Sunday, June 21, 2009
As a lead-in to the collaborative portion of this class (next week's penciling/inking/coloring exercise) Thursday we took a look at writing. Script-writing is one way of producing works that I hadn't had any experience with until enrolling in the Sequential Art department at SCAD. Since my own stuff is pretty much a one-man-show and I tend to work in isolation, this was an aspect of the industry that was completely foreign to me (maybe it's because all my grade-school report cards used to say something along the lines of "does not play well with others"). As a visual artist, it was very interesting to force myself to describe using words only what I'd become accustomed to simply drawing what I saw in my head, much less try and explain to another artist exactly what to draw. Everything from the time of day, the weather, period costumes, automobile model and make, architectural backgrounds, character expressions, camera angle/frame/shot composition etc. all has to be described. Since then I've adopted this particular method of plotting out longer works such as books/graphic novels, and incorporated a collaborative set of assignments for this class as well. Aside from the traditional Marvel/DC comic book way of doing business, this is an important lesson to impress upon students: one doesn't necessarily have to be a great artist to be involved in comics, as there are plenty of folks around that can draw but maybe aren't the best writers, or pencillers, or colorists, and vice-versa. It can be a really fun and rewarding experience to work with others on a project, each person contributing their own unique and relative strengths, which is a pretty rare thing in the field of Fine Art. Probably one the main distinctions between a "graphic novel" and anthologized serial publications from the trade companies is that it reflects the passion, discipline and vision of one individual, as contrasted with the usual comic book genre publications.
To this end I invited a local hero Kel Nuttall, who resides out in North Pole and is an independent creator/writer of such titles as NOTHINGFACE, THE BLACK WATCH, GLADIATRIX and others. He is also a story contributor to DIGITAL WEBBING PRESENTS, and the letterer on TRAILER PARK OF TERROR, LOST SQUAD, PIERCE, FURIOUS FIST OF THE DRUNKEN MONKEY and more. Actually, I believe the term he used in this presentation was that of being credited nowadays as more of a "production manager," since his skills seem to eclipse the usual job descriptions, and as he winds up assuming a more proactive role in keeping all the details of any particular publication together. Kel has a lot of hands-on, practical experience in the trenches, and this class was really lucky to have him drop by for a show & tell + question & answer session - sometimes students benefit far more from an actual practitioner share their personal perspective than having me babble on about it in theory. He serves as a great example of the message that anyone can do their dreams, even up here in Alaska. The crucial difference being getting connections over the internet, such as the forums on Digital Webbing and Penciljack, to name just a couple. Kel also spent some time on and had handouts showing industry specs regarding color printing and discussed some of the print-on-demand scene, such as Ka-blam and LuLu.com. These setups now enable independent cartoonists even in remote locations to take advantage of currant and evolving technologies to produce works of a professional caliber.
So having a real, live writer and letterer visit the class was a good kick-in-the-ass for many of the students, and hopefully got the wheels turning over the weekend for their homework, which is to type a 1-2 page script for a one-page vignette (either a stand-alone piece or an excerpt from a longer story). It also brings up one of the spiffier things about teaching this course: over the years I've been able to shake the bushes and see what folks are up to doing their thing way up here in Alaska: we have some absolutely outstanding talent literally hiding in the woods.
And as usual, there was a minor flurry of photocopies (much to the dismay of the students who have now run out of room in their 2" binders) of comics terminology and sample scripts from previous classes. I also dug out couple recommended books and a few working examples from the demo portfolio for illustrating some approaches to writing, breaking down scripts into thumbnailed pages>rough sketches>pencils>inks>colors. As well as instill a sense of what'll be asked of them for the upcoming final project, the scope of such undertakings also put their own projects into a humbling perspective; a lot of either unappreciated or unacknowledged hard work goes into comics.