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.
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.