Welcome back to a behind the scenes feature for the mini comic Sleight of Hand. If you haven’t seen it, just click on the blue link in the sentence prior.
You all know how the comic looks like in it’s finished form, but today I’m going to show what it looks like from start to finish.
Brainstorming, and planning
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of my notes or some of the pre-writing work that I do. I’ll have to rectify that in my next blog post.
To give the jist of how I normally approach a comic script, it’s first with Dan Harmon’s story circle. Read that link, it changed how I approached structuring my stories. Then I break down that circle into a more detailed outline. In bigger comics, I’ll have notes like Page 1-3, this is what happens. However, in smaller comics my outlines usually go page by page instead of clumping pages together in one scene, as there can be numerous scenes happening on a single page in short comics.
Writing and Drafts
Next up is the actually work part (for writers that is). With short comics you usually have a shot at writing multiple drafts of the entire story rather quickly. I often times find that when going from outlining to writing, let your outline guide you, but do not let it dictate to you. It’s there as a map, not as a GPS. Some people approach it differently, and that’s perfectly fine (you gotta find what works for you). But for me, it’s a map. You can see the final script I sent over to Linn in the following link. full script here. Next you’ll be seeing how Linn took these words and transformed them into a visual story.
*Sidenote: There are two different approaches to generally write comics. The script you see through the link is what is referred to as “DC Style” of writing comics. That is where you break down each panel individually and explain what goes on in it. It’s also known as “Full Script.” The other general format of writing comics is “Marvel style“, or “Plot Script.” This is where the writer either writes what happens on the page, and the artist breaks it down into panels themselves. Or, back in Stan Lee’s heyday, he would write an outline of the story and the artist (mostly Jack Kirby) would then take that outline and break it down into pages and panels. I’ve never tried Marvel style but it really piques my interest. If you’d like to read a modern comic who currently uses Marvel style in their writing, check out “The Wicked and Divine” by Image comics. If you get the trade paperback you can see how different their script appear in the back.
Once Linn received my script, she began thumbnailing. This is where the artist does very quick and mostly rough drawing of the comic page. This is where they figure out perspective, and how the panels will be looking on the page, and which panels will be the key focal points of each page. You can see some of her thumbnails below. Linn did approach this slightly differently in making her thumbnails more detailed. That’s a fine way to do it, but many artist try to go through this section as quickly as possible and will often stick to geometric shapes to represent everything.
Linn then takes her thumbnails and begins the pencilling process. This is where you will begin getting close to what the final page will be looking like. Details, facial expressions, pretty much everything you see on a comic page is created here. Pencils are the largest stage of the art production side and take the longest. This is also why pencillers are commonly paid more than participants of the following stages (inks, colours, and letters).
Pencils are complete and Linn moves onto inks. Now Linn has a cleaner art style with very crisp lines and so only a small amount of black is necessary. Sleight of Hand involved minimal inking. Still, with only minimal ink you can see how well the ink defines each of her lines.
Heavier inking is typical used to help bring certain objects to attention, as well as increase contrast and emphasize lighting. Something like a film noire book (like Fatale… actually anything done by Sean Phillips is typical very ink heavy) is where you would find a more liberal use of ink. A well inked page can impart a tone that can capture what a book’s about in just a glance. If you want to see a well inked page do yourself a favour and grab the free electronic preview of Hard Wyred. Ross does a great job showing off his amazing inking skills.
Usually, we would have colours here. But Sleight of Hand does not have any colours as I personally like the black and white nature of comics… it’s also less expensive to not have to hire a colourist. You may also experience a term known as a “Flatter” in this stage. Now “Flatting” refers to the process of separating the different elements of the page into flat solid blocks of colour. This allows the colourist to come in later and add effects, such as lighting, shadow, special effects, etc. Some books use a flatter, and many more do not. It all comes down to how the team is assembled. Usually books coming out of the Big 2 (Marvel and DC) will be employing a flatter to help keep the production line moving. In terms of great colourists, my personal favourite is Matt Wilson who colours “The Wicked and Divine” (two mentions in on post, new record). His work is phenomenal.
Now the art side of the comic is done and we are onto the final stage. Letters!
This is where we would have a letterer (or letterist depending on who you’re taking to) add the dialogue bubbles, caption boxes, SFX noises, and basically the large percentage of words that grace a comic page. I will say they are often the unsung heroes of comic creation, as when there is amazing lettering, no one notices. But if there is bad lettering… you best believe someone is hearing about it. Kind of like a movie with bad sound, you notice it right away, but you would never point out that a movie sounded great now would you? In terms of what makes a good letterer… it doesn’t have anything to do with fonts, or anything like that. I mean, fonts do count, but they are not the make or break point. It’s page flow. A letterer needs to be able to place comic balloons and boxes to lead the eye around the page in the way the story is meant to be told. It can be awfully confusing if you are reading a dialogue box that is out of order, or seeing an action long after the dialogue for said action has already happened. Bad lettering takes people out of the story, and is jarring to their immersion. With good letterers (Like Rus Wooton, who letters almost everything under the sun) you will be sucked into the story, and just cruising along without a thought to how all those nice bubbles conveniently got to their locations.
I took on the lettering duties for Sleight of Hand, and it’s not uncommon for the writer of the comic (John Layman from Chew does it) to letter their own comics. Luckily, for me, Sleight of Hand was quite easy to letter, often only having 1 caption box or speech bubble per panel.
And that’s it. That is the comic creation process. I hope you enjoyed a dive into what went on behind the scenes of “Sleight of Hand” as well as what currently goes on behind the scenes of some of your other favourite comics. If nothing else, I hope you gained an appreciation for the amount of work and effort that people across the industry put into making these books with pictures that we love so much.
Until next time,