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.

Grid Talk

My good friend Derrick Fish and I recently got online to critique each other’s new artwork and talk about random shit.  This is what happens when artists try to trade ideas…

Amor: So since you’ve got WELLKEEPER in the works, and that’s pretty much horror-fantasy, I HIGHLY recommend getting the first trade for Locke and Key. I stake my nerd cred on it. It’s got the most clever paneling I’ve seen in years. Gabriel Rodriguez is a bastard.

Fish: Now THAT’S a tough one for me. After years of doing a comic strip, I’ve all but forgotten how to lay out a page in anything but a grid.

Amor: Not necessarily a bad thing though, right? Grids work. But no… I don’t mean L&K does overlapping shit. It’s also mostly grids in that, but the angles and figure placement, man… fucking brilliant.

Fish: That’s also what I’m thinking of. My staging is bland compared to the stuff I did just out of high school, and that’s not good. I’m getting a little of my groove back on “The Line” setting the camera at more than just eye level, but I feel like it’s a muscle I haven’t flexed properly in too long. I want to find a good balance between interesting and clear. I don’t want camera work SO clever that it kicks readers out of the story, or so straightforward that it puts them to sleep.

Amor: I understand that. It actually pisses me off when people do all these “clever” angles when they’re just doing a conversation scene, like with the camera in-between the first and second knuckle… and looking up at the subject. Whatever, man. It’s just… pedantic to me.

Fish: Haha! It draws attention to itself. Is the knuckle important? Why are we looking through knuckles?!?

Amor: Because we caaaaaaaan!!!

Fish: Now, maybe the person talking is a bruiser and his knuckles are battered… but if the conversation is between Aunt May and Mary Jane… Why be clever just to show how clever you are?

Amor: Exactly.

John Amor and Derrick Fish

Fish: In film, a good example of this was in “Panic Room”, where Fincher kept zooming the faux camera through every crack in the wall for a “Wooooshy” shot.

Amor: See… on the street… away from you and your fancy films… me and my boys just call it the Mortal Kombat effect.

Fish: Elaborate…

Amor: “Wooooshy” is too technical a term for us, good sir. MK the movie would have these two-minute cut scenes where we’d circle a CGI castle and then whoosh in through the window or some shit. And I appreciate that they were trying to imply scale and grandeur, but it totally sucked me out of the movie.

Fish: OH MY LORD, I know what you’re talking about. God, that can get irritating.

Amor: It sorta happened in King Kong, but Jackson caught himself, I think. He was all, “Shit… I’m totally Mortal Kombatting this fucking bigiature scene.”

Fish: Indeed. And I LOVED King Kong but he totally did that. “LOOOOOKKKK…. a big WALL!!! Wooooosh!!!”

Amor: YES!!! Ah well…but you summed it up, why be clever just to show how clever you are? Fuck you and your astute summations.

Fish: My thoughts on that are if you can’t make a move with your REAL camera, don’t make it with your digital CGI camera. It just SCREAMS “COMPUTER EFFECT!!! NOT REAL!!!” That’s one of the millions of reasons I loved Iron Man. No Mortal Kombat camera wooshes.

Amor: Oh oh… Crystal Skull.


Amor: Hahaha!

Fish: Especially when Sam Witwicky becomes fucking Tarzan. Yeesh!

Amor: I know, right? Then the whole fencing-on-two-jeeps sequence. I felt sorry for that scene. You know a movie’s bad when you actually feel an undeniable amount of lurid sympathy for it.

Fish: Spielberg’s first idea was to shoot it with the same techniques and practical effects that the other three were made with and Lucas talked him out of it. That was a cool enough IDEA, but ruined in the execution. I SOOO wish Spielberg would have gone with his first instinct.

Amor: What’s funny is I could tell the color palette was off… and I’m practically colorblind.

Fish: Hahahaha! There was too much “Here’s reality” and “Here’s CGI.”

Amor: It felt like the Mummy.

Fish: Indeed. And not even the FIRST Mummy when it was still kinda under control. But the shitty Mummy Returns with the video game Scorpion King. I’m trying to think of other good comic book examples, but movies are so much easier.

Amor: See… I feel like there’s a rule about CGI. If it’s gonna be for something simple like… a tidal wave or a big car crash… then it better be good. If it’s gonna be bad… then at least make the creature or robot design fucking awesome.

Fish: Indeed.

Amor: We’re such nerds.