Category Archives: Craft of comic creating

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

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.