Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Robert Greenberger On His Return to Writing Comics

Robert Greenberger has been many things in his career. He's been an editor of magazines, newspapers and comic books. He's written for magazines, newspapers, comic books and websites. He's written non fiction books for kids and for adults. He's written novels, and he's been involved in local politics.

Today is a special day for Robert Greenberger. Today, at a comic book store near you, BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20 goes on sale. This exciting issue was written by Robert Greenberger, and what makes it so special is that this is the first comic book he's written in TWENTY YEARS!

Robert has generously agreed to tell us about what it was like for him to return to writing comics as well as how he approached writing his story and the challenges he faced making it happen.

Here's the cover art for BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20. You can learn more about this cover's art here. 

Here's Robert:

I have not written a comic book in nearly 20 years so was delighted when I was offered a chance to write an issue of Batman: The Brave and The Bold. All through my career in comics, I was either an editor or administrator, letting others do the writing. These days, I am a fulltime freelance writer so wanted to see what I could do with writing some comics.

Here's two of the last comics Robert wrote 20 years ago. 

While the comic initially replicated the television show’s format, a teaser with a different team-up then the main story, I arrived as the comic book’s format was being altered. Since DC Comics sells foreign language rights to their stories, they take feedback from their international clients and for many; a 22-page story aimed at younger readers was too long.

They wanted shorter stories so it had been decided to eliminate the teaser and reduce the main story into two 10-page chapters.  As a writer, this changes how you write the story since you now need to find a point where one chapter can end with an exciting cliffhanger and then open the second part with a quick recap and resolution to the cliffhanger before completing the story.

The term "cliffhanger" comes from old movie serials. Serials were episodic movies shown in chapters each week before the main movie at a movie theater.  The filmmakers would try to make people want to come back to the theater to see the next chapter by ending each episode with the hero in a dangerous situation that seemed like he could never escape from it such as hanging from a cliff.  The above panel from "The Amazing Spider-Man #26 by Stan Lee and Steve Dikto shows the comic book equivalent of a cliffhanger. The issue ends with Spider-Man being captured by the villains. The reader, just like the last man speaking in this panel, wants to know "What's gonna happen next?" and hopefully buy the next issue. Stay tuned for a future post devoted to entirely to cliffhangers. 

In my case, I had Batman and Big Barda on the hunt for the missing Mister Miracle and the altered story structure meant I needed more action than actual detecting, which meant introducing the real threat earlier than I planned, setting up the cliffhanger.

In order to accomplish my creative goal of Batman seeing a successfully happy married super-hero couple, I decided to tell the story from a first-person perspective. From beginning to ending, he comments on their situation and Barda’s near-panic over her husband’s fate.

Here's a panel with Batman commenting on Big Barda's marriage to Mister Miracle.  Because Batman is the main character in this story, and also serves as the narrator, the narration is refered to as "first-person narration." The main character is usually the first person that we meet in a story which is why narration from their point of view is called first-person narration.

Had I been able to include the teaser, I would have had Batman and Huntress stop minor criminals Punch & Jewelee, a happily married pair of villains so it set up a subtle theme that would carry into the main story.

If you watch BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD on television, the "teaser" is the sequence before the main titles at the beginning of the episode which shows a portion of one of Batman's adventures that leads into the main story, but maybe features different characters than the main story. You can see from this splash page from the beginning of BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20 that Robert was able to take everything he wanted to tell in his teaser and condense it into three narrative captions. This entire issue is an excellent example of how narrative captions can be used to convey information to the reader about the characters and situations without intruding with the flow of the story. Robert tells you exactly what you need to know so that you can read the story with full enjoyment. This is the result of his long career as both a writer and an editor. 

In the end, I think we rushed some of the ending because of the space issues (you lose panels for storytelling by adding a second splash page to open part two). Robert Pope did a marvelous job with the packed adventure, from his imaginative cover to the final panel. It made for an excellent reintroduction to the world of comic book writing.

Thank you, Robert Greenberger for taking the time to talk about writing BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20! If you have any questions for him, or want to let him know what you thought of BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20, please leave a comment below. 

Parents and teachers can learn more about Robert Greenberger by visiting his website.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Choosing a Cover

Just in time for when BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD #20 hits stores, artist ROBERT POPE returned to tell me a little bit about how he illustrates the cover. Here's what I learned. 

Robert also drew the story inside the comic which was written by talented Bob Greenberger. This makes it easier from him when designing a cover since he already knows what all the characters, settings, and props that are in the story look like since he's already drawn them. First Robert begins with the plot of the story. In this story the world's greatest escape artist, Mister Miracle goes missing and Big Barda enlists Batman to help her find him. He could have chosen to pick a single exciting scene to put on the cover, but wanted to do something different. In this case he wanted to choose an image that suggested what the plot of the story was about, but without giving anything away including who the villains might be. 

Then Robert set about coming up with a few thumbnail sketches [small rough drawings that give an idea of what the finished artwork will look like, but without concern for detail and clean lines. These are made mostly to get a sense of the composition--how all the elements of the drawing are arranged in the drawing. The name "thumbnail" comes from the fact that these drawings are often tiny--about the size of an adult thumbnail.] of ideas he has for what images might look good on the cover. 

Take a look at the thumbnails below. You can make them larger by clicking on them. Which of them do you think would make the best cover? Think about what made you decide on your choice. What was it about the covers you didn't choose that made you not pick them? These are the decisions that the editor makes when Robert sends in his thumbnails for the cover. The editor will take a look at all of them, and then decide which one would work best for that story. Sometimes they will choose one but ask for small changes, such as the size of the characters, or maybe reversing where they are in the image, or maybe a prop will be added, or taken away. 

You'll notice in each of the thumbnails that there is a lot of empty space at the top of each image. Almost a third of each cover image is empty space. The reason for this is that that's where the big title logo of the comic book goes (in this case: Batman: The Brave and the Bold) along with the DC Comics logo, the information which tells you which issue number this is, how much it costs, maybe some descriptive slogans of what's inside. Robert also makes sure to leave a space for the UPC codes (the white box with the stripes and numbers that gets scanned at a cash register) or to make sure that it won't cover anything essential in the artwork. You can actually see the rectangle for the UPC codes sketched into some of the thumbnails below. 

Now, the editor has chosen the image he wants for the cover. Robert then works from his original thumbnail and creates a larger image with more detail and nice clean pencil lines. Before you continue, did you choose which thumbnail you thought should be the cover? If you did, then keep reading because the finished pencils for the cover image are shown below.

Robert's pencils are then sent to the inker (in this case the phenomenal Scott McRae) who adds blacks as well as texture and shape depending on the thickness of the line he uses. You can compare Robert's pencils above to his pencils with Scott's inks over them below. Then the colorist adds the color to the image.

All it needs now is to have all of the lettering and UPC codes added to it and it is finished. You can see what the final cover looks like by visiting a comic book store near you on Wednesday, August 25, 2010.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Special Guest Robert Pope on Drawing Comics -- Part 2

Above: Robert Pope hard at work drawing a page from one of your favorite comic books. Now he's going to tell us more about what goes into drawing a comic book story.

If you haven't done so already, make sure you read Part One of our Q & A with penciller extraordinaire, Robert Pope before we continue here with Part Two.

8. What goes into your decision making on panel layout? 

Amount of space needed for word balloons.  Juxtaposing camera shots to create variety on a single page (so that we see a close-up, then a medium shot, then maybe an extreme close-up, just to mix it up a bit.)  What the layout of the previous page was, so as to avoid repetition, unless the script's tone calls for it, as it sometimes can.

Above: Here is a page which shows what Robert means when he's talking about using close-ups, extreme-close ups, medium shots and long shots. The top panel uses an extreme close-up of the newspaper to bring us the details of the photograph and the accompanying headlines. The third panel is a medium shot showing the speaker at a podium on a stage. the flag is an important detail showing that this story takes place in England. The next panel of the speaker is a close-up used to show us the award trophy he is holding. The final panel is a long shot showing the speaker, the stage, the banner above him, the audience he is speaking to and a new character in the foreground. Credits to this story also appear in this final panel. Notice in all of these panels, Robert leaves plenty of room for dialogue balloons and the credits so that they don't interfere with the artwork, or the way that you read the story. 

9. Do you ever do things differently than what's in the script?

Very rarely will I deviate from the writer's intentions, and only for good reasons.  Sometimes, a certain shot is called for (long, close up, ect.,) and the nature of the characters will make this either impossible or clumsy.  For instance, a wide shot works well for showcasing a lot of characters from the chest up, or a panoramic take on a cityscape from the distance, but if you want to show a entire figure from head to toe vertically and spotlight something like clothing details, a medium-shot would be more in order.  

Sometimes very rarely I will be compelled to change something based on how I consider I "know" the characers.  I once drew a "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" story where, at the story's end, Bloo was supposed to punch Cheese in the face.  Even though they had been at each other throughout the story, I felt this oddly violent and out of character, as Bloo is, to my way of thinking, more of a sneaky slacker, mischief-maker and prankster.  I drew the panel with Bloo kicking Cheese in the butt, sending him flying.  The panel was much more tolerable drawn this way, as to my mind a kick in the butt seemed less violent than a punch in the face.  I e-mailed the page to my editor, noted the change, and offered to draw it the way the writer wanted it if I had overstepped my bounds.  My editor agreed that the face punch was too visceral, and the butt kick stayed.  This sort of correction is extremely rare.  

One thing that DOES force the penciller to tinker with the script on a fairly regular basis is a situation that happens when multiple characters are talking in a single panel and, reading from left to right, the character at the far left of the panel has to deliver another line of dialogue AFTER the character that is at the far right, which should be the natural "end" of the panel.  In this instance, I either have to A) make space in the layout for another word balloon and hope that the reader can follow the narrative flow in spite of having to double back "into" the panel, or B) break down the panel into two separate panels to ensure that the narrative flows correctly.  Obviously, "B" is a better solution, but it makes more work for the penciller as you have now added a new panel that must be shoehorned into the page layout and not require you to draw so small that the reader has to look at your art with an electron microscope to figure out what is going on.  

Above: Some panels taken from the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends story "Color Me Bloo" written by Scott Cunningham, pencilled by Robert Pope, inked by Jeff Albrecht, lettered by Travis Lanham, colored by Heroic Age, and edited by Ian Saddler for CARTOON NETWORK BLOCK PARTY #45. Notice how Robert placed the characters in each panel so that their dialogue would read smoothly from left to right without crisscrossing word balloon tails. Even when characters speak more than once the arrangement allows for the balloons to be placed in such a manner that reading them is easy and not confusing. This is tricky for the artist and something the writer should also be thinking of when writing a scene. 

Further, it is also difficult when a character or characters in a single panel are written doing multiple actions.  This also happens quite often, as in "Page 1, panel 5:  Johnny Bravo runs down the street, bursts through the door of his home, and lifts his couch to look for his missing date."  This would work much better as at least two, or maybe even three panels.  

10. What are your favorite characters/ comic book to draw?

I love cartoony comics, and the Scooby gang are of course faves.  Working recently on "Batman the Brave and the Bold" has been great as well, due to the fact it's a weird hybrid of mainstream comic book theory and of course a translation of an animated property to the page, something I think I'm pretty good at.
I have drawn stories based on many animated shows:  Fosters Home, Grim Adventures, Johnny Bravo, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and drawn covers featuring most of the "modern" Cartoon Network properties.  While they are all challenging, I love them all for various reasons.  

Above: The first story of mine drawn by Robert Pope featured Space Ghost for CARTOON NETWORK STARRING...#18. It was inked by Dan Davis, lettered by Ryan Cline, colored by Digital Chameleon, and edited by Joan Hilty and Harvey Richards. 

11. What comics did you read growing up? 

Carl Barks' Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge.  Fantastic Four (John Buscema's run, I got my Kirby by way of Marvel's Greatest Comics, as I was born in '67)  Amazing Spider-Man, Any Gold Key comic I could find, most anything with Ben Grimm or Victor Von Doom or heck, Super Goof on the cover, any Richie Rich title, any Archie title drawn by Dan DeCarlo (I could tell) Herb Trimpe Hulk comics, Kirby's odd run back at Marvel circa '75, any Flash drawn by Carmine Infantino, Green Lantern as long as Joe Staton was pencilling, Superman, Batman if Don Newton or Dan Atkins or Jim Aparo were in there somewhere, Justice League of America (some fun runs by Perez, to be sure) and Wonder Woman when Ross Andru was pencilling.  And that's just the short list!

Above: A page from an Uncle Scrooge story written and illustrated by Carl Barks. 

Above: A Fantastic Four cover by John Buscema featuring both Dr. Victor von Doom and Ben Grimm, also known as the Thing. 

Above: Green Lantern by Joe Staton.

Above: Wonder Woman by Ross Andru. 

12. What made you decide to be an artist? 

I loved the medium, and could honestly do very little else.

13. What made you decide to draw comic books? 

I got in totally by accident, kind of sideways.  I got into animation in '88-'89, and some years later ('95) was animating for my pal C. Martin Croker, who was the animation director for the Cartoon Network show "Space Ghost Coast to Coast."  Some time after THAT ('99, to be specific) DC, by way of Cartoon Network, approached Clay about pencilling a adaptation of the show.  Clay, who is really an amazing talent, probably THE most naturally talented animator I know, knew he would need help, so he got me and animator Matt Jenkins (who had also animated on SG) to assist on the first issue, which was edited by the very great Heidi MacDonald.  I helped Clay on a couple of subsequent issues, we were co-pencilling, more or less, and when the work slowed, I approached then editor Joan Hilty (who was my first big booster at DC and incredibly patient with how stupid I was at the time) about additional work and ended up doing some sample pages for Scooby, among other things.  When Clay later wrote a Scooby script, I got to pencil it, and moved from there onto other properties, doing interiors and later cover, which I consider to be a lot of fun.  

14. How long does it take you to draw a comic book story? 

When I get the script, I read it the first night and do thumbnails.  Then I blow the thumbnails up to 1/2 size to create tiedowns.  I can do 5 of these in a night, so a 20 page book takes me 4 nights.  THEN, I take a night to rule boards and blow up the 1/2 up tiedowns at Kinko's.  Then onto the final pencils; I can pencil between 1/2 and 1 page a night, including spotting blacks.  So 20 pages takes me on average 23 or 24 days.  All in all, I average about 30 days to get through a full-length book, working 7 nights a week.  If I had the luxury of doing comics for my "day" job, I am sure that I would be much faster.  Whenever I draw on weekend days I am startled at how much faster I can produce.  However, starting in on pencilling after a full day of work and then dealing with family and other responsibilities means a drop in energy that inevitably takes a toll on speed, but hopefully not quality.  

15. Do you get to pick the inker? 
No, but over the years I have been asked my opinion on possible inkers by various editors, and this chance for input has been very gratifying.  My fave regular inker, Scott McRae, is a great artist and a swell guy.  And he doesn't cheat my details.  

Above: The cover to SCOOBY-DOO #118 by Robert Pope and Scott McRae.

16. Do you work at home? 

Yep, home studio.  I animate during the day in an office, but my comics are produced in the wee small hours, so being right there at home is crucial.

Above is the animation desk that Robert Pope works on when drawing comics at home. 

17. How long have you been working in comics?

Eleven years and counting.  Here's hoping for eleven more!

Thank you Robert Pope for taking the time to share so much valuable information with us. If you have any questions for him, please ask in the comment section below. 

Special Guest Robert Pope on Drawing Comics -- Part 1

Robert Pope is an animator and a fantastic comic book artist. Robert has provided the pencils for numerous stories that I have written as well as many more written by other people. You've probably seen his artwork on the covers and inside of comic books such as Scooby-Doo, Batman The Brave and the Bold, as well as stories featuring Dexter's Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends in Cartoon Network Block Party and Cartoon Cartoons

He has generously agreed to answer some questions about what it is he does as a penciller, how he works, what inspires him, and many other things. He's provided such great detailed answers that we can't fit them all into a single post.  Here is Part One. 

1.  How do you interact with the writer (if at all) the editor, the inker, letterer, and colorist?  

Most of my interactions are with the editor.  Typically, the editor will call me up and say he or she has a script that they think would work for me.  This can be due to any number of reasons, including the subject material, number of pages I can do in any given month, etc.  Sometimes I call the editor up and ask for work before they call me.  The editor describes the story to me over the phone, then they e-mail me the script for my review.  The editor tells me how long I have to draw the script, and once I have read through it if I need more time, I ask for it (usually no more than a day or two, sometimes an extra weekend.)  If I am given a long script, I will "feed" the editor pages in batches of five or ten, and upon his or her approval, ship those pages to the inker to keep the process in motion. 

 Most of the writers I work with have very specific visuals in mind, and often provide useful reference to help me "see" props, supporting characters, and settings.  Aside from reviewing these materials, I have not had much regular interaction with my writers over the years concerning scripts.  Sometimes, I will adjust panel layouts, move dialogue bubbles from one panel to another, break up a single panel into multiple panels and other small things to help the narrative flow and make for smoother reading and recognition.  If I become concerned that I may be altering or compromising the writers' vision, I'll shoot the editor a quick description of my intentions and make sure they're O.K. with my actions.  Usually, my goal is to get the writer's idea across in a way that's fun to read multiple times.  I think the best comics are the ones you can return to and keep finding new bits of visual and verbal interest. 

 If I have suggestions for the colorist, I usually send them via the editor, but unless I feel a panel or page has a very specific or necessary coloring effect, I have no stomach for telling other pros how to do their job.  My regular inker Scott McRae and I talk quite often, but again, unless I'm asking him something specific (like to fill a space scene with stars made of white correction fluid) I wouldn't presume to direct him.  Once the story is completed up to inking and lettering, the team (writer, editor, penciller, inker) get a copy via e-mail and have the chance for correction.  Usually, there are very few flubs, most often a dialogue balloon pointer aimed at the wrong character, something like that.

2.  What do you do when you get a script for a story?  

The first night I get a script (and it's always at night, comics are my night job!) I read the script all the way through, and note any reference I may need above and beyond what the writer has provided.  The internet, and specifically Google images, have made this much easier than it used to be as we now no longer need to keep massive "swipe files" [ a swipe file is a collection of reference material that artists collect. These are images of anything they might be asked to draw from horses and army uniforms to old cars and airplanes and monkeys and clothes from the 1500s or the 1960s] on hand at all hours to provide examples of the many new and different things we draw in our comics.  After I have read and re-read the script, I do thumbnail sketches [ a thumbnail sketch is a small (about the size of an adult thumbnail, or bigger) drawing without a lot of detail that artists use to try out compositions for finished drawings] right on the script page, just to get a sense of flow and to get a good idea of how much work each individual page will take.  After a few years, you get good at estimating how much energy certain things take to draw.

Above is one of Robert Pope's thumbnails for a panel with Bloo talking to Mac from a Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends story. There isn't much detail but it shows where the characters are in the panel and where the word balloon will go. It also show's Bloo's expression. 

3.  Does the finished artwork veer from those thumbnails?  

For a twenty page script, I figure on average I re-think at least one or two pages when I blow up the thumbnails.  But mostly, I stick with my first instinct, my first try.

4. For new characters do you do sketches of them separately, or do you just make them up when you get to them? 

If the character is going to appear in just a few panels, I'll probably make them up on the fly.  However, if he or she (or it) has a bigger role in the story and shows up repeatedly, I'll create a model sheet for myself to maintain the look throughout (recent stories like "Howling Good Time" and "Monster of 1000 Faces" had several important characters that popped up throughout and had to be very clearly defined-the director in "Monsters" was based on, in part, Jim Steranko!)  And of course the writer often has an idea of how these ancillary or new characters should look, and forward helpful reference.

Above is the real Jim Steranko, an innovative comic book artist best known for his work at marvel Comics in the 1960s. He also did some illustration work for the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark

Here is the movie director from "Man of a Thousand Monsters" from SCOOBY-DOO #145. Do you see the resemblance? 

5. What about backgrounds, props and locations? 

I like to get as much reference as I can stomach before I begin and really absorb it.  Some stories are fun to draw because the backgrounds are vague and nondescript enough to allow you to concentrate on the characters themselves and their "acting."  DC editor Joan Hilty considered any Scooby story that featured a beach practically a gift to the penciller, because it's something that's very easy to draw.  I am not one of those cartoonists who can draw much "out of my head," and reference plays a BIG part in my work.  Unless it's a very imaginary setting, prop, or set piece, I feel better with reference.

6. Do you have favorite things you like to draw? 

I love drawing characters in motion.  I have staged Shaggy and Scooby running from ghosts and monsters more times than I can count, and I always love the challenge.  Same with Batman swinging or throwing a punch.  I love drawing characters that are more or less grounded in reality, but still very cartoony.  The great designer Iwao Takamoto, who worked for both Disney and later as Hanna-Barbera's main man for character design, was one of my big heroes and best personified this kind of cartooning.  His creations are both cartoony and realistic at the same time, sort of like Alex Toth, but even more rubbery and skewed for animation.  As the bulk of my career has been translating animated characters to the printed page, my personal "style" has been deliberately subverted and it's main outlet is in the elasticity and momentum of the characters themselves.  

7. Things you hate to draw? 
Buildings.  Cars.  Crowd scenes with masses of incidental characters that are both generic and specific at the same time.  Most of my heroes or influences (with the exception of Charles Schulz) were cartoonists who filled the page with copious amounts of details both relevant and incidental (Jack Kirby, John Byrne, George Perez, John Romita Sr., to name a few) and while I love packing in the bells and whistles, it certainly can be regarded as much more like work than staging the foreground characters.

Above is a panel where Robert Pope really packs in the details. This is also from "Man of a Thousand Monsters" from SCOOBY-DOO #145.

Before we continue, here is some information about the people that Robert mentions in his responses to questions  6 and 7. 

Iwao Takamoto (1925-2007) worked as an animator on Disney movies such as Cinderella and 101 Dalmations, but is best known for designing the characters on Scooby-Doo, as well as Astro on The Jetsons. He also directed the animated adaptation of Charlotte's Web.

Alex Toth (1928-2006) was a comic book artist and a character designer for animated television series such as Space Ghost, The Herculoids, Jonny Quest, Super Friends, and other "realistically' styled shows. He drew in a very clean high contrast style using mostly white and black, and is a favorite of many comic book artists and animators. You can see some of his character designs below.

Charles Schulz (1922-2000) was the creator of "Peanuts" the long running newspaper comic strip starring Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

Jack Kirby (1917-1994), John Byrne (b. 1950), George Perez (b. 1954), and John Romita Sr. (b. 1930) are all comic book artists popular for their styles of drawing and their approaches to visual storytelling. Some exciting panels by Jack Kirby can be seen below.

Check back tomorrow for part two with Robert Pope!