While we’re on our brief hiatus, we thought it might be a good opportunity to get back into a discussion of the creative process. So check back in with us every Monday and Thursday for a little Q&A session with Rick and Greg, respectively.
I’ll be opening each session with a prompt or a handful of questions, but please ask your own questions in the comments section, and Rick and Greg will do their best to answer!
As an artist, how many of your ideas come as fully formed pictures, and how many come as, “I’d like this-and-this to happen — how do I pull that off visually?” How do these ideas shift / change / deform / evolve in the transition from your brain to your hand?
When I’m drawing a strip everything I draw is in service to the story, so it all starts with the script. My job is to visually interpret the writer’s story and elaborate on the emotional context where I can. Much of my input depends on the writer. I’ve worked with a lot of different writers and none approach scripting exactly the same way.
Some writers give very detailed art directions. They’ll not only tell you the characters involved in the scene, but they’ll give a detailed description of the setting. They will list the furniture in a room, it’s location in the room, sometimes even the style of the furniture. They’ll tell you where the characters stand (or sit), what they’re wearing, and even focus on what the particular character is doing, whether it’s important to the story or not. Other writers will give a little sketchier panel descriptions focusing on the most important visual elements and leaving the rest to the artist to elaborate on. Then if you’re working Marvel style, or from a synopsis, the artist decides on the pacing of the story, how many panels on the page, in a sense becoming a co-writer. All of these methods and variations of them, require a different approach.
I’ve always tried to draw to the writer. It’s not my job to change what they wrote, to restructure the story or to alter the focus. That doesn’t mean I won’t change things, but I’ll only make changes if I feel there’s a better way to visualize the writer’s intent. Understanding what that intent might be is something I take very seriously. It’s maybe the hardest part of the job and often requires reading between the lines of the script. Writer’s choose the words they use for a reason, so it’s important to pay attention to those words. The choice of words will give clues to the emotional intent of the scene regardless of the structure of the written pages.
That’s where I start. I approach each script with no preconceived notions. As I’m doing the first read through I try not to visualize anything. I’m just trying to get a general sense of the story, making mental notes on locations, characters, and any research that might be necessary. Sometimes, though, as I’m reading a scene, a visual will pop into my head. When that happens I know it’s the best way to draw that sequence. I don’t understand why it happens, but every time I try to re-imagine something that has come to me that way, I soon realize I’m not going to improve on that image. It’s the same with designing characters. The first image that occurs to me is the one I’m most satisfied with. Many times I’ll be asked to alter a design to someone else’s specification, and I always comply, but I’m never as happy with the result.
I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a script that completely stymied me. There have been some that I’ve had trouble with, usually written by someone who doesn’t understand the medium. My approach to drawing comics is old school. I want to tell a story in pictures and see how much of that story I can communicate visually. It is definitely not the accepted approach to drawing today’s comics. I don’t draw pin-ups on every page. The work isn’t in your face. I try for subtlety when I can. I try to inject visual humor when possible. I find doing things this way opens a visual palette that is much broader than the norm. It gives me more tools to play with. For me, it’s more challenging, and a lot more fun.
This year marks my 30th anniversary as a comics professional, and when I think about all the types of stories I haven’t had the opportunity to draw, my emotions become mixed. I’m disappointed because I’ve never gotten to interpret a war story, or a horror story,or a romance story, or a science fiction story, or do an adaptation of a movie or a tv show, and I really want (need!) to do another Western. And then there’s the notion of writing something myself. But the disappointment soon becomes excitement because I realize I haven’t done a war story, or a horror story, or a or a romance, or a science fiction….