, whereas the smaller panels below shows us the actual characters and pushes the story forward.

yu-siIn Secret Invasion #1, Leinil Yu went with a three-tier spread to initially wow you with a shot just packed with characters.  The second tier features mostly talking heads, whereas the final tier is pretty much gravy to just tense you up for whatever comes first on the next page.

So without getting too technical and shit, what strikes me the most as the widescreen format’s strength is the panoramic advantage as the splashes just look more cinematic, allowing the reader’s eye to wander more and discover things.  Never doubt the power of Where’s Waldo.

Something to think about.

This series of posts concludes with me showing my JENNY STRANGE pages, which I did as I studied the above artists.  So it’ll be a healthy exercise in accepting my apparent density.  No doubt my girl would have a thing or two to add about that.  Fun for the whole family, I guess.

Post-Iconic

So do I sound like a bigger douche than usual if I say that I feel like comics grew up with me right around the last yelps of my college years? No? Yeah? Kindasortamaybe. Sure I missed the really important stuff, given that I’m only twenty-five… but I think what so many call the Modern Age ended right around the time I left university, and comics became this new animal that was just rife with this manic purity and self-awareness that I got sucked back in after a withdrawal from the medium around the mid-to-late nineties.

When I think of the Golden Age (late thirties to early fifties), I think of the invention of the superhero and the birth of the icons.  I think of comics catching on as portable war-time pamphlets egging troops on with stories of good winning over evil. After all, comics were the iPods of the forties… if iPods indirectly conditioned you about the dangers of radiation and the terror of atomic energy… but no yeah, you get the idea.

When I think of the Silver Age (mid-fifties to early seventies) grounding the tales in science more than magic, what with everyone obsessed with nukes, I think of space cop Hal Jordan replacing mystic Alan Scott.  I think of the Fantastic Four.  Heroes became more flawed, and we got Spider-man.  Art became a bigger factor, and we got Kirby.  DC started becoming the legacy universe, while Marvel grew into the Wild West.

The Bronze Age/Dark Age (mid-seventies to the late eighties) saw a growing appreciation for serious real-life issues being filtered through the comic lens.  Schwartz took over for Weisinger to scale Superman’s ridiculously near-infinite powers. Speedy on speed.  Minority heroes.  The Dark Knight Returns.  Watchmen.  Vertigo.  The picture of justice became less and less stark black-and-white, but a thick muddled gray.  This was when I started.

And then came what I like to call the Image Era—the nineties. Not to point any animosity on Image the company or anything, but I feel like the term really captures that decade’s mood as well as the perceived superficiality of the medium at the time.  Superman’s death.  The Spider Clone Saga.  Inter-company Crossovers. Amalgam?  Need I go on?  It felt like a very events-for-events-sake time. This was when I stopped.  Sure, feel free to call me out on the occasional Gen13 and Battle Chasers splurge in the middle of it all, but hey man…. hormones.

Then when it felt to me like comics were all but tits up, someone lent me the trade for Grant Morrison’s  X-Men run.  And all at once, it all felt right again. Fresh again.  New again.  Like the first time I heard the Beatles.  And it wasn’t so much that Morrison was simply introducing new ideas—no, he completely and respectfully was building on old ones, expanding the mythos, broadening the scope.  And up until then, I had felt like no one had really even tried to do that in a while.  Then we got Identity Crisis and things just started to happen. Brave things. Fists in your fucking face things. The Authority. The Ultimates. Planetary. All-Star. Civil War.  And I wasn’t sure if it was Bendis’ DD run or Last of the Independents that made me say it out loud, but comics had grown its fucking balls back.

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When the boys and I drink, I tend to bring up how exciting comics are right now… and how this is probably the most energetic time for the medium since the Golden Age.  A new Golden Age, if you will.  It’s always fun to watch people play when literally no one is afraid to break their toys anymore—Steve Rogers is dead!  And there are real efforts to make things like that mean something now, and that to me makes this a fascinating ride.  The one term mentioned more often than “superhero”? — “status quo.” There is a fearlessness about creators today that make them unafraid to really torture their characters. But at the same time, what I love most about this era is that creators, on the whole, respect the creative lineage enough to make sure that how they piece their heroes back together absolutely earns them the way in which they broke them.  Here’s hoping it keeps up.