ymmv .25 – When Pages Go Better
Writing a page and drawing a page are two different things. Anyone who’s ever scripted a splash page knows this deep in their heart.
But there’s a third option, and that’s collaborating on a page. When this happens, you sometimes get something no one saw coming.
Or, maybe I’ve just learnt to get the hell out of the way of the artists I work with. Because sometimes I script a page, and I even take detail in doing so, but what comes back is wildly different and all the more better for it. And you have to be ready for that, because it means losing a little bit of control – something most writers hold onto as firmly as they do the first place credit on all their stories – and it means maybe you don’t know best.
Spoiler alert: when it comes to the actual art on the page, the layout, the composition, the visual stuff, you don’t know best. And if you do, draw the damn thing yourself. Otherwise, give yourself in to the collaborative spirit and enjoy what may come.
I write full script, panel by panel, with detail, sometimes reference pics, and sometimes I really have an idea. Sometimes I see the page, with my half-blind writer’s eye, and I know what we should so – so I script just that, and I’m excited to see what’s going to come of it. I’m very keen to see this page, this specific beast, brought to life. THIS is comics.
The wait for the art is exciting and internally furious, when suddenly the email comes, with the paperclip, and I know there’s something to see. But it’s not my page, it’s nothing like the script, and I took so much time on that script, and it’s been ignored. Why?
Well, to create something better. In fact, it’s so much better that even I can see that through the ego tears and writerly delusions that I control the comic page.
It’s important to know that in the end, the artist has the final say on the page most of the time, and they totally should.
Case in point:
HEADSPACE #8 – Page 9
Precis – Shane, our lead, is about to kill a kid because it’s the bigger right thing to do, hard as it will be for him. Here’s what I scripted, it’s quite visual, I had ideas.
PAGE 9 – 1 PANEL
A splash of Shane choking out Kid Max, much like how his own son got taken down by Max. I thought we could do this splash so it slowly washes out by the bottom, either a gradual fade or a series of bars each more faded than the last. I also thought we could put a black horizontal bar across Kid Max’s face to represent how Shane is trying to block the specifics of this action out of his mind.
Caption: The kid is the black heart of this problem.
Now, I still, years later, stand by what I scripted. I like the idea of the page I describe, but here’s what Eric Zawadzki did with it.
You can see specifics here, it’s a central image, there are bars at play, but Eric levels it up. I asked for colour washing out and instead he opts to hold the colours, but the bars slowly thicken until we get only one thick bar of white down the bottom. There are similarities, but then you see between the bars the image shifts, the boy moves, we see him die.
My splash was just Shane attacking him, and we filled in the rest, but Eric draws a page very much playing with time. Kid Max shakes as he dies in those final slices of his life, and above we are swamped in Shane’s inner turmoil as things slow down, the inset panels washed red, and showing us Shane’s face, his anguish. The horror of killing another human, and that person being a child.
So, Eric took my idea, a few ideas from it, and he added inset panels, and his own colour ideas, and the bigger white bars, and no black bar over the face. In fact, we see the kid’s face three times, we are complicit with Shane in this terrible act, and I think for that reason we’ve got a page that connects with greater emotion.
As soon as I saw this page I knew Eric had nailed it, and while I could see my scripted page in my head, it was definitely time to let it go and embrace the fact that taking a little sliver from my script and then veering away was massively the right choice.
I love this page, a lot, and I can’t imagine that moment any other way now.
THE MANY HAROLD HOLTS OF SPACE AND TIME is an Australian political science fiction thriller, what fun.
I wrote this in a fever during a one week period and I still love it years and years later. Not everything we create is going to be great, and we won’t always love it for life, but this short still really tickles me. And I think I have Louie Joyce to thank for that. His colours and flow are just breathtaking in this wild romp of many versions of the one lost Prime Minister coming back for a royal rumble in the future.
There’s a page where I have a Russian jetpack riding Harold Holt go into battle with an Atlantean Holt and I wrote it like this:
PAGE 5 – 4 PANELS
Jetpack Holt has hit Atlantis Holt and is driving him into the water with great force, a splash resounds.
The two Holts grapple under the water. It’s a Frazetta clash of the titans.
Atlantis Holt is choking out Jetpack Holt in an old school hands to the throat strangle move.
Footsteps walks along the water near the surfer who is trying to peer into the water. This is Alien Holt but we only see his bare feet here.
Alien Holt: What fools we be.
I’m happy with this page of script. It engages the action, holds in it a moment, and then builds in a new direction. I even namedrop Frazetta in there as visual aid, inspiration. I was feeling good about this and then Louie Joyce drops me the coloured page and I realise I know nothing.
The page instantly grabs with that red sky, a panel of just sky, and for a moment you might consider that the Holts in collision are missing, but then your eye guides down to the right and you realise that not only are the two Holts grappling as they carve through the water, but their wake is causing a gutter between two triangle panels. It’s an amazing feat of comic making that’s quite clearly not in my script at all.
But what a fool I’d be to send this back, to scoff at it, to not even consider it. No sane person would dare because what Louie does here is what makes comic collaboration so sweet. He just levelled up the page and we all get to benefit.
I will admit, it is confronting for the nascent writer to see this thing get unpacked and made that wasn’t to your specifications, but when it’s Louie Joyce sharing the truth, well, you sit up and listen.
More recently this occurred again, but I was better prepared to crazy love it from the very first nanosecond.
CHUM is a miniseries I created with Sami Kivelä, with Mark Dale colours and Nic J. Shaw letters. Now, Sami and I have known each other for years, and we’ve worked on all sorts – most notably the DEER EDITOR Kickstarter campaigns – so I went into this page prepared for improvement. But I still thought I did a decent job, it’s not poor, but it’s looking to be collaborative:
CHUM #1 – Page 10
PAGE TEN – ? PANELS
Gus smashes a left fist into Swampy’s face. This whole page needs to feel kinetic, brutal, and goddamn fast. It’s like Jake the Muss operating here: from 2:20 on
Caption: Gus knows he’s going too far.
The right hand hits Swampy.
The left hand hits down and across Swampy’s face.
Blood sprays across the plate of eggs.
A knee slams into Swampy’s face.
Gus slams the coffee mug up into Swampy’s face and it breaks/explodes with hot coffee. By now, Swampy’s face should look pretty rough.
Gus punches Swampy in the face again. Swampy’s nose breaks, badly.
Gus slams Swampy’s head down onto the table, cracking the plate if we can show that too. Could we do this as an under shot looking up, like through an invisible table?
Gus stands there, panting heavily, with Swampy on the table, face down, dead.
Caption: But he doesn’t care.
I didn’t script actual panels, this was closer to the Marvel method [though not quite there], and in the end it’s something Sami and I spoke about and I had implicit faith in what he would and could do.
I gave Sami a page with many action beats, small pedantic action, but overall you can see it has an escalation from the previous scene, and then it’s just all too late. I really wasn’t certain on how to break this action, so I spoke with Sami and he was down to have a crack at doing this page in his own way.
The results speak for themselves.
Sami’s big idea is to change the page from this panel dense storm of action into a splash, where the ultimate page turn end is definitely present. Then, around/behind Gus, he makes this wall of tiled panels, all showing slices of larger moments, and it’s an economy of empty space and what works for the whole. It also shows Gus as being surrounded by his rage, his violence, he’s walled in by it, trapped. It is his downfall before he even realises it.
It clearly shows, I was right to get out of Sami’s way.
It should come as no shock, then, that my latest collaborator breakthrough in page amazingness should come again with Sami Kivelä. The guy is my own special comic godfather looking out for me and making things better since 2013.
We’ve been putting a pitch together for a story about an emotional hitwoman whose girlfriend gets pregnant and it completely flips how she sees her place in the world and the whole pitch package is glorious, I love every single line of ink, but there’s one page that just completely floored me.
Let’s look at what I scripted to see how much of the genius I can claim.
PAGE 4 – 6 PANELS
Julie snorts the coke off the carrot.
Julie looks up, her eyes already red, watery.
Wide shot, in profile, Julie is still hunched over, and across the bench we see Lon standing there, her face plain, she’s observing before the kill.
Still the same frame of wide profile shot. Julie throws the carrot like she’s flat throwing a little blade, and it goes straight for Lon, but Lon has already drawn and is firing at Julie, the bullet hitting the mid-flight carrot and is on its way to Julie’s face.
And a final third same wide profile shot. Lon’s hand puts the gun back in the back of her waistband. Julie is in the process of flying back and down from the kitchen bench, her face cracked by the bullet hole in her high cheek.
Lon turns, to look over her shoulder, and straight at us.
This is a pretty detailed page of script, and I’m very happy with it, and the strange thing for this one is – Sami translated my script very well onto the page. But then he just took it further, faster, higher, stronger.
Mostly, Sami has used the chassis of my script and built something beautiful. The three panels of the shooting are surprisingly close to what I scripted [surprising because my visual idea works – though Sami’s staging and body language sell it 100%], but it’s all the little things Sami brought in that I most likely would have never dared to script.
The look. The throw. The shot. The collision. The smoking barrel.
All little things, and things I described a bit, but tried to force into single panels, and instead Sami brings them focus and it’s masterful to me for this main reason – Sami is in control. He controls the time of the scene/page, and he controls what you see. He drags your eye through this little moment that might have otherwise been ignored. He slows the scene down, making the page longer to read, so we get a kind of slow motion effect. In doing that, he makes me feel the impact of the bullet landing in the face, I hear the dull thud as it pocks human flesh. And I feel Lon’s calm as she withdraws, fires, and holsters because if we read her as slow here then we read her as calm.
It’s a great moment of storytelling and another reason why I’ll forever get out of my artist’s way – especially if their name is Sami Kivelä.
But don’t worry, sometimes you get it right :]
I present to you, to dig, if you will, a page from LITTLE MAN IN THE BIG HOUSE
PAGE 6 – 1 PANEL
1. Close up on a shower head with beads of water coming through it. Macbeth can be seen also coming out with a flying fist forward in an almost heroic pose. He is wearing a special prison underwater suit. On his fist we see some sort of flat metal grill across the top of his knuckles.
Now look at the page Paul Tucker drew and coloured for our guy.
Yeah, I know, technically Paul made tweaks, he improved things, I know, I agree. But, overall, this is what I saw, this is what Paul saw, and the end result has been a page I can turn to and get instant sales at cons because it’s just pure comics.
I know I look around and I still see pure collaboration on the page of many books, and it’s no shock those books are usually my favourites.
Ryan K. Lindsay is a comics writer who has logged time at Dark Horse, Monkeybrain, Vertigo and other esteemed publishers. He currently writes Negative Space, a comic we here at Loser City love quite a bit. You can (and should) pick Negative Space up from your local comic shop or directly through Dark Horse.