Earlier I have talked about the seeds that turn into an idea, and a concept. I’ve talked about outlining the story, and breaking it down with format and plot in mind. And I also pondered a bit about what noir means to me.
Now, it’s time to talk about scripting. And how to get an artist.
Now, there’s no true right or wrong when it comes to comic book scripts. In screenwriting there are hard and fast format rules to follow, it has an industry standard. Not so in comics. Here every writer’s format and scripting style is usually different. But there are similarities and key points to consider when writing a comic book script. I won’t turn this blogpost into a how-to for newbies, but I’ll say that I find scripts that have a concise format, to-the-point descriptions (not too detailed) and where the writer breaks it all up into easy digestible paragraphs are better than the opposite (the so-called Alan Moore way). Concise, clear and lean mean a lot of “white space” to the page, and – as long as you’re not too sparse with the description – makes it easy for the reader to extract information. Because it’s a blueprint. Used for building a comic book page/story. So the reader, which will be either an editor or an artist, must be given an easy time in terms of info extraction. Finding that balance between too little description (clarity) and too much details takes a few years of practice, and attempts at putting art to your script. Also, the writer/artist relationship in comics is different from pair to pair. Some artists love a lot of details and suggestions from the writer. Some prefer it to be as lean as possible, so they can pull a lot from their own creative brain. But with Spiral, I wrote the script without having an artist already attached. In such situations – which are quite usual – I’d say those years of practice and finding the balance are crucial.
But I’m digressing a bit. Back to Spiral and how the breakdown turned into a script.
With each breakdown note intending to represent a page, let’s look at two pages in the beginning of the script. Note #7 and note #8, which are page 6 and 7 in the script.
On note #7 all the info I have is “Gabe and partner pulls a neo-Nazi over. Ammunition.” Looking back at my outline and the other breakdown notes, I knew this meeting with the neo-Nazi was part of a returning storyline, but all the visuals and dialogue bits were just swirling around in my head. I tend to keep those bits in my head rather than to write them down. Do so at your own peril. I find that if the dialogue exchange or visual element is good enough, your brain will hang on to it. If it’s not good enough, it’ll slip away from memory. Also consider that your second pass at writing the page/panel/dialogue will likely be twice as good as your first attempt. So don’t worry about forgetting or losing anything. The good stuff will surface.
This is what ended up on the page after a a second revision:
Things to note:
– I give a few page layout and camera angle suggestions to the artist. Different artists will take this differently. We’re all different. Some might find it patronizing. Some really helpful. I feel comfortable enough putting them in, because I’m a very visual writer. But when moving a script over to an artist, I always explain that any “art department suggestion” is just that. A suggestion. It’s important that an artist feels like a co-director, and not just a camera man. In comics, there should always be two “directors”.
– I’ve changed the main characters name from Gabe (Gabrielle) to Olivia.
– I’ve merged a previous scene into this page. The morning/wake-up scene. It doesn’t do much, but has two crucial elements: mood/atmosphere, and establishing Troy, Olivia’s husband, so that he doesn’t just suddenly pop up in the story later out of the blue. Also, it makes the transition from the 2nd to the 3rd and 4th panel slightly confusing, and playing on what was said by Olivia on the bed.
– My format, which is a tweaked format from an existing Final Draft template. This image is two pages. Notice I try to leave it as concise as I can, making the page breathe. Which welcomes the artist (or editor) to soak up the information more easily. I also establish the location quickly after the panel numbering. Since in this comic book I jump from scene to scene quite a lot, I found it nice to be able to see that location change right away, before one reads the panel description/action.
I notice one grammar mistake right away, and needless to say, they should be eradicated before the script goes to the next person. And before you put it online in a post that shows your noir comic book creation process.
And note #8, which is page 7, had this information: “The interrogation of Brett.”
Here’s the scripted page, after a few revisions:
This is a very tight page, meaning there are quite a few panels with a lot of information in them, particularly dialogue. Again, a layout suggestion and some visual suggestions (framing inside a panel with the chair’s legs, for instance.) These I things I consider artists usually have a different and better idea about. But as long as you’re up front about it, it doesn’t hurt to offer visual suggestions. Might trigger something in the artist brain that leads to a brilliant choice, which might not have been triggered if you didn’t write down that visual suggestion.
These are just two pages to show how sparsely I plot out the story before going into script. I refrain from writing down dialogue snippets and such until I’ve reached the script stage. Might work for some, it does for me. But it might not work for everyone. I find it saves time, and that marinating things in my brain usually leads to better output than if I jot down too much. Once I jot something down, I tend to be a bit locked by it.
But each to his and her own. Try everything, and find your sweet spot.
So, I finished the first issue script for Spiral and had the outline and breakdown notes for the remaining 3 issues. Typed those up on my laptop so that everything was there for once I needed to start scripting issue 2. The way I see it, once you reach a certain point you can’t be bothered to write too much script on spec. Write enough for the project to be presentable, then focus your energy on getting the project out there. This will work on most projects, but there are a few exceptions where the details in the script are crucial throughout the whole story, where you might have to write everything up as a script before your move on. But with Spiral, I was now ready to find an artist.
The easiest advice I can give if you want to get a good artist with you on a project: offer them something worthwhile and which leads to an emotional bond with the project.
Knowing I couldn’t pay a page rate for the whole project, and that I wasn’t looking at Spiral as a gold mine or my magnum opus that I couldn’t share, this was the ad I posted on a few sites where a lot of artists hang out:
I’m looking for an artist for a contemporary crime/noir 4-issue mini-series set in London.
Specifically looking for:
– something that can work as B/W but also with some stylistic and minimalistic colours.
– someone who’s been published, or have good references.
– knows London and its suburbs/architecture, or someone willing to dig into visual research.
– offer a page rate for the pitch pages + character studies. ($70 per page, more for added colour. Negotiable, of course, so let’s talk about it.)
– pay less than 3 days after completion and delivery of high res files (tiffs or psds). Paypal or direct bank transfer. Willing to discuss some payment up-front.
– split I.P. with artist (and colourist if we need one)
– let all revenue from the 1st issue go straight to artist/colourist.
– split revenue equally on the 3 remaining issues, AFTER set page rate has been recouped by artist/colourist.
– aim this at a specific publisher. (But I also have back-up plans.)
So this is kind of a mix between a back-end collaboration and paid work.
The story is called SPIRAL and feels like Scalped, Daredevil and BBC mixed in a blender. In London. On my blog you can read a few pages of the script.
If you think this might be something for you, hit me up with page samples, your preferred page rate and some info about yourself at templadiaboli (A) gmail.com
Then, the waiting began. Would I get any replies on such an ad? I’ll let you know next time, and then how to pick the right artist.