I want to get onto the artwork. Writers pay attention. A lot of this applies to you as well. This is a two-part medium. It’s visual and verbal.
We’re in the business of storytelling. Because of the unique combination of the visual and verbal, a lot of the burden of storytelling falls upon the penciler. The penciler’s not just an artist, he’s half of the writer. And a writer should not be just a writer, he should think visually, be a visual storyteller, he should be half of the artist.
Sometimes, when the artist and writer are the same person, it really works well, but it often works very well when it’s a collaboration like Lee and Ditko, Lee and Kirby, or Goodwin and Simonson. Sometimes a collaboration is even better than a solo act, because two good storytellers in tandem come up with stuff neither one could alone. Two can be better than one. So, writers, if you can’t draw, don’t despair. But learn to think visually. Pencilers, artists, learn about writing. I don’t care if you’re aren’t a wordsmith, learn the principles, understand the goals. As they say in Hollywood, “do the math.” Learn how to do the math.
Let me tell you the secrets of visual storytelling. Again, we’re in the business of storytelling—that’s our number one priority. We’re here to tell a story. What is storytelling? As I was telling you writers, it’s conveying information. CONVEYING INFO. As Frank Miller once said, when he had the epiphany and went from being a talented young artist/writer to being a genius, “I get it. We know the story and they (the readers) don’t, and we’re telling them the story!”
I hear a lot of you thinking, “duh, no kidding.” Listen to me. How many comics have you read in which the artist is more concerned with drawing lots of pin-up shots so he can sell the pages for more money at conventions than getting across what’s happening? How many have you read where the writer is so busy showing how cleverly he or she can do snappy patter that they fail to convey who these people are and why we should care about them?
When you get it into your head that you need a good story to tell, and that telling it—well—is the mission, you’re making the same jump to lightspeed that Miller made that one fine day.
So we’re not just doing patter and pin-ups, not just doing bits and scenes, we’re telling a story and preferably a good one. Something dramatic and powerful, with a point.
How does a pencil artist convey information? What does he have to get across? He’s got to get across drama. In other words he’s got to have his characters be good actors. He’s got to be a good actor, or else he won’t understand how to draw the characters expressing emotion. He’s got to be able to understand how someone looks when they’re upset, or worried, or how they would express the various emotions. He’s got to be a dramatist. He also—well this is a still medium so it presents some particular problems—but he also has to understand how things move, and he’s got to create the illusion of movement even in a still medium. So drama and dynamics are important. It’s even important to drama you have to know how to move somebody’s arm to create the gesture. Another thing is just drawing, not surprisingly enough because if you can’t draw, it doesn’t matter if you can act. If you can’t draw it well enough for people to understand it, you’re doomed. These things really are key to the penciler’s role in storytelling, things a penciler has to master.
Now I’m going to tell you how you can become a much better penciler in a minute, I mean right now. Pay attention, and you will leave this room a significantly better artist than you were when you walked in.
JayJay here. Oops, we didn’t get this into the next blog, but we will soon!