I agreed to do a gratis caricaturing gig last Saturday night to help out our little local Episcopal church...it was brutal. I went into it so filled with hubris but I fired blanks all night and I haven't been able to do a proper drawing since. Some of the less miserable efforts below. Had to turn to color to cover my lack of creativity and (worse still) acuity.
Here's an example of a decent one. Done months before, when I was good.
I've been stewing in self-doubt and self-loathing ever since....at least I got to talk to Ellis on Sunday. Thanks for giving me a lift, El!
Comics Week 4 passed without incident. Everyone (for the most part) turned in their Project One "Hero + Animal" assignment--some were really great! Overall I was very impressed by the effort and the output. Teacher must be doing something right....
I lined out our next multi-week project, which is creating a mini-comic. Here's the assignment:
a story in 8 (tiny) pages
Create an 8 page mini-comic of BIOGRAPHIC CONTENT; it can be directly about you, your friends/family, about something you’ve witnessed, or something you are interested in--but it must come from YOU and YOUR OWN LIFE EXPERIENCE. You will print and bind enough copies for the entire class.
DUE OCTOBER 7th!!
And we looked at some mini-comix. I brought in what looked like a huge stack from my own collection (by that I mean, my whole collection) and let everyone handle them. I tried to sell the virtue of creating a physical thang. As the famous Jefferson J. Ranjo wrote in our comments, "JESH."
ON STORY n' STUFF:
I looked at Scott McCloud's "Making Comix" book, in particular we discussed the 5 Basic Choices in Deciding How to Tell Your Story (pages 8-53)
1. Choice of MOMENT(when is it happening?)
2. Choice of FRAME(what are you showing--and NOT showing?)
3. Choice of IMAGE(who or what is revealed?)
4.Choice of WORD (what are you saying--in type?)
5.Choice of FLOW (how are you arranging it all?)
I attempted to introduce a little more on story structure by grappling with McKee's scene/story values/story event formulation...it was ruff!
Here's what I culled and rephrased (from "STORY" by Robert McKee):
A "STORY EVENT" is about creating meaningful change (in your characters, in your world, in your story). But...what kind of change are we talking about? Significant change. Significant? Like, if someone comes and tears down the protagonist's house? That may be a big "change" in the protag's world (he clearly won't be sleeping where he has been for awhile), but it's not necessarily a change that's significant in a story sense. Maybe the protag planned the demolition himself, and has already made new sleeping/living arrangements, so all this will have minimal impact on his life, etc.).
So how can we tell if the change is "significant" in the story sense?
This change must be expressed in something McKee (awkwardly, confusingly) calls "STORY VALUES."
STORY VALUES are values in opposition:
They can also include (but are not limited to) moral values:
To make a change significant, you must switch the "charge" in a story value to its opposite. Huh? (that was my Ben-like reaction the first few times thru....) To go back to the house example, the demolition as described above may be a non-event in story terms (because it doesn't impact the protag's story value disposition in any significant way); but what if he's been in a protracted legal battle with the city over land use rights? And now they've retaliated by bulldozing his pad? Story values for the hero change from sheltered to homeless (in simpler terms it's just the switch fromsecuretoinsecure). Flip the story around and say our hero's been fighting with the city for years to gain the right to demolish his house--in this case the bulldozers signify the opposite, a switch for the hero's story values from frustrated to triumphant, or from victim of the city's red tape to victor.
Don't think of these story values in terms of moral values--think of them in terms of an electrical charge (positive/negative) that can be "switched" to its opposite charge at any time.
So--how do you change a story value...?
This conflict plays out in units known as scenes. The “SCENE” is an action through conflict (in more or less continuous time/space) that switches the value-charge of the character’s life on at least ONE value.
Ideally, every scene is a STORY EVENT. In the house demolition example, the actual scene of the bulldozers arriving may not be an actual story event--the conflict may have resolved before that--in the city controller's office, on the front pages of the local newspaper, or even curbside when the demolition team has the hero arrested so they can go about their business.
* Mike Dietz and I agree this term "conflict" is problematic: it sets me up to imagine action, initiative, a physical manifestation. Mike liked my earlier use of the term "disruption," especially for stories as small as ours here. Tho' disruption isn't perfect either, is it? How about "conflict/disruption"?
I don't know if I have the stomach to go too much deeper into this film structure stuff in future weeks...I'm debating it now....
I used this discussion of SCENE and STORY VALUES as a segue to storyboarding....
First I talked a wee bit about the framing in storyboarding...mainly about camera positioning. Only in the vaguest way. Then I gave them an in-class assignment to create a storyboard sequence of CONFLICT using this wonderful Dean Cornwell painting as the center of the sequence.
The idea is to build a five or six shot continuity of conflict between these two characters. This illustration should fall somewhere in the middle of the "scene"--and we mean scene in the McKee "STORY" sense of it--so this shot is happening halfway between having some significant story value switched for (at least) one of these characters. I said just a rough continuity--how do we get to this moment of confrontation, how do we get out. No dialogue (unless you wanted to). I gave 'em a little more than an hour. We had mixed results.
But that's part of the learning process--as Tom Moon sez (which Blogger's new autocorrect tried to rewrite "Tom Moon sex")"It's hard to draw under all that time pressure!"
(Tom, that's the point--I'm trying to get them to speed up and use their drawings not as a final piece of beautiful perfect art, but as a tool for quick communication..."thinking with a pencil" as it's been called).
ONE OTHER STORY NOTION: Mike Dietz sat down with me after class finished for some pizza and story talk--and he immediately contributed a great concept. "The Promise of the Premise." Basically, if you set out a premise, you have to follow thru on its implications. McKee talks about this but I haven't yet read this phrase "Promise of the Premise" in his book...Mike sez he read it somewhere else, wouldn't take credit for it himself. But McKee does have a simple example--a film called "Mike's Murder" with Debra Winger...quite a good "maturation" plot, but NOT a murder mystery. The title threw people off, and the movie sunk at the box office for confusion and misdirection. Mostly this Promise/Premise equation is about what happens inside the story, but this simple title error explains it nicely, I think. The other famous example is Chekov's playwriting maxim, "If you introduce a gun in the first act, it had better go off before the end of the third act"(I'm paraphrasing badly).
I will ask for permission to share some of the animal comics people made for Project 1. So--let's get to work making mini-comix!!
Ben, here is a example of what I was talking about with that homework assignment to make a panel that shows a passage of time; our Week 1 Homework assignment was to illustrate this concept in a single panel using at least four characters. I doodled a comp for this way back when Ben initially posted his confusion/skepticism; today I finally got to it, and got carried away drawing it up and trying to get it inked...there goes a whole day--and I failed to follow my own directions and include myself as a character!).
Ben, I hope you're satisfied.
Now the four projects: these are the multi-week efforts that together will comprise 70% of the student's grade.
1. Hero + Animal: Create at least 10 panels (try for no more than 1 page--1.5 at most) of interaction between a pre-existing comic book character (Spiderman, Popeye, Archie, etc.) and an animal (any animal, free choice); the animal must be “naturalistic”, i.e., non-talking, realistic'ish looking, and not another character from cartoons/comics/pop culture, i.e., no Garfield, no Rin-Tin-Tin.
2. Min-Comic: Create an 8 page mini-comic of BIOGRAPHIC CONTENT; it can be directly about you, your friends/family, about something you’ve witnessed, or something you are interested in--but it must come from YOU and YOUR OWN LIFE EXPERIENCE. You will print and bind enough copies for the entire class.
3. The Industry Pitch: Mash-Up/Reboot:
Take an existing comics/graphic novel property and come up with a mash-up/reboot concept; you will write a synopsis/overview, create concept sketches for “the world” and character designs for three main characters as well as pencil 1-2 sample pages. Examples: Batman + Victorian setting (to fight Jack the Ripper) = Brian Augustyn & Mike Mignola’s “Gotham by Gaslight”; Fantastic Four/Spiderman/X-men original run + realistic rendering style + p.o.v. of beat reporter = Alex Ross & Kurt Busiek’s “Marvels”
4. The Indie Pitch: Original Graphic Novel/Manga/Comic Strip:
Create a professional proposal for your OWN project. Complete a 4-6 page short story or 8-10 strip run that presents your characters, universe, an original plot, and your storytelling and graphic style. Design original and memorable characters. Make the universe factual or emotionally authentic. Attempt to move your readers with powerful emotions and ideas. Try to engage their minds and hearts. Additionally, research publishers who could be interested in your comic, research the market segment you hope to occupy, and generate a proposal that includes all the documents your publisher of choice requires.
Obviously the last two are the biggies. I probably shoulda dropped Project 3, the "Mash-up/Reboot," but...too late now.
Everybody is finishing up their Project 1 (Hero + Animal) this week. I was inspired by "Pizza Dog" from the recent Aja/Fraction Hawkeye series.
I am going to try to do my own...watch this space!
You can see I'm trying to give assignments that let the students weave in and out of the purely commercial and the personal.
Week 2 I brought in a heap of my own comics/graphic novellas and gave everybody time to flip thru them and select one; then I had them read for ten minutes; then I gave them this series of assignments:
1. Find a panel you liked and redraw it (5 minutes)
2. Choose either the panel immediately before or after the one you drew and draw it (2 minutes)
3. Last, choose 2 panels that are next to each other but separate from your first sequence and draw them BOTH (2 minutes--work fast!!)
We looked at these and contemplated how the visual storytelling worked in them.
Then I hit the same comic from the other end--as written story. I had everyone write a sentence that told the basic story of their comic/graphic novel. This was interesting because few people had been able to finish reading their comic in our ten minute silent reading period--and some of the books were big g/novels, so just scratching the surface. We looked at the panels we drew and tried to figure what kind of story those alone told us. This was all in preparation for writing our synopses for future projects.
This went pretty well.
We then spent a while looking at individual pages from good comic books and pointing out how good artists move the eye thru the panels and across the page in a pleasing rhythm. Our focus was inside the panel, but also looking toward the overall page. I liked pointing out the alignments Darwyn Cooke (RIP) used here:
Then I had everyone take out their Single Panel Showing Elapsed Time assignment (AKA "Ben's Bane") and map out how their eye flows thru the panel. Did it match the sequence of events? Could it be varied or improved? Yeah? OK, let's work on that.
And we did. In fact I had them sketch up 3 new thumbnails based on the wisdom gleaned from this lesson and everyone improved their piece (except the kids who were already really good).
Homework was work more on Project 1: Hero + Animal and to write three one sentence synopses for a possible Project 4: Yr Own Graphic Novel.
Week 3 I wanted to get us into inking. I showed a few slides of master ink work like Friz and Wrightson--showed his Frankentstein. My point was less about linework than about ratios of black to white to halftone. Then I had everyone pull out their completed Single Panel/Ben's Bane, and I had them estimate in percentage on the side of the page how much of their image was white, black, and halftone. Most everybody's was waaaay too white. So I had them get out their inking supplies and add more black, and discover how to use halftone. I also taught them to use white to pull things back. This seemed productive.
Then I had everyone look more at this idea of "Composing the Page." We went to our Hero + Animal project and I handed out a great series of Disney instructional handouts for their comic book artists--very Barks-y advice, but not by Barks. Here's some good ones:
But the page that really, really made a difference was the wonderful Wally Wood's "22 Panels that Always Work!!" I had everybody take their Hero + Animal story and thumbnail out a new version using ONLY panels included in WW's 22. And you know what? It made a BIG difference. I really saw light bulbs going off...students even told me outright how much it helped. Thanks, Wally! Most everybody dumped their old layout and went with the new WW-derived page(s). Which was very cool!
The other thing I did was spend some serious time on story: I've been struggling for a while to find a satisfying formulation for "story structure" that can work for such small-scale works...I was looking for more of a "short story" formula than the typical novel/screenplay. But nothing really suited my needs. So I kicked around and sat by the pool and came up with my own super-simple format that I think works pretty well for the kind of simple storytelling we're after in this class.
A “picto-narrative” story MAY have the following structure:
1. The Setup
“The World AS IT IS.”
2. Disruption “Change Agent” (this means your villain or “antagonist”) Can be as cosmic as Galactus or simple as a sticking door knob.
3. Battle (Can be physical--or not) Often verbal, or mental; can end in a draw, too.
4. Resolution “Return to normalcy--OR the New Order”
This seems to work well for the sort of cyclical stories that come up in comic strips or comic books...it's not so much characters "arcing" as it is a steady character coming up against difficulties and getting thru them, time and time again. I used the Eric Haven "Man-Cat" and a Peanuts strip as examples.
1. The Setup: Snoopy is a contented layabout (Frida is a nosey-parker)
2. Disruption: Frida wants Snoopy to chase rabbits
3. Snoopy initially surrenders to Frida and does as she wishes; BUT he returns with a rabbit that he''s befriended (defeating Frida).
4. Return to normalcy: Snoopy has a new friend to layabout with, (and Frida is still frustrated nosey-parker).
The other aspect (and now I lost where I found this) I came across searching for this and I think it fits well with what you're trying to do:
1. Your character should MAKE A CHOICE...
2. You should SHOW THAT CHOICE THRU ACTION, and...
3. That ACTION MUST HAVE CONSEQUENCE(s).
I think the Snoopy also works with this "choice" paradigm:
1. He chooses to acquiesce to Frida and go looking for rabbits....
2. ...so he physically disappears into the woods and...
3. ...finds a new friend that he brings home, thus foiling Frida's plot to turn him into a rabbit-killer.
I found these two frameworks flexible enough to use in most cases, and useful enough to keep at hand. What do you think? Compare these to this, one of many "short story" prescriptions derived from current 3 Act thinking:
3. The Quest
5. Critical Choice
7. Reversal (‘reversal’ in the sense of ‘reversing’ the world order as it existed at the start of our story OR reversing the character’s arc from defeat to victory...I think?)
8. Resolution (“...and dey lived happily ever after.”)
That just seems way too convoluted for the comics we're doing. Am I wrong?
One other thing I got a kick out of, tho' I don't know how interesting/useful it was for the students: Kurt Vonnegut's "Shapes of Stories" was interesting to me!
Comments and suggestions are very appreciated! Apologies for not being more active here--this stuff is taking so much time. Ugh. But it's interesting and rewarding. And I'm getting paid (hallelujah).
NEXT EPISODE: WHY WE ALL NEED TO READ JASON BRUBAKER'S UNNATURAL TALENT.
And oh yeah--Happy Birthday Messrs. Moon and Goodson!
I've got some commission work and another job from Enworld I have to do as well.
Being busy is a good way to get things done. I hope.
The Enworld assignment start.
I'll probably take this into photoshop for some tone before I print it out and trce it. It also requires that it set on a card design.
One day turn around thoughts. As I was doing this, I thought it would be cool if the dragon chamber was a mountain of human skulls. I was going to hand design my own tarot card border and instead stole it from the web ( it was watermarked too )
No one was asking me for one day turn around, I just like to make it short and sweet for the money (40 bucks) I also didn't go very hard at the redraw.
I still want to be proud of the result but I also want parity close to the pay.
Got another one. Always nice to get a couple vs a single.