25 June 2010

Prime Material

Gene Luen Yang’s Prime Baby was one of the two comics serials published in the New York Times Magazine a coupla years back that I actually liked. Now it’s coming out in book form.

Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter interviewed Yang about creating this comic, designed to be published in short installments, as well as books like American Born Chinese. Yang said that he normally thinks in terms of page units:

I do rely heavily on the rhythm of the page turn when I write comics. I try to have something that entices the reader to turn each page, maybe a question to be answered or a mild punchline. My love for the page turn is why I’m reluctant to do Scott McCloud’s Infinite Canvas thing, despite being a computer nerd and very McCloudian in my thinking about comics.
The “Infinite Canvas” is McCloud’s vision of how comics can work in a digital environment with one panel leading into another (or several others) without regard to tiers, pages, or other relationships dictated by the shape and size of a printed page. In effect, the only building-block is the panel, and the only transition from one panel to the next.

But the page has proven to be a useful unit, allowing a comic to show readers more than one panel at once to compare and contrast. Page turns can punctuate a scene or make a transition to a new scene. On some recent practice scripts, I’ve found myself imagining what each page should show, then working down to panels.

Yang has a lot more to say about his Prime Baby storytelling process in this blog entry.
Because Prime Baby was both text-heavy (the protagonist is a wordy little sociopath) and limited in space (it was originally published in The New York Times Magazine), I laid out the words in Photoshop first and then sketched over print-outs of the dialog. I got the idea from reading about how they used to do those old EC comics.
I remember being blown away when I saw in Grant Geissman’s Foul Play!: The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics how the much-admired EC Comics visual storytelling was stuffed in around the factory lettering. I knew lettering wasn’t that line’s strength, but I hadn’t realized how little flexibility its artists had. (The line’s top editor allowed even less, sketching out every panel for his artists.)

Yang at least could go back and adjust his word balloons as he felt necessary.

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