if two different comic book artists were given the same script would they interpret it differently in their artwork

someone (John Lowe) has had a great idea: to give two or three different comic book artists the same script, examine how their results differ after turning it into a comic strip + then interview them about that.  all this has been published in the following book –

Working Methods: Comics Creators Detail their Storytelling and Artistic Processes.

by John Lowe, TwoMorrows Publishing


– which can currently (feb 2017) be downloaded for $8.95

1    you may think it’s worth that much just for the versions of the first strip, ‘paddy’, a tale of gangsters with script + art by scott hampton.  once you understand the thinking behind the story + the decisions concerning the way it’s been told, plus the research behind the artwork, you would think the second version (by tim levins) ought to be a) unnecessary + b) worse than the original, especially as levins normally draws a comic aimed at a young audience + we have already seen the way the script has been visualised by the author

in fact the second version tells the story so brilliantly through the artwork alone the text intended to go on it by the writer would look redundant
paddy-girl-with-gangster(c) scott hampton + tim levins 2007

you can just about see the differences in storytelling between the two artists from the murder scene above – hampton shows what look like self contained still photographs: as the reader follows the intended continuous written text which the panels illustrate he or she will connect the snapshots.  levins builds movement + overlapping action into his panels, which may account for the impression of any superimposed dialogue etc being unnecessary in his version

2    the interview format for discussing the different artist’s working methods was a good idea as well

although detail about which specific pencil they use is not that enthralling, techniques involving photocopying, scanning, using a light box etc are more interesting + there are some gems in amongst this technical information, eg mark schultz mentions using a mirror to check if the faces he draws look right by seeing if they still appear symmetrical in reverse

+ significantly the character of the artists comes over, eg sean murphy:

‘SM: I erase the blue pencil. The blue stains the page, so it doesn’t really go away. Plus the wax messes up inks. I find it less distracting when it’s less pronounced. I start penciling lightly with a No. 2, and then tighten it up as I go.

JL: How tight do you want your final pencils to be before you start inking?

SM: Not very. I go fast … When I ink now, I use a brush and quill. It’s organic, and I try to embrace the mistakes, rather than to plan how it works. I just give myself a loose drawing and start blocking it in ink according to feel. Yeah, I’ll pencil the hell out of a particular space or image that’s important. But sometimes, especially with wide shots that show a lot of distance, I’ll just imply perspective and structure with lines and squares.’ [working methods p88]

‘JL: What is your inking process like?

SM: I ink a panel at a time so that I don’t smudge … I’m careful, though, because sweaty hands can absorb ink and leave little fingerprints all over the page.  Don’t kill anyone with a page because the police will easily track your prints.’ [ibid p89]

pencil the hell out of important images + find something other than original art for a murder weapon: sean murphy ought to be interviewed more often if he’s going to come out with stuff like that

also during the conversation with john lowe the artists tend to relate personal experiences about comic art apart from their own, eg mark schultz lived near al williamson:

‘MS: I work in chunks. I’m very methodical about it. However, not everyone is. I live close to Al Williamson so I see how he works. His work, of course, is unimpeachable. To me it’s up there at the top, but I could never work the way he works.

JL: How does he work?

MS: He says to himself, “Well, I’ve got an idea for this panel, so I’ll pencil it here.” Then he jumps to another page, and says, “I’ll do a little idea here.” Then he’ll go back and ink another part before he’s even done penciling. It’s a very free-form way of working. I get the impression from our discussions that he’s always done it that way. Back in the fifties, when he was working with people like Frank Frazetta and Angelo Torres, they all pitched in. He’d give them a basic guideline, they’d all look at the script, he’d give them an outline of what needed to be done, and they would just drop things in as the urge moved them.  That’s how he works, and it works for him.’ [p106]

schultz would have been unlikely to have got on to this subject outside the context of an interview + al williamson when he was alive was unlikely to have wanted to get involved in this sort of project himself.  the interview format pulls detail like this out all over the book

3    the speed with which working methods appears to have been put together + the fact that john lowe is hardly going to get professional artists to take part in his project if he’s going to be critical of the work they come up with for it means there is a certain amount of reading between the lines necessary, which makes this book an even more useful resource.  without having published the flaws it would provide a less accurate picure of what industrial artwork produced to a deadline actually looks like.  tasking the reader with noticing the bad bits, disagreeing with the views expressed + forming his or her own opinions makes it a more interesting read

the example of a flaw that really sticks out (because inkers are referred to in the interview) concerns some great pencil artwork by pat quinn

pat-quinn-pencils(c) pat quinn 2007

that got inked badly enough (by john lowe himself) to actually have been published with a noticeably inconsistent use of different sized pens

john-lowe-inks(c) scott hampton (script) + pat quinn 2007

note the canisters in the centre of the frame appear uneven – they at least ought to have a uniform width of line on them

+ yes ladies + gentlemen that is ink bleeding into the gutter on the bottom right.  we can assume john lowe is aware you’re only supposed to colour up to the edge + not go over it: this has to be evidence of an approaching deadline.  note the other gutters on this page are solid black + he probably intended this one to be as well but jesus christ it still has to be one of the worst examples of inking that has ever seen print

also some of the art does not work well generally – in comparison with that of the other artists featured in the book kelsey shannon’s actually looks pretty lame

‘Kelsey uses color and lighting as storytelling tools to lead the eye in the direction of the action.’  [p166 n]: not really – check for yourself – his pages are mostly one colour, + the fact that he does not put a gutter between the panels doesn’t help the eye find its way around either

looking at shannon’s pencil art + his perspective sketches reproduced elsewhere in working methods you would expect the resulting strip to be a sort of glorious 3D looking thing, but his finished art seems to go flat

he basically only uses two expressions as well: intense serious concentration + wide eyed with their mouth open.  comparing his characters with those in the previous two versions of the same strip (which is how the book is expecting to be read) they look a little extreme +/or not displaying the best choice of emotion

perhaps the most noticeable flaw in his version of this script is the amazingly terrible posing of a female character (see below).  the technique he describes himself as using of drawing the characters separately + cutting + pasting them into the backgrounds probably accounts for the way the girl, who is intended to look off balance, looks like she would only be off balance like that in a different context + appears slightly out of proportion with the rest of the scene.  note in each image of her in the extract below her body seems to be changing shape – thinning or possibly tapering in the first, thickening out in the second + finally with spindly lower limbs attaching at a weird angle

shannon-1-edit(c) mark kneece (script) + kelsey shannon 2007

there is nothing in the high standard preproduction sketches of her that would lead you to expect this

if you end up reading the strip yourself you may also think he made the wrong choice of angle for the punchline in the last panel – the detail of it gets lost because it’s so small in the frame.  the reader should be able to see the characters’ faces, maybe even in close up – could he have opted for eg a circular cutaway panel inside the larger one of the waterfall?

as stated previously the involvement of the readers’ faculties in deciding about the success or otherwise of the techniques used as seen in the finished art is why this book is so effective

in this case they probably think they had massive potential + could have turned out a better result

4    words of wisdom

ultimately working methods is about artists communicating whatever knowledge derived from their experience in the industry they think is important for people to know.  a few egs follow

pat quinn:

‘I read an article, or maybe it was an excerpt from an article on Harvey Kurtzman. In it, he talks about each tier of panels as a sentence, and the page as a paragraph that ends with a completed thought. I’m probably misquoting, but the idea stuck with me. That’s the kind of page I like to make when I can.’ [p77]

+ chris brunner:

‘When you look at something that’s perfectly rendered with a tiny pen and detail, your eye goes to that. Your eye will not go to something that has no detail. If you don’t want somebody to pay attention to something, then don’t pay attention to it when you draw it.’ [p133]

re how the industry changes artists

‘You can see it in the evolution of almost every artist.  When we’re young, we try to throw everything we have at it, and then at some point we start weeding out the inessential. As artists, we become very aware of what’s essential and we don’t want to waste our time. But as a fan, a lot of times, it can be kind of a disappointment. There’s something really passionate about trying to throw everything, even the unnecessary, into it. Fans respond to that. There’s a reason why people often say, “I like his first album better.”’ [p145]

advice for people starting out

‘One more thing: Any kind of art can come at a tremendous personal cost.  But sequential art is the decathlon of comics. In order to succeed, you have to be crazy in love with what you’re doing.’ [p145 again]

kelsey shannon (redeeming himself if you agree his art didn’t live up your expectations) with a fantastic quote from todd mcfarlane:

‘There are a couple schools of thought. One school says that you have to learn how to draw all the things you don’t want to draw in order to be a good storyteller. You have to learn how to draw a vase full of flowers, a telephone, and proper wheels. Things that you’d normally hate drawing are the very things you have to learn how to draw well.  The other school of thought was introduced to me by Todd McFarlane. He said something like, “I don’t know how to draw the most accurate trash can, but I know how to draw the coolest.”  So I just sort of mix those philosophies.’ [p160]

   to paraphrase chris brunner

drawing comics is the decathlon of industrial artwork

meaning you have to have the skills of a film director, photographer, location scout, set designer, actor, mime, model, lighting technician, life drawing expert, nineteenth century novelist (fill the rest in yourselves) etc on hand in case only five or six of those are needed at the same time

if you appreciate comics you have to buy the book now you know that sentiment appears in it

all quotations (c) John Lowe and TwoMorrows Publishing 2007

at last a book review has gone up on alectrenchcomics

pop a cork out of something – it’s been four years

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