December 19, 2011

What Exactly DOES an Editor Do? by Mark Heike


Dan Gorman's original Page 1 rough

Dan Gorman's original Page 1 rough

I’ve been asked that question a few times over the years. At a streamlined operation like AC, an editor’s duties can (and do) encompass ANYTING related to getting the product out. In terms of working directly with creators to try to produce a product everyone is happy with, there are a number of situations that can arise. One of those came up just recently in preparing a Marla Allison/Humonga
story for a future issue of Femforce. Penciler Dan Gorman was finishing up his  thumbnails (rough sketches indicating how he’ll break the story down into panels and indications of “camera angles” and placement of elements within those panels) and expressed some dissatisfaction with the Page One “rough” he had done.  Dan is a very talented fellow with a fair amount of experience in the commercial art field, but not neccesarily in comic books. He seemed to be “stuck” on that opening page, and I felt that a little extra time and input might go along way with him in this situation, not just to improve the opening of this story, but perhaps to help with his overall approach. Dan is extremely consciencious and committed to doing the BEST job he can at all times, and I was sure he’d give serious consideration to any comments I cared to share with him. Always the professional, Dan was kind enough to allow us to make public my emailed comments to him. We hope you (both potential artists and casual readers alike) will find this an interesting insight into how comic books are put together; how an artist interprets a writer’s script, and how an editor can try to facilitate an improvement in the creative process. Here now is my commentary to Dan:
Dear Dan-

Since you seemed to be having a problem with the splash page to “Growing For The Gold”, I wanted to give you some feedback on it. I felt that the design you were the most happy with (as of a couple of days ago) was still not the best  shot to open the story with. True, you can check off most of the “laundry list” of elements that the scripter, Eric Johnson has in his panel description, but getting it all wedged

Eric Johnson's Page 1 script

Eric Johnson's Page 1 script

in is not necessarily the be-all and end-all to good storytelling. An overhead angle as you used has it’s advntages; it can allow you to place all of your elements so that the reader can see them and understand  their locational arrangement;  but it’s not very involving, exciting or dramatic. It comes off somewhat like a diagram or a map, rather than an interesting scene. (Also, in your thumbnail their seems to be  a sort of a change in perspective going on from the background (near the top) toward the foreground (near the bottom). It’s as if the figures directly below “us” (as the readers) are at a more extreme perspective than those receeding away from us. Over the short area this scene
covers, that would be a physical impossibility. I’m allowing for the fact that you MIGHT be going for that “curvolinear perspective ” look; I know that is fairly popular in comics today. I’m not big on that in general as it represents a shot that (in real life) can only be seen through a distortion lens. To actually duplicate the viewing of receeding  real objects in perspective, that perspective should remain consistent in relation to the viewer.  Only the size of the objects should change as they become more distant from the viewer.

I’ve done my own version of a rough for this page so you can see a different approach to translating Eric’s panel description. You can certainly use it as your Page 1 thumbnail, and finish it out/revise it any way you like, or come up with something even better, if you now have something else in mind for this splash. I thought it might be useful  to see a different “take”.  What I’m trying to show you is that their are certain licenses one can take with a panel description for the purposes of making it look more dramatic and cool.  Judgement is the most

Mark Heike's revised Page 1 rough

Mark Heike's revised Page 1 rough

difficult skill for anyone (in any field) to learn, and there is just no
substitute for time and experience in honing it. But you can free up more time and “brain space” for coming up with some neat staging if you start to interpret what IS important in a script/panel description and what is not. It’s not always vital to get EVERYTHING in the description into the scene.  Believe me; Eric (or any writer worth his salt) will MUCH prefer that you interpret his scene into  really COOL page or panel that does cover the most IMPORTANT elements that tell his story, rather than something dull or static that includes EVERY SINGLE ELEMENT in his panel description.  More stuff is not superior to BETTER stuff in a scene.

I get the feeling you’re having a hard time discerning what’s important in this scene and what’s not.  One thing (and I may never have articulated this to you before) unique to AC books is- the babes should ALWAYS look sexy and glamorous. That trumps EVERY other element in an AC story, and if a compromise must be made in rendering a scene, glamor and sex appeal should always come first.  Beyond that (and this is more universal- I think THIS would be true of any character at any company), the recurring character (in this case it is Humonga/Marla) is the STAR of the story, and most panels should be staged to play that up. The lead character should not be “neutral”, getting no more play
or feature than throwaway, background  or one-shot characters, the artist should look for ways to feature the lead character prominently and to good advantage in as many panels as possible. In fact, the only time one should NOT try to do this is in scenes where the character is specifically supposed to be unobtrusive , incognito or trying to hide. The rest of the time, that title character should be the STAR.

Once these general aspects are considered, it’s good to have a discerning eye for what is vital (and what can be dropped) in terms of script/panel descriptions when you are staging a scene. In this splash page description, the IMPORTANT elements are:

-it takes place at a “meet and greet” convention appearance
-the con is at an outdoor venue
-banner(s) indicate the show’s subject
-there are already fans there
-Marla is enjoying interacting with her fans
-Vivian is present
-Marla’s outfit shows cleavage
-picture sign (and location of same, since it ties in with the fan dialogue) and location of “pleading fan” in
relation to the picture sign.

UNIMPORTANT elements (these can be altered or dropped without harming the
panel’s impact)

-the location of booths/tables (one just needs to convey the “con”
-the location of “line waiting to get in”
-specific poses/locations of other fans
-location of banners

-what SIDE of the page Marla is on
-whether Marla sits or stands
-what/how many other booths/booth signs are visible.

 My first priority in staging this scene was a cool, sexy and animated shot of Marla interacting with her fans. Once I had that, set in a good place that draws the attention and dominates the scene, I set up the other elements around that.  I like to use perspective and overlapping to break up the space to best advantage and fit in the most vital elements. One doesn’t have to see an object or element in it’s entirety for it to work in a scene if it’s located logically . Even though I’ve got a number of figures CLOSER to the viewer than Marla, I’ve set the scene up so that they are all obviously still about 1/10th of her 60′ height. I’ve got room directly above the pointing fan in the left
foreground for his word balloon; I’ve got those guys “cordoned off” from the rest of the scene by cyclone fencing to “sell” the idea tht they are NOT ctually inside the event yet, so their balloon makes sense. I’ve got the “pleading fan” directly to the right of the picture sign, with room for his balloon right above him, to the right of the sign. Eric’s gag will work to maximum effect as all elements and balloons will read in the correct order. The guy looking at the Marla DVD MAY not have room for a balloon. I’d put it UNDER his feet, or overlapping some of the chain-link fence, but our letterer doesn’t like to do that. In my opinion, THAT balloon is the least-important one on the page, and if we couldn’t fit it in and had to cut it, I don’t think tht would harm the overall feel of the page at all.  Do you notice the things I’m doing here with the directional lines of  the banners and perspective on the fence and booths, and the flag-ropes?  The vertical banners/poles echo the position of Marla, reinforcing her as design element. Your eye is drawn to her large figure, then to the picture sign. These are ways that you can help to make certain elements dominant even in scenes that are fairly complicated and busy. You may notice I’ve also left room at the top of the page for the story title, logo and credits without impinging too much on other elements in the panel.

I didn’t go into this kind of stuff on your first story as there’s only SO
much anybody can absorb at any one time. But as you develope and do more jobs, you’ll want to try to gain a sense of what’s MOST important in every scene, so you can work on empasisizing that. And in general, look for ways to tell the story in interesting and dynamic ways that keep the “star” the star.  Some lucky guys are born with a sense for these kind of things, I was not. Staging/designing is a long, painstaking process for me . Give my wife Stephanie a script, and she can rough out a page that works in 20 minutes.  For me, THIS thumbnail rough took 6 hours (and five separate pieces of tracing paper), then another hour for the clean-up trace-down in pen. I hope some of this is

Watch for the “Growing For The Gold” story upcoming in FEMFORCE #159 in early spring, and see what Dan finally settled on for that opening page graphic.