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  1. #1
    Amazing Member pearlofthepacific's Avatar
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    Default Writers & their writing - great scenes

    I was flipping through the 2014 Top 50 Comics Writers thread...so what ACTUALLY makes for good comics writing?

    I suppose everybody agrees on believable dialog and good pacing. But after that, almost everything seems negotiable. Mix of dialog and other text styles? OK by me, but I don't want info-chunks bricking up every page. World-building? Oh, yes, I want to hear the story world as well as see it. Slick and funny dialog? Love it, but random graffiti-chat that *could* occur in any setting or any story isn't enough. Emotion? I want to see it, and definitely don't want to read long whiny monologues! Anybody have really different priorities?

    What about the way a story starts? I scanned the first 2 spreads of a few comics - so different! Legible scan may be too big, so just in case I can't attach, they are:

    Chuck Dixon "Winter World"
    Starts with monologue which establishes the society of the winter world. Drops the reader straight into escalating action - personality and scene are set up straight away, but characters and their affiliations are revealed much more slowly. Monologue commentary doesn't recur until p. 11.
    WinterWorld_0001.jpgNewYork4_0001.jpgYLastMan_0001.jpg

    Brian Vaughan "Y: The Last Man"
    Really exploits comics formatting to build a strong time sequence. The opening page starts with a single statement by a single woman, setting up an expectation of a private crisis, which is quickly shown to be overwhelming in scale. Overlapping balloons make it clear that communication is not taking place, and the page narrows back down to a single character locked into their private response to the crisis. This rapid change of social focus is repeated in several time-lapse flashbacks involving different characters and settings, which pile up faster and faster as the story returns to "now" - it takes 30 pages to do that, but each little story ends on the pause-button, so that we hit "Now" with any number of story-lines about to come crashing down on our heads.

    Brian Wood "New York Four"
    The opening page is a little character study of the main character - not only hard information such as name and current occupation, but timing of interaction shows her character too. The info-drops continue with the first full spread - no dialog, just information about the exact NY location of the scene shown. The amount of text is not huge, and although the style is a bit didactic, it's casually phrased, and accurately conveys the idea that the NY setting is a big part of the writer and artist's message. We don't see any interaction with major characters until the 4th spread. By then, the reader knows a lot about the world and several of the characters. I gather that the comic was aimed at YA readers, and the story-telling is definitely very accessible.

    Abel Lanzac (translated by Edward Gauvin) "Weapons of Mass Diplomacy"
    Even though the opening takes its time to gather steam, stop, go, stop, and go again, the reader is thrown into the political world on the first full spread. The dialog IS the plot, and it's just perfect, every hesitation and every non sequitur is a pin on the battle plan.

    Jay Hosler "Clan Apis"
    This is one of the most sophisticated science/expository comics I've seen. The story opens with a very simple and specific narration, starting with text and introducing images very gradually. However, spread by spread, we are forced to adjust our POV as consumers of the narrative - at first it's just writer and reader, then we realize that the "narrator" is a bee, and so the reality that is being described is a bee's reality. And then Hosler shows us that the "story" is not even the same for every bee. It's not until the 4th full spread that the principal character's voice is heard, the setting of the story is revealed, and the narrative shifts firmly into dialog.

  2. #2
    Amazing Member pearlofthepacific's Avatar
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    So nobody else has openings or other scenes with words that really stick in the ears? Curious to hear other ideas, will post coupla spreads per comic if you like...

  3. #3

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    Here is a link to a comic I worked on it's a slide show on you tube. Curious to know what you think of the dialogue.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYSAGadaVuI

  4. #4
    Amazing Member pearlofthepacific's Avatar
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    Good that you saw it through to the end! Personally, I think you are using too many words. It's always a temptation when you are writing a script without the visuals actually in front of you, but why not ask yourself if the characters could be showing us some stuff instead of telling us. The fact that your characters are visually rather static is a good clue: their meaning has all been expressed by the words, so they are left with nothing to do except lounge around in the panel!

    One example:
    Him: And try not flail your arms and legs about when you hit an updraft.
    Her: Woah!

    The flailing must precede the advice, but the girl AND her balloon are at the bottom of the panel, while the guy and his advice are at the top, so naturally we see the result before the cause. She could be foregrounded, which would bring her balloon to the top and also allow the artist to emphasize her flailing and panicked emotion, while the guy hangs back and calmly offers advice. As it is, the guy's comments cover TWO emotions, which will weaken the panel. Better for HER to express the cause and the emotion that goes with it e.g. "Woah! Updraft!", while he expresses calm/desire to control (or whatever...) with his advice.

  5. #5

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    Thanks for the response and taking the time to look at my work. I agree with your criticism that the characters are too static, but this is because they are explaining the lore and providing exposition, which is typically the most boring part of the plot. However my intention for the updraft scene was to demonstrates Vigo's sensitivity to the change in wind is such that he begins to warn the Killer, as the female character is known, of the change in current before she notices it.

    Here is another video clip, this time there is no dialogue, I'm curious to know if you find these characters more expressive with their gestures.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwNM1DppSMQ

  6. #6
    Amazing Member pearlofthepacific's Avatar
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    Well, my personal preferences are not iron laws, and you have a separate topic for your work, so I don't want to go into too much detail here - my influence is not as important as your own thoughts. You mention the need to provide a lot of information, and that doing so is typically a boring part of the plot. I'm sure lots of people agree with you, and so they just don't do it!

    For example, Jean van Hamme's "XIII" (1984), a pretty classical story, opens with the hero being discovered unconscious on a beach. Van Hamme gives us quite a lot of information about his character's fighting skills, but not verbally. He expects the reader to draw his or her own conclusions from watching the character's reactions to threat. And he uses most of his opening dialog to build up relationships between the subsidiary characters, not to provide "hard" information. First he shows us a group of interesting people with strong links to each other. Then he makes a place for his hero within that group - by showing us his characters' positive reactions to his hero, he encourages his readers to develop a similar interest in the hero. For an action series, he's actually very stingy with information in his opening - the whole first book ends with no clear idea of who the hero is or what his role in life is.

    The opening of Greg Rucka's "Lazarus" (2013) is very instructive, too - I think it's a model of modern comics writing! The first 11 pages (first page plus first 5 spreads, that is) of a comic book might have 500-1500 words of caption and dialog, but Lazarus has only 398 words in those first 11 pages. Nothing is wasted - the dialog is initially formatted in caption style, making it seem remote and impersonal, and making it hard to figure out who is speaking. The narration of Forever's injuries builds up, so that we realize that the injuries are not survivable as we see the attack take place. At this point, we don't know who is speaking. The first spread STARTS by clarifying that Forever is dying or dead - and ENDS with her opening her eyes. Over the following THREE spreads, the images continue to narrate the attack while Forever first answers questions about her physical state, and then lapses into near silence when asked what she did and how she felt, because her family need to know - her only comment on the deaths of 3 men shown in the images is "I killed them all," in the final frame of the killing sequence. The next spread closes this first opening scene, and is by far the wordiest. A change of color and switch from captions to balloons makes the dialog seem much more immediate. But the plot-relevant information is almost all "between the lines" - Forever talks in direct and personal terms about eating, while the medic, James, uses officialese which immediately suggests obfuscation and unclear motives. When he speaks, he is usually against a green interior/hardware background, while Forever is often shown against the natural landscape visible through the window - so easy for the reader to feel sympathetic towards her and to be interested in what she has to say. This spread is the second time that James mentions "the family" - he mentions the danger to Forever's life, and how terrible it would have been if other family members had been subjected to that risk instead. He doesn't TELL her, though, he reminds her "...you know", he asks her "Have you considered...?" in a relaxed tone, even though what he is suggesting is quite outrageous ("We're lucky it was you! [who was killed]). Even in this very wordy spread, the images carry a lot of the weight. The final image shows James assuring Forever that he would never betray her, but the image, with his glasses half obscuring his eyes, merely underlines the untrustworthy impression we have already received from his fluent but impersonal dialog.

    It's surprising how much formatting affects the dialog too - the difference between caption boxes and balloons, how often stressed words are bolded, and so on.
    Last edited by pearlofthepacific; 08-05-2015 at 11:10 AM.

  7. #7
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    Don't focus on the scenes. You've got to have a good story to tell about interesting characters. Come up with that, and then the scenes will happen.

    And when you're writing, concern yourself more with the structure of the story than with the structure of the scenes.
    Last edited by Trey Strain; 08-17-2015 at 02:13 PM.

  8. #8
    Amazing Member pearlofthepacific's Avatar
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    You know, I'm not sure I agree with you completely. Yes, the story has to have legs, but traditionally formatted comics have to keep the double-page spread in mind....the concept of a scene seems more relevant to comics than to movies or prose fiction.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by pearlofthepacific View Post
    You know, I'm not sure I agree with you completely. Yes, the story has to have legs, but traditionally formatted comics have to keep the double-page spread in mind....the concept of a scene seems more relevant to comics than to movies or prose fiction.
    I've got some sample issues of Green Lantern posted in a thread in this forum. You can see there how I handle it.

    If I were writing comics, I'd stick to a six-panel grid except for splash pages on Page 1 and Page 20. That seems to work very well.
    Last edited by Trey Strain; 08-25-2015 at 11:56 AM.

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