Monday, December 14, 2015

Systems of Notation: Script, Thumbnails, Art!

Here are the thumbnails to the remaining new pages I am creating for the collected Border Worlds, coming in the Fall of 2016 from Dover Publications. They are based on a very tight script written in November 2015, so dialogue has already been worked out, although still subject to modification as I transfer to pencil art. When I was a beginner in the 1980s, I usually outline a plot in bullet points on a legal pad, then thumbnailed or sometimes sketched out the art full size on Bristol board. At the time, it seemed logical, if one was thinking of comics primarily as a visual storytelling medium, to think visually from start to finish, i.e., non-verbally. However, if I had to set aside the thumbnails aside for any length of time, I would have trouble remembering exactly what I was thinking based only on the sometime very low-res scribbles (this was a major crisis when I took six weeks off to attend comic book conventions in the middle of production of Yarn Man #1!).

Spoiler Alert: This won't give anything away unless you can read Scribble! (Pencil layouts for some pages can be seen in other posts on this blog.)

During Border Worlds in 1986 and 1987, I worked in an almost bi-polar fashion from issue to issue, working visually (thumbnail) one issue, then script the next (particularly if an issue was dominated by a lot of dialogue), then visually again. These days (the twenty-first century), I find that a full script is best even when a particular sequence is predominantly visual or non-verbal. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is far easier to type "close up" than to sketch a close up, even in a scribbly thumbnail. I also refine the dialogue, describe the panel compositions in great detail (who is in the foreground, background, left, right, directions characters are facing, camera angles, etc.) and often character psychology and what the reader knows or doesn't know. Alan Moore is the only writer I have worked with who works to such a degree, and his artistic success speaks for itself. (Most comic book writers compose scripts that are very schematic, like recipes, that keep the illustrator in the dark unnecessarily, as if they were a member of the audience who needs to be kept in suspense instead of a member of the creative team whose job it is to convey the ideas to the reader. It's like baking something without knowing exactly what, and I have to read the script three times to figure it out, before I have a handle on what needs to be drawn.)

My own scripts enable me to describe the events going on in my imagination, and pick up where I left off, even if I have to set aside a project for any length of time. Besides, every project of any length requires multiple working sessions over days, weeks, or months (and in the case of Border Worlds, years and decades), so a solid notation system enables me to resume work each session without guessing, "What the heck was this indecipherable little scribble supposed to mean?" (We'll see how well this system works when I return to Megaton Man, for which I have fully scripted issues #4 and #5 of a new series; I was laying out the fourth issue from a full script when Dover called wanting Border Worlds!) Stay tuned for more updates during 2016!

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