This Wednesday saw the release of the much anticipated comics collection, INJECTION. We headed down to the the Science Gallery for the launch and also caught up with artist and OFFSET2015 speaker, Declan Shalvey, to discuss the anatomy of a comic book page.
There are some creators who write and draw their own work, but in mainstream comics the vast majority are writer/artist collaborations. I personally like collaborating with a writer as it gives me a place to start from creatively and you’ll sometimes be given ideas you might never have come up with otherwise; the actual collaboration can result in more interesting work than if both creators were working individually.
A comic script is in a similar format to a screenplay. It’s broken down into how many panels there are in a page, what happen in each page, and the dialog contained within. In film terminology, I’d say the writer is both the screenwriter and and executive producer of the material. The artist is the director, casting agent, story-boarder, does the set design, lighting, etc. There’s a lot of elements to consider when drawing a script and it can be very work intensive.
Here is a script page from the writer of INJECTION, Warren Ellis. Warren has a very restrained approach to his writing that I really appreciate (though I should point out this page is a lot more minimal than most). All important information is there, generally with some characterization and humour for my benefit. Some scripts by other writers can get very verbose but I personally find those scripts distracting and indulgent. I prefer a more direct approach as I’ll have to read this script 10 times and I’d prefer get to the point of the story in order to tell it.
When I get the script, I read the whole thing as one piece. I like to put it away for a couple of days and mull it over; let ideas come to me a bit more naturally rather than having to force them out (which can happen with the time-restraints in monthly publishing).
This is a very straight-forward panel structure. It’s an approach Warren and I had decided upon previously; be be very clear with the storytelling and save the more ambitious approaches for when they really feel appropriate. I have the freedom to play with the page if I feel the need, but this page is about the character traveling through a village, so any ‘jazzy’ panel layouts would just be distracting from the storytelling here. My aim in this page is to establish the environment, a tone, and keep the reader moving deliberately through the page.
You can see here that the focus point of each panel is composed so that the readers eye will slowly move from left to right. There is a diagonal that moves through the page, not so noticeable that it pulls you out of each panel, but enough to consciously move you through the scene.
This is where the hard work comes in.
I try gather as much reference as I can before pencilling, in this case I gathered a lot of photos of English villages, government cars, etc. I normally try and stick strictly to the layouts, so much so I lightbox the layouts onto the art board. I’ll try and find the reference to fit my layout rather than vice versa. For example, in panel 2, I had a village background in mind, but I had a specific composition. When I gathered reference, I selected what would work within my drawing, rather than curtail the drawing to found reference. I think that’s very important, and it’s something you can forget with the grueling schedule of comics; you can be tempted to take the easy way out, and just trace a background or something, but I feel strongly that it’s important for a drawing to look like an informed drawing, rather than a drawing of a photo.
While I generally stick strictly to my layouts, as I was working on this page, I was unsatisfied with the first and last panels. I felt that both shots were a little close up.. made the page a but stiff as a result. Also, I felt that seeing the old woman in Panel 3 and then extra-zoomed in in the next panel was too much of a narrative leap; it didn’t connect for me in a satisfying way. I decided to pull back in both shots yet make sure they were different, took some reference to help flesh out the drawing. The character in Panel 1 is now better established inside her car and the 3th panel now connects better with the final panel.
Here’s the page once I’d finished pencilling.
Here’s a photo of Panel Two as I was inking the page. I Ink over the pencil with a brush and Indian ink, some dip pen too.
In the past year or so I’ve started using greywash on top of the inked page. I like how it adds different values, and I’m able to enhance some of the drawing with a more illustrative element to it.
Like with this photo, drawing the liver spots on this old woman in black line would look very harsh, where as adding them in greywash softens them enough where they’re subtle, yet noticeable.
At this stage I hand over the page to my colourist collaborator Jordie Bellaire. She’s wonderfully talented, she’s always making my work look better while also always concentrates on telling a story with colour. That’s what you want from a good colourist, and Jordie’s the best. To borrow film terminology again, she’s my Roger Deakins. When she gets the page, she hires an assistant to ‘flat’ the page. Flatting is basically taking a page and separating all the elements into blocks of colour. The colour itself doesn’t matter, what’s important is that everything is separated so that Jordie can select an area in Photoshop with the Magic Wand tool. No real artistry is involved in this stage, it’s like prepping the canvas; making the file workable for colouring.
She then decides on a palette, selects all the literal colour, applies her own colour scheme to communicate the story, renders the piece, adds little nuances and any necessary special effects, etc. Below is the file without the line art so you can see all the work that goes into colouring a page. Because Jordie is so accomplished, a lot of the work she does is so subtle, you don’t see all the work it took to accomplish it.
And finally, the finished piece. Jordie will soften or tweak the grey wash effects I used on my page so that the piece works cohesively.
Then, the page is sent to the letterer of out book, the accomplished designer Steven Finch, otherwise known as Fonografiks. Aside from regular rendering, this series has a particular narration going through it, and both Steven and Jordie decided what colour would work best.
To accompany the launch of INJECTION #1 we’ve decided to have a very special early release of Declan’s talk from OFFSET 2015. Watch it below.
INJECTION is the new ongoing series created by the acclaimed creative team of Moon Knight. It is science fiction, tales of horror, strange crime fiction, techno-thriller, and ghost story all at the same time. A serialized sequence of graphic novels about how loud and strange the world is getting, about the wild future and the haunted past all crashing into the present day at once, and about five eccentric geniuses dealing with the paranormal and numinous as well as the growing weight of what they did to the planet with the Injection.
OFFSET photo by Neil Dorgan.