Lost in the splash pages and action shots of up and coming comic book illustrators, and (pathetically) some veteran illustrators is the simple idea, that what we are trying to do is capture the imagination of the readers.
I’m going to reintroduce a phrase here , write it down- “establishing shots”.
This is an opening panel or two that tells the reader simple often overlooked things like..where the F*CK they are.
This is important to not only show where the characters are, but where they are in relation to each other, how big the environment is ( i.e. is the room 10×10 feet or 50×50 feet…rather important information to know ESPECIALLY if a fight is going to happen in the room), but also important for setting a mood. Backgrounds are your friend. They are your sword and shield when trying to get a reader to get absorbed in a story. A fight is one thing. A fight in an alley is another thing. A fight in a narrow alley is another thing. A fight in a narrow dirty alley filled with clutter is still another. The last example being the most interesting, and the one that will help make the reader forget he is reading a comic book and feel like he is observing something. So for all you “illustrators” who draw stories of figures existing in some weird wall-less, environmentalists, dimension of “let the colorist deal with the blank space”. You should probably pay attention to this ninja level of using the backgrounds to capture the imagination.
Here is the opening page to a Cthulhu story (word balloons left off for the sake of this blog) …in which the world has ended before he awoke. OBVIOUSLY ( now that I have explained it to you) the opening shot for a story like this is important. Make note of the first three panels and I’ll break down a couple tricks to you.
The establishing shot of course needs to be a destroyed city. The temptation here is for the whole tier to just be one wide panel.
That would be okay, but not set up much timing. With one panel, and no word balloons comic out of anyones mouth, you are leaving it up the reader on how long they stay on that panel before moving on. I wanted the mood to be of isolation, barrenness, loneliness even. I want the reader to look around a bit and absorb that the world has ended and there is no one left. So I divided up the on wide shot into three panels. All things being equal, a panel break will make the reader slow down. instead of – look/ move on- it is – look/stop/look/stop/look move one. They are also subconsciously compelled to look into each panel to see if there is new important visual information.
Just dividing it up with some boarders though is a bit boring and not quite good enough.
What I did here is slide the vanishing point over a little bit with each panel, so it feels like the reader is moving over, turning his head, looking around. Each shot , even though it is of the same skyline, and same height, is from just a bit of a different angle, and this gives a little flow and movement even though nothing is going on. The eye has been drawn in, and led around with nothing but empty buildings. This is a techniques that isn’t obvious but makes a world of difference, between looking at a picture of a skyline and feeling like you are in the city.
It’s a lot of work for three panels, but when you are trying to capture the imagination…the first few panels are where you succeed or fail. Those panels are the difference between the reading a book or being in another world. And in this particular page they do all the heavy lifting for the rest of the page. Their lack of movement up or down make the panles beneath them more impactful. They are also the reason the last three panels work so well. The reader knows for certain Cthulhu is too late, and is not going to find anyone because the reader already looked around. The point and mood I wanted out of the last three panels was not tension of “oh what is he going to find?” but Mopy fruitless query. Without those top three panels some readers may have been wondering what his search would produce instead of ” ha! look at this dope…a day late and a dollar short”
That’s all for now. You may want to follow me on instagram , where I post almost nightly what I am working on and progress from start to finish. You can see this page go from pencils to finished inks there. http://instagram.com/arsenic_lullaby_official