Posted by johnamor | Filed under Work
Been tweaking the dialogue for Urban Animal #2 for the past week, and I’ve pretty much put most of it to bed. With the series already completely drawn, I’ve really no choice but to write in a pseudo-Marvel style — applying text that I hope works with the imagery. I had thought of leaving in the original dialogue from almost a decade ago, but a lot of it now feels verbose and cumbersome. I like to think that I am at least a little bit better at writing than I was back in college.
In reviewing my scripts and self-editing, I find that I am often guilty of using redundant dialogue, so I’ve been keeping to a set of guidelines as I go along:
1) Dialogue should be brief.
2) It should add to reader’s present knowledge.
3) It should eliminate daily conversational niceties.
4) It should push the narrative forward.
5) It should reveal the speaker’s character, directly or indirectly.
6) It should show relationships among people.
— Elizabeth Bowen
I have a fairly good ear for dialogue, but where it gets wonky is when I have to make different people talk in different ways. There’s this joke about Silver Age comics not exactly being known for their character-driven dialogue — when Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and the Flash get into a car and drive into a tunnel, if they continue whatever conversation they were having in the daylight, now that all you have is word balloons in the dark, you will have no fucking clue who is saying what. I heard this on a podcast once, and it just cracked me up. It speaks to the importance of having dialogue genuinely reflect the speaker’s personality, and that’s what I’m trying to build on today.
Posted by johnamor | Filed under Work
Here’s the thing. Writing a good story and effectively writing for comics are two totally different things. They needn’t be mutually exclusive, but there’s a learning curve for everyone, right? WRITE! (See what I did there?)
Anyway, below is a brief breakdown of best practices I’ve seen my collaborating wordsmiths use in their scripting format. Note, what is discussed here has nothing to do with actual story but more what the script looks like when it is sent to the artist and other people working on the book.
Comics are a collaborative medium and as such should, ideally, be easy for multiple heads to work on.
1) Indicate important elements at the first page of every scene. Even if the element doesn’t appear until later, if you want a character to wear a specific sort of hat, the pavement to have a specific cobble, or the skyline to have a certain hue to it, indicate this early on and not on the panel it comes into focus. Artists need to approach the scene with all these factors in mind beforehand, so it is vital that they know what they are or else they run the risk of drawing something completely different.
2) At the page header, include a panel count. Page 4 (6 panels). While true that an artist takes each and every panel as it comes to make it as eloquent as possible, also note that the page has a finite amount of real estate. How big you make the first panel directly affects the size of the last. That action sequence in the middle of the page directly affects your establishing shot up top. Letting your artist know in advance how many panels you’ll be needing mentally equips him as to how best to approach the page’s flow.
3) One action per panel. A number of writers, especially those coming from straight prose, forget that one panel can’t show a man opening a door and walking through it at the same time. It’s an understandable fault, but if you want to keep the artist sane, do try to remedy it as quickly as possible. If it proves a difficult habit to break, be open to your artist’s suggestions to either remove redundant panels or create addendum panels to help progress the page narrative. Remember that your artist wants to tell the story as clearly as possible as well, so help him help you.
That’s it for tonight. I love you all, and Izzy you owe me a backrub.
Creating art as a profession teaches you things. There’s a big difference between drawing for yourself, for fun, for art’s sake… and drawing to pay the rent, to feed yourself, and to keep the lights on. It’s a job. And while this distinction is clear to a precious few whom I love and respect immensely, I figured it’d be peachy to lay down a grocery list of the most common misconceptions that most people have about artists.
#1 Artists are proud of everything they create. Nope. More often that not, we are painfully aware of how a piece could have been better, even when our peers compliment us or at least gently bend us over. We know we can be better. And while most of us can take constructive criticism like normal people, also keep in mind that no one sits at a desk, whips out his art equipment, and intentionally tries to suck.
#2 Artists are insulted by reference material. No way. There may be a handful of artists who scoff at drawing from reference, but the majority appreciate it and tend to consider it a genuine effort to make our job easier, may you be a collaborating writer or even just a fan commissioning a piece. Nah. Whatever helps us make the finished piece better is usually appreciated.
#3 We like flowery scripts. This is a weird one. Some writers tend to fashion scripts thinking of their collaborators as the audience. Though there may be a bit of merit to that, nine times out of ten, an artist will prefer that you just say an alley is dark rather than “oppressed by the shadows of the adjacent concrete monoliths.” While yes, it serves to help the imagery, keep in mind that you don’t need to sell us on the story. We are already working with you.
#4 We don’t need praise. We do. Admit it, artists. The biggest reason you’re still on Deviant Art is the ego stroking. Take me for example, after a day’s work, I’d like to hear more than “ooh, that’s nice.” What’s the matter? Am I a puppy? Did you pass out because my page is so awesome and that’s why you can’t say anything more? All I’m saying is… If you’re a writer receiving pages and you like them, tell your artist you do. Don’t just ask for the next one. Show the love.
#5 We’re always in the mood to draw. This is probably the most common misconception, and understandably so. When comic fans see us at cons, it’s at artist alley. When writers hit us up, it’s within the context that you are a collaborator whose job it is to illustrate a story. But of course, just like every OB-GYN gets sick of staring at vaginas every now and then, sometimes we just want to sit at our desk and NOT be holding a pencil.
So that’s it. Five common misconceptions about artists. I’m pretty sure I’m wrong about a couple of them and very right about others, but this is all from experience, so bear with me. Now back to work…
I noticed a slight deficiency around here in terms of new art, so I thought I’d peel some skin back and show some bones for a little bit. Closetworld is a webcomic written by Matt Yocum that went online a little while back. As pretty standard procedure for all my projects, I make sure thumbnails are approved by the writer and/or editor before I actually begin work on the page. Below are the layouts for the first four pages of Closetworld, and the finished sequentials for comparison. As usual, click to biggify.
Aside from camera placement and shot angle, two other very good uses of thumbnails are the preconception of Shadow Placement and Shorthand of Expression. Figuring out where your shadows go in this miniature version of the page saves you a lot of time and ink. It’s not just shadows really, but blacks in general. If the page reads smoothly as a small sketch, there’s no reason for the finished version to be weak compositionally.
As for shorthanding expression — it can get tedious when you’re already drawing the page and you need to keep checking the script to see if the emotion on your character’s face fits what he’s saying and doing. If you indicate this in your thumbnails ahead of time, you save yourself quite a bit of hassle later on.
Posted by johnamor | Filed under Work
In this special edition of Tres Komikeros, we look back at some of our favorite moments and outtakes of the podcast’s earliest episodes from three years ago.
Download the episode here
Somewhere, Alex Cipriano is cracking a Nicholas Cage joke.
Here, people, is the mock cover to the second issue of Urban Animal. I’ve been drawing it on and off for the past couple of weeks, and today I was blessed with a three-hour window to just slap some color on it.
I had come up with various plays for the layout of this thing — from showing the main character in mid-transformation, to a dinosaur doing an Abbey Road crossing — but I decided to just go with my gut and hint at a key moment within the issue. I was initially conflicted about whether to make the rex snout bloody or not, but the deep red color turned out to be a nice point of interest.
When in doubt, go for the gross out.
Download Urban Animal #1.
Download in PDF
We’re closing in on a year since I spoke with male strippers Rey and Tom over at Big Ape Design and decided to dig up this decade-old comic and give it proper distribution. Originally titled “Beast Boy Joe” (I know, I know…) this was something I now want to refer to as a quasi-biography. The book is now available for download for three reasons — firstly, as my attempt at participation in this admirable 100 Araw ng Komiks movement local creators are advocating. Second, to stir up some attention and to get people ready for #2 (which was also drawn about a decade ago). And third, because I love stories, and I love you.
This .cbr file features the first full issue of the mini-series, minus the bonus sketches and introductory text. Urban Animal is © John Amor and Fort Bastard Studios.
Download Urban Animal #1.
Download in PDF
There are a number of elements that factor into sequential storytelling: page design, background, lighting, staging, and a handful of others — but the one I find myself leaning on the most to carry across a narrative is my characters’ acting, and by extension character interaction.
Not to assume at any theatrical skill on my part, but I like to think I’ve seen enough movies and TV shows (good and bad) to know how effective acting can be a powerful storytelling tool. I’ve broken it down into sub-facets to help illustrate the point:
Expression covers not only facial distortion but also speech delivery. The wrong look can make a bit of dialogue ambiguous, which is one of the worst things in a visual medium. It is worth learning that anger isn’t merely a furrowed brow and that surprise isn’t simply bulging eyes. It is equally worthwhile to remember that someone yelling doesn’t always bear teeth and that someone smiling is not necessarily squinting as well. Think about the dialogue being delivered (if you have a full script), and more often than not the right expression for your character will present itself to you. This is where observing the nuanced performances of the likes of Gary Oldman and Meryl Streep pay off.
Body Language and Gesture come into play when wide angle shots or limited panel space leave facial features too distant to make out. With the right physical presence, any character is able to deliver thought and intent without ever having to say a word. Some masters of silent sequentials are Stuart Immonen, Frank Quitely, and Dave Gibbons.
Props are of use when a character not only interacts with another, but also with his environment. Different people will have different ways of holding their glasses, just as one man may angrily rip a phonebook in half in a burst of rage while another will tear the pages out one by one as his anger builds. In this sense, it helps to know the kind of character you are portraying so that you can vicariously perform the action for him. Some films I would recommend for prop use are Ocean’s Eleven, Scent of a Woman, and The Usual Suspects.