Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Tag: craft

Writing Splash Pages

Splash pages are tricky beasts. Used right, they can be amazing beats. Used wrong, or at least with little effect, and they become placeholders, structural ticks on a checklist of formula, turgid, ho-hum, forgettable.

I don’t write a lot of splash pages. I don’t decompress so rarely find I have the space for a splash page. I say that like I’m bragging when in reality it can be a fault at times, it means I’m trying to cram too much in, I want too many little beats, I want my words all over everything. Sometimes your story needs time and space to breathe.

And splash pages add both – time and space.

Used right, they slow the reader down, make them feel the moment, bring them in and invest them on an emotional level – whether that emotion is awe or infinite sadness or extreme guttural horror. The splash page is the signifier that the reader needs to stop and soak it in for a moment, or maybe three moments.

I’m not here to preach which splash pages are the best and the worst – though I would like to write a future post about which splash pages have hit me hard in the past few years as a writer/reader – for now I’d like to point you to a link and make you think about it in regards to your writing, and illustrating (though I usually speak from the writing/writer’s perspective because there’s no way I’m lecturing about art).

75 ICONIC PHOTOS TO DEFINE THE 21ST CENTURY SO FAR

Yep, this is click bait, but it’s got 75 pics that are pretty good, and I want to highlight a few that might make you think differently about how you’ll write splash pages in the future – however, as always, ymmv.

Classic Majesty

nyc skyline

Look at this shot. It’s beautiful, right? Haunting, emotional, inspiring, and all just with a cityscape. You can use your environment to do this to the reader. Do it.

CHARACTER POSE

bush mission accomplished

Have your character doing something dramatic. Post them with their environment, frame it real pretty like. Have everything point to them and their message, and make it so their message points to them, and they are the central point of their message. Extra points for making their pomp a true farce.

CHARACTER POSE – EMOTIONAL EDIT

reuinited family

Drop that emotional beat. Character posing in maximum emotional mode, tears on display, or anger, or whatever. This is the action shot of their soul. But also, look how this mother’s body frames around her daughter, and the colour juxtaposition, the interlocking human pieces that fit perfectly, this is a pretty shot that also manages to evoke so much. Don’t rely purely on the shown emotion, just because I see tears doesn’t mean I’ll care. Draw me in, use your craft. I also think the business pants guy clearly just walking on by says so much, this lady is melting down, he’s just looking for some java before making his connecting flight. Sometimes these heightened emotional moments are just yours, and no one else cares, we are pockets of hyperfuel for whatever we are feeling and rarely do others get burnt by our flames. That in itself is a fascinating concept about empathy, and time in the day, and just how much emotion we have to give the world and still function.

This shot also goes well with this shot below:

bridge suicide

Look at that body language. Ooof. Masterclass right there from the real world. Capture something as real as this and I’ll read your book.

SCOPE

virginia tech

Use scope and numbers to your advantage. Whether it’s an army, or a family, or mourners, or protestors, make us care because you’re bringing a thousand peeps who care.

Now, this won’t always work – sometimes it feels like saturation and can be numbing – but when done and framed right for the very perfect moment, it can stop us in our tracks.

THAT ONE CREEPY MOMENT

boston bomber

Look at the lighting on this one. If you wanna think about mood you think about the shadows, but only as they juxtapose against the light, and as they differentiate because this pic has pitch black, but also weird greys, with multiple light sources. This is just great.

INNOVATE

kiev independence

Be bold. Tell your moment in a way you have not seen before. Damn the rules.

FIND THAT ONE MOMENT YOU’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE AND NO ONE’S THOUGHT OF BEFORE – BE FIRST

vancouver riot

Because if you think something is preposterous, or will feel like a contrivance, or not plausible, or will be laughed at, just know something crazier has happened in real life.

But if you can capture those moments, and think about them first, and present them with a modicum of craft, respect, enthusiasm, and talent then the world will love you for the opportunity to share that beautiful moment in space and time.

So the next time you go to write a splash page, consider why you are writing it, what do you want to make the world feel? How are you going to evoke that feeling? Scope of size, or body language, or by bringing something new and worthy of study for just a moment. Because the world has plenty of pages of the Spider-Buggy zoooming through the air, and of cape teams launching inexplicably through the air, but they don’t have enough moments of soul searching on a bridge or macking out in the middle of a riot.

If you are going to stop the reader and make them slow down, give them reason to do it and make them feel that page for hours later.

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Comic Structure is Your New Fantasy

If you are writing comics then you absolutely must be thinking about comic structure.
The whole idea of page construction, panel layout, gutters, page turns, etc is why comics is so exciting as a medium. That idea of control is like so few other media. I always say comics are like a sonnet in iambic pentameter and this is why, the structure of it is key.
A comic with superb structure is usually indicative of an artist and writer being on point.
So, I can only assume structure is something you are thinking about a lot. You’ve no doubt read McCloud/Eisner/Bendis (which are my trio of start up #makecomics guides) and now you’re branching out, finding your voice/style, becoming a comic structure citizen of the world. As such, let your thoughts be informed by much, read plenty, dissect it all, and if you need a hand, start here:
HAWKEYE by David Aja + Annie Wu + Matt Hollingsworth + Chris Eliopoulos + Matt Fraction, from Marvel.
This book is an insane structure dream come true. This book is must read material if you are looking to level up the ways in which you make your comics – and don’t worry, I was beyond ambivalent about the character of Clint Barton before this title started up. In fact, I wasn’t even pulling the title at first and then reviews dropped and so I had to sample and now I think it is the best book craft-wise being put out right now. So if you even downright loathe Hawkeye, still consider dipping into this.
As an example, I offer up HAWKEYE #20 – a Kate Bishop tale of her taking on Madame Masque. Read the issue.
Now read it again.
Now marvel at how Wu/Fraction use time. They bounce all over the place, from locations, to times, and back again, and around, and they never tell you how, when, or where, they just do it. They assume the reader is smart enough to get it. They don’t pander with non-diagetic captions for reference, they believe half the fun, half the beauty, is just making you do the work. They play a conversation across two pages, the first page, and the last page, and you only get one side of the conversation on one page, and then you wait until the final page to get the other half of the conversation – and everything in between informs what Kate has to say. It’s a brilliant move and one that made the process junkie here start salivating.
Moves like these takes guts, and precision like you’re shaving someone on the moon with a laser from earth. You have to be bold, and sure, and you certainly need to plan like you’re invading Russia in winter. Structure doesn’t just happen, you do it, you make it, you force it into the world like you won’t settle for the standard mediocrity.
Now read the issue one more time…
…and start to think about how you structure your comics. I’m not saying you need to play fast and loose with time like some drunk wizard, but I am hoping you’ll think about the myriad ways you can tell your story. A-B-C-D storytelling might get the job done, but if I want someone to get me from home to the holidays I guess they can drive me in their beat up Datto, or they can sling me into a private jet and let me sip G+T while listening to ELO while I’m pondering my ETA, you down with OPP?
And this should come as no shock, Matt Fraction has been an out and open process junkie for years. He tears apart the work of others so he might drink from its soul and redefine his own process. Think about his Reverse Engineering script activity, or the things he wrote about BORN AGAIN. It should come as no shock that Fraction thinks this much and this hard about comics and then his books are just this good (and for the quality debate I lay at your bare feet: CASANOVA, IMMORTAL IRON FIST, SEX CRIMINALS, and HAWKEYE – argument over).

Ergo: you also need to think this hard about the books you are reading, and then the things you are writing. Again, good quality is no accident.

Structure, it’s the difference between a one-bedroom basement dwelling and a liquid labyrinthine Hogwarts dorm-frat funhouse.
You wanna make something as good as HAWKEYE, think about the structure.

Words about WORDS FOR PICTURES – and Breaking In Links

The subheading for this book by Brian Michael Bendis is ‘The art and business of writing comics and graphic novels.’ And that is exactly what you get.

words for picturec over

I get asked at cons a lot about what sort of things can help you write comics. I’m not asked this because I’m anything special but more that I just talk about process so much that people assume I know what I’m saying. Jokes on them but it whiles away the hours on the con floor.

So when people ask me for tips and advice and whathaveyou, I invariably tell them to get Scott McCloud’s stuff and simply devour it. Set up the bbq, decant the HP sauce at room temp, and imbibe those pages like your future career writing Spider-Man depends on it. Because it most certainly does.

There is no denying the dominance of McCloud and his complete coverage of the comic medium structure and the accessible way he lays it all down. That layer and level of craft has been owned and so I was so pleased to see Bendis’ book is not an attempt to go this path. No, Bendis instead delivers the perfect partner volume to McCloud’s work.

WORDS FOR PICTURES treads water in a few ponds and all of them really important.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is ‘must read’ stuff for people right when they make the decision that they want to make comics and break into comics. I wish beyond belief that I had this book a decade ago. It’s full of the little tips and tricks about breaking in that I had to hunt around and find or stumble across over the course of years of living the life. Here, this book presents it all to you in one handy weekend read.

I’ll repeat this – WORDS FOR PICTURES IS MUST READ FOR THOSE EMBARKING ON THE JOURNEY OF MAKING AND BREAKING INTO COMICS.

There is no way around this, there are lessons here you need to learn. There are lessons here you have no doubt been told by someone else already but you weren’t sure if it was right. It is right. It’s here in this book, please read it a few times, learn it, love it, and then jump into the four colour waters, it’s always warm in here.

To give a quick rundown – this book drops knowledge and science on some of the early tripping blocks creators, and especially writers, face.

The editorial round table on how to meet editors, stay in contact with them, and not be a pest is worth its weight in gold.

The artist round table about what they dig and loathe in scripts is fantastic. Learning how to write for your artist is super hard – and a lot of that is because nascent writers don’t have many artists with which to collaborate and experiment so we have too many scripts written in a vacuum and not considering the collaborator. This chapter breaks down a lot of what you need to hear and the sooner the better.

The page with Kelly Sue’s pitch docs on it is just glorious. These are the sorts of things we don’t see anywhere near enough of. Trying to find, share, download, hack, ask politely for, and imagine pitch docs is hard so here we get a peek into some good ones – especially because Kelly Sue is irreverent in hers and that will free your mind – it did for me.

If you need to learn the art of comics, read McCloud, if you need to learn the art of making comics, read Bendis. I think it’s that simple.

Now, I know the book isn’t without its faults. It almost felt a little too quick to read. I would have liked to see more process about script breakdowns and real craft – though once you start talking about scripting gutters and the like then you run into McCloud territory so I see why this line was drawn. This book might not be perfect in the way McCloud is but I don’t know of anything better, and I know Bendis drops enough knowledge I wish I had five years ago that I know this book is completely worth it.

So the next time someone asks me what they need to help them make comics I am going to send them to this book, in a heartbeat.

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If you dig this book, or want to know more about the things you need to be a writer with a level head, click these links.

Bendis runs a process blog – dig it – http://bendiswordsforpictures.tumblr.com/

Bendis also runs his own tumblr where you’ll get a stack of comic art to adore but he often goes on jags of answering tumblr questions and some great stuff can be found therein – http://brianmichaelbendis.tumblr.com/

I have delivered a comic writing workshop before and you can download the presentation here – https://ryanklindsay.com/2014/05/18/comic-writing-101-at-comicgong/

I also run the Process Junkie tumblr with Dan Hill – it wants to be Bendis’ page pretty badly – http://processjunkie.tumblr.com/

The Comic Writer Services 2.0 page, curated by Dan Hill, has enough process links to fill a month – and I heartily endorse you calling in sick for a month and just getting your read and your learn on – seriously – do this – http://comicwriterservices.com/

Chuck Wendig is a guy who writes often and with passion about writing and all that craft jazz – I wouldn’t tell you to try to be like him, only so many people can get away with that sort of malarkey without alienating themselves completely, but he does drop some great grist for the mill – http://terribleminds.com/

Buy Scott McCloud’s books – http://www.bookdepository.com/author/Scott-McCloud

I like reading film scripts – I have scored many for download from this great flick site – http://cinearchive.org/

Stephen King’s ON WRITING could possibly round out my personal holy trinity of books about writing/making comics – http://www.bookdepository.com/On-Writing-Stephen-King/9780340820469

I like my writing craft books to have a personal tone. King’s author writing voice is something I could read for months on end – and I dig STORY (to degrees) and some of those other staples but if you want great ground level sensible stuff that has worked wonders for me, hit up the McCloud/Bendis/King triumvirate.

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That’s it, now go read something every day, and write something every day.

Go. Enjoy.

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