18 May 2010

Page One, Panel One

One of the comics creators on yesterday’s list of names I dropped in my comics workshop at the SCBWI New England conference is Eric Shanower. He’s the Eisner-winning creator of Adventures in Oz and Age of Bronze, and scripter of Marvel’s ongoing adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books with artist Skottie Young. And in fact he’s the most important name behind my workshop.

Years back, Eric gave me my first clues about the difference between comics scripts and picture-book manuscripts. Even earlier he’d admonished me about writing “bubbles” instead of “balloons,” and later he assured me that everyone in the “graphic-novel” business still calls the medium “comics.” He helped me calibrate how much visual detail a script should state and how much it should leave to an artist.

Most important, a couple of years ago I mentioned how I was still hesitant about writing the comics script about the Revolutionary War that I was imagining. “It’s not that hard to start,” Eric told me. “‘Page one, panel one…’”

“It’s the part after that which worries me!” I snapped. But really it was getting started at all on a new form of storytelling. Eric’s encouragement finally got me going after months of research.

If my workshop hadn’t run through all the allotted time and a bit more, I would have repeated that advice to the attendees. So for anyone interested in exploring the comics form and still listening—

Just try it. Adapt a story you like into comics form. Convert one of your picture-book manuscripts. Tell a joke or anecdote in pictures and dialogue. Try a five-panel foldy comic. Grab some practice with the script form, and play with graphic techniques. Have fun!

It all starts, “Page one, panel one…”


ericshanower said...

If you've ever snapped at me in your life, I don't remember.
Thanks again.

David Lee said...

One of the best ways to figure out how to write a comic is to draw one. You don't need to know how to draw to do it. The drawings would be mostly so you get an idea of how to structure the story. Rough sketch stick figures are fine. Write the dialog and captions on the same page as your art. Do it in pencil so you can make changes.

J. L. Bell said...

And here I thought I was making a snappy reply, Eric!

Thanks for sharing your experience, David! The vast majority of people in the workshop were writers, and the children’s-book field discourages writers from trying to sketch. But that sort of practice can be necessary for visual thinking.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Harvey Pekar's scripts include rough drawings -- and he seems to have no artistic skills. He just uses stick figures.

J. L. Bell said...

And of course xkcd manages to be one of the most respected webcomics around without appearing to advance beyond stick figures.

(Though actually that comic's use of perspective, chiaroscuro, and other graphic techniques with stick figures is quite impressive.)