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Storytelling Lecture, Artwork – The Power and Perils of Reference

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 10

In my scripts, I always provide a lot of reference for the artist, or links to places he can get reference online. I think it’s important to use reference. Sometimes, it’s just so the artist understands what I’m asking for, a certain angle, expression or gesture. For instance in Magnus Robot Fighter #1, I provided this photo as reference for a gesture and expression I wanted for Leeja…

…because it was easier to find a picture than to explain it.

Storytelling Lecture, Artwork Part 5

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 11 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

Now, I’m going to tell you a whole bunch of other stuff that may not mean anything much to you yet, but then I’m going to walk you through a particular comic book and I’m going to show you examples. These are little miscellaneous tidbits of info that I’ve had beaten into my head by various Learned Masters over the years. Simple little concepts and observations that are useful for artists. As always, writers should understand these things, too. They’ll help you be a better visual thinker. 

As you walk around the world you see things at eye level. Am I right? You don’t usually walk around standing on your head, or with your head tilted.  You see things like you’re seeing me now, from your eye level, looking directly at the subject. That is the most common point of view, obviously. That is the easiest one for people to grasp instantly.  Show something, anything, in the way people would ordinarily see it and they have the best chance of understanding instantly what you’re showing them.  So, if I have one shot to let somebody know we’re in a theater, this kind of shot, eye level, is most likely to be clear at a glance.  It’s what you’d see if you were there.  A natural point of view. 

Storytelling Lecture, Suggested Reading

JayJay here. Jim and I are working on the next part of the Storytelling series, but we came up with a list of our favorite books for comic book creators.

For general all-around drawing information, the famous Andrew Loomis books are great.
Figure Drawing for all it’s Worth – Jim said, “Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth has the best section on perspective I’ve seen.”
Drawing the Head and Hands
The Andrew Loomis books are out of print but can be downloaded here:

Our buddy Kyle has done a wonderful, essential book on cartooning and comics:
Kyle Baker, How to Draw Stupid and other Essentials of Cartooning

Will Eisner has some highly regarded books available. Best for more advanced students:
Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist

The classic style guide no writer should be without:
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Some good information on writing are Syd Field’s Screenwriting books:
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

The Screenwriter’s Workbook (Revised Edition)

The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver: How to Recognize, Identify, and Define Screenwriting Problems

The Craft of the Screenwriter by John Brady

William Goldman: Five Screenplays with Essays
William Goldman – Four Screenplays
These are a couple of Jim’s favorite books:
Great to read if you want to write science fiction:
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan

Fascinating book written by a cultural anthropologist:
Our Kind: Who We Are, Where We Came From, Where We Are Going by Marvin Harris


Storytelling Lecture, Strange Tales Part 1

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 12 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

I’m going to quickly go through a comic book for you. This comic book, an issue of Strange Tales later reprinted in Captain America.

Why this one? This one is an old comic by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and it was probably done at a time when the page rates for artists were around ten bucks a page, fifteen bucks a page, so it was probably done very quickly. I guarantee you, Jack didn’t spend a great deal of time pondering each panel. You couldn’t do that if you wanted to earn a living. He didn’t give it a lot of thought. He did it from instinct more or less. Nonetheless, it’s a great illustration of fundamentals.

Storytelling Lecture, Strange Tales Part 2

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 13 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

All right, we’re in the backyard of this suburban home. Three young men are arriving. Look at her, the Invisible Girl. You get a pretty good look at her. You’ll see her feet later, trust me. You get a pretty good look at her, enough so that you might actually recognize her if you saw her again. Look at the acting going on here. It’s clear that these guys are arriving and they are excited. What is she saying? Even if you can’t read the balloon, you know she’s saying, “Stay back boys,” just from her body language. Cool.

Storytelling Lecture, Strange Tales Part 3

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 14 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

Page two.

Take a look at the second panel.

The boys have landed in a heap. In order to make that clearly, Kirby treats it like action, that is, he uses the usual action depth and shows us full figures, or nearly so.

Storytelling Lecture, Strange Tales Part 4

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 15 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

Page three.

Here’s the establish-the-big-new-location-shot, the Los Angeles Coliseum shot. Now that’s an establishing shot.

If you look carefully, you can see Johnny in the lower right hand corner. That’s Kirby ”telescoping” again, establishing our featured character’s position within the location. This really needed two shots, but remember, Kirby had fewer than 100 panels to tell this story, and he compromised here—probably hoping that Stan would mention Johnny’s presence in the caption. He didn’t. And the colorist colored Johnny’s shirt wrong. Oops.

Storytelling Lecture, Strange Tales Part 5

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 16 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

Page four.

Okay, panel one we have action—full figures if you don’t count Cap’s toe.

Look at the reactions of the background characters, and the Torch, for that matter. So much is expressed so simply and so powerfully. The words underscore the attitude Captain America expresses in the picture, and the Torch’s reactions, physically and verbally, tells us that what we’re seeing is a big deal.

Storytelling Lecture, Strange Tales Part 6

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 17 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

JayJay here. The blog service has been down and I have a few things that Jim wants me to post so I will be putting up several extra articles later today and tomorrow. Check back!

Page Eight.

Panel one.

Action, a full figure.

Lettering and Balloon Placement Memo

I come from the Stan Lee school of thought regarding lettering and balloon placement. Here are the lettering notes I frequently include in my scripts:

– Lettering should be clear and legible

– Lettering and balloons should be as unobtrusive as possible

– There should never be any question about which balloon comes next

– As much as possible, balloons should stay out of the way of the art:

– Anchor balloons to the panel borders when possible, unless that puts the balloon too far from the speaker or otherwise causes problems

– Try not to cover anything important or interesting—especially light sources, signs, figures, critical details and especially heads

– Characters shouldn’t be wearing balloons like hats or balancing them like trained seals—avoid “resting” the balloons on heads

– If a balloon MUST cover part of a head, try to keep the coverage small.  If it’s going to cover a head down to the eyebrows, it’s time to adjust the art

– If you can overlap a head a smidge into the balloon to avoid covering the head or trained seal syndrome, please do

– Try to have short, straight pointers aimed at the speaker’s mouth

– Pointers should come from around the middle of the balloon.  Avoid those cat’s claw pointers at the ends of balloons, especially long, narrow ones

– Avoid “snakey” pointers

– Consecutive balloons from the same speaker should abut, if possible, with a bridge connector between them 

– If a longer bridge connector is required, make it as straight and direct as possible

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