It's time to revisit comic book writing since we haven't covered that in a bit. This week we're going to look at that particular kismet that happens between writer and artist, and how that is similar or different when the writer and artist is the same individual.
It's been said that the artist drawing the book is the primary audience for a comic book script writer. How does that change the way a writer approaches writing a story in that form?
Bryan J.L. Glass (Mice Templar): I write with an eye toward the visual. As my educational pursuit was to be that of a film director, I script my panel "shots" visually. Thus, I realize when I start writing any script that all of my visual descriptors are for the sake of the artist, who I must also allow the freedom of their own design sense (on MICE TEMPLAR and Furious, artist Victor Santos knows he has complete freedom to interpret as he will, knowing I only offer notes if I realize the script has been misinterpreted or an outright mistake applied).
Shane Berryhill (Sherwood, Texas): To write is human, but to pencil/ink/color is divine. Artists do all the heavy lifting in comics. So I try to make the job of of those I work with as easy as possible. You hear about comic book artists spending countless hours searching the web for art references. This is time they could have spent actually drawing. Therefore, I'm of a mind the writer should go the extra mile on the artist's behalf and scour the internet for them. I go looking for pics that capture the appearance/mood/feel of what I'm trying to convey with my words (After all, "a picture is worth...") and paste them directly into the script beneath the panel descriptions, labeling them as "art reference." I do this with the caveat that the pasted pics are simply to be a jumping off point for the artist.
Ron Fortier (Green Hornet): I totally disagree with the premise about the artist being the primary audience of any script I write. Sure, he or she is the first to read what I've put down, but I never consider them an audience. They are my collaborators in producing a finished product that is the story...both of us create together...me with words...they with pictures. Together we work to entertain the PRIMARY AUDIENCE...OUR READERS.
Rob Davis (Star Trek): Artists are the FIRST to see the script, but Ron's right. It's the readers who are "primary." The best comics are a synergistic sum of what each creator brings to the final product, meaning the outcome is larger than what each brings to the project.
Roland Mann (Cat and Mouse): I'll be the one to jump in and disagree. (not viciously, just food for thought) I've always said that a comic script is different from all others (duh, right?): it has two audiences: first, the artist. When comic writers compose the PANEL ART DESCRIPTION portion of the script, it's TO the artists and no one else (editors, included here, of course). Only hardcore fans seek out and read scripts. As writer, when I know the artist I'm working with (which is often), I tailor that portion of my script so that it speaks direction to him (or her). I want that portion of the script to be so strong that it creates a shared vision of what the final product should be. Even when I was an editor, it wasn't unusual for me to see the writer directly address the artist in the script: "Hey Darrick, as we discussed on the phone..." blah blah. The 2nd part of the script then, is for the consumer/reader. I think, the idea it all works for a final product is correct...just a different way of getting there.
Percival Constantine (FemForce): I'm going to agree with Ron as well. I don't think of the artist as the primary audience, I think of them as my collaborator. Even if the characters and the story are completely my own invention, the artist is going to have to bring those things to life on the page, and so it's important to respect the collaborative aspect of it.
As a writer, how does one make the process of translating your words into pictures as smooth as possible? What are the pitfalls comic book writers should avoid?
Ron Fortier: How do I help the artist? By making my exposition as clear as possible, to be willing to entertain a better idea or approach from the artist...and most importantly providing my artist with all the photo reference material I can to help them get into my head and see what going on in there. If I say this actor looks like Patrick Stewart, I provide pictures of Patrick Stewart. If I say the character is driving a 1930 Spider automobile, I provide pictures of that car. Again, I have an obligation to give him or her tons of stuff...which they can then use to tell our story.
Bryan J.L. Glass: All dialogue and visuals are always with a mind toward how the collaboration will resonate upon the reader!
Percival Constantine: You make things as clear as possible. If you have trouble describing something in words, then try to provide some sort of reference, again like Ron said. But at the same time, there's the danger of tying the artist's hands and you don't want to do that, either. It's important to know how the artist works and to establish a good working relationship, so you can play to each other's strengths. Also, although this isn't related to the art, as a letterer I feel obliged to mention this: be careful with the amount of words that you intend to put on the page. I've lost count of the number of projects I've lettered where the writer has several paragraphs of captions and dialogue that would be enough to fill an entire page of panels, let alone a single panel.
For an artist, what can a writer do to help you see the images he or she is envisioning as he or she creates the script?
Rob Davis: Well, "first audience" perhaps. A good writer sets up a scene in the first panel of the scene and then allows the artist to work within that scene. Any items of foreshadowing for later in the story ("if a gun goes off in the 3rd or 4th act, it must be shown in the first or second act.") and specific items that need to be there to tell the story well should be included in the description. The emotional state of each character should be clear and any specific actions the characters need to or should take should be there as well.
What do you do as an artist when you see a different vision for a page or part of a story that you know can improve the final product over what was written?
Rob Davis: If it's a radical change I talk it over with the writer. If it's just a compression or expansion of the number of panels I go ahead and do it without consultation. I find a number of artists take far too many liberties with a writer's script without consulting them- sometimes to the destruction of the "beats" and through plot of the story. "The play's the thing," the story should be what dictates how a scene is depicted not what would make a "cool" or convention sale page. Comics is melding of words and pictures where both create a whole greater than the sum of its parts—or synergy.
For you revolutionary do-it-all folks, how does the process change when you're the sole creator, both writer and artist (not discounting the work of inkers, colorists, and letterers, of course, but we'll slice those roles in a later article)? Do you find the process more or less stressful? More or less enabling? How so?
Steven Cummings (Wayward): It's less stressful because I don't have to over draw my pencils and can write to my strengths.