Rough and ready
Posted by Ron Edwards
Intruder is 14 (now 15 + cover) pages of fun between me and Scott LeMien. It pleases me and that’s all it’s for. Rest assured, the horror and blasphemy to follow in the next paragraphs shall not singe a hair upon the wisdom of comics creation that everyone knows. (As for the many how-to’s and about-comics accounts that do correspond to what I’m saying, shhhh!)
Here’s a comics creation process which for me is the process.
- A concept document by me including factoids, story seed notions, panel layout considerations, and inspirational art from other sources
- The artist’s sketch notions and back-and-forth conversation, including concept sketches and preferences or ideas for stories to do; typically creates a new/better concept document
- The provisional script by me, composed as beats of “what happens” per page, with provisional dialogue or captioning, sometimes including panel layout but not explicit internal panel composition
- The artist’s sketched layout and roughs, all the way through
- My changes to the roughs, i.e., final design, and final dialogue and captioning
- The artist’s finished art and lettering, all the way through
After the last few years’ experiences, I am pretty certain when this doesn’t work, and I’ll save any comments about that for the time capsule. What matters is that it does. To date, my best experience was working with Michela Da Sacco on Sword of God, which followed the process seamlessly. Here are the roughs and final version for page 3 of the first story, “The Edge.”
It might seem as though the second is merely inking in the first. It’s not. Some of the changes were Michela’s, some were mine, but you can see shifts in angle, posture, and in the bottom-side panel, the shift from word balloon only to image and words. Note the added through-imagery of the teenager’s face across the bottoms of the top three panels. I specified the expressions of the two students in the final panel. Finally, the original dialogue (not seen here) was edited down once we got a look at “how much” it was, but at least one line was composed and added at this point too.
Unlike Sword of God, Intruder began and continued as a full concept collaboration without anyone paying anyone, so a lot of things were necessarily determined by doing, rather than known or agreed beforehand that they could be done. It couldn’t be expected to be as seamless. We even rebooted after our first try at a script, which simply had too much going on in it, and decided to focus on the experiences and fate of Ali and Sharon. This necessarily turned Intruder’s backstory and origin into teasers and defiantly vague hints, albeit quite a few of them.
The topic right now is to examine the precise role of #5 once we had the series of roughed-in pages to see as a unit, which as it happened, was a perfect joy to work through with Scott. I stress especially that the initial “script” is anything but a literal script, as finalizing the dialogue is a very big deal. I’ll use the term throughline a lot, meaning a series of actions, words, and images that you follow from page to page. It “is,” if you will, the actual story. I did not include most of what would be the throughline, not because I didn’t know what it was, but because it necessarily has to be integrated with each page’s own layout and internal content. In the case of this collaborative, it has to be held in reserve until all the roughs are there.
It is very wrong to call this “revision.” There’s no “go back” or “do it again,” since my initial work is also a rough. The whole point is to do words-and-pictures rough and stay that way, for all of it, until it’s time to lay down the real pictures and words.
A couple of points to help: you’ll see that some of Scott’s roughs look more inked than sketched, but that is only because he likes to toss in blacks as a sketch process; they aren’t “the inks” in the technical comics production sense. Oh – also, since we added the frontispiece for Scott’s comics-issue physical version, the page numbers changed. Here, I’m using the pagination for the 14 page version that I provided in the post before this one.
Here are the roughs version and the final version of the bottom-right panel of page 3.
If the throughline for the story had been from Jay’s and the AI’s point of view, the original version would make perfect sense set-off as its own panel, indeed the punchline of the page. Also, evaluated as a single panel, it’s an awesome design for the characters’ relationship.
However, since the story’s throughline is Sharon’s, the original dialogue gets shifted into the main page, so the entire exchange is kept in one visual location (albeit big and with subsets). This panel serves instead to create a reading-line across pages 2-3-4, summarized as “Sharon meets Intruder,” itself a subset of “Sharon and Jay work for Intruder and they come together on ‘the plan,'” as pages 1-6. (However, you can bet that I mentally reserved the original panel’s design for someday-later use, if we were to do such a thing.)
That was the main job at this stage (#5): to finalize the words and pictures as a throughline. As a minor related point, I spit upon the claim I’ve seen in more than one how-to comics text, that “you should be able to follow the story without any words.” As a technique to be employed when you want to, it’s fine; as an ideal or guiding principle, it’s horrible shit.
Page 4 was added entirely, drawing its visual design from part of our first story-attempt, and thus underwent a mini-version of the whole process, which is a little too much to depict here. It became part of what Intruder is telling Sharon (and thus her and Ali’s dialogue was added). Crucially, his final words about needing people whom he doesn’t control, held in reserve by me until I could find the right spot for them, went into the punchline position here. In other words, this page was added specifically because the story needed a position for that line, and then secondarily allowed us to provide a preview look-and-feel for what happens when Intruder really does the dirty on someone’s mind. Note as well the all-black spooky dialogue panel which is also a call-forward to the final page.
Page 8 is an example of “ordinary” comics-making work, in that I simplified the characters’ blocking in the roughs, so Raxxus Xxan goes one place and stays in it, then looks up from that place, and Crusader stays in the same position throughout. That is, the page stays as conceived and pretty much as initially designed, with the final version merely putting it as clearly as possible.
Pages 11-12-13 saw a lot of work at this point, as I saw them as the opportunity for bull-goose loony Ditko homage, thinking of pages like these:
I hunted up some cool data-driven graphics for us to use, and in fact, page 13 itself underwent a mini-version of script-and-rough due to its hard-core political content, which I’ll discuss more in the next post. For present purposes, consider that we re-distributed these three pages’ content a lot.
Looking at the rough and final versions of the middle one (p. 13), you can easily see that the AI’s design is maintained as inhuman (and its most emotional posture or gestures are reserved for the final page) and the reader’s changed to a weirder/up-down angle. But thinking across all three pages, you can see as well that the galactic-space-cop-entity’s departure is moved onto this page (it had previously been on the one before) and the AI’s response to the current weirdness is
Whew! For a slightly snarling finish, as I see and prefer, comics simply do not have to be “scripted” in any sense of the word established by other media. As such, it can mean one of two things, either (i) that the pictures might as well be traditional side-accompaniment illustrations or (ii) that the words are more-or-less unnecessary fill-ins to accentuate or sound-effect the flow of the storytelling images. So we’re better off rejecting the term entirely. Whereas if you stay rough and ready until the “OK, finalize” step, nothing is written and nothing is drawn, because both drawing and writing are under way, with all available change in play, and therefore no revision.
Links: Sword of God at Tapas (stories 1 and 2; patron have access to scripts 3 and 4)