For process junkies, animated film studios seem to be great sources of instruction about good storytelling, in comics or any medium. Last spring, Ben Caldwell shared some lessons he learned from DreamWorks. This time, former Pixar story artist Emma Coats is offering 22 guidelines she picked up from her senior colleagues at the studio:
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
You can read the rest on Coats’ blog.
(via Kelly Sue DeConnick)
In a recent superhero comic, the artist introduced a character who was notable for his small stature. Nowhere in the first 20-odd-page issue did you see him clearly in scale next to normal-sized characters that demonstrated he was small. This was covered in passing in the dialogue. That’s bad comics. If you were telling this story over a campfire, one of the first things you’d say is that this guy was very short; you might make it specific, with a comparison. In comics, the art should do that for you. Something about a picture painting a thousand words. Visual info should be conveyed visually.
– Dark Horse editor Scott Allie, not referring to the specific panel above, but talking about the same thing.
Allie writes at length about the importance of visual storytelling to comics. He uses lots of examples, both positive and negative, but one of my favorites is when he points at some Alan Moore comics to prove that it doesn’t matter how talented the writer is. If the artist doesn’t convey the right information, the comic’s going to suck.
This isn’t to say that the art is more important than the writing. That’s not true, and neither is the reverse. What’s true is that art and words BOTH have to do their parts to make a good comic.
Yesterday in Reading Circle, we read a competitor’s book that was one the absolutely most amateurish pieces of drek I’ve ever seen. I don’t really want to name the book or the creators, because that feels like a different sort of bashing, but this book embarassed itself. From the folks involved and the company involved, you’d expect a better minimum set of standards. Made worse by the fact that one of the principle creators is a key player at the company, and displayed an utter lack of storytelling knowledge or understanding of how comics work. We put out our share of stinkers, but if one of my editors turned this book in, they’d be on probation, at least. Comics are expensive these days, and so every issue, every shot, must count. We need to have better minimum standards. All of which is hopelessly cryptic without naming the book, of course, but there you have it. It made me want to slap someone.
There’s more craft evidenced on the plastic bag of FF #587 than on the whole of the issue we read yesterday. One of our editors read it and was appalled by it, so I thought it was worth further study by the group. Sometimes, a bad example teaches more by example. An absolute lack of understanding of character, theme, scene, pacing, lousy tinny dialogue, incompetent artwork…it was just a red hot mess. And editorial oversight was ineffective, if even engaged. The editor in question is now in my mind, so if he ever applies over here, he’d better have a good story to tell.
–Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort in a no-punches-pulled (except the name of the book, of course) Twitter takedown of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad comic from some other publisher. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty harsh thing to say about Drawn & Quarterly and Adrian Tomine’s Scenes from an Impending Marriage. Haha, jk, LOL — what book do you think he’s talking about?