Hi. Remember me?
I realize it’s been some time since I last posted a blog, and I apologize, but I’ve been putting my time toward keeping the strip on schedule.
The last time I posted I wrote about the nuts and bolts of penciling the strip. The next obvious topic would be inking, but before we leave penciling, I feel we should take a look at a broader topic that includes the work with the pencil. That would be the 800 pound gorilla in the room… storytelling.
That term is bandied about quite a bit when comics are discussed, but what is storytelling? What qualifies as good storytelling in comics? Well, that’s a subject composed of many parts, so for now, we’ll focus on the Big Picture.
The classic adage concerning comics storytelling is that a reader should be able to look at a page, and without reading the dialogue or captions, have a pretty good idea of what’s happening on that page. Simple enough. But, how do you accomplish that? Where do you begin?
If you’ve ever taken any kind of Journalism class, the first things you learn are the components that make a good news story: Who, What, Why, When, and How. These same building blocks apply to visual storytelling. All those elements need to be addressed on the page. You need to give the reader every visual clue required for them to understand the scene. If the scene has carried over from a previous page, that doesn’t mean you have to do another detailed rendering of the setting to re-establish location, but you should, at the least, provide a visual tip, a shorthand to tell the reader you haven’t abruptly changed locale. If there are five people in the scene there’s no need to show all five in every panel, but it’s a good idea to show all five in at least one of them, so the reader isn’t blindsided when someone has a bit of dialogue, and up to that point, they haven’t been on “stage.” The last thing you want is to eject the reader from the story with a Huh? Where’d they come from?
Many comics I see today I don’t really consider comics. They’re more like illustrated stories.The art is often beautiful, sophisticated, even stylish, but really doesn’t help tell the story. Its main concern seems to be finding somewhere on the page to put a posed, in-your-face image of one character or another. Personally, I can see doing that maybe once or twice an issue, but on every page? Really? Why?
Well the “why” is easy to figure out, actually. A page like that is much more desirable on the original art market.
But the size of figures on a page is just one of the elements that make up the visual rhythm of a story. It’s like an orchestra playing everything forte. If the volume is up all the time the variety of aural intensity is negated. If the art is always in your face, soon nothing seems to be in your face. You have nowhere to grow.
The paradox is this: while I want people to enjoy my art in a comic, I don’t want them to be distracted by it. If the reader stops in the middle of a book to marvel at how well I’ve drawn something, or becomes captivated by all the detail I’ve put into a certain panel, then I’m not doing my job. I want the art to propel them through the story; I want them to have no choice but to turn the page to see what happens next. The only two deficits comics have as a storytelling medium is that they have no sound, and you can’t always control the rate at which the reader encounters the material. We can’t do much about sound, but there are tricks we use adjust the reader’s speed; the number of panels on a page; the size and shape of those panels; the amount of copy on any given page. These are all elements of the form that can be utilized to speed up or slow down the story. It’s all a part of that same storytelling rhythm.
We’re just getting started, here. There’s a lot more to telling a story in pictures than what I’ve mentioned here, we’ve barely scratched the surface. This is something I’ve been studying my whole life and the only thing I’m absolutely sure of is that the more I learn, the less I know.
Back to the board now, but I could go on about this for a long time… and probably will.
‘Til next time.