Chapter 6: Getting on the Same Page

(In order to make up for how lame this week’s work is, I’m double posting! But more on that in the other post.)

This week’s concern was laying out the single-page comic, which is a form I’m currently trying to master. The main concern was emphasis on a standard grid layout and how it can maintain a constant beat to reading, and when a few panels are tweaked, it really emphasizes the importance of what occurs and how dramatic the action is. This is all rather implicit knowledge, but it was great as a reminder that a strong foundation in your comic can go a long way. The example pages used in Abel & Madden’s text are very helpful, but since I lack a strong foundation in comics–particularly old-style newspaper comics–I felt kind of lost. Abel & Madden state the action is rather clear and/or humorous, but in reality I find myself lost or confused about how something is supposed to be funny. Perhaps humor has evolved over generations–but that is a conversation for a different place at a different time.

There’s note of title design, and how it can stay static or can evolve for each of a series, which makes sense. The title design helps lay a foundation, so for a serialized work, similarities may be preferred, at least to gain oneself a brand and/or marketability. I’d never really thought much about this, but I do need to spend some more time thinking about it, I think.

According to Abel & Madden: The most important aspect of laying out a comic page is the “live area,” which is basically the area in the center of the page (sans margins) where all the panels and bleeds go. The main thing to remember is not to give your yourself margins in the live area, it’s kind of redundant. The second most important thing is the scale for which the drawings are done. I’ve always drawn my comics bigger than I knew they’d be reproduced (for instance, drawing on 8.5″ x 11″ paper for a book that’s 6″ x 8″, just to throw some numbers out there) but I never really thought if I was drawing at 150% or 200% or anything like that. Standard live areas seems to be in the area of 9″ x 13.5″, but before getting all hung up on numbers, the ratio (2:3 or 3:4) is more important, because that’s the actual layout of the page. American-style comics are generally the former, while magazine-style, European, and graphic novels are generally the latter.

I had to skip the in-class activity because it required a couple of materials I didn’t really have on me. First off, I bought the wrong size Bristol paper last week–I needed to get 14″ x 17″, and I got 11″ x 14″. I could still probably make do with the smaller size and just scale everything, but the math would be a pain, and I really want to make sure I’m doing this the right way. Once I gain experience, I think I’ll feel more comfortable with scaling things to my personal preference. The other thing(s) I’m missing is my architect table and my T-square. The T-square–I have no idea where it is. I know when I got the architect drafting table in high school as a gift, I got a T-square with it, and I used the set every once in a while, but since I really had no idea what I was doing, the desk kind of got turned into a normal desk. Currently it is in my brother’s room, holding his computer. Whenever he gets a replacement desk, I’ll get my drafting table back and it will make my life way easier. Until then… I’ll have to make do somehow.

The in-class activity was basically just to set up a piece of Bristol board for a single page comic–live area set aside, and four tiers with gutters. No individual panels yet; just prepping everything for now. So I’m not too worried about getting caught up later.

The homework was a thumbnail sketch of a single-page comic from a hypothetical comic strip called Chip and the Cookie Jar and how Chip, a 6-year-old boy, is always trying to get the cookies from the top of the fridge. A pre-written script was provided, and my task was to divide the script into beats and then pencil the dialogue into the comic. I divided my paper into a standard 16-panel grid by folding it, and then wrote in my dialogue, along with some cues in parenthesis to give me an idea of what I was thinking.

Sorry its so hard to read, I wanted to keep it light for easy changing.

I’m assuming next week we’ll go further with this. Next week, however, is going to be interesting, and I may be doing a different kind of post. ;]

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Leslie's deskspace, concurrent use of Abel & Madden text with McCould while working on a two-page thumbnail.

Chapter 4: Bridging the Gap

This week’s lesson in Abel & Madden’s Drawing Words & Writing Pictures relied rather heavily on Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. The focus was simple: different transitions between panels that create different types of closure for the reader. Since readers have a tendency to story-make and connect panels into coherence, that gives writers/artists an advantage to be as specific or vague in our storytelling, to hone in on tiny details or get the speed of action across. McCloud offers six types of transitions, and Abel & Madden add a seventh. The transitions are (with my own paraphrased definitions):

  • moment-to-moment – shows the incremental passage of time
  • action-to-action – shows the beginning and end of an action, and lets the reader fill in the actual movement
  • subject-to-subject – shows different characters/objects in the same scene
  • scene-to-scene – shows different places/times
  • aspect-to-aspect – shows different views of the same scene (like zooming in or noting setting details)
  • symbolic – shows a non-literal representation of an emotion or situation
  • non-sequiter – shows things that have nothing to do with one another, and as a result the reader really has to try to create meaning, which sometimes turns this type of transition into symbolic

To get a better understanding of the craft elements involved in all of these transitions, I sincerely suggest picking up McCloud’s text. Wolk has a great chapter on this in Reading Comics entitled “Pictures, Words, and the Space Between Them” if you’re interested in gutters and white space and the magic they create within a comic (from a literary perspective).

The “class” assignment involved cutting panels from a newspaper daily comic strip page and rearranging them to make a cohesive story using all different type of panel transitions. There’s a bunch of copyright laws and stuff involved, so even if I had done the project, I wouldn’t be able to show you what I did. (I didn’t have timely access to a newspaper, and if I had scoured the Internet that would have turned into distracted web-comic reading.) The activity is similar to the “extra-credit,” which involves making a card game out of random panels from Nancy comics. (Nancy seems to be held in high esteem by not only Abel & Madden, but McCloud as well. I didn’t grow up reading Nancy so there’s no real nostalgia factor for me there… I’d be much more enamored to read Calvin & Hobbs or Dilbert or something. But that’s just my personal preference.) The game sounds great, though, for quickly identifying transitions and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. I wish I had known about it when I was in high school and had a strong artistic/writerly community that I spent a large amount of time with every day. (Not to say I’m not fond of the community I have in grad school, but our time together is largely limited to class and occasionally planned outings.)

The homework was challenging–and in a good way! I wish I had more time with it, so that I could have inked and colored it. Perhaps I can save that for another activity later. The prompt was to thumbnail draw a 2-page comic adaptation of the Jack & Jill rhyme using all seven transitions (as described above).

A thumbnail sketch of a 2 page comic using all 7 transitions to illustrate the famous nursery rhyme.

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail or water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

To save paper/space and keep me from making the comic more complex than it needed to be, I just folded the paper in half to create two pages. I went ahead and labeled each transition to make sure I got them all. My non-sequiter panel isn’t really that non-sequiter. I tried, but obviously I had some intent behind where I put it and how it functions in the comic. All of the drawings are terrible, of course. It’s a thumbnail sketch. But hopefully you all can see and understand that Jack is a class-A Jackass. Toward the end you can see that my transitions were less “pure” and tended to blur together and function as several different types of transitions at once.

I lined up everything to start the re-pencilling on new paper, inking, and coloring, and then I realized I was out of time for the week! :(

Leslie's deskspace, concurrent use of Abel & Madden text with McCould while working on a two-page thumbnail.

I used everything pictured here except... the ruler.

Next week I’ll have more drawings for you! :]