Category Archives: Craft of comic creating

All the talk about making comics: writing, penciling, inking, coloring, lettering, and editing!

21Apr/20

Craft: R.A. Jones – Writers are Artists Too – or at least they should try to be

Hey there Silverline Readers and Comic Makers! I was able to get a hold of R.A. Jones and have him give us the low down on part of his writing process. R.A. has made quite the name for himself working on titles like Bullet Proof Monk, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Wolverine & Captain America. As someone who has read a couple of R.A.’s scripts, I can tell you that the second you pick it up, you can immediately see how every detail would translate to panels.

This entry of Craft is about just that. R.A. goes over why writers should think about their comics visually and how he does that himself. It’s our hope that the following entry helps you, dear reader, go about writing your own comic scripts that develop synergy with your artist and better engage your reader.

Writers Are Artists Too – Or At least They Should Try To Be
by R.A. Jones

Years ago, a professional comic book artist gave me a hypothetical and somewhat exaggerated example of the kind of bad scripting of which writers are occasionally guilty. It went something like this:

Panel 1: BATMAN AND ROBIN SLIDE DOWN THE BAT-POLES, RACE ACROSS THE BATCAVE, LEAP INTO THE BATMOBILE AND DRIVE OFF INTO THE NIGHT.

The problem this presents should be obvious – though it always isn’t to some writers. The hypothetical scribe has asked their artist collaborator to visually portray at least four separate actions in a single panel!

Writers also sometimes forget that it takes longer to draw the Statue of Liberty than it does to simply write: Draw the Statue of Liberty. One of the quickest ways for a writer to get on an artist’s bad side is to hand him a script heavy with panels that are so elaborate, so full of characters and actions that he/she is practically reduced to tears of frustration.

A writer does not have to be able to draw any better than does a typical 5-year-old. But they do need to be knowledgeable about the ins and outs of visual storytelling. That is a talent that is often lacking even in those who can draw, at least early in their careers.

Stating that a writer needs to be able to visualize when they write is obvious in certain media, such as comic strips, comic books, and television and motion pictures. But it is a talent that is important to writers of prose as well; useful in describing people, places, and things and thereby creating pictures in the mind’s eye of the reader.

There is a bit of advice I’ve given to many aspiring artists over the years – and I would offer it to writers as well. Choose one of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic films (or director of your choice). Play that movie with the sound off and don’t just watch it – study it.

Get to understand the hows and whys of his varying camera shot choices – from establishing shots to close-ups. Study how he uses the camera to direct our eyes to where he wants them to go. See how much information can be conveyed without the need for any words at all. Develop an appreciation for the creative uses of lighting.

Then apply what you learn to your writing.

There, of course, is no single “right” way to write a comic book script, but I’ll tell you about mine; you find the method that works best for you. This applies to my preferred method of writing a story – full script – but can also be applied when employing all but the briefest and loosest of “Marvel Style” scripting.

First, I write myself a short plot synopsis of that story/issue: usually no more than 3-5 pages long. Along the margins of that plot, I make pencil notations regarding how many pages I think each scene should require to be told visually. Among other things, this lets you know if your plot is too dense for the space allotted and adjust accordingly.
(You will find few if any artists who are happy about working on a script that requires them to cram 12 panels into each page to get all of that story into 20 pages!)

Once I’ve done this, I literally draw the entire issue myself. Full disclosure: my “drawings” are extremely simple and crude, sometimes little more than stick figures. But that’s all I require to make sure the pacing is correct and to be able to fully and understandably explain to the artist what I want from each panel of each page.

Only then do I write the actual script that will go to the editor and artist. If I can draw the story within the required limits and without cramming too much into each panel/page – I know any good, professional artist can comfortably do so as well.

And be flexible; even the method I’ve described should allow artists to flex their creative muscles in terms of layout, etc. Don’t let ego prevent you from recognizing that their visual ideas and instincts can be better than or improve upon your own.

Doing your job well in visualizing your story – makes it easier for your artistic collaborator to do their job!

31Mar/20

Craft: Barb Kaalberg – The Bare Bones: Essential Tools for Inking

Hello, Silverline Family. I was able to reach out to Barbara Kaalberg and get her input on what her set-up for inking looks like. Barbara has been inking comics for a while now, and is a master of line work. She has worked on titles like Cat & Mouse, Hawkman, Captain Marvel, Ultraforce, and many more. With her experience she could teach a masterclass on the subject. In this entry, she talks about her preferences for the tools needed for inking comic books.

The Bare Bones: Essential Tools for Inking

Hi, my name is Barbara Kaalberg and I’ve been an inker for a little over 30 years. I’ve recently stuck my toe into the world of digital inking, because I’ve been curious, and I’ve got one penciller whose style, I think, really lends itself to that form of inking but, for the most part, I’m an old school inker and still stick with traditional methods. I like to have something to sell at conventions, ya know?

Back in “the day,” old school inking was either done with a pen and nib (which I never really got into) or it was all about the Windsor & Newton, series 7, size 2 brush, which most brush inkers swore by. It was a round, finely pointed brush made out of Kolinsky Sable, and was the top of the line brush. In the last few years, however, the quality seems to have declined and, while I still use them, I am finding that I prefer the Raphaél 8404’s, sizes 1 and 2. Again, they are made from Kolinsky Sable and have a nice, springy feel to them. Very finely pointed, they create a smooth line that is easy to vary in size. You’d have to test both out to see which you prefer. It used to be you would have to order these from an art store, like Dick Blick, but now you can order these right off of Amazon!

As for the ink, again, qualities have changed over the years. When once Higgins ‘Black Magic’ used to be the gold standard, it’s opacity has shifted slightly over the years. I don’t know if they messed with the formula but I’m not the only inker who’s switched to other options. I now use Speedball ‘Super Black’, which I get in 32 oz. squeeze bottles. These are available from Dick Blick and, strangely enough, JoAnn Fabrics/Crafts and Walmart.com.

When I’m not using a brush, I use the Sakura Pigma Micron pens. Just any old marker or pen won’t do, because they will fade and/or eat away the paper over time. A sharpie is absolutely the worst marker you could use on your artwork. Microns are acid free, archival pens that are fade-proof in sunlight and UV lighting. They come in a variety of sizes but I find myself using the size 2 most of the time. Again, you can get these straight off of Amazon.

Every inker has their own preference for white out. Some swear by Daler Rowney ‘Pro White’ or Dr. Martins ‘Bleed Proof White’. Some even use just plain old white correction pens (although they are very definitely NOT archival friendly!). I use a simple ninety-nine cent white acrylic craft paint like Apple Barrel or Delta Ceramcoat. It comes in a little squeeze bottle and can be found in any Walmart or Target or craft store. Why? Because it dries quick, it dries waterproof and it is very, very easy to ink over. It won’t yellow or eat the page, either. One of my pet peeves is to have my black ink mix with a white correction and turn into grey mud. Fortunately I make very, very few mistakes and rarely have to use white out.

There you go. The bare bones basics of what essentials are needed for comic book inking.

 

10Mar/20

Craft: Sidney Williams – 5 Guidelines and a Few Thoughts on Comics and Captions

Hello again, Silverline Family. I had the pleasure of being able to talk with author and comic writer Sidney Williams. In terms of comics, some of his titles include The Mantus Files, Bloodline, Sirens, Marauder, and The Scary Book. In my personal opinion, he is a master in terms of suspense and dark or unsettling themes. He is also one of the most reliable and professional individuals I know. He agreed to contribute a piece about the craft of writing comics. In the following entry, Sidney talks about Captions, how he views their place in comics and how he uses them when writing himself.
-Tim

5 Guidelines and a Few Thoughts on Comics and Captions
by Sidney Williams

I’d like to say a few words in defense of captions.

Media evolve and affect each other. Film impacted the detail and flow of the 19th Century novel as the 20th Century moved forward. Literature affected comics then film affected comics, eventually comics affected literature and so on.

Comics, of course, draw on prose fiction. Heavy use of prose narration is characteristic of some early comics. Check a reprint of one of the ‘50s EC Comics (https://www.eccomics.com/history) titles such as Tales from the Crypt, and you’ll find instances of dense text blocks and speech bubbles with characters saying a mouthful.

EC stories were inspired by, or culled from, pulp magazines, so that’s possibly one culprit. Ray Bradbury wound up adapting his own stories for them, often preserving the narrative voice of the source material in pieces like “The October Game” in Shock Suspense Stories #9. (Link: https://comicvine.gamespot.com/shock-suspenstories-9/4000-517/)

Read more about Ray Bradbury’s relationship with comics and graphic novels
https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2019/08/ray-bradbury-comic-book-hero/

You don’t even have to look that far back,. As recently as the 1980s and Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil, the captions are almost novelistic.

Over time, narrative prose has given way to more reliance on visual storytelling in comics reflecting perhaps what many filmmakers and theorists consider the ideal, where speech and images convey the story with no intrusive narration. But in the ‘80s you’d get passages like:

“He feels the cut of the October wind hears the dull throb of New York City below him. He wonders when the city started making him sick.” — Daredevil #226, January, 1986. Story by Denny O’Neil & Frank Miller
(Link for Marvel Database on issue: https://www.marvel.com/comics/issue/8214/daredevil_1964_226)

That certainly gives us a look into a Matt Murdock’s soul.

I’m not saying comics script writers need to be Charles Dickens or Bradbury or even ‘80s Miller.

I would suggest that comics, while they’re a visual medium, aren’t film. They’re of the printed page. They afford some tools not available to filmmakers. The right use of those tools help make the comic book and graphic novel world more dynamic and enriching.

So what’s the rule of thumb for captions? In a word, judicious. In an expansion on that thought:

1. Captions should be used to expand or enrich the reader’s experience, never as a crutch for the writer.

If you just need to tell us it’s Los Angeles, “Caption: Los Angeles” will do.

Maybe a few more thoughts in black and white are in order to stimulate conversation and the creative imagination.

2. If we can see it, you don’t need to tell us what we see.
That’s the big duh of comics writing, but sometimes if you don’t print things outright in black and white text, people don’t pay attention. If we can see a hero approaching a vampire’s crypt, opening the coffin and positioning a stake over the heart, don’t tell us: He positions the stake over the vampire’s heart.

If you use a caption for a scene like that…. [Note from the editor: I will cut that caption SO FAST]

3. Make sure a caption provides insight into character, the hero’s soul, spirit or philosophy.
That’s not an excuse to go full Kierkegaard, but if it tells us something more than we can see like that Miller passage above, the reader’s invited to think, not just look on.

Caption: He hesitates as the stake’s whittled point rests against flesh.

Caption: Is this a life he is about to end?
Or something different?

Caption: What should the act of terminating the undead be called?

Gives us a little more than:

SFX: Thunk!

Vampire: Aieeeeeeee!

4. Captions should fit the world established in the comic book or graphic novel.

You might not want to get heavy-handed with captions. When can they be used artistically? In something like Image’s Fatale from 2012, the comic’s world is inspired by film noir, where voiceover narration was used to carry some of the flavor of the first-person crime novels of Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain that helped give birth to the noir style. You’ll find far more effective captions in evidence in Fatale or in something like Frank Miller’s similarly noir-inspired Sin City, which started in 1991.

5. First-person narration open a character’s thoughts.
Speaking of first-person narration, that has supplanted the old comics staple the thought balloon. Thought balloons are so passé they’re almost out of sight in the rearview mirror. First-person captions, on the other hand are still handy. The staking contemplation above could easily be rendered in first person.

When the concept was fairly new, you’d get a tiny little mug shot of the character inside the caption box, and the text would be in quotation marks. The convention’s familiar enough that that’s not needed any longer, though sometimes we get cues such as the caption being the color identified with the character. John Constantine’s first person captions match his raincoat in Justice League Dark, for example.

Just apply all of the judicious thought to first person as you do any captions. Do they help the story? Add something to character or thematic texture without getting heavy handed? Then deploy.

Those are just a few thoughts. Nothing’s set in stone nor a replacement for your own careful observation or environmental scanning as you read the comics you enjoy. Don’t just read. Take note.

Meanwhile…

Creators went on with their work.

Caption Marauder:

My way-back Silverline title, the noir-inspired Marauder, used a bit of first person narration. Note quotation marks were still the convention in those days.

25Feb/20

Craft Introduction

Hello Silverline Family, we have some exciting news for you!

First of all, allow me to introduce myself properly. My name is Tim Thiessen. I also write under the name, Tim T.K. I’m the associate editor here at Silverline and I help with the website and digital content. You may recognize my name from our Title Spotlight series where we showcase some of the titles in our lineup. I also help with editing some of the series we’re working on, but more on that at a different time.

What I’m writing about today is our new upcoming series ‘Craft!’ As the name implies, this is a series all about the Craft that we at Silverline have fallen in love with: the craft of making comics. Being an independent print, we are in the blessed position of having fewer middlemen between ourselves and the reader. We also have many unique opportunities to take on creators new to the comics industry. This series should help illuminate all the different steps, roles, collaboration, and unique challenges that are part of the comic creation process.

Silverline has had the pleasure to work with some of the most talented individuals in the industry. Writers like R.A. Jones, Sidney Williams, and Brent Larson. Pencilers like Dean Zachary, Luis Czerniawski, Jackson Renick, and Alex Gallimore. Inkers like Barb Kaalberg, Chuck Bordell, Thomas Florimonte, and Terry Pallot. Colorists like Steve Mattson and Kevin Gallegly. I’m not guaranteeing that I’ll be able to get entries from all of the above-named creators, but I have already reached out to a few of the creators we’ve worked with and will be reaching out to more as the series goes on to ask for their insight on the complicated matter of creating a comic book.

Every industry pro has had a different journey. Each person has a different entry point into working in comics. Due to the nature of the industry, many have had to fill different roles, work on a wide spectrum of projects, and have worked with other creators who have helped shape each other’s process. Each person has had to develop their skill set differently because of this.

Our hope with this series is to dig into the nuances of different creator’s process. Throughout this series, we will cover the manifold disciplines found in the industry. Each entry will focus on a specific detail of the creation process for a specific discipline. We will discuss matters like the challenges of writing for a visual art form, creating unique art that tells just as much of the story as the dialogue, and much more.

This series will be great for the beginner or hopeful comic creator, comic fan, or experienced industry pro. Whether you’re learning the skills necessary to make it in comics, a diehard wanting to see how the sausage gets made, or just interested in learning how others do their craft. We’re hopeful that you will come away from each entry of Craft having learned something exciting and new.

Please join us on this journey as we talk with some of our favorite creators and learn about what they do.