Inner workings

Nuts and Bolts
Apparently, I’m psychic. After asking about Doom Patrol and Defenders trades last week, I’m rewarded by news from Wizard World that both of those are now on the slate. Of course, I’d be happier if it were an announcement of all the Steve Gerber Defenders and all of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, but I’ll take what I can get.
Now if only Marvel would get on the stick regarding those Dr. Strange, Thor and Warlock reprints…
In other news and observations, I’d just like it pointed out that despite the surface similarities between film and comics (and comics and novels, though that correlation is downplayed on a regular basis), writing for different media isn’t just like writing for another.
Yup. Movies and comics are both visually oriented. That’s evident at a glance. Particularly now, as comics are seemingly written as proof of concept for movies, downplaying any text other than dialogue (and, like movies, often overworking dialogue into unnatural contortions or misguidedly trying to sound “natural”). I know, I’ve talked about this before and am repeating myself, what am I, senile or something?
Comics, however, suffer from a fairly major structural limitation. No, I’m not even going to go into the setbacks of the serial format; I’m talking about something as simple as the page. Comics, unlike any other media, are broken into small chunks as a matter of course. There’s only so much that you can realistically put on a page and have it work. Consequently, if you’re padding, it’s evident (unless your artist is creative with their panel layouts and placements). Padding sometimes happens. Not a big deal, unless you’re making a career of it.
No, I’m not going to decry the “writing for the trade” phenomena, though I’ll admit that if an author is clearly writing for the trade, then I’ll just wait for the trade.
Comics offer control over the passage of time unlike any other media. Sure, maybe novels can get close to it, if the author can sustain the patience required to work at that level of time. Movies don’t have a choice. They happen as fast as they happen, twenty-four frames a second. Yeah, they can stretch out things with bullet time and the like, but that’s only for short bursts.
With comics, the page unfolds at a speed determined by the reader. Sure, the creators can indicate a certain passage of time, but there’s no clock on the reader going over the scene again and again, absorbing the art and text, before moving on to the next panel much less the next page.
A page that takes place in the space of twenty seconds could be read in ten seconds or a minute or an hour (if you’re looking at one of Geoff Darrow’s pages, that is). That’s a lot of power in the hands of the reader.
So yes, comics are unsurpassed in marking the passage of time, of event and consequence. However, that strength is also a limitation. Comics can’t show action in progress like films can. Comics show collections of snapshots strung together, but they don’t exceed at the fluid display of events. Sure, a gifted artist can hint at it, but it’ll never match the ease of animation or film.
Why am I babbling about all of this? Simple. I ran into it all when I started writing actual comics scripts. I went ahead and wrote them like they were movies. Of course, the first thing that I ran into is that a page is a page is a page. Each page has to stand up on its own as well as flow into the next one. Not only that, but you need to make sure that you accord the proper amount of page space to events so that they have the proper weight. If you don’t, then your pages lose emotional impact.
This isn’t an issue in movie scripts or in novels. You make as much space as you need. Sure, you have to think about chapter structure and scenes as they relate to the plot, but you don’t worry about running out of page space (particularly on a word processor). If the scene needs to be longer, you just keep typing (yeah, it’s not as simple as that, but you get the drift.)
When you’re writing a comic, you not only have to worry about plot and pacing, but you have to construct twenty-two (or more) pieces that work together as well as convey the larger whole seamlessly. If you’re new at writing for comics, then you better hope that your co-creators know how to slice up a page and serve it (and that they’re not afraid to speak up and point out problems).
Comics are also good at things like juxtaposition, putting two seemingly unrelated events side-by-side. Alan Moore is a master at this, not only with images, but with text. Read Watchmen sometime, but don’t read it for the story, read it for the mastery of the form that’s at play there. Read Peter Milligan’s recently-reissued Skreemer for a different flavor, intertwining three related storylines to form a whole that’s much stronger than the sum of its parts.
I know. Most comics are linear these days. Even an author who’s otherwise utterly demented, like Grant Morrison will often use fairly basic plot structures. Linear isn’t bad. It’s a little dull, perhaps, but not bad in and of itself. Most movies and TV shows are linear, too. Comics are in good company in that respect. Or at least plentiful company.
Am I asking for all comics to be un/structured like a film by Jean-Luc Goddard? Nope. But a little variety would be good to come by. Are my comics all crazy and nonlinear and require roadmaps to follow? Nope. Mine are pretty basic right now. Hell, I’m still figuring out how to fit things on a page and trimming my dialogue to manageable levels. I’ll worry about the advanced stuff when I get there.
I know, I was hoping to have Strangeways news for you this week, but things have been slowed down on the art side. The artist in question has been on the disabled list since the early part of the year (guns don’t kill artists; nailguns do) and is just getting back in the game. I’m hoping that I can post some art next week.
Well, I guess I can get you a little sneak peek now. No sequentials, though, just a pin-up.
There should be an image here, but there isn’t, sadly. Google for it on Grotesque Anatomy.
Yeesh. That looks soft when you shrink it down. The original looks a lot crisper. Trust me.
Catch you all next week.


Bear with me, folks. My daughter got me up at 4am and I just haven’t been right since. Too bad that this is the day that I have to write my column, isn’t it? Oh well. Can’t win ‘em all.
So this week we’re going to get something a little different. Both sleep-deprived and caffeine-fueled, my mind begins to wander, and I find myself asking questions. Questions, sadly, that I can only ask of a brain-fried internet commentator. But sometimes that just isn’t enough. So I’m going to ask you, my audience.
Some of these are rhetorical, some not so much so. Let’s start, shall we?

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Flight plan

Things to Read in Airports
Yeah, I know. Last week was all about my travels to Wondercon I don’t need to rehash it a second time. Don’t worry. Instead, I’m gonna talk about what I read on the way up there. If you checked in last week, you might remember that I mentioned ‘em. Spoilers for both Age of Bronze and The Interman follow. You’ve been warned.

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Wondercon 2004

And Awaaaayyy We Go!
Have I mentioned that I’m spoiled by years and years of San Diego Comicon attendance? I am. Every convention I’ve been to aside from that one has seemed small.
This isn’t a bad thing. There’s such a thing as too big. San Diego is verging on that. I say that it isn’t only because there’s so much good stuff there that it makes it all worthwhile.
Wondercon, held in San Francisco, is far from too big. Though oddly, the longest line I’ve ever waited in for a creator signature was there. But more on that later.

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