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.