Friday, November 18, 2011

Discard Pile - Zener Cards

This is my comics process on my long-format comic. I haven't really gotten any farther with it than ruffs like this, but I'm putting this up because I want to show what's going through my head and get some insight on it myself. I'll probably learn something that will help me do better at getting these right first try, and who knows? Maybe you'll get something out of this, too.

First thing I do is I draw a rectangle for the page. Then I start at the top left and draw a panel, judging the size by what I'm planning on showing and what I anticipate coming next and how many panels I expect to have on that row. Usually it's not more than three panels, especially at the top of the page. Also, I'm usually visualizing it with a page turn. I'll have to keep working on this because books make 2-page spreads happen, but that's kind of how I think of it--especially if I myself have had to "turn the page" by starting a new sheet of ruffs.

Now, panels. When I am successful at doing this, I start with an idea of how it will progress—usually through an action I want to show, or dialogue I want to have. This instance of ruffs? Not so much. Kind of obvious, since I threw it out. But let's look at that.
I'm realizing now that I write this that I was mostly having trouble on this page because I didn't know what I wanted to happen next. In essence, this scientist is testing the main character (the woman in the last panel) to see if she's psychic.I had a few vague ideas of what I was going to put here, but nothing fleshed out enough to make my life easy. I ended up waffling between Hennessey (the scientist) introducing the cards or having him try a different test. When I finally settled, it was a bad idea, so I ended up throwing these ruffs out. However, there must still be stuff to learn from this.
So, I've got my rectangle “page” drawn. At the top, I was making a transition from an earlier “scene” to this one, so I began with that shot of the Zener cards.

Even if you don't know what they are, they're strong visually. However, the cards are an even better cue that he's onto her powers if you're old enough to have seen Ghostbusters or lived through the seventies. (Did I just make myself sound really old? I dunno, Ghostbusters is where I learned about 'em first mumble mutter umble-fuzz...) Okay, so I made that the top panel those cards, but this served another purpose: hopefully my audience (well, everyone but my dad*) can see “this has nothing to do with what just happened” and from there they will deduce that it must be a new scene. So, now what? Fortunately for me, I've taken up the first row of my page, which only leaves two.**

 Panel two: I showed the clock in the last scene, so I show it here again. Probably in part because it's easy, but also to give us two more pieces of info—first, that time has passed. The second will come in handy later as we see panel 3: Hennessey looking at the clock. He doesn't just see the clock, he's looking at it because he's got his head turned. Also in panel 3 I have explained the hook-up drawing in panel 1  
by showing the cards lying on the desk in front of Hennessey. 

Panel four, last row, Hennessey is picking up the cards and shoofing them together. This implies that he's putting them away, about to do something else. We also get a bit of dialogue, indicated by the speech bubble with the letter “A” in it. The actual line is written off to the side so that I can revise (if necessary) and write in a decently large size.*** 

The dialogue facilitates the “cut” to the next panel:

We've switched subjects, but it's okay because it's indicated by Hennessey addressing her, and it's important we see her expression as she answers, first because she is the main character and second because we need to know she is feeling apprehensive. The scene before this sets this off, but we need to know she's still got some stress left, even though time has passed. And that's the end of that page.
The next page was where I really started to struggle. It's in large part because I hadn't defined the scene well enough. My small idea that I was leading up to here was that Hennessey, the scientist, is testing Celeste to see if she can see the future. He has arranged for someone to come to the door at a certain time and he's going to check Celeste to see if she can predict who it was. With that set-up, time becomes important—that he gets up after looking at the clock, as though he's expecting a person to come to the door and he asks Celeste who she thinks it will be.
However, this small idea clashed with the larger idea. First off, I couldn't think of any way for this test to be really useful. It wasn't very secret, and too fallible because the subject would know she was being tested. In Celeste's situation, he'd be likely to get a lie out of her even if she could see who it was, and Hennessey is smart enough to figure that out at least. The other thing besides being sort of stupid in a very concrete, Watsonian**** way was that the scene was from Celeste's point of view too much. Hennessey, a man trying to test her for this ability to see the future, was much too threatening. I kept drawing his glasses eyeless and soulless,

  and she was a little too jumpy too soon—not that it wasn't believable, considering her feelings about the whole situation, but it just wasn't where I wanted the scene to be. I had been anticipating something much more humorous—light and funny. Hennessey would be acting like a creep, perhaps, but he wouldn't have ever dreamed that he was being creepy. The audience would sympathize with him, get to like him and his eagerness to learn, as well as his complete unawareness of the social impact of the situation. He would essentially come off as a man who was making my main character unhappy, but also someone completely sweet and not in the least ill-intentioned.***** This was not that man, nor was it the right kind of scene. So I chucked it.

But it's still kind of interesting, right?

*Seriously. You have no idea how frustrating it is to have him look at a comic.
**I tend to divide my pages up in rows of three. The rows vary in vertical size, but going through and counting I could only find a few pages where there were more or less than three rows—usually when I had to show something large or some special action was occurring.
***Sometimes I don't with short exclamations, but even then it usually comes back to bite me.
****A Warning: TV Tropes is so fascinating/sometimes-objectionable that it will suck your life away for hours until you finally get somewhere no human should ever have to go. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.


  1. Heck yes that's interesting! It's cool to see your process of thought as you go through this kind of composition. I am curious, though--did you learn anything besides the fact that it helps to have the idea more solidly constructed before it goes into ruffs? Or are discard-worthy ruffs the best/only way to develop your ideas beyond thought-embryo? And, what about Naomi?

    And, yes, women do make the best spies.

    Ingedn. It probably rhymes with Armageddon.

  2. Gosh these are hard questions.
    think that my brain probably does need some ruffs. It's mostly down to the work my brain does beforehand, though, and I often wish I'd thought of things ahead of time just because they're really simple and would have saved me a bunch of time. Trial and error is probably the only way to get better at this. Some of both?

    Also, there's this nifty thing when you right click on Youtube videos and it's like "copy video URL at current time" and I'm like, "Sweet." And you can just paste it into the top and tweak the time value and refresh so you can get the EXACT time you want!


  3. I also probably learned that it's really hard to write a hard-hitting analytical piece when you haven't written anything in months.

    To add to the last comment (since I promised they'd be coherent), lately I've just been realizing that this scene right here is FREAKIN' HARD to do. It's hard not to let it lapse into either all exposition or all gags, and I'm having a really hard time making it entertaining to myself, let alone to any kind of audience. I think that the end solution is finally going to be to just skip ahead a little bit to the important part of the scene, and then realize that I don't need a whole bunch of lead-in--just a couple of panels.

    Dang! Talking (writing) to someone really helps cement this stuff! I will just skip on ahead! I'll put Celeste and Hennessey on Big Alice and get her new power into play, and then I can cut out everything between H's lame attempt to surprise her and there.

    Oooh. I could even script a bit first, to make it more efficient.

    Interesting comics tip:
    the text is probably the thing that affects the timing the most. This is because it actually puts a theoretical "timer" on the panel it takes place in. It's why this happens, but is often stupid-looking. :)
    Weird, huh?