Right Place at the Write Time #9 – Page Layouts
Category: Right Place at the Write Time
I spent the last month focusing on a new comic idea while this column whimpered and cried for attention in the background. I felt bad leaving it in the proverbial hot car with the windows up, so here I am to complete my journey through the comic book page.
If you haven’t checked out the previous columns then you may be missing some great information on scripting, pacing, and dialogue. Today we’re talking about page layouts!
Most of these columns have a stream of consciousness approach. I take a topic and essentially attempt to regurgitate everything that I have learned on the topic in order to help you (and to see what all I’ve actually retained!) so do your best to follow me down the rabbit hole on this one.
If you’re working in Marvel style scripting then the page layout responsibility is going to fall on the artist who will get to decide the flow and pace of the panels on the page. If your artist is an amazing storyteller than they will likely enjoy this aspect and produce some amazing work for the project.
If working in full script, detailing what falls in every panel then you’ll be able to influence the layout by giving specific direction based off what you see in your minds eye and by how many panels are on the page. For instance, if in your mind you envision a panel taking up the entire width of the page, you’ll want to let the artist know that it’s a full-tier panel.
I’ve heard of writers actually taking pencil to script and drawing rough thumbnails of the desired panel breakdown on a page, but in my humble opinion, at that point I’m impeding on the artist’s territory and stifling their creativity. In the end, they’re interpreting the story and more specifically, the page and should be welcomed to bring their flair to it. Keep in mind that you decided to work with this person and if you’re not enjoying their art then you should find someone else to work with before things start to go down hill.
Even though this is a writing-centric column, I feel the need to point something out. Artists new to the comics game are encouraged to master simple grids and layouts when beginning their careers. Chances are that as a new comics writer, you’re working with these folks. Don’t ask the artist to do crazy layouts that will push them beyond what they’re currently comfortable with. The last thing you want is for them to get frustrated by not feeling like they’re a good enough artist. Help build their confidence and not destroy it. Know that at the end of the day, they will interpret your story to the best of their ability and you should be aware of how much time goes into the drawing of a comic page versus the writing.
The second that the artist begins bringing your script to life through their art, it has become a collaboration and I’ve found that if you don’t put the artist into a box, they will have more satisfaction with the project and genuinely enjoy working on it. No one likes to be told to “do this,” or “do that.” Don’t do it to your artist either. If the work is not being produced in a style or fashion that you like, you are not obligated to work with them. Unless, of course, you signed a contract. More on that another time. I tell each and every artist that I work with that the script is merely a guideline for execution and they should feel free to add or subtract panels if it helps them to tell the story.
As writers, we are naturally control freaks, so the thought of allowing an artist to do whatever the heck they want to do can be intimidating. Sure, there’s been times where an artist has taken so much artistic license that it becomes a different story, but most illustrators want to impress you and want to use the pages drawn to promote their abilities in order to further their career. Just remember that the more freedom you allow the artist, the better the finished product will likely be. If you don’t like something or disagree with a choice they’ve made, you should absolutely speak up (especially if you’re paying them), but learn to pick your battles and to compromise.
Always remember that comics is a creative profession and creative minds like being left to their own devices. If you put too many limits on the artist, they won’t have any fun and they’ll probably tell their artist friends. Walk a few minutes in their shoes… You probably wouldn’t want them to go through your script and tell you what they think should be changed.
Be nice, be professional, and be encouraging.
Thanks for following me on this one.
If you didn’t already guess, Wes Locher writes comic books. Learn more about his projects at weslocher.com, follow him @weslocher, or email him suggestions for future columns at email@example.com.
For a full listing of all Right Place at the Write Time columns, click here.artist, collaboration, comic books, creativity, freedom, how-to, page layouts, right place at the write time, scripts, wes locher, write comics, writing