More and more I’m finding that in the eyes of many readers, the artist’s credit in the creation of a comic is diminished in favor of the writer. It seems to be the perception that all the artist really does is draw exactly what the writer tells them to do and that artists are largely interchangeable aside from their style. This is obviously not true and perception probably isn’t going to change unless artists start demystifying the process a bit.
This is going to be my goal for the next several weeks. I’m going to try to break down my decision making process for several pages from my forthcoming project with Black Mask Studios, The Dregs. My first post, where I talked about the page in which we introduced our protagonist, was last week. This week, I’m going to talk about the following page.
My collaborators on The Dregs are Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson and this is the script page that we’re going to be looking at today. (although this is page seven in the script, it eventually became page nine because, as discussed last week, I added two pages to the beginning of the issue)
If I could sum up this page in a couple of words it would be ‘sobering up’. Basically, Arnold, having just been awoken by his friend, Apple, is still a little high from our fictional drug, listo, and he slowly sobers up throughout the conversation. The most important element of the page is Arnold’s view of Apple changing so that we can show how a listo user views the world.
In my initial idea, I went with Lonnie and Zac’s suggestion to do it in 6 panels.
We go back and forth between the two characters. Apple’s appearance slowly goes from garbled to clear and Arnold slowly gets up off the ground. There’s numerous problems with this version. We never see the two characters together, so their spacial relation to each other isn’t clear. Also, the next page is a completely new scene, and the last panel of this page doesn’t feel enough like an ending for me. The transition between pages would be potentially jarring to the reader. I also didn’t like that I started with a POV shot before showing who the point of view character was. This is probably not a big deal, but this page is about Arnold sobering up, so the first panel should tell you who we’re focused on.
So what you see below was my second go at it, in which I tried to be a little more inventive with the page design.
I’m not a fan of all the wasted negative space, though. But I managed to give the page a bit of an ending by having him walk away from Apple. I think a big problem with this version, though, is that Arnold waking, getting up and walking away all feels a little abrupt. Since Arnold is just waking up, I want to have him stumbling and struggling a bit to get his bearings.
So I decided to add a couple more panels and go with a 9 panel grid.
I was pretty satisfied with how this read. Something I discovered in the process of making this page was the potential in symmetry with this design. Since We’re going from high to sober, there’s a before and after aspect to this page. So I decided to contrast panels 1 and 7, 3 and 9 and 4 and 6, which you can see below.
Another things I like is that Arnold’s eyes are closed in panel 6 and when he opens them in panel 7, his vision is suddenly fine.
I also decided to play with the borders. The bordered walls of his world go from shakily hand drawn to perfectly straight as he sobers up.
When I was satisfied, I showed the page to Lonnie and Zac. They put a lot thought in the visual aspects in their storytelling and the fact that the drug listo obscures faces is a significant part of the story. They’re also big fans of the painter Francis Bacon and wanted to veer away from the more traditional psychedelic aspects of drug visuals.
So I finally arrived at this version.
However, another idea struck me. I liked the idea of Arnold, in the middle tier of the page, stumbling from one side of the alleyway to the next as he gets his bearings.
Although I thought it was clever, it’s didn’t read as well as expected and I think it distracted things away from the Apple vision too much. So I decided to revert back to the previous version.
Then it was time for inking.
From there Dee Cunniffe, our colourist on the project, took a crack at the page.
His stroke of genius was to really push the painter origins of the hallucination idea. That was all him and we loved it. He did an absolutely brilliant job bringing this page to life.
Finally, I brought back the letters.
Lonnie and Zac decided to remove the dialogue from panel 3. They felt it would be more effective to have him silently, slowly processing what’s in front of him as he awakes. It’s pretty common for writers to add or remove various bits of dialogue throughout a story after all the art has been received.
There’s so many ways this page could have been approached. Everything from mood to pacing to acting is affected by all the little decisions that are made. All of these have a huge impact on the reading experience.
Hopefully I did a good job showcasing just why artists are authors to a story in their own right even if the scripting was done by someone else.
It’s a brand new year, so with that comes new goals, and one of mine is to start blogging more about my art. I’m going to make a concerted effort to blog every Monday about general comic industry stuff, my experiences, art that I love and my personal art process. I’ll be putting some of that up here, but most of it will be showing up in my mailing list, which you can sign up for here.
Today is the final order cut-off for The Dregs #1, which is my new comic from Black Mask Studios. So it’s is a perfect day to talk a little about my process for approaching the creation of a page. (you can order issue #1 at any local comic shop with pre-order code NOV161210)
There are many different steps involved in the process of creating a page and I understand that almost every artist has a step that they favor. Some derive the most enjoyment out of penciling, and some love inking the most. I’m one of those artists that has the most fun when figuring out how to tell the story.
Page 8 of The Dregs, scripted by my brilliant collaborators Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, is the introduction to our protagonist, Arnold. Below is what they scripted.
Lonnie and Zac are filmmakers, so they think very visually and have a very clear vision. Their scripts are pretty detailed and they also conveniently provide a lot of links and reference for me to work with.
This is a 6 panel page. However, because of personal preference, I think one of the panels isn’t necessary. The last 3 panels portray the introduction of a puddle and then a foot stepping into the puddle. The middle panel is supposed to portray the foot falling mid action, which I think creates a bit of a pause in what should be a swift action.
There’s a similar scene in Watchmen.
While I think this panel sequence works in it’s own way, I want a quicker action on my page because it’s the the introduction of someone waking up our protagonist. Portraying it in only two panels creates a more violent action. So I opted to remove a panel from their script.
Below is my initial rough layout for the page. I always do my rough layouts digitally. There’s much more freedom to experiment and play around when you’re figuring out your storytelling digitally. I also like to letter my comics in the early stages because I actually want to read the comic several times before I make any final decisions.
I like Lonnie and Zac’s idea to break up the first panel into a triptych. As they said in the script, the two things on either side of him are “the things that threaten to divide his soul.”
I actually really like this page, but I wanted something bigger as an introduction to Arnold. So I played around and came up with what you see below.
I found myself going back and forth between these two designs. In the end, I think this version has more advantages. I like that this design makes him appears more stationary as his friend tries to wake him up. I also like that this a more grand introduction to our protagonist. And I tried to make it so that each panel is an aspect of his world: his drug addiction, his withering body, crime novels, his shabby home, his addictive personality, the streets, the looming city and his fellow homeless people.
Unfortunately, this page layout made the needle and the book smaller. Zac and Lonnie really wanted a close up of the book and the needle to really drive home their importance. The novel, Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, is pretty important in the story and this layout makes it too difficult to see the title of the book.
My solution was to give myself more work and add an introduction page prior to this one, in which we have a close up of the objects.
This works specifically because it places even more importance on the significance of the objects by giving it it’s own page, it gives us a place to put a quote (which they had talked about in our previous discussions, but hadn’t quite figured out by this point) and I love credit pages like this in comics. These kind of things are generally not done in comics for budgetary reasons and because page real estate is too valuable to waste. But this is indy comics, so we should be utilizing the freedom provided to us at every opportunity.
I initially pitched it as a one page intro, but that would have messed with Lonnie and Zac’s very carefully scripted page turns. Although this is one of their first published comics, they’ve been studying this craft for quite a while. To be honest, I was a little surprised that they didn’t fall into any of the many, many traps that newer writers of the medium generally fall into.
After that was settled, I tightened up the page.
I took a lot of reference photos of downtown Vancouver because I wanted the city, a very important character in it’s own right in this story, to feel authentic. (which got me in a little trouble sometimes because the people in the downtown east side understandably tend to feel exploited when they see people taking pictures) I really love getting into the gritty details of drawing backgrounds.
The next stage for me is printing this rough in blue and inking it traditionally. My last four comic projects were all done entirely digitally. Recently, though, I realized that I needed a change. I also think going more towards traditional was necessary for my development as an artist. I’ll talk more about that in future blogs, though.
As you can see, I opted to freehand the panel borders. There’s a very specific story reason as to why I sometimes freehand and sometimes use a ruler for borders on this project. I’m not to going to explain it here, though. I prefer to let some things be left up to interpretation. (and it should eventually become clear later on in the series)
Next up, I scan the page (and sometimes make some digital adjustments) and send it over to the brilliant Dee Cunniffe. I used to color my own work, so I sometimes have a clear vision of what I want. I truly hope that I don’t drive Dee mad with my many notes and requests. But I confess that I never really knew what I was doing when I was coloring. Dee on the hand is a professional and an expert at his craft. And I have to say that seeing someone else take my work and make it better has been a breath of fresh air for me.
Lastly, I bring back the dialogue and it’s ready to go!
I’m playing with my layouts and pacing more than usual with this project. I’ve put a lot of thought into these pages, so I’m planning to blog about that much more in the future. I’ll also be saying a lot about my experiences in the industry and comics art in general, so please sign up for my mailing list.
Issue #1 of The Dregs will be available at the end of the month.
The Dregs #1 will be available in stores on January 25th
THE DREGS #1
(W) Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson (A/CA) Eric Zawadzki
A gentrified city. Its homeless population restricted to six square blocks called The Dregs. When people start disappearing, a drug-addled homeless man obsessed with detective fiction becomes addicted to solving the mystery. Equal parts Raymond Chandler and Don Quixote set in a thriving metropolis that literally cannibalizes the homeless, The Dregs is the first homeless meta noir ever made.
In Shops: 01/25/2017 – $3.99
Last year I decided to start work on an improvised comic, which I eventually abandoned. I came to the realization that it’s hard for me to get passionate about a project that isn’t fully realized or even about something. I’m still pretty proud of some of this art, though. And a lot of my ideas will eventually get recycled into other work. For now, though, here’s a bunch of pages and concept work.
I recently did a 3 page short for Paul Allor and Louie Joyce’s Past The Last Mountain Anthology. (currently on Kickstarter) I’ve been friends with Paul for a couple of years now, so I’m glad I finally got to work with him. Especially since I got to contribute to an anthology featuring so many great artists.
I’m happy to finally be able to post that my next project from Black Mask studios has just been announced. The Dregs is a comic I’ve been developing with Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler for a little while now and I’m excited that the fine folks at Black Mask are supporting it. We’re planning for it to come out in early 2017. More information to come.
I recently did a cover for my friend Ryan K Lindsay for his short comic Little Man In The Big House.
The Headspace trade is now out from IDW. It’s pretty exciting that we got a premier publisher to collect our little creator owned book.
Also, you can still buy all the digital issues for a dollar each at Comixology now.
Below is a cover gallery for the series.