Process Blog #9: Make Those Panels Count

by DannyDjeljosevic May 30, 2012
Posted In: Blog

Like any art, making comics is all about honing your craft. If your comic is composed of pages and pages of evenly sized, full-tier widescreen panels, you’re either doing it wrong or you originally wanted to pitch a movie but settled for comics. To which I say, GTFO, we don’t need you stinking up our medium with your glorified storyboards.

Which isn’t to say that it’s wrong to come up with a page of widescreen panels — sequential storytelling is about what you show, what you don’t show, and how you show it. Big rectangles, small rectangles, jagged broken-glass-style layouts — paneling is something that’s easy to take for granted, especially if you’re scripting.

Here at Ghost Engine Industries, we take our comics making very seriously. Go ahead and check out our archive and see the variety happening in those page layouts. There are some widescreen panels, some repeating angles, but I try to write them when the storytelling calls for it.

When I write comics, I generally sketch thumbnails of my pages so I know they work. When you’re doing full-scripts (as opposed to “Marvel style” where the artist completely controls how the story appears on the page) you gotta visualize what the comic is going to look like when it’s all drawn up. Now, I fancy myself an “artist” and draw my own comics sometimes, but all it takes is drawing squares and relatively straight lines to verify if your idea for a page is as sound as it seems in your head.

(Sure, you can just rely on the artist to tell you when a page isn’t working, but why waste everybody’s time when you could catch mistakes on your own?)

Way back in the now-classic Process Blog #8, Eric showed off a page he discarded — a really good page on its own, but one that ultimately didn’t work for the story. The original page was pretty much how I scripted it, and he knocked it out of the park. I love that sequence happening in the last three panels. The angle is static, but the movement isn’t. That’s effort, my friends.

Eric’s a killer artist, and I’m not just saying that because we work together. Just look at Page 18, which is all about that gag of repeating angles. We know Eric works digitally, so repeating the backgrounds is a cinch. What distinguishes him from other artists is that he doesn’t cut corners with the characters within those panels — in every single panel there’s a clearly different iteration of Julia, drawn specifically for that panel. That’s storytelling, my friends.

On the flip side, I’ve seen major mainstream comics (the kind sold in stores!) where the artist has clearly just copied and pasted the same panel all the way down the page and changed maybe one gesture on a character. There’s certainly some benefit to straight-up repeating a panel or two as opposed to redrawing it, but when you have a sequence on the page (especially if it’s a conversation) and characters maintain the same exact frozen expressions, it’s hard not to view that as an artistic failure. People gesture, roll their eyes, shift in their seats, lean forward, and all that other stuff. Even while typing this I haven’t been sitting still and typing into my laptop — I’ve been swiveling my chair, leaning side to side, taking a moment to stretch. Outside of what I’m doing, all of that further tells a story — maybe I’m stretching because I didn’t get enough sleep last night (a good bet), and maybe I’m swiveling because I really have to pee but I want to get this blog post done because I forgot about it until this morning (yup).

Here’s a real anecdote: When I was a kid, my parents used to watch videotapes of relatives’ weddings that contained the ceremony and portions of the reception like speeches and some of the dancing. These speeches would be guys (no, seriously, they’re always men — lousy Old Country gender roles) standing on a stage and speaking in a language I still don’t know how to speak. Sometimes my parents would fast forward through the speeches and I realized that people don’t really stand still even if they seem to be. They actually move back and forth, side to side — something neither I nor the speaker would have noticed in real time.

All that to say that characters aren’t chess pieces — if you want to treat them like people, know how people actually move and function in reality, and use that knowledge to add to the storytelling.



Process Blog #8: A Discarded and Replaced Page

by EricZ May 23, 2012
Posted In: Blog



This is the original page 13 that I drew. As you can see, it’s got a fairly different atmosphere then the one I drew to replace it. Fortunately, me and Danny worked quite a bit ahead on this project, which gave us the opportunity to assess how everything reads as a whole. I actually really like how this page turned out. Ultimately, though, it didn’t work with the sequence as a whole. I hate wasting pages, especially ones that are more then 75% done, but I really didn’t like how this one caused the frantic pacing built up by the page before it to grind to a halt. I think the biggest problem was the repeated panel compositions. It ended up freezing the action quite a bit.




This is the only full page on this project where I deviated from Danny’s script. My plan here was to do a lot of close-ups of the characters to give off the atmosphere that everything that’s happening is too fast and confusing for them to fully understand. I also made the panels very thin to give a claustrophobic and fast paced effect. Something I like about the sequence as a whole is how you don’t see what the Gatekeeper does exactly, but you see the result of his rampage on the next page when everything has settled down. I imagine that the this is how the characters percieved it happening.


Process Blog #7: My Writing Process (at the moment)

by DannyDjeljosevic May 16, 2012
Posted In: Blog

I’m just gonna go ahead and blow my wad here:



Cool thought! Let’s get to work.



Before actual writing occurs (in other words, stuff that I intend to show other human beings), first I vomit through my fingers every idea I have for a particular project into a text file — this big messy thing that only makes sense to me and has probably like three plot outlines started and then promptly unfinished.

It usually ends up looking something like this:



MARK – Our hero. Will probably become a woman by the time I get around to plotting the thing.

GINA-GINA – Sentient rocket. Maybe chair shaped?

_____ – Villain. I want him to be a count of some sort, but not a vampire. Does that make sense? I’ll get to this later.



Open in a burning building. Marquess is a fire fighter, but not like any fire fighter. She goes in alone and negotiates with the fire first. Through narration she explains how it works. I’ll have to figure out HOW that works first.



[OPENING] – Introduce world, characters, killer conflict.

“The World Burns” – Shit gets real.

“Ashes” – Final issue. Assuming we get that far. Marquess’ funeral (SPOILERRRR)



Stockholm syndrome — I kinda want this to be the major theme of the series. Becoming accustomed/sympathetic to your surroundings, no matter how shitty. She’s starting to identify more with the fire than the people put at risk by them. Maybe look up some good examples through history.

Maybe watch BACKDRAFT?



Alien invasion

Third degree burns

Love interest? But not a healthy one.

Marquess being worshipped as a fire goddess by a cult.



ISSUE ONE: Marked for Death — BY FIRE!!!

We’re inside a towering inferno. Mark bursts into the burning building, and it’s immediately apparent he’s a firefighter. But, instead of saving or extinguishing anything… he starts talking. Cut to outside, as the fire slowly recedes and disappears. 12-panel sequence of flames shrinking on a burning building. Yeah, no artist will ever get mad at me.



What was I thinking about? Oh, right… how do I make that story not suck anymore?



Once I’ve got enough gibberish written down in my idea dump, I’ll go back to my characters and flesh them out as much as possible, listing their likes and dislikes and even what they think of the other characters in the story.

The more you know about a character, the easier it will be to figure out what they’d do in a scene — and they might even surprise you as you’re writing them. So, develop them like crazy. Really get into their heads, especially if they’re protagonists.

I could probably write more about this in a future post.



This part is “easy” — just plot out the comic — what happens, how somebody reacts, maybe even ideas for scripting if they happen to pop up while you’re writing. This part will be really helpful once you get to the next step.

When you’re doing serialized comics, it’s best to divide them up by issue, so you can come up with “arcs” for each installment.



Scripting is the hardest (?) part, because that’s where all your cool ideas take shape and you gotta stick the landing or you’ll just embarrass yourself in front of everyone.

By which I mean this: Even if you have a really great, tightly-plotted outline, you still have to capture those ideas in a compelling way in your script. There’s a degree of improv happening at this stage, where your plot outline becomes this prompt giving you a guideline for what to write. But as you write your characters and your story, you may find out that you have better ideas or that something you plotted out doesn’t work in the execution. So, you should probably fix that.


If anybody reading this has any questions, I’ll probably use it as fodder for a future post. Or I just might answer in the comments.


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