03 March 2010


by guest columnist Anthony Schiavino.  Follow him on Twitter.
Over the course of the last few days I’ve started something on Twitter that other people are doing called #makingcomics. It boils down to tips of the trade - or rather how I do things - in the process of making comics. I’ve been a designer for well over ten years (probably closer to 15) and an Art Director - be it my day job or my personal projects.  Being an indie creator you have to bear the load of multiple jobs. In my case I’m a writer, colorist, letterer, designer, and production person as well as editor, finding the creative people I work with.

In that time I’ve worked with some of the best people but I’ve also worked with my fair share of creators where it just didn’t work out. It’s not because they’re bad people by any means (even if they’ll feel a particular way about you after the fact). Like anything,  people gel or they don’t.

Most of the people that follow me on Twitter or are fans on my Facebook page don’t read comics. They come from many other aspects and industries, be it filmmaking or screenwriting or plain old graphic design. But one thing is certain. They have a love for comics in some form.

Yet very few realize that they tend to write comics all the time and not even know it.

Here are some of my 140 character Tweets over the past couple of days.

#makingcomics isn't just about posting continual pinups or images. It's about sequential work, detail, and keeping schedules.

One way of thinking is that if a person can draw they can create a comic book. That just isn’t the case. There are illustrator and master draftsmen that can draw an image in photographic detail. But that doesn’t mean they can draw movement, set a scene, a camera angle - essentially play Director.

Anyone can crank out images. Many artists use this as a warm up technique before they put down a page to loosen up their drawing muscles. It’s something I think most people do and if you throw in a character sketch you have an image for a sketchbook later on.

Pages are also about detail in a way. Flashy images of character grimacing in poses fit for early 90s comic books are great but if they’re standing on air, without storytelling occurring, that’s not making comic books.

Schedules are most important and I think self explanatory. Or one would think. I’ve had this problem on more than a handful of occasions. Life happens and there are events that happen beyond what we can control. Communication lines need to be opened and, if something does come up or a change in schedule needs to occur, you need to tell everyone involved.

If they’re finding out via Twitter that’s a sure sign of trouble.

#makingcomics involves writers working with artists and artists asking questions about details, etc.. They meet halfway.

#makingcomics is not like sports. There is no handoff. Quality is a collaborative effort from all parties. So if you don't care it will fail.

These two Tweets go together hand in hand and it’s how I wrote them. This has more so to do with independent comics then mainstream. There is a difference and it’s something you see in all of the great comics today.

Mainstream comics have Editors which pick out the creative team. They hire a writer and illustrator to match the look and feel of the title. This isn’t always the case, and I’m finding less so these days, but when there’s a perfect match they sell like gangbusters.

But on the independent side the burden lays on the shoulder of the creators. Sometimes it’s the writer trying to find an artist and other times it’s an artist that has a great idea but needs to find a writer to match the look and feel. Sometimes this leads to butting heads. Other times it’s creative bliss.

There isn’t a hand-off in independent comic book making and anyone going into such a project thinking it’s so has the wrong idea. As a writer, you need to find that artist but also play to their strengths. You need to, in a way, write for them and if not and you are the editor you need to shepherd them along. Creative teams get to a point when this can happen but if you have a new property you have to work with them. Likewise if you’re an artist you should be given creative freedom. But that doesn’t mean you draw what you want to draw and that’s it. There are going to be changes and corrections and new ideas, which they call rewrites and reshoots in movies, and these things happen.

If you’re working in creative bliss more than likely you’re going to be fine with this because, in the end, it makes for a better product.

In the process all involved learn and take away something from the experience.

#makingcomics A good solid splash page can have impact. It's not cheating. However a good, quick hit 10 small panel page can do the same.

Now this is where making comics is similar to making movies. In movies you have a screenwriter who hands off the script.

But in comics, particularly independent creations the writer is the director to an extent. The artist can be described as the cameraman. It’s a blending of jobs that I’ve really found lately more people wish they could have. Somewhere in between the writing and the layout stages the artist brings their own viewpoint to the page and the scene is set. If not, then reshoots are made. Many times rewrites are made right in camera. Wait...that should be page, but that's how I look at the process.

Many people outside of comics aren’t familiar with how they’re made and when I mention some of these things you can just see the excitement in their eyes.

Think of it this way. You sit down to write a scene, maybe it’s one of those dark and sultry detective noirs with the window slats across a character's face. Then she walks in. When you write comics, or at least how I write comics, I’m thinking about the frame to frame movement in terms of the camera and time. How long should I hold on this panel? Does he take a drag of his cigarette and blow out the puff of smoke before he recites his lines?

The frames, much like ellipses for dramatic pause, can be used to your advantage on an unlimited budget. The bigger they are the more impact they can have. The smaller they are the quicker the cut or the more intense and claustrophobic you can make a scene, sometimes without your characters uttering a single word.

#makingcomics Frames don't have to be filled with art. They can be used as scene transitions or lack of time.

Likewise, I’ve found that you don’t need to fill every panel with art in order to set a scene or get your point across. Comic books, contrary to where they’re going, is a print media and one would think there are certain setbacks due to this fact. This is where creativity comes in. Like anything else it can be overdone, but things such as transitions or fade outs or lack of time can be portrayed with nothing more than an empty panel.

Guy gets his lights knocked out. Black panel. Size and shape depend on if he loses his vision for a second or if he dies.

Character gets hit by a car a white panel works just as well for the same reasons.

I’ve been able to evoke certain feelings from a splash page to a 10 panel quick cut scene.

Every now and then on Twitter I’m going to Tweet about #makingcomics

There are so many people out there that genuinely love comics and the process of seeing them made. I think many of them - could be you - are closer to making them than you think. 

It might be time to write one.

From the halls of Marvel Comics as a mutant editorial intern to the heights of the Flatiron designing book covers and straight on through newsrooms as an art director, Anthony Schiavino has seen action and then some. Pounding away at the keyboard, working well into the night, he mixes his love of old hard-boiled stories, hopeless romance and black and white movie dialogue like a good stiff drink. A writer and designer from New Jersey, Anthony’s work can be seen on a wide range of pulp and comic book publications such as “Ghost Zero,” “The Phantom: Generations,” and the “Black Forest.”

He can be found talking comics, movies, television, and all things pulp on Facebook and Twitter



gregheegn said...

I'm intrigued by the idea that screenwriters are doing a version of comic books when they write a script. The more I think it over I'm thinking this is correct.

When I write out scenes I have clear images in my head of the movements, the actions, facial features, and background. I just write what I see and how these characters interact. If I had any sort of drawing ability it would be similar to story boarding.

I think you point out a very key issue in regards to a "splash" page and the 10 panel.(I have no clue what that is, but if you can explain it simply I can look through the ten comic books I own and figure it out!) I would relate it to writing more than just screenwriting but I would say sometimes characters needs long descriptions to complete a picture and others suffice with short quick descriptions.

Pulp Tone said...

Essentially a Splash page is just a full page of art. It's just one panel and most times it's where the title and credits are located. In the old days it was the action packed panel, possibly throwing you into the middle of the action or emotional thought.

The ten panels...just looks for some scene or page with quite a few panels and constant movement (but I think you know that!)

But yes it is like storyboarding very much because you essentially have a panel and you're putting dialogue with it, etc.

On the long descriptions. Some writers write very brief descriptions like CLOSE-UP CHARACTER A and others are notorious for writing pages upon pages for a single page of content. It really all depends on the writer, his working conditions with the artists, and how much back story they want to have the artist swirl around in the back of their head.

Glad you liked it. Like I always say, I think most people like comics. They just don't read it for reasons of maybe not being able to find them, too expensive, or it's just not on their radars. There's also this notion that they're only about superheroes. We write the same way. Turns out you write comic books.

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