Wednesday, April 3, 2024

O is for Organization

Okay, I’ve set up my purpose… let’s talk about organization. I know that it’s a long-form graphic novel, so that’s kind of done. But, on the micro level, we’ve got the page. 

Aye, there’s the rub.

I’ve got two sorts of extreme opposites in my head. At one extreme is the manga ideal - the page has 2-3 panels on it, and you keep turning pages. At the other far end is the Prince Valiant model - a page is this meticulous, densely-packed wonderland of rich detail. A third force playing upon my mind, and which is sort of hard-wired in there now, is the Barks model of top and bottom tiers, with a default of six panels per tier. You end up with these huge pages with lots of moving parts, and stories that have a breathiness to them, but also this incredible pace.

The Barks model is the most restrictive - part of the creative challenge is how you tell stories and find variety within this framework. It’s sort of the same creative challenge as creating a four-panel comic strip; you always have these four panels to work in. It’s part of what made Calvin and Hobbes so wondrous - he forced himself to work within the approved formats (which are quite restrictive), and Watterson still did these incredible flights of fancy and departures from what’s come before, even though he never messed with the basic structure of the thing.

All have positives. Going back to my purpose: I want to spend time in the story and let readers linger in it. The idea of only a few panels per page is out - goodbye Anime-inspiration. 

But the default assumption - that I at least want the opportunity for this thing to grow and evolve and become something huge - means that I am best suited to leaving the structure fairly open-ended at this point in regards to comic pages. In short, I’m going to go with the standard comic book page format - it’s a blank 2x3 area that I fill with the story as it best fits. This might be splash pages, or it might mean fifteen tiny panels. 

The macro then (in terms of organization) becomes the length of the thing. I have frequently, and much to my chagrin, obsessed over page counts. I have spent far too much time and energy trying to determine the ‘ideal’ page count for a chapter, story, novel… I start thinking in numbers, which is never great. I suddenly think about organizing in 10 chapters of 16 pages each, every three chapters serving as a story arc, the first chapter as a prelude, and the entire text fitting neatly into 160 pages (which would be perfect as a physical book - let’s go on Lulu and start designing the book right now).

Oh, that cart should be BEHIND the horse. Silly me.

Back to Dave Sim. I had SUCH deep admiration for his ability to say around issue 50 that he’s going to go for 300 issues, and that each is going to be exactly 20 pages, and then to actually DO that. Just remarkable.

I cannot do that. I’d love to. Not me.

I was in Barnes and Noble the other night, and was flipping through the collected Jeff Smith’s Bone. I mean, that’s basically what I intend to do (or thereabouts). Full disclosure: I’ve never read much Bone (I think I have read maybe 10 issues). It would be worth grabbing a copy and reading it to see what he is up to, and at least make sure I don’t outright plagiarize without meaning to.

However, I could see his technique in ways I could not when I was looking at his books 20 years ago (wow… it’s been a while). It was much looser and simpler than I remembered - I could see how his process probably worked - and he was ripping through pages. I would be willing to bet he rarely did more than a rough cut of backgrounds, and then went right to town with his pen. He relies very heavily on silhouettes and bold lines… it’s a very stark black and white, while my art has evolved into this grayscale hybrid thing that I’m not sure what it looks like anymore. I also see how getting the most out of simple tools (a stylus on my beat up old Surface Pro and Microsoft Paint that keeps getting worse instead of better with each update - seriously, just go back two updates and leave it that way forever).

So I tried that - if I spent about an hour on a page, would I be able to come up with something I was satisfied with? Here’s what I ended up with (showing my process of blocking in the basic shapes and then going right to fills and gray washes). This isn’t done - I still have some dialogue to add and might spend a few more minutes throwing in some noodly work, but it’s pretty far along.

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