Creating a noir comic book – part 4

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:

page6

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:

page7

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:

Hi,

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.

I will:
– 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

Cheers!

Magnus
magnusaspli.wordpress.com
http://www.comixology.com/Magnus-Asp…s-creator/4944

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.

Creating a noir comic book – Part 3

What is noir?

There are text books describing the genre and probably lots of discussion on what it is and what it’s not. Although I find genre theory and history fascinating, I tend to stay away from what everyone else says (and demands) a genre is and should be when I work in said genre, and rather go with what my gut feels.

So instead, the question is what is noir for me?

For me, noir needs two things. Downfall and investigation.

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It doesn’t have to be the ultimate downfall, like in Scarface, but things need to spiral downwards for several characters and most prominently for the protagonist in the long run. Relationships, career/job, and definitely emotionally and internally. In SPIRAL, family relationships are the key pieces I keep hacking away at.

Likewise, the investigation doesn’t need to be a straight-up, thorough crime investigation like in Seven or LA Confidential, to name two brilliant noirs on celluloid. But there should be an element of investigation, meaning uncovering a mystery. In SPIRAL, we’re looking at an intertwined mystery from different perspectives, from exposing crime, revealing hidden identities, uncovering what true justice means etc.

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Although noir has always leaned into the visual aftermath of the German expressionists with their heavy shadows, desolation and dark city landscapes – or modernizing it by turning other elements into these landscapes (like a neon jungle, or backwater rural sites) – it’s easy to say that the two ingredients I mentioned, downfall and investigation, doesn’t differentiate noir from horror. In horror there’s always a mystery, and always death. I guess the easy answer here is that horror intends to scare with its suspense, while noir intends to thrill with its suspense.

And deep in its shadows, I see noir as exposing – at least to the reader/viewer/audience – a sickness under the surface of the world. And in the world of police investigations and crime, it is usually corruption. But it doesn’t have to be corruption, of course. This exposure of sickness also links strongly back to the German expressionist era of cinema.

This is the lean and simple framework that SPIRAL is built inside. But it doesn’t mean certain spikes might penetrate the genre confines. Genres offer proven tropes that one can pick from, but it’s often when one subverts, flips, kicks and strangles these tropes that a great genre story emerges. Which I intend SPIRAL to be.

FROM OUTLINE TO SCRIPT

Back to the creation of SPIRAL, my 4-issue noir mini-series, and more specifically the process of breaking down the outline. The birth of the idea and the concept, and how I went from concept to outline can be read here, and here.

With my slightly rough, but solid enough 3-page outline, I could lift out sequences, scenes and beats from my outline and start plotting the story properly. At this point in the process, I feel it’s crucial to know what kind of format you’re going for. Preferably as early as the pitch/synopsis stage, but at least here. Here you need to know if you’ll be doing the story as a 12-page-segment webcomic, full graphic novel between 100 – 120 pages, as a four issue mini-series with roughly 22 pages per issue, or any other publishing format you prefer. The main reasons you need to know this now are: 1) who will publish this or how you want to self-publish it, and 2) where your major cliff hangers and page turns go.

1) Certain publishers will only accept projects that have 4 – 5 issues that can be collected once all the issues are published, some will only look at 100+ page graphic novels, and some will not look at anything unless it’s already been published in a different format. It’s a jungle out there and only research and healthy networking will give you all the information you need.

2) Like with TV episodes, or novels, or films, you need to know where your major moments go. Moments that will keep the reader coming back for more. This also relates strongly to number one. For instance, you’ve pushed past this point and made a full fledged graphic novel which has an intriguing build-up but no real hooks until page 39. Your book is 130 pages long. The plot is ever engaging, and everything falls into place perfectly, as a graphic novel… but the style and type of story only really fits your favourite publisher. And they only publish, say, 3-issue mini-series, then collect them. They say “sorry, earthling, but we can’t accept graphic novels, only 3-issue stories.” You decide, “heck, I can do that!” Now, how will you get that brilliant hook on page 39 down on page 22/24 to make your readers come back for issue #2? How will you be able to cut your perfectly plotted book from 120 pages to around 66 pages? Sure, it can be done. Sometimes. Or you need to hit a publisher that only does straight up graphic novels. Or try something else.

Key is, format relates to WHERE a comic book goes. Format is crucial. Just like with TV. You can’t pitch a 60min episode 4-part TV-show with ad-breaks every 15 minutes to a TV channel that only does 30min 12++ episode series.

That said, tricks have been pulled and stuff have been found up sleeves. But usually, that’s either by known and established creators, or by creators with a strong fanbase, from doing webcomics for example.

Once SPIRAL was fixed as a concept, meaning pretty early on, I knew which publisher was on the top of my list, and I made sure to streamline the project and story to the format this publisher uses. But I’ve also made sure I can hit a few other publishers should my #1 choice fall through. Format is key. And format is different from publisher to publisher. And from country to country, scene to scene. Soak it up and learn it. It might feel more like a business decision than a creative one (who wants to hinder their story to blossom into its full potential?), and that’s exactly what it is. Business. If you want to get into this game, and stay in it, you can’t be all poet. You need to be a tradesman. Business.

You should also try to be short. The opposite of this blog post. By short, I mean, don’t start with long stories. Not unless you’re proved and tested. Publishers won’t look at your 30 issue story, because what newbie can handle that? A few, I’m sure. But a publisher won’t risk it. Start short/small.

Now, back to what happens once the outline is typed up and the plotting begins. As I said, I knew that I was doing a 4 issue mini-series aimed at a certain publisher. So I knew I had 22 – 24 pages per issue. There’s your road map. Consider each issue as a TV episode, especially that first issue. It needs an opening that hooks the reader, (and by hook I don’t necessarily mean a twist), and you need to hook the reader in those first 5 – 8 pages. Like minutes in a TV episode. And the ending of your initial issue must leave the reader wanting to know what happens next. If not, they’ll find another comic to read, another TV show to watch.

Knowing the road map, I focused on my initial issue and wrote down my key scenes on small notes and put them on my table. Writing brief key words, making sure all the crucial beats of a scene are mentioned. Starting with the final scene, the cliffhanger. Then filling out the rest.

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Once I had my plot laid out, and the first issue looking somewhat okay, I colour them. One colour per note for which storyline/character’s scene it is. Here, I think I used pink for my protagonist/A-story, blue for my C-story etc. Once they’re coloured I have a quick and easy overview, and can see if the plot focuses too much on a certain character for too long, if the protagonist gets lost or if the shifting of scenes and storylines are dynamic enough.

Then I rearrange them in different orders just to see what it does to the plot and the story (and storylines). Certain scenes will always shift places when dealing with multiple/parallel storylines. Simple because everything plotted doesn’t need to follow a strict cause-effect route.

With notes like this on the table, it’s also easy to see which beats (or scenes) can be cut, or merged into each other. For Spiral #1, I think I ended up with about 27 notes/pages initially, then by reconstructing and merging I managed to get the plot down to 24 notes/pages. Once I had rearranged everything, merged what could be merged, and felt generally happy with how the story and plot evolved, I numbered the notes. (This can be done earlier, but then you’ll have to keep re-numbering them a lot.)

And since I’m lazy sometimes, I don’t rewrite the notes, I just put the ones that should be merged next to each other and write “merge”, “cut” or “splice” or something on the beat or scene that deserves it.

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Road map filled. Time to drive down the route!

I thought I could fit the actual scripting bit into this blog post, but I can see your eyes are already drooping, mouth drooling. So, next time, I’ll talk about scripting this first issue of SPIRAL.