The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster, but strangely enough, it all turns out well. How it does, is a mystery.— Henslowe
(Paraphrased from Shakespeare in Love)
The comic strip and comic book emerged around the same time as radio and silent films and was the only printed visual storytelling art form. In 1895, the introduction of the newspaper comic strip, The Yellow Kid, by creator Richard E. Outcault is accredited as having single handedly invented both the American comic strip and comic book, which were literally reprints of the Sunday newspaper "comics" or "funnies" that appeared in the New York World and New York Journal. The Yellow Kid’s first appearance in July 7, 1895 became extremely popular and according to Stephen Becker in his book Comic Art in America, created the "first, gentle wave of mass hysteria which accompanies the birth of popular art forms." The Yellow Kid became a successful merchandising property, gracing buttons, cracker tins; cigarette packs and was even a Broadway play, which at the time was the equivalent of a motion picture, today.
Most panels will contain captions and/or balloons and sound effects, so when designing a comic book page an artist should try to design his/her panels to accommodate the copy so that important areas or art are not obscured by the copy. In other words: don't forget the space for the words when designing and laying out pages with pictures. There are two theories of copy placement, which are (1) to butt captions and balloons against borders to get them as far away from central art area as possible and (2) copy recessed in from border leaves outside border intact and the eye fills in the copy area from the "mat" of surrounding art.
The first comic strips and comic books were humorous, satiric and often-political cartoons for about the first 25 years and more serious adventure comics began to appear in 1920, thus the term "comics, comic book or funnies" had already become part of the vocabulary.
The first adventure strip was based on Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan, drawn by Hal Foster, who is considered the father of the adventure comic strip, and paved the way for others to follow and infuse their own artistic expressions and talent further fueling an evolution for the entertainment art form, moving comic strips such as Prince Valiant began to offer more realistic stories that proved to further develop the art form and expanded the audience. New adventures and characters entered the scene in the late 1930s and 1940s, which became the official "golden age of comic books." The introduction of such characters as Superman, Batman, The Human Torchand Wonder Woman introduced a new genre that is uniquely American; the superhero.
The words "comic book," "comics," and "comic art" are misnomers that stuck. The term "comic" generally refers to something comedic or humorous, while the content of a comic strip or comic book could be anything serious or humorous. A more descriptive (and correct) definition of the medium might be "sequential picture stories" as suggested by authors Scott McCloud and Will Eisner, who's books Understanding Comics and Comics and Sequential Art are widely regarded as important literary works for the art form, which has become part of our cultures and personalities.
In the 1950s, EC Comics published titles such as Weird Fantasy, Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horrorand within the pages of these titled were adaptations of works of Ray Bradbury, who at that time was one of the most popular science fiction writers, being published in The New Yorker, Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post, all top magazines at the time.
When asked about his fascination with horror, Bradbury suggested, "As I was growing up, my friends and I all loved to be frightened. It’s a rehearsal of death. We know it’s out there, so you’ve got to practice ahead of time in order to make do with it."
Master of Horror, Stephen King read E.C. Comics until he began to have nightmares, at which point, his mother took them away. "I started buying them and putting them under my bed." Although, he was eventually caught, and when his mother asked him why he was filling his head with that junk, King replied, "One day, I’m going to write that junk."
King believes that horror is one of the ways we walk our imagination and that to some people, it can make them scared or ill, but those people just avoid it, just as someone who vomits on a roller coaster, will never go back onto a rollercoaster.
The truth is everyone is fascinated with horror. If that weren’t true, there wouldn’t be such a thing as a "gaper’s block." We really don’t want to see a mangled human body inside a seemingly indestructible automobile, crushed like a can of Coca-Cola, but we do look, don’t we? It reinforces the fact that we’re mortal, that life is fragile and that everyday should be a blessing.
The comic book art form is the static, printed version of visual storytelling media, but the same formula for telling a story through pictures – whether those pictures are chemically or digitally created. The same holds true for the method of illustrating the sequential story through the use of storyboards, which are the visual foundation for the films’ mise-en-scene.
The figure above is drawn by Kerry Gammill, and it’s not an unfinished page of a comic book, but in reality; it’s one of the storyboards used for the film Species II. Storyboards come in all shapes and sizes, very similar to comics, although for comics, the sequential illustrations are "polished" for final static reproduction in print form, with word balloons as a narrative tool. There is no other step in the production process for comic books whereas the storyboards are only the beginning.
How comics are read is unique to the western culture. We read the pages and panels left to right, up to down, but Manga are read from right to left, with sometimes hundreds of pages of art and story. There are also less words and dialogue within Manga as compared to the Western style, which tends to provide more narrative and dialogue with a slowed pace, otherwise, a standard 32 page American comic book wouldn’t be much of a read.
While reading Japanese Manga (which is right to left and tend to be perfect bound paperback size volumes), the action has a propensity to move faster. Most people when they pick up a Manga to read, they usually don’t understand what’s going on, until they learn the visual vocabulary.
There is an almost subliminal perception of the pictures while the eye is consciously reading the printed words. The eye registers the whole page (sometimes the two-page spread) at once. This overall view does contribute to the visual story unfolding, but the brain usually can’t process all of the information, simultaneously. This is where the artist must focus on a more sequential path from one panel to another. A superbly designed page will include elements that will assist the reader in following the story. The ability to decipher visual images, while reading involves both halves of the brain, whereas the left-side of the brain is more dominate in calculative logic, while the right-side being more visual and creative. This comes easily to some people, not to others. If panel layouts and page design is not easy to follow, the brain gets bogged down trying to decipher it all. If the confusion of the page provokes the reader’s immersion to be lost, they pull back and become left-brain dominant to figure out the mechanics of how to read it. By watching someone's eyes when reading a comic book, is a great way of witnessing firsthand how the comic-reading process works.
The action flow of the panel should follow the eye path of the reader. This is a great way to emphasize an action and make it seem even bigger or faster. That also makes the opposite true; having the action flow go against the reader's eye path can bring things to an abrupt halt, or even make the reader subconsciously feel an impact.
- Size of Object - A figure or object that is larger or smaller than everything else in the panel/page will show the reader that the figure is most important.
- Size of Panel - This often works in conjunction with the above formula. A reader will generally assume that the largest panel on a page is the most important.
- Shape of Panel An oddly shaped panel will stand out on a page, emphasizing its contents.
- Framing - As discussed previously and in more depth in Chapter 9.
- Angle of Shot - An unusual angle, especially if used in conjunction with the eye path, can add an incredible emphasis to a panel, as well as add drama, suspense, excitement, or even terror to a panel/page.
Aesthetic concerns also come into play. If an artist wants a lot of negative space in a panel that will contain copy, they'll need to design in even more negative space that will eventually be covered in copy, if that panel requires any copy at all.
A logical and clear eye path for all copy is very important. The readers should not have to stop for even a fraction of a second to orient what caption or balloon is next. It’s better to make sure to plan for balloons, captions, and sound effects when planning the flow of action and eye path.
One of the significant differences (or options) between comics and film or interactive games is that comics need not be a collaborative process at all. The creator-owned school of comic book production, whereas the entire product is the work of a single writer or artist (for example Mark Smylie’s Artesia, Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, Mike Mignola's Hellboy, Frank Miller's Sin City, or Jill Thompson's Scary Godmother) can be considered as artistic literature, and less the factory/studio model style that dominates most companies that work visual storytelling entertainment media, which indeed seems to be modeled on old-school, studio-style film production.
In film, these types of people are called an auteur. An auteur is usually the filmmaker, or director, who exercises creative control over his or her works and has a strong personal style. The word auteur is a derivative of the old French word autor, meaning author. Comics provide a medium for the auteur to tell stories that are not easily told in dynamic visual storytelling media. Although a static media, it provides a way for creativity to flourish beyond the limitation of hardware, budgets, naturalistic laws or basic physics. The only limitation is the imagination and skill of the auteur (writer/artist); to create new worlds and proffer a visual storytelling experience that would be new, different and vital. Paraphrasing Terry Moore, creator of Eisner Award winning Stranger’s in Paradise, "I wanted to make printed movies."
The very episodic nature of comics (and even TV animation series) offer more time for the stories to build and move characters over a period of years. What an interactive role playing game may provide in the course of 120 hours of game play, the periodical or serial accomplishes in an episodic format.
An auteur is usually the filmmaker, or director, who exercises creative control over his or her works and has a strong personal style. The word auteur is a derivative of the old French word autor, meaning author.
In film, predominantly a linear c storytelling environment, the auteur decides when to move ahead, when to go back, when to stop, the viewer is a passive participate. Animation and film is given to us, packaged in a set time and order. There is no room for growth or personalization beyond what is already delivered. This is usually the collaboration of a multitude of people, equipment and dollars contributing to one ultimate goal; the final product, whether it be a cartoon, animated movie of live action film (see Chapter 4). However, within the pages of comics, there is control over more than the color of the grass and sky. The way the character, panel, page is draw or even positioned contributes to the visual storytelling experience. The actual turning of the physical page (see Chapter 8) provides a dramatic beat or pause, the "fade in and fade out" of comics -- or even building suspense in presenting the content on the next page.
The movies are continuous, thus every action is seen. We can easily follow the story by paying attention while someone throws a punch, walks across a room, or drives a car. The interpersonal experience of comics draws from the use of the reader’s imagination, much like reading a book, however it stimulates the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The reader must fill in the dots between panels at their own pace; some people may experience a fight scene in slow motion, while others see it as lightning fast. Again, the interaction is there because comics do not give away all the information. The reader contributes part of themselves to the experience, thus making it more satisfactory, because the reader is experiencing elements as they would prefer them.
In his book, Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud equates the space between the panels as a path to "closure." The reader takes a leap of faith from one panel to another when reading a comic book, and the reader is expected to fill in the gaps while jumping the gutter (the space in between the panels). However, this is not necessarily unique to comic books. In film, the characters are shot and hurt, without ever seeing them again; there’s no closure. There’s no chance to say goodbye, or see if they’ve survived, especially if it’s a character that has touched the audience, and they’ve grown fond of the character during the course of watching the film. If this character dies, audience is also expected to fill in those gaps between scenes—how the friends are coping, the funeral, the mourning and the healing. These are elements of the story that don’t have time or aren’t part of the formula of film.
Alfred Hitchcock gave the audience the ability to "hurt," when he killed off Janet Leigh right in the middle of the movie Psycho. Playing on the emotional response of seeing what everyone thought was the protagonist stabbed to death in the world’s most famous slasher shower scene.
This left the audience groping for answers, for closure, and thus, drew them into the film further to try to anticipate what happened and why; did I miss something? It was the scenes of Anthony Perkins "off camera," and in between the panels that was left out in order to achieve a certain response and create suspense. This same formula is used in other visual storytelling media.
It’s Hitchcock’s ability to create an environment to institute a mood, which makes for powerful storytelling. One element is how easily some of the people in his worlds accepted murder and violent crime. In his film, Trouble With Harriet, where you see this sweet little old lady move a corpse and say, "hmmmm, yeah, he’s dead."
The difference between dynamic film and the static storytelling in comics is that interpersonal experience; where the reader contributes a piece of themselves to the experience and to the story. The very nature of film’s passive experience creates the great expectation; delivery of the goods, so there’s no need for closure. This isn’t something that happens later, after the movie is over, the audience deals with the fact that no one will ever be able to go to Goose’s funeral in the movie Top Gun and the best anyone could possibly hope for is to be able to do is mourn through the brooding Tom Cruise.
Hitchcock made the audience hurt when he killed off Janet Leigh, seemingly, the protagonist of the story, but that’s only to keep the film immersive enough to present the real story, which he had a tendency of keeping hidden. Visual storytelling should be immersive, and realism or photographic imagery doesn’t always make it or keep it immersive. Hitchcock succeeded in creating an overwhelming sense of anxiety that created suspense. His own classic example of creating suspense is if a character says "I’ve got a gun and I’m going to shoot you." Well, the audience is just waiting for the bang, but if two people are talking about the weather, and during this conversation the camera moves down below their table, which exposes a bomb strapped underneath it, then the audience wants to shout at those two people to get out of that room. The concept of Hitchcock’s suspense is that ticking bomb, and how to get that across to the characters.
That can be very immersive, but if it’s too real, then depending on the circumstances, there are issues, too. Even with the amazing special effects available to film today; the photographic nature of the media can contradict or fight itself. Take as an example, the last scene in the Universal Pictures’ film The Mummy Returns, starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who plays the Scorpion King. In the climatic conclusion (apologies, if you haven’t seen the film) Johnson’s face is embedded on a computer generated giant scorpion. In an interactive game, where everything is rendered, the effect would have been plausible, if not striking, but even the slightest miscalculation in the integration of a simulated live face on the completely rendered scorpion body will pull the viewer out of the immersive realm and back into the real world, just enough to say – "hey, that’s not really the Rock." The photographic level of film demands more from special effects than a comic book or interactive game. The fantasy element has always been one of the attractions of the comics, and the reason many Hollywood films are using that same formula. It works, and not just for superhero characters, because The Mummy Returns symbolizes the outlandish imagery that was once exclusive to the comic artist’s talent and imagination.
The fantasy element has always been one of the attractions of the comic books, and the reason you see many Hollywood film using that same formula.
The fantastic element is what comics have always mastered and is now recognized by the general populous as popular culture, or "pop culture." Pop culture is the whole, or the imaginary sphere that holds intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it. It’s the attitude and beliefs surrounding a particular segment of artistic communal activities. For example, the television show ALIAS had been described as having the "intensity of a great comic book." There is uniqueness to this art form that is recognized and revered, at least by the creative community.
In the Top 100 grossing films of all time, 60% could be considered as having the intensity of "a great comic book," whereas having content and effects, which were once limited to the comic book page (i.e. science-fiction, monsters, superheroes, horror, cartoons, etc). In the Top Fifteen films, thirteen could be easily considered within the category, collectively having grossed over $12 billion.
Top 15 Grossing Films of All Time (International 2003)
- Star Wars – The Phantom Menace
- Jurassic Park
- Independence Day
- Star Wars
- The Lion King
- E.T. The Extraterrestrial
- Forrest Gump
- The Sixth Sense
- Lost World
- Men In Black
- Return of The Jedi
- Mission Impossible
- Home Alone
Comic books are so much more than stories of the fantastic. Actually; it’s so much less. The production diagrams herein compare the creative process for comic books, film and interactive games. The interpersonal experience of reading comic books also holds true for making them. While film and interactive games all require a number of people to collaborate and develop the visual story, and even digital film (can’t solely produce a film—there needs to be a cameraman and the actor in front of the camera), the comics could be an interpersonal artistic expression. A single artist can and has created a comics world, its characters and somewhat controls the reader’s participation and experience while entering that world.
This is one of the main reasons successful writers and artists, in every visual media returning or staying with comics, because it gives them complete control over their concepts and ideas, without the evolutionary process that a collaborative setting fosters (or as Harlan Ellison put it in the Introduction--. It is true that with hundreds of people working on a film or interactive game can produce an outstanding product; each person contributing their strength and inspired expression. However, the vast majority of the really great films (Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Raging Bull, Star Wars, Saving Private Ryan) or games (Myst, Final Fantasy, Quake, Septerra Core), are lead by an auteur.
Each one of these films and games were created by someone who wanted to tell a story, who wanted to create a world for which the viewer/player could escape. There’s a basic human need to reengineer our own world through a variety of windows. Although movies may do a better job at escapism, but it doesn’t mean that because of that, there’s no room for anything else; a desire to crack open a book, watch children play or dig into an interactive game.
Brian Babendererde is the visionary (artist to designer) behind the creation of many popular interactive games including Nickelodeon's Rocko's Modern Life: Spunky's Dangerous Day, Road Runner's Death Valley Rally, Daffy Duck-The Marvin Missions (SNES), Phantom 2040 (SNES & Genesis), Yo Bro, Camp California (For TurboGrafx-16 & CD, respectively), and Septerra Core. As the lead game designer, his broad range of skills includes script writing, illustration, character design, as well as programming game logic.
He’s known in the interactive game industry as B-MAN, entering the interactive game business in 1990 as an artist at a small company known as ICOM Simulations. When Viacom acquired ICOM in 1993, Brian went on to become one of the company's most successful and published game designers. Babendererde was also the visionary behind SepterraCore; two years in the making with a budget of over two million dollars (see Chapter 5 for more on SepterraCore).
Currently, while he’s still in touch with the game development community, he’s focusing his energy on a new comic book called Soul Chaser Betty, which has a strong Anime and Manga influence. "I’m going back to doing something by myself," said Babendererde. "This is what comic books can do."
Mark Smylie agrees that comic book medium shares with film two fundamental aspects of presentation, mise-en-scene (the placement and arrangement of figures, shapes, space, and light within the frame itself) and montage(the cut from one view or shot to the next). "Filmmakers are supposed to be good at both, but often tend to favor one over the other, though there's no hard-and-fast rule in that regard and a good one will indeed do both well." Smylie believes that it's been possible to detect, particularly in the action genre, an emphasis on montage over mise-en-scene. There are faster cutting, almost to the point where the action of a sequence, the cuts and shots, becomes almost impossible to follow, and less of an interest in the content and composition of a frame as art in and of itself. "Athough a couple exceptions come to mind, like Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow and Tarsem Singh's The Cell, both of which were almost painterly at moments."
Smylie also agrees with the three modes of experiencing storytelling; reading, watching and forming; normally a reader or viewer surrenders a part of themselves to the writer or artist, who determines the outcomes and possibilities of the work and sets its outer limits. The interactive medium offers the reader/viewer more claim and authority from the writer or artist, and participates more explicitly in the creation of the work by choosing the path and potential outcomes that fit their own preferences. "You would think that in some ways the interactive mode should be the most popular storytelling form," said Smylie. "Oddly enough, I think readers and viewers take pleasure in the loss of control to another person's vision, taking pleasure in stepping outside themselves and escaping."
The evolution of the comic book in America metaphorically follows the same development process of a comic book itself, with each one of the talents contributing a piece of themselves to the final compilation. The industry has had many of these talents, (to name a few) from Hal Foster, Will Eisner, Milton Caniff, Wally Wood, Art Spiegleman, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Steve Ditko, Joe Kubert to the next generation, which include Frank Miller, Chris Ware, Michael Turner, Jim Lee, Scott McCloud and Alex Ross; each one of these talents gave a personal piece of themselves to further the art form.
This book is meant to inspire the next generation of aspiring auteur and artists into contributing a personal visionary piece to an ever growing-evolving art form.
There have always been many comparisons made between comic books and film, but more so specifically between the comic book pencilers [artist] and movie directors. They are both in charge of deciding the best way to tell the story visually and are focused on dynamics. They each choose the camera angles, lighting, types of shots and also cast the "actors" and tell them how to perform. "To me, it's all about making the characters believable and getting the reader or viewer involved in the action," said Gammill. "I want the character I'm drawing to have personality and emotion. I want the reader to know what he's thinking by his expression or the way he stands. That’s whether I’m doing comics or storyboards."
The penciler of a comic book goes a bit further, with the designing of the costumes, sets, props, make-up and special effects. However, although the production of a comic book could and has been produced by an individual creator, most are like a film and part of a collaborative team. The editor (who could be deemed similar to a producer in movies) is in charge of choosing the comic's team and approving each step of production. The penciler's work is literally fused with that of the writer who will usually polish or even re-write the final dialogue after the pencils are completed. This is usually to provide better flow in the storytelling. Many times, the penciler can provide so much information in the imagery that some words may become redundant. Then, the pencil art is handed over to inkers and colorists who will enhance the penciler's work with their own skills. The goal, like in film, is to create a final product that will be a blend of the talent and artistic expression of all participates.
Graphic storytelling is unique. It is also used as the foundation for all other media in the form of storyboards.
Click here to download the film clip for the below sequential art interpretation of the same scene. Sequential art, as an entertainment medium, such as comic strips, comic books or graphic novels requires more dynamism than drawing simple storyboards.