Thursday, April 14, 2011

Episode #171 Part V: MegaCon 2011: The Art Of Storytelling Panel!

This was the first panel I attended on Saturday, March 26, 2011. The panelists were Amanda Commer, Terry Moore, Dan Panosian, Billy Tucci and Darwyn Cooke.

Storyboard artists, who create the blueprint for animation as well as live action films, were first discussed by the panel. They talked about how storyboards break down the story as far as timing each scene, and lead the animators or film makers in telling the story.

Darwyn asked Amanda how she worked out the story. Amanda said she laid out the script in thumbnail sketches, deciding what's important, pacing the story and working out the characters' emotions in each panel, what they're thinking. Then she sketches the page at 4" x 6", and blows that up to a comic book page. After that she draws the page in ink. Amanda said that she learned a lot from Frank Miller's Daredevil, pacing and conveying emotion.

Darwyn added that in animation he learned that one of the foundations to storytelling as a storyboard artist is that dialogue is not static. As a comic book artist he learned to take as many panels as needed to allow the scene to happen. Sometimes it takes several panels to allow the character to act through the scene and bring the dialogue to life.

Billy Tucci mentioned how he liked how Darwyn let the art convey sound effects, without having sound effect words inserted into the art. Darwyn said that he got that from Jack Kirby. Comic book art can't show motion, but can show flying debris or smoke. If the art can convey motion in that way, then the reader can hear it. Billy said that he hated written sound effects.

Billy then asked Terry Moore about his two comic book series, Strangers In Paradise and Echo. Billy wondered if there was any transition from SIP to Echo, or was it an easy change in storytelling. Terry said that before doing comic books he was in video editing for 13 or 14 years. One thing he was able to translate to comic book storytelling was finding the key moments in a scene, and then convey those key moments. He added that people who are attracted to create comic books tend to be media kids.

Tucci added that comic book artists need to become their own editor, and be willing to cut their favorite panel when it doesn't tell the story.

Terry said that comic book storytelling is the marriage of two things, tell the story and memorize the mechanics of how to draw it. Both Darwyn and Dan Panoisan talked about how sometimes, when you're not sure how do it, you have to wing it.

Darwyn added that when reading the panel description, instinct will suggest whether that panel needs a close up, medium or long shot

Amanda added that sometimes an artist has to think of how to do something new. Terry said that the coolest thing is finding new ways how to draw ordinary objects like clouds. trees or animals, in order to keep from cloning yourself as an artist.

Darwyn said that in his second Parker novel, the book's second act was a series of robberies committed by random criminals. The challenge was how to draw all of those robberies while keeping them fresh and not boring. His solution, "stolen" from artist Dan Clowes, was to draw each robbery in a different art style which fit that particular scene. For instance for a humorous robbery, Darwyn drew the thieves in a similar style to the Flintstones.

Terry asked the other panelists how they injected cultural relevance in titles such as New Frontiers or Sgt. Rock. Dan Panosian said that in X-Men Origins: Sabretooth he made sure to include iconic period pieces of furniture in the background, in order to capture the feel of the time being portrayed. Darwyn said that he conveyed a feel for the time period through the style of graphics used in New Frontier.

Terry Moore added that being fluid in you art style is important to convey the scene. While Echo has been very disciplined because of the type of story being told. With Strangers In Paradise anything was fair game. For instance, when characters got into a childish argument, he drew them in a more cartoony style the more childish they became, until they resembled Calvin & Hobbes.

A question from the audience was how the panelists broke down a script?

Darwyn said that he read the script, found out where each scene began and ended and how many pages it would take to tell the entire story. Usually it would work out to more pages than were available, then he had to nail each scene down to fit the available page limit. Then he drew a thumbnail in light pencil then drew in ink. If a scene feels long, it probably is, so cut it to keep the scene strong.

Billy Tucci added that an artist needs to cut the stuff he loves but isn't necessary to tell the story. Terry added that you must be willing to kill your "darlings."

Another question was about solving a problem in story pacing, what to cut and scene transitions.

Terry suggested read interviews with writers to learn what they go through, because they enjoy talking about writing. Pay attention when they discuss story problems they've had to solve and apply them to your own storytelling. Is the scene pure action or more filled with dialogue. Ask yourself why the reader should care about this character. He mentioned that the length of an average comic book script is about the same length as a 30 minute TV show. Cross reference, don't feel stuck just writing for comic books.

Darwyn said that to shorten scen transitions, watch films and pay attention to how they work the scene and convey the information visually.

Someone else asked what was the biggest problem the panelists had working with a new writer.

Darwyn said that it was describing a character doing more than one action per panel. He said the most important rule of comic book writing was to convey one thought and one action per panel. Stick to that andf go step by step through the story, and keep it simple.

Amanda suggested visualizing the story in your head, which writer and artist Jimmy Palmiotti does.

Terry suggested mixing action and character development. Readers won't care what happens to a character if they don't care about the individual.

Another question was how to pick a balance between showing too much or too little and boring the reader. Darwyn suggested to use yourself as a measuring stick. What works for yourself will usually work for your audience. Terry added that all musicians only have eight notes. It's what they do with them that matters.

The final question was if the process will change for digital readers. Darwyn said that his next project will be digital only. He said that the potential of digital readers can change how readers experience a comic book story. They have the potential of giving readers the ultimate control of the pace they read a story. Digital comics can create a new stroytelling vocabulary.

Next episode: MegaCon 2011 Part VI: The Many Faces Of Mark Waid Panel!

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