One thing I learned a while back, when it comes to writing comics: you are only ever as good, or as bad, as the artist you’re working with. So sell a kidney or a child in order to work with the good ones. A master visual storyteller can take a good script and make it great. A bad visual storyteller can mangle the best thing you think you’ve ever written. The good ones get acting performances from your characters along with amazing production design and lighting and costume design (the list goes on). The really great ones can sell subtext! It’s like a world class director has agreed to helm your script.
I get to work with some amazing artists and I’m very lucky.
The 2000AD Script book showed up today. It’s good, containing scripts and art side-by-side by people like Al Ewing, Si Spurrier, John Wagner, Pete Milligan, loads more. If you want to learn to write comics, it’s a ‘stick on Santa’s list’. You get to see how writers differ in their panel description style and how the artists depicted what we’d blathered onto the page. In my case there’s a script from Low Life: Hostile Takeover where D’israeli showed, yet again, what a talent he is.
The architecture there, the costume design, the lighting, the storytelling. And, more than anything, the pathos from Aimee. It’s all amazing stuff.
So, here’s a few panels from my recent work along with my panel descriptions. So you can see how these people make me look good.
SUICIDE SQUAD – Jim Lee pencils, Scott Williams inks, Alex Sinclair colours (not shown here)
Now we pull waaaay back for a wide shot of what was once this major human city. Now in ruins. The sky burns, and high in the sky is the black ORB – taken the place of the sun. A black sun high in the sky, sending down black rays of flame. And the figure hovering high above – Zod – bathes in these rays the way Superman feeds on our yellow sun. This is a dark vision of the future. Like Sauron ruling Middle Earth.
Jim took the core narrative point of what I wanted and played with it slightly. It’s all still there, although he’s gone for a different angle than the one I suggested. Personally, I’m always fine with that. If an artist has a better way of getting the narrative point across – go with God. As long as the narrative point of the panel is conveyed. When you work with people who know what they’re doing, you should trust their instincts.
It’s a collaboration, first and foremost.
UNFOLLOW – Mike Dowling pencils & inks, Quinton Winter colours
Dave turns and looks at ‘us.’ Pissed off. Giving an order. If he’s in charge. He’s in charge.
DAVE CAPTION: “Psychic feline fuck was talking about me.”
DAVE: OK, you boys work for me? Then here’s your first order. Someone get me a fucking smartphone. Now.
DAVE: Deacon had the right idea. I’ve got myself an army…
Pretty minimal panel description this one. It’s an ‘acting’ panel rather than big action. It’s there to show that a line has been crossed here. Dave has changed. He’s in charge now. I love this panel. It’s the simple moments like this that a reader skims past but the angle Mike’s chosen here has gravitas and attitude and intent. It’s all there without the dialogue.
I left the dialogue in here because Mike’s had to leave space for it. Three lines is a lot in a small panel such as this. But, looking at the panel here, the dialogue’s halfway unecessary. Mike’s sold it with the visual.
JUDGE DREDD: ACT OF GRUD – Henry Flint, pencils, inks, colours
We’re behind/below Sam now as he looks up and we see, hovering above him, is a JUSTICE DEPARTMENT spacecraft. Help has arrived. In the knick of time. He will be saved.
Look at what Henry does with the sky here with his colours. Not in the script but, for me, it totally elevates the panel. The narrative point is made – Judge Sam is sat there, weak and about to die from lack of oxygen. He looks up and sees a Justice Department ship coming in to SAVE him. The dust of the ice moon of Enceladus being blown up into purple clouds is all Henry. And it makes a decent panel something beautiful.
I’m beginning to feel bad about this. I’m showing off fairly minimal panel descriptions that the artists have done wonders with. But that’s the point…
HARLEY QUINN: FULL MENTAL JACKET – Gary Frank, pencils, inks, Brad Anderson, colours
We’re opening inside a Task Force X helicopter. Something more hi-tech than a Blackhawk. But that’s the general idea. We’ll see it in exterior in a second. For now, we’re front on to RICK FLAG, sat, ready for the mission ahead. He’s grim, soldier, soldier, soldier. Everything about him says a life of training and discipline and… SOLDIER. And what he’s looking at, he does NOT care for. It is anathema to him.
FLAG CAPTION: “I’m a soldier, Waller.”
FLAG CAPTION: “That means training and discipline and sacrifice. Organised patterns. The reason we do all that is so we know we can trust each other in the field.”
FLAG CAPTION: “That’s what keeps us alive.”
An answering shot here. Sat directly in front of us, attempting to touch her own nose with her tongue, and looking completely the opposite of Flag, is HARLEY QUINN. She is sat opposite him on the other side of the Blackhawk as we’ll see. But these two panels are contrast of types. One a soldier, one… Anything but.
FLAG CAPTION: “Harley Quinn…”
FLAG CAPTION: “… Is NOT a soldier.”
Gary made this visual joke genuinely funny…
UNFOLLOW #13 – Simon Gane, pencils, inks, Jordie Bellaire, colours.
Change of camera position, side on now, as Koichi slices his sword down forward – they all follow behind him. Following his lead.
Akira at the very back brings his sword forwards – but his eyes show that he is not in the moment. He is looking to see what the others are doing. Not confident in himself yet. We don’t see the sword fully yet.
Akira looks down at his sword now. It is not a sword. It’s a rather frayed bamboo stick hacked to the length of a sword. It’s dirty and is anything but what Koichi is.
AKIRA CAPTION: <Koichi?>
Little three panel sequence here, largely silent. So it’s all about the artist selling it – Akira’s expression and the crappy bamboo stick saying a lot, hopefully.
A friend once said to me that if you watch the opening of a movie and there’s no dialogue for the first few minutes – the story’s told visually – you relax because you’re in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing. There’s some truth in that. I think comics are similar. If I’ve plugged a script full of dialogue and exposition, it’s probably a sign of my struggling somewhere along the line. Silent visual progressions may not look like the writer’s doing much but it’s probably when they’re at their best.
UNFOLLOW #14 – Javier Pulido, pencils, inks, Muntsa Vicente, colours.
Cut to an establishing shot of HEADSPACE’s HQ. This is Larry’s version of Google. This is a cross between Apple & Google. LOADS of money here. A ridiculous huge tap with the shower in corner of shot.
LOCATOR: HEADSPACE HEADQUARTERS, SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CA
NATHAN: You have got to be kidding me?
Little preview from the upcoming #14 here, which Javier and Muntsa have made to look wonderful. There’s a lot to be said for a killer establishing shot. This is our first look at Larry Ferrell’s headquarters. I’d been watching Silicon Valley prior to writing this, but the HQs of these places are suitably outre and Willy Wonka’s factory-ish. Javier’s added little features like the hipsters rolling past on scooters, the Segway, the shoulder bags. Even the guy’s beard and hairstyle. And then the architecture of the roof. It’s amazing detail that both grounds the scene and makes it memorable. Gorgeous colours too.
Onto the blatant selling bit. SUICIDE SQUAD #6 is out tomorrow: The second part of the Going Sane arc, where everyone in Belle Reve goes loco for reasons REDACTED!
Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair and a few helping inking hands, making everything look fab:
Waller’s head. Ow.
UNFOLLOW #14 is out in… a few weeks? the Javier Pulido issue, which focusses on Larry Ferrell. Who was he really? Gorgeous ‘possibly best cover of the series so far’ by Matt Taylor.
DOCTOR WHO: THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR season 2 is coming to a close. #15, our big finale, is out December 7th, according to Comixology. And despite what this cover says (wrong cover but a good cover), it’s co-written by Si Spurrier and myself and drawn by Simon Fraser, I believe? This is the tying up of this one, bit ambitious, novelistic storyline, featuring Abslom Daak, The War Doctor, Alice, The Master, River Song and more. It’s been a hoot.
And Christmas is coming, so may I suggest ordering these lovely GNs from Santa.
MARTIAN MANHUNTER: THE RED RISING GN – Vol.2 by Eddy Barrows, Ben Oliver and me.
UNFOLLOW Vol. 2
And the first Jim Lee SUICIDE SQUAD TPB is out end of Feb. THE BLACK VAULT: