I can't believe it's been 5 months since I started getting overly obsessed with writing, and I still haven't written anything, but it was something that had to be done. I cringe at my old comics ( even the most recent ones ) and other peoples work when I know it could have been better.
To be honest I'm not a guy who just likes great stories, I like stories that at the very least make sense. Something I find " professional " writers, producers, and directors mess up just as much as amateurs. It doesn't have to be that way. The steps to insure that are as simple as taking ones time, having a plan, and sticking to it.
Personally I love reading bad comics, watching bad shows, and bad movies. I learn what not to do. The good part about that is the more I know what not to do, almost everything left over is what to do. And it doesn't require a critique from a " professional " to realize this. Every person, no matter what their knowledge is on art and writing, is an honest critique. The trick as a creator is to make sure the limit of what not to do's is at a minimum.
Future posts of this will include character creation and art in general, but since I consider writing the most important part of any sequential art I'll be concentrating on that in this post. So let's begin...
Story Structure and Page Planning
I had the fortunate event of my cable being out for 8 hours the other day so I decided to read some more how to books. One thing I've known about is page planning. It is crucial that any comicker out there has their pages planned out ahead. I'm not talking about thumbnails, that comes later. I'm talking about what scene goes to which pages and so forth.
I touched on it here http://one-shotstructure.blogspot.com/2012/02/24-page-plot-first-story-structure.html but even when I made that one, I knew it wasn't going to be final. Just as I discovered when I was trying a new art style, my writing style will take time, experimentation, and refinement to suit my needs. While that story structure will work, it didn't seem to work for me. So I made another one...
This one was geared for Action-Packed stories. Each Act has it's own little problem, solution, and climax with the final act being nothing but climax to finish it off. I got this Story Structure from my old GI Joe comics written by a real American hero Larry Hama. Most of those comics follow this type of structure where events escalate to their boiling point in Act 3 and works great for a comic where two sides are always in conflict. I thought this would be for me, but it didn't feel right. So I made another...
This Story Structure was ripped from Kolchak: The Nightstalker ( which not coincidentally is the same structure for the X-Files ). I thought a mystery structure would fit me more, and while I was piecing it together it did feel that way. However just like the Action-Packed one, it still didn't feel right. While this is more character driven than the previous one, it still didn't fit the characters and settings I'm currently working on. I needed something less mysterious, and more humorous to fit the idea I have. So I made another one...
The Two Story Structure was based off of tv shows. Basically American Dad, South Park, and How I Met Your Mother or any show where two stories intertwine and may or may not meet up in the Climax. At this point this one feels like it fits my characters and settings ( for now, lol ). I won't rule out I'll go back to the drawing board and make another. Unlike the previous two, this one is way more character driven, where the characters personalities, habits, and desires push the story. That's what I'm going for, so I'll see how it works.
Now all of these structures took a lot of time for me to make. It wasn't an excuse, it was a necessity. I've learned my own past mistakes that I need a plan in place before I even have an idea. I need to know where everything has to go and how it all works together before I thumbnail the first page. This information is usually buried in How To Books. In How To Draw Manga Vol 1 it's buried early on in the book. In Will Eisners Sequential Art it's in the back and written with a bunch of large words ( I always have to have my Websters Dictionary handy to figure out what he was talking about ).
However my experience as a CNC machinist has taught me I relate better when visuals are added rather than numbers and words alone. Which coincidentally is what a comic book is. Visuals, words, and numbers. The visuals are the images in the panel, the words are the dialogue and captions, and the numbers are the pages. That's why I drew out these structures after piecing them together in a notebook.
Why this is important
In the past I always did things off impulse with no plan in place. I may or may not finish a comic, and when I did it was rushed the closer I got to the end. I wanted that to stop and these structures prevent that from happening. They are the blue print for making a 24 page comic that makes sense. It doesn't matter what the content or plot is, it's about the math. It's about having every page reserved for a specific scene and having them all add up in a perfect package.
I've been around the block, I know when people rush their stories/comics and phone in the last few pages. They had no plan in place, and it shows. I'm more susceptible to this because I've been there. I've seen first hand what a lack of planning looks and reads like because I've done it myself. And this type of planning isn't restricted to comics. Animators have a plan in place called the X-Sheet, where every animation is planned out ahead of time.
A proper plan insures proper execution and every artist/writer needs to have this in place. Take my machining background for instance. If I was told to make a part with just handwritten instructions and spec numbers, I'd fail at making that part a good number of times before I get it right. With an image of what it is suppose to look like I have a better idea of what I'm working with. The instructions make more sense, the numbers add up.
The same goes for comics. As a writer/artist one has to know how much room they have to work with. Scenes have to be limited so they don't run out of control. And pagination is important if that person wants to print their book ( notice how the Two Story ends up being 32 pages total )
I'll probably never stop making these structures. They give me insight on the entertain I like, the stuff I want to emulate into comic book form. However when I made the Two Story Structure it felt like I was really making a comic book. That was the 2nd draft of it, I added the inserts in between the Acts to act as buffers ( i.e. commercial breaks ) where a scene is interrupted by a Cliffhanger only to be continued a couple pages later. Like the comic books I grew up with and still read.
When I was drawing it up I imagined my characters playing out certain scenes. Their discoveries and interactions while the structure was progressing. That was something that wasn't present in the other structures I made.
In the future I plan to dwell further into other things I've learned this past year. And what a year it's been. I went from making comics that took the Protagonist from point A to point B that barely made up 16 pages to constructively planning out 24 pages with twists, turns, and cliffhangers. In return my artwork has improved from being " I dunno if I can do that " to " no problem, we'll bang okay ".
A famous beta-artist once said you can't force improvement for improvement sake, improvement has to be natural. That's bullshit. Last fall when I was at my lowest I wanted to improve. I knew it wouldn't take overnight, it would take time. And I can say with confidence that it was all worth it.
The breaking down of story structures, proper character creation, working in a style that works for me, the 6+ hour sketchbooks sessions, the constant practicing of compositions, and format experiments have paid off. Sure it's not a monetary payoff, but some things in life don't need money to justify their existence.
I may never make a dollar off my stuff, it's a reality I've already accepted because after nearly 20 years I have yet to make a dime off anything I made. But that's not why I do this, that isn't why I push myself. It's because I love comics. I'm obsessed with them. And I want to make them the best way possible to at least satisfy me.
Money is one thing, but that feeling I get when I look at my past work and I'm surprised I actually made that. There's no price for that feeling, it's addictive, and I want more of it.