Tag Archives: Scary Book

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.

09Jul/19

Silverline Creator Spotlight: Sidney Williams

Each month we’ll be shining the spotlight on a Silverline creator and sharing their secret origin story, learning what makes them tick, and giving you the scoop on how they came up in the comics world.  

Up today is Sidney Williams, author 11 novels including recent releases: Disciples of the Serpent, Dark Hours and Midnight Eyes. Sidney’s early books include When Darkness Falls, Blood Hunter, Night Brothers and Azarius. At Silverline, Sidney is the writer of Bloodline and Friar Rush.

Now, without further ado, we present to you…

10 QUESTIONS WITH … SIDNEY WILLIAMS

Sidney Williams
SILVERLINE: So, who are you and where do you hail from? 
 
SIDNEY WILLIAMS: I’m Sidney Williams. Not a lot of people know my middle name is Glover, which I suspect was a surname somewhere back down my family line.
 
I guess I come from a long line of Irish glove makers. I’m now, pretty much, from all over or from a lot of places any way. I was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, and spent quite a few years in and around Central Louisiana. I also spent a few years in Tyler, TX. Let’s not go there.
 
As of this writing, I’m Williamsburg, Virginia, following my wife’s career path and my career spiral. 
 
SILVERLINE: What would you say it is you do here at Silverline?
 
I’m a writer, and I’m pretty good with most software so I could do something else. 
 
SILVERLINE: Where might Silverline readers have seen your work previously?
 
SW: I’m a novelist. My newest books are Disciples of the Serpent about people battling giant things in Ireland, and Dark Hours about a girl trapped in a basement puzzle box by a twisted individual who doesn’t have her best interest at heart.
 
I wrote paperback horror thrillers a few years back, and in the comics world I’ve written things for Silverline before including The Mantus Files and others. I wrote a graphic novel called The Dusk Society for Campfire Comics, and I have written many short stories including a new one called “The Cooler of Craft Brew” for a collection called Quoth the Raven, a contemporary reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales. The collection made it to the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards. 
 
SILVERLINE: Many creators at Silverline have been in the comics industry for years — what’s kept YOU plugging away at comics? What do you enjoy most about the medium, as well as your specific trade?
 
SW: Comics represent some of the first reading that ever engaged me, and they played a big role in my putting pen to paper.
 
I don’t think my father knew what he was starting, but he used to read comics to me before I could read myself. We read a lot of Tarzan and super hero comics, and he read me things like Gold Key’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, which were really collections of short horror tales.
 
All of that stimulated my imagination, and so it’s fun to play in the sandbox where things all started for me. 
 
SILVERLINE: What was the first comic you remember reading that made you think, “Hey, I could do this!”
 
SW: Probably Tarzan. The stories are fun, high adventure really and when I was, I don’t know, five, they really enthralled me with all of the lost cities and dinosaurs and the like.
 
I’ve said this in many interviews, but before I could actually read and write but could make letters, I’d have my mom spell things for me, and I’d write new captions for a Tarzan coloring book. It’s hard to write when you can’t, so that produced some interesting material like Tarzan perched in a tree saying: “It’s far pretty far to the village.” 
 
SILVERLINE: Who were some of your earliest influences on your writing?
 
SW: I guess Joe Kubert is the first creator whose name I really knew. DC really celebrated him as the writer/artist on the Tarzan book when they picked it up from Gold Key.
 
I liked Russ Manning’s Tarzan as well, and in retrospect, I realize I saw a lot of his work in Gold Key earlier. I actually had a subscription to Superboy when I was a kid, and that morphed into Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes, and from that I became a huge Legion fan, and Mike Grell became someone I recognized also.
 
All of this factored into my overall creativity. 
 
SILVERLINE: What was the first comic you ever worked on professionally?
 
SW: It was via Silverline for Malibu Graphics. I got to create a miniseries, The Mantus Files, which I mentioned earlier.
 
I had written about three books by then I suppose, so it was Horror Novelist Sidney Williams’ The Mantus Files or something like that. It was a black and white and sold pretty well at the time but it was a time of growth for Malibu, so it didn’t really get them excited sadly. 
 
SILVERLINE: Follow up Q — Can you still read that comic today without wincing?
 
SW: Yeah, I’m OK with it. I went through a period where I didn’t like my stuff. Confluence of reasons for that, I guess. I’m back to liking most things, or accepting that things were written by a different me, a me that I was at a given time. 
 
 
SILVERLINE: If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice that would help them better navigate the comics industry, what would it be? 
 
SW: Make more noise, I guess, though I did what I could to trumpet my work and do more. 
 
SILVERLINE: After you die, would you rather your memory be memorialized with an overpass or a parking lot? 
 
SW: Wow, I think an overpass. Name displayed in kind of an arched arrangement. That appeals to me. I guess it would be in danger of getting knocked down by a rampaging monster, though.