Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Comix Class Continued (weeks 1, 2 & 3)
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.
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:
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.
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.
All of this works with Man-Cat, too. Check it out!
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!
NEXT EPISODE: WHY WE ALL NEED TO READ JASON BRUBAKER'S UNNATURAL TALENT.
And oh yeah--Happy Birthday Messrs. Moon and Goodson!