Sunday, June 11, 2006

Packing it all in

Want to know what being a comic artist is about? Packing, that's what. I always start out with the intention of making some great new thing that'll redefine the medium, but in the end, it's always comes down to packing, cramming it all in.
The first thing is the script - now I have to say, I'm lucky working with Ian, who's very good at pacing and always gives me breathing room when needed - but even so, the first task is packing all those panels into the particular format rectangle that is your page, packing them in such an order that they'll make sense as a story when the reader comes along. Because comics, oh dearie me yes, comics is all about telling stories.
(And it has to be said that a script is itself a masterly feat of packing - fitting characterisation, action, plot and dialogue into a fixed number of pages is a task that Ian sweats blood over - drafts and redrafts and angst, oh my).
So how to approach the task? Pick the panel that seems most important to the story, pick the one that contains lots of detail, make those the biggest, fit the others around them, that's my usual approach. Not as easy as it sounds, because the panels can only go in a certain order if you're going to be able to read the page, and there's always one awkward sod that never quite fits where you'd like it to go.
The second step is the first in microcosm; fitting the action and the captions/speech balloons into each panel - but sometimes the flow of the action from panel to panel means it's sensible to place the figures so meaning the speech balloons would have to go in the wrong order, so it's back to altering the composition or tweaking the page layout until everything can be made to fit legibly. Luckily, working on computer means I can save the fine tuning until quite late into the process if I have to - say if I think of a drastically better way of doing things after I've started inking.
But still, it's very like coming back from the shops with a load of frozen food and realising you've forgotten that the freezer is already full - it's all got to go in and it always does, but sometimes, you have to take everything out a couple of times before you work out the right order.
This packing business leaches off the page and colours the rest of my life too. As a freelance, control of my time is my own, but I still have to dedicate so many hours a day to work. It can be difficult maintaining self-discipline, though the spectre of poverty is a great motivating factor - no workee, no eatee, no pay mortgage, end up on streetee.
Still, the shopping does have to be done, the meals cooked, the loo cleaned, the conservatory wrapped in foil to prevent summer meltdown. There's never enough time and I'm never fast enough, but the pages are looking good, and even though there never is enough time, somehow everything gets done in the end. I'm not having to work through the night yet, but it'll come.
So does all this packing-in make me feel like packing it all in? Not a bit - I love this life and I'm sticking with it. What I am going to do is go to bed now so I can make a 5am start tomorrow.

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