Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#232) -- Comic Book Panels

Tell us a little about your approach to writing a comic book panel. 

Art by Martheus Wade
Okay. There are several different approaches writers use when describing a panel in a full-script format. (And that's not even including the plot-style format.) Let's go over those first, at least the ones I can remember.

The Movie Director:
This writer covers everything from the "camera angle" to the lighting and gives the artist almost no free rein to interpret the panel. Expect to see words like "panoramic" and "bird's eye view" and "worm's eye view" a lot in the script.

The Comic Book Editor:
This writer decides exactly how the borders of the panel will look and whether it will be a full-width panel taking up the middle third of the page, etc. He or she may also provide drawings of the suggested page layout.

Art by Jim Ritchey III
The Literary Maestro:
This writer uses prose in the manner of the great authors and reveals a character's motivations and past events leading up to this panel and how it matters in the grand scheme of the character's live from this point on. Read any of Devin Grayson's scripts to see this approach. They're amazing pieces of literature in and of themselves sometimes.

The Minimalist: This writer is pretty much bare bones with the panel description. He or she simply tells what happens and leaves the camera angles, mood, tone, page layout, etc. to the artist to decide. Chuck Dixon is a shining example of this approach.

Art by Richard Kohlrus
Now to answer the question on a more personal level. I am a blend of all of these charming folks, though my default tends to be the minimalist. Whether I'm a movie director or a minimalist can depend on whether I'm working with an artist I've worked with before or writing for an artist who may not know my quirks and may need more information. When I have a scene that's particularly important in a book that's not a straight-up action book, I'll sometimes slip into being the literary maestro for a panel or two. And when I've got a certain look in mind for a creator-owned book, don't be surprised to find me become the comic book editor for some of the important pages.

The trick in each of these cases (or for each of these writers, one might say) is to trust the artist to interpret and provide the script as a guideline, regardless of the type of approach, and not as a set-in-stone monument to your ability to create a story. The artists with whom I work often will improve on my scripts and ask me about rearranging page elements or changing the size or panels or using other, far better camera angles. It's my job to trust them and make sure the book is a partnership.