Whether it’s writing, making a film, or even watching cooking shows, I’ve always been interested in process. I like learning about how things are made, and seeing all the steps laid out separately. So going with that theme, I figured I’d take a crack at one of those on the topic of comics. I’m right in the middle of my latest project Rum Row, and thought this was a perfect opportunity to illustrate how an idea goes from the script to the final colored page. If you hate learning “how the sausage is made”, you can at least look at some cool pictures. Now onward!
If you’re a comic fan, you’ve probably seen something similar in the back of a graphic novel or collected edition. After the initial story and characters have been fleshed out, I’ll sit down to write the actual script. I write in “full script” format. I don’t want to bore you with the different styles, but if you’re interest you can go here.
Basically this is where I describe how many panels are going on the page, what happens in each one, and write the dialogue (word balloons) for each character. I copy and pasted page ten of the recent script, then put the finished pencils directly following it. In this example, this is simply an action page. So there won’t be any word balloons. But I think you’ll still get the idea. All the beautiful artwork is courtesy of my collaborator Michele Bandini.
Rum Row Script Page
Page Ten (4 Panels)
Outside of the Duchess, we see a group of police zeppelins that read NYPD on the side poking through the clouds, dispersing the air balloons and other ships.
Cut to the back of the NYPD zeppelin opening up and police biplanes are exiting. One plane, The Albatross, is larger and different looking then the rest. It actually has helicopter propellers in the wings, so it can hover in place. This is for boarding other ships.
The police planes fly by the hot air balloons at full speed. A woman watches through opera glasses, as her drunk husband is puking off the side.
Cut to the back of the Police chief looking out the viewing panel of the lead NYPD Zeppelin at the Duchess.
Pencils based on script above
I think right off the bat, you’ll notice how informal the script is. Unlike prose, or even screenplays, there’s no poetry to comic book scripts. Generally the only people that read them, are the artist, and maybe an editor if you’re working on a hired gig say for Marvel or DC. It’s basically like a letter to the artist. I write them almost like I’m having a conversation. If you’ve never read one, they can feel disjointed and hard to read with all the panel and page breaks. But you get used to them eventually.
When I work, I usually send over the script to the artist, and he/she will do thumbnails of how they see the page. We discuss it, and once we both agree, then move on to the pencils. I’m not married to any of my scripts. If the artist has a better way of getting the story across, I’ll go with it. If that means more panels, less panels, or even changing things around slightly. Whatever is best for the story. This is collaboration after all, and hopefully both of us want this to be the best we can. I try to think visually when writing these of course. But usually what I envision is nothing compared to what the artist can turn out.
Then finally, after the pencils have been drawn, it’s time to ink the page. In professional comics the pencils can be passed off to separate inkers, or the artist may do it themselves. It really depends on time availability and preference. For this project, Michele did both.
After the pencils are inked
Once the page has been inked, the files are sent to the colorists. These days everything is done digitally, and the color options are endless. But back in the early days, they only had four color options to make all their combinations with. Below is the colored version of the page above, and it’s almost finished. The lettering of the page is the final step.
The color is added (Colors courtesy of Derek Dow)
And that’s it for this page! If there were any dialogue, it would be added now. Then once all the pages have been lettered, they would be sent to the printer or put in PDF form so people could read it digitally.
I hope that wasn’t too painful, and hopefully interesting to non comic fans. I know most, if not all of you are not. But I think if you gave them a chance, you would really dig them. In Japan adults read comics all the time. And they can cover any topic from sports, romance stories, to giant robots. There is no stigma, and they sell like crazy. But in America, they tend to be associated with children and super heroes. Attitudes have improved slightly in recent years, since every other movie made these days is based on a comic, even the non super heroes films surprisingly. Although I still think we’re a ways away from most people reading comics. The Walking Dead is an exception, but hopefully that will change.
One thing I always like to remind non comic readers of, is there is no budget in comics. If you can think it, it can be drawn. If you’re ever interested, or want some suggestions. Just shoot me an email, or tweet at @IhateMaxwell. If you let me know what things you’re into, I promise I can find a couple comics for you. Alright I’ll stop rambling now, and thanks again for reading!