but gave it up when Aliens Among Us became delayed). This show is very different than other Shows I’ve been to. It’s larger than most shows, but not anywhere near as big as San Diego or New York. As a result, the panel offerings were not as diverse. Sadly, it appeared that everything I wanted to see went on at the same time. So, I had to pick and choose between offerings. Due to some travel snafus, I didn’t get a chance to see the Exhibit Hall and will have to report on that tomorrow. Instead, you’ll have to make due with some panel recaps. The first is for the Comics Experience Storytelling panel.
This panel featured Andy Schmidt and Robert Atkins from Comics Experience. They began the panel by discussing what Comics Experience is and what types of classes they offer. I’ve taken their classes and can’t recommend them highly enough.
Andy began the panel by discussing the difference between Illustrations versus Comics. Essentially, an illustration is a single image, indicative of a scene, or a
graphical representation of a theme, it is a moment frozen in time. Comics, on the other hand have multiple images and time passes. Robert added that he compares comics to animation except that he gets to pick the key moments. He commented as an artist, he picks the angles, he sets the mood, which is true even when he receives a detailed script. In response, Andy mentioned that there are some differences between comics and movies, for example there is no sound in comics, so where as a person can be identified by their voice in a movie, in comics they all appear in the same font.
The panelists next turned to a topic called “Visual Success.” Andy walked through the important goals visual elements in comics should accomplish.
First, is Communication. The images must clearly tell the story.
The next is Action. A comic should not be a lot of still moments and it is the artists
job to make it feel active. This is true whether the action is internal or external. Robert added, that action can be added even to scenes with talking heads. For example, he suggested rotating the camera angles.
The final goal is Dynamics. This was described as how well the artist
excites the audience.
In looking at all three goals, Robert added that it was hard for him to master these. And he recommended that artists have example of each in their portfolio if they want to get work for hire.Andy stressed that these three goals should be completed in the order he gave them, Communication-->Action-->Dynamics. Otherwise, your book will suffer. Then the conversation turned technical, but interesting, as Andy showed that each of the good examples he showed that accomplished of each of the goals used grids and tiers. Whereby, the panels all sit on imaginary lines. When a page is
designed this way, the reader avoids confusion and doesn’t get lost. Robert added this is why you should never stack your panels on the left hand side of the page. (American comics are meant to be read from left to right and then down). He added that if the reader gets lost or confused that’s on the artist. Andy pointed out the reality of the industry is that if a bigger name artist violates the confusion issue (eg, but stacking on the left, the editor will usually let it slide (which sometimes results in those “arrows of shame” that direct the reader where to go next or through the use of “balloons of shame” to direct how a page should be read.
The next topic explored was the concept of active reader participation. Basically, this term represents what happens in the gutters between panels, which requires active reader participation. Robert added that the most important thing to determine is how long you have between panels. The essence of time will determine the panel layout and composition. He also added the importance of what he referred to as the “action
hookup.” Basically, if he draws himself hitting Andy over the head with a
club, he had better make sure that he draws a club on the table in an earlier panel. Andy pointed out that this is the reason there is an establishing shot in comics to show who is there and where they are. Once again, Robert stressed that it is the artist’s job to generate active reader participation. Andy added, in this way the artist is more like a movie director.
Robert next turned to the topic of photoreference. He said that he finds a lot of artists are reluctant to use it. he said, personally, that once he started using it, his art
jumped to another level. This is because an artist needs to create a believable world (not necessarily a real one) and the best way to do this is to have props and backgrounds that look believable. He suggested using photos, google images, and photography books as a good source. Robert then warned that if use photoreference too much, it takes the energy out of the work and makes it not as dynamic. Next, Robert stressed the importance of having a daily sketch diary. Andy added that drawing every day is essential. Robert showed some examples of his daily sketches including backgrounds and anatomical studies. This led in to the fact that artists should challenge themselves every day. Most artists are freelancers, which mean they only get paid when they draw. Robert then mentioned his daily sketch blog, a project he intends to continue for a year (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Finally, the last topic was on the importance experimentation and the importance of
not pigeon holing yourself. Robert stressed that there isn’t really a house style at Marvel or DC and gave examples of artists whose styles have changed and grown.
The floor was opened to questions.
Someone asked about rules as to how much dialogue should appear on the page. Andy stressed that he was giving tools not rules and that you can use these tricks to speed up or slow things down. Generally, there should be no more than 3 word balloons in a panel. Apparently, in the 70s Marvel’s policy was to have 3 balloons. (the first was subtle, the second was written for a ten year old and the third for a
three year old) that all said the same thing. When Andy rereads those old books he finds, for the most part he can read an entire old comic by just reading the first caption. Robert added the importance of leaving enough room for the balloons and a lot of new artists don’t do that.
There was a question about when to hire a freelance editor. Andy pointed out that the Comics Experience Workshop is helpful for that and that one member in the audience (Paul Allor) edited another’s (Amy Chu’s) book.
In response to page size, Andy told the story of how pages used to be much larger, but it ended up messing up the scale when the art was shrunk.
Robert responded, in response to a question on how much detail to put in a
script, that he likes scripts that leave him room to do his job.. He
also commented how great it is when each page of the script begins with a
new page in the book because that leaves him room to add a thumbnail.