Thursday, June 10, 2010

Comics Storytelling

More comics stuff because that's apparently all I think about.
One of the great benefits of attending a comics convention is getting to talk to people that make comics...pencilers, inkers, letterers, colorists, and, yes, writers. This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina and talk to lots of people intimately involved in making comics. Discussions covered the range of comics-creating spectrum, but they all had something in common...storytelling.
Pardon me for stating the obvious, but storytelling is crucial to comics.
Yeah, well, DUH.
Sometimes you just have to state the obvious.
Anyway, chatting with Marvel Editor Bill Rosemann on Sunday actually helped crystallize a few things that I had been struggling to articulate. Clear storytelling from panel to panel and page to page are what make comics so easy to comprehend, and comprehension is kind of essential if you want a reader to invest his or her attention enough to actually want to know what happens. A reader simply can't do this if he or she can't figure out which panel comes next on a page. I'll come back to this in a second, but it gets into a part of the importance of panel borders. Sure, breaking the borders of a panel can look really cool, but when done and done and done, it loses its impact. And that is precisely why it should be done sparingly because it is supposed to have an impact. Every panel simply cannot have the same dramatic impact, even if they were all the same size. If they did, then there would be no impact since they are all the same. It's like posting to a forum with your caps lock on. If you're shouting everything you say, then what do you do when you actually need to shout.
Getting back to the page and panel arrangement...a clear panel flow is vital to keeping your reader. Look, I know that we have some amazing artists working in the medium that can execute some achingly beautiful pages, but if I can't follow the flow of the story then those pages are useless from a storytelling standpoint...beautiful, but useless. For the record, I'm what you'd call indoctrinated. I've been reading comics for decades, and if I have trouble following the story, then imagine someone with less comics reading experience trying to understand the story. They couldn't. And that would be a failure on the part of the writer, the artist, or both.
And, they're not just failing the reader, they're failing the story. You see, it's the story, stupid (to shamelessly steal from the first Clinton presidential campaign). It's more important than every individual aspect of comics. Everything, and I do mean everything from the script to the art to the colors to the lettering exist to serve the story. If a reader were able to identify a story as being written by me, that's fine since all artists have an individual voice, but if making sure a story is identifiable as a "Will Allred" story interferes with the storytelling, then I've failed on multiple levels. This will probably sound strange, but this is why my first allegiance is to the story. I take whatever meager skills I possess and whatever tricks I know to tell that story to the best of my ability and hope that it gets even slightly close to the vision I have for it locked up in my noggin'.
I really want to talk about page layout a bit, but I think I'll save that for next time, but enough rambling for now. Before I finish this, though, I'd like to thank everyone at Heroes Con for all the great discussion.

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