Lorenzo and I have been creating comics together for quite a while. A decade in fact. That's 3650 days of thinking, talking, sketching, considering, procrastinating, deliberating, delegating, arguing, abandoning, admiring, critiquing, erasing, improving and finally, sometimes, even publishing things like this.
Every creator has a different approach to writing a page, and I've certainly honed my process over the years. As part of our ongoing celebration of the release of Long Gone Don: The Monstrous Underworld, therefore, I thought it might be fun to share my personal workflow. There's LOTS to discuss so let's jump in!
Step 1: PLOT/ACTION BALANCE
Everything starts with the tale. I begin by breaking the comic book into rough chapters, usually 6 pages in length. This is the longest I'll want to stay in any one scene or environment, unless there are some really dramatic changes afoot. The reason for this movement is that our books are between 44-52 pages long, so there's no point hanging about.
I then break the story down further to its page-by-page beats. It's important to know the purpose of each page. Is the reader learning a secret? Are we watching a battle? Is this a tender moment or a funny moment? Will we be changing scene? What is balance between plot and action?
Now, the funny thing about the comic page is that most creators think that action only comes from PHYSICALITY, but Lorenzo and I learned long ago that SPEECH is as effective as any movement. A good outburst from a happy, sad, delusional, furious or deaf character can give the page all the punch it requires. It also helps if you do your own lettering, something I love and have discussed before - HERE.
Step 2: JOKES
With the plot/action balance sorted, I turn to the funnies. Humour is exceptionally important to the books Lorenzo and I make together. That's not to say every joke is a laugh-out-loud hoot, but adding layers of amusement to the story is vital to sustaining the pleasure of our material. Don's world, like Sid and Rivet's and Randall's, is a fully realised universe; one filled with a large number of humorous architectural designs, background details, daft signposts and more. The characters have to be funny but so to does the world itself. Once the story is in place I strive to combine a mixture of comedy elements to the script. Sight gags, puns, allusion, repetitive gags, juxtaposition, slapstick, and good old fashioned JOKES are used where applicable to bring a lightness to the weight of the story.
That said, a good joke does not instantly earn the right to be on the page. A story built around a pun is hard to care about. But when humour serves the story, and helps build/reinforce/reveal character, then it's golden.
Step 3: THUMBNAIL
I cannot draw - that is a fact - but I'm pretty good at visualisation, which is something that comes from my love of film and games. I can see a scene play out, but until I've tried to sketch it, I'm never 100% convinced it's going to work. So I thumbnail and thumbnail and thumbnail. With steps 1 and 2 firmly in my head, I break the page into panels and get to work. Here's the resulting mess - a random nine pages from Book 1.
I particularly like the drawing of the Brick-Licker, and that bold note to myself on the right ... GET INTO THE ACTION EARLIER! So true...
This is all rough stuff, but it gives me an idea about the general panel-to-panel movement. With this in place I can move onto the MOST important stage.
Step 4: DIALOGUE
Too many words on every page, generally = bad.
Not enough words on every page, generally = empty.
Those are the basic rules to live by, but once you've mastered that the world of dialogue opens up before you. Unless you're creating a largely narrated comic, you'll need to think about your characters' voices. How do they speak? Do they talk to different characters in a different manner? Do they have an accent? And most importantly - what is the age of the audience for your comic strip?
Taking your time with the dialogue is the difference between a story people want to read, and one they skip. TIP - always deliver your script aloud. This will help to correct most unforced errors.
Step 5: DESCRIPTION / RESEARCH
Once the dialogue is reading well it's time to flesh out the panel descriptions. Lorenzo knows this world extremely well and most of the time I keep the details vague so he can bring his own style to the page. But there are always certain details for which I have a specific design in mind. This is the time when I delve into the research and start pic hunting to make sure Lorenzo has everything he needs to bring the page to life.
For instance, at one stage in Book 1, Don dons (ha) a fancy dress mask that looks like this...
That was based on a 14th/15th century ceremonial Aztec Summacaw tail mask, like this...
These little details all serve a purpose and they're fun to add!
All of which brings us to the end and the final stage...
Step 6: SEND TO EDITOR
...after which I often find myself revisiting Steps 1-5! HA! But that's all part of the rich tapestry of creativity.
I hope you've enjoyed this latest peek behind the curtain of our creative process.
To discover how Lorenzo takes my script to the all important ART stage, click HERE!