One of the things that Ty taught in his writing class was story maps. Basically, (in the form he was teaching us) they’re a simple device for planning a basic comic script. Obviously, story maps aren’t unique to comic writing, but Ty’s technique for using them is pretty specific to mainstream comics publishing.
Here’s an example of a story map that he filled out — I’ve seen this particular example used to provide a visual aid for his Writing Comics course. He also hands out blank versions in his class — I scanned one and redrew it in Illustrator because I like doing stuff electronically.
I popped in to FanExpo yesterday, and I got to see the final, printed issues of Holmes Inc #4. Keiren was staffing the Comic Book Bootcamp booth, and had a number of issues available (but not as many as she expected due to the printer having a slight case of being terrible and unreliable. And boy was she smack-talking them).
I’ve been seeing all the plaintive Facebook updates that Keiren Smith has been making as she’s been doing the work-intensive assemblage of the final Holmes Inc., 4 book. If I’ve been following her updates correctly, it looks like she tipped over, caught fire and sank into the swamp. Or something. But because she’s awesome, it looks like the book is going to be ready in time for Fan Expo this weekend.
I’ve been waffling about posting my final pages. The editor-types don’t want me to post all pages (’cause, hey, people should get the book if they want to see all the pages). But here are a couple.
I got the thumbs up on my layouts on Wednesday. I’m supposed to move on to the next stage (“construction”), to be followed by pencils and then, finally, inks. To be honest, I’m not quite sure I know what the difference between “construction” and “pencils” really is.
Here are my layouts; I warn you that they’re really sketchy:
I heard, once, that the cast of the TV show, Bewitched used to actively conspire to put queer subtext and themes into the show. I don’t know why that story has always stuck in my mind; mostly I just like subverting heteronormativity in media.
The other night, the Holmes, Inc. class did more pitches. People who are solely-writers have basically finished their major deliverables, and have some time to kill, so they’re being given a new task. Each of them gets to write up a one-page text item (such as, for example, a diary entry) about a member of Holmes, Inc. There are seven solely-writers, and seven main characters in Holmes, Inc., so if each writer tackles one character, everyone gets a moment to shine. And last night was the night the writers pitched their ideas of what they’d write about. Me, I’m not a solely-writer (I’m a writer-artist! Go me!), so I don’t take part in this.
One of the things that I did last night was my layouts for my “Penciling the Page” class (which used to be called “Layout for Comics”). The class is primarily about how to assemble a script into a visually interesting comic page. We’d just finished a class about different panel “tricks” that can make your page interesting.
Our homework assignment, then, was to create a page that used 7 of those tricks. As for story, the requirement was that this be a 2-page story, as follows:
- Page 1: a pair of characters are trapped inside somewhere.
- Page 2: using a prop discovered in the environment, they escape.
Here are my thumbnails.
One of the things that’s weird to work with in the Holmes, Inc. class is the extremely compressed story-telling. In many ways, this writing feels like Golden Age comics: full stories are being told in a small number of pages. The folks who are doing both writer and artist duties have 5 pages to work with; people who are solely-writers or solely-artists have 7 pages. That’s not a lot of story-telling space. And, in particular, I find this degree of compression makes it hard to give things nuance.
And one of the consequences of that, is a reliance on story-telling shorthand. Characters are simply “bad guys” or people who give us information. Cute kid. Evil, but less-than-effective henchmen. Kidnappee. Mm.
Last night, was another Pitch Night. Each of the writers for the Holmes, Inc. class had to come with three pitches for a story. After we presented the three ideas, Ty would typically eliminate one of the three (but not in all cases) and then the class would vote on which of the remaining two pitches they liked better. As the night progressed, Keiren was also keeping a running tally of which characters were being represented to ensure the book had sufficient balance and coverage of the principal cast.
It was interesting to see the different styles that the creators brought to the table. Some people wanted big, bold stories with giant monsters and/or larger-than-life villains. Others wanted time travel, or alternate dimensions. Some stories were leaping off from stuff in a previous book (Book 3, in particular, ended with a cliff hanger). I can’t think of a single story that was pitched solely as a mystery. Partially, I think, the story-pitching session brought out people’s love of playing with comic book tropes.
Another thing that interested me was the way past classes had such a presence in the room. People in the room were fluent with a rich backstory of the universe that had come out through past iterations of this course: the history of the evil Chaos family, and the significance of the ARTI suits and so forth. I think I’m one of only a couple of people for whom this is the first time taking this class, so I was coming at this a bit new.
I was also the last one to pitch, so by the time I was pitching my stories, we’d already run the gamut of monsters and time travel. I’m sure that my ideas seemed banal in comparison.
Comics classes are keeping me on my toes, these days. I finished up my “Drawing the Human Figure From Your Head” class on Monday (excellent, excellent class, by the way… I’ve taken both life drawing and constructive drawing during my cartooning program, and this class really clicked in a way that the other classes did not). Both this class, and the one before it (“Heads, Hands and Faces”) went at a bit of a breakneck pace — my head was full by the end of each night.
Last night, I started the intense workshop class, “Holmes, Inc.” There are something like 15 of us, and the end result of the class is gonna be an anthology of stories involving the “Holmes, Inc.” agency — the descendants of Sherlock, Mycroft and Dr. Watson. Last night, Ty also suggested that they’re a bit like the S.H.I.E.L.D. of their universe, too, which made me go, ah, yes, of course! This will be the fourth issue of Holmes, Inc. — each of the other three is available for free (as in beer, not speech 🙂 on Drive Through Comics. There is a lot of variation in style and experience in the various stories, but they’re fun to read, running the gamut from egotistical displays of deduction to monster-fighting to moral quandaries.