Thursday, February 3, 2011

Writing Without Words

I've been asked by students several times if a scene in a comic book, such as the one page story from Little Lulu shown above, counts as writing if there are no words in it?

In comics, the creation involves a number of disciplines such as writing and drawing which work together to do one thing called storytelling. We use both words and drawings, occasionally shown separate from each other, but usually combined, to tell a story.

In the above sequence the writer and artist are the same person, a cartoonist named John Stanley. For him, writing and drawing are the same thing, whether there are words or not. He came up with an idea for the one page story and composed it using drawings rather than words.

The two page sequence above  from Owly also uses mostly images, and only a couple of sound effects to show what's going on. All of the Owly stories are like that. Again, the writing and drawing is done by one person, cartoonist, Andy Runton. I suppose he probably writes brief outlines of what he wants to have happen in his stories before he starts drawing them. But he still has to work out the plot and all of the details even if he does it as he goes. This counts as writing.

I always work with an artist separate from myself. For every story I work on, I write a complete script which tells the artist everything that needs to happen in the story, whether anyone is speaking, or not. Sometimes when a scene is silent, or doesn't have any words to read, I have to give the artist more detail. Often, when there is dialogue, the artist can determine what the expressions of the characters should look like, or which character is more important in a panel just by reading the dialogue for the scene. When there isn't any dialogue, they'll need more clues to let them know what expressions a character should be showing.

Below are three pages of a script I wrote for a scene from a Dexter's Laboratory story that uses almost no words. The script pages are followed by the corresponding finished comic book pages so that you can compare the two.  You can see that there are written descriptions for all of the panels shown, and what information is contained in the descriptions. You can also see where the artist changed things a bit. Click on any image to view it larger.

Now that you know that a comic book without words in it still needs to be written, did you know that it's still called reading a comic book even if there are no words in it?  

Examples used in this post were taken from:

Little Lulu - volume 9 "Lucky Lulu"  by John Stanley. published by Dark Horse Books.

Owly - "Helping Hands" by Andy Runton. Published by Top Shelf Productions. 2007.

Dexter's Laboratory - "It Lurks in the Night" in Cartoon Network Block Party #24. October 2006. 
John Rozum - writer, Scott Roberts - penciller, Scott McRae - inker, Ryan Cline - letterer, Heroic Age - colorist, Rachel Gluckstern - assistant editor, Joan Hilty - editor. 


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