Monday, August 29, 2011

The Do It Yourself Comic - Plotting

Here I am, working my way toward making a comic. I've gone through a couple of steps already, working on the concept of my book, as well as some preliminary design work regarding the art. It's all been a ton of fun, and I'm ready to get started on the next step in the process. I've said it before, but I'll reiterate it now: none of this is supposed to read as a How-To, but simply as a description of how one amateur does things.

Normally when I start writing what I hope will turn out as a comic, whether I have an artist attached or not, I begin with plotting. It wasn't always like this, but it's something I've gotten more and more comfortable with, and something I view as necessary to make sure I go into the actual writing as prepared as possible. At first it was hard, and felt pretty arduous, but after doing it consistently something weird happened. It stopped seeming like work, and started seeming like fun. Actually, sometimes it feels like I'm having more fun plotting than actually writing. That doesn't really matter in the end, because I can't really not do one or the other, not without making myself feel like shit.

The comic I'm trying to make is going to be 16 pages, a mini-comic that tells a story with a beginning and an end. Technically there will probably be a middle, but that might be kind of hard to plan for, so right now I'm plotting out the beginning and end. I want to try and present two characters in a way so the reader feels as if they know about them and their lives, and finds them intriguing, interesting, and provocative in some way. It's definitely a tall order for 16 pages wherein I introduce the characters while simultaneously trying to tell a story and end it satisfyingly.

I talked a little about what I have in mind during the concept stage, and I'll expand on that here. The idea I came up with for this mini evolved out of a two-page spread layout I had planned for a story I'm currently plotting for another book called "Ninjaville." I'd still like to use the layout for that comic, but that one's going to need an illustrator, a lot more time, and most likely some funding. For now I'll have to settle for using the idea within this mini, and having it filtered through my own abilities with photographs, light-boxing, digital editing, and print methods.

The layout would have 10 panels, with 6 running across the top (an even number to easily divide down the middle, with that bastard fold), one giant panel in the middle, and four panels running across the bottom (again, even). I want to follow a character walking through the top 6 panels, illustrating and laying out the art so the character's head/face isn't shown. The idea not to show the character's face is based on two things: first, I don't really want my face in this mini a bunch. It's partly a shyness/self-conscious thing, but it's also because I don't really want to be the star of a comic, I just want to write and create them. Second, I really like the idea of showing emotion using nothing but body language, particularly hands. Why the hell did I choose hands? That's part of the original layout; those top 6 panels following the character walking will have six smaller panels within them, framing the right hand of our protagonist. It will be clenched into a fist, and I want the readers' eyes to follow it just as closely as they follow his walking, maybe more so.

The concept of creeping anger, or having anger sneak up on you and take hold so completely it poisons your thoughts, actions, and emotions is intriguing to me. By putting the focus on that fist I'm letting the reader know that something is going to happen. I can either make it obvious, or not. I'm choosing to go the obvious route. This guy is heading somewhere to punch someone, and this has to come across with no facial expressions. It's going to have dialogue, all in narrative text boxes, but none of it is going to say anything like, "I'm going to punch him."

After I knew I wanted to incorporate that two-page spread, and play with the idea of a very sneaky anger, my head circled the idea, looked at all the angles and corners it could possibly go in. Focusing on that hand gave me the idea to do a comic that is largely based around nothing but hands. They are how we interact with the world on a daily basis. That particular thought sent me down a path that led me to the theme of giving and taking, both of which we do with our hands, including throwing punches. With a theme now - give and take - I thought about why this character wanted to punch the other character so badly. One of the things I came up with was a disgruntled employee. It isn't original, admittedly, but for a 16-page mini-comic I'm not planning on doing any follow-up issues to, I decided that was fine. Right now it's more about showing myself I can do this if I want to, and I am the only one who is going to stop me. Still though, I want the story to have something original, and plan on bringing that with my characterizations and layout.

My character is going to react to something so poorly that he believes punching his boss is the answer. Actually, he probably doesn't think about it at all. Once that anger takes hold things escalate quickly, and if he thinks anything it's a hazy mess of emotion. With the why in place I could focus more fully on the ending, which I'm not planning on being just a punch; I want to make the reader care that this person has punched someone else, and again, with 16 pages I'll have my work cut out for me.

One thing I've read from numerous editors, writers, and artists is that when pitching a comic it's important to completely explain the project, and not attempt to hold out on the ending or any surprises. You're not trying to have them experience the pitch exactly like the reader will experience the comic. I'm not pitching this comic though, so I can violate that rule. I'm not going to tell what the ending is, other than someone gets punched. I still want someone to read this eventually, so I'll hold onto at least one secret.

Knowing that I will be writing about anger, using hands to illustrate how we give and take from each other constantly and how that can maybe incite anger, I went from there. I would use myself as the character who does the punching, and cast a friend as the character who gets punched. Now I can start writing the script, which won't come out finished. It'll need editing and refining, and will most likely give me some ideas regarding layout that could potentially affect story as well.

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