Six pages and process

This evening I spent a few minutes chatting about comics to the local chapter of the IxDA. Last time I spoke at an IxDA night I was a bit too light on process for a lot of the audience, so this talk was almost entirely about process; a blow-by-blow account of how Kristyna Baczynski and I created a comic as resident creators at last year’s Thought Bubble festival.

Rather than retype the whole thing, I thought I’d write about the impact the residency has had on my working process. Some of it feels self-evident, but only in retrospect. At the end of the post you’ll find a list of things I referenced in the talk, as well as a link to specially discounted Paper Science collection (to say thanks for reading that far down/coming to the talk).

First up, some background. I publish an anthology, and I read a lot of them.

Independent anthologies, by and large, aren’t greatest hits collections; they’re a chances for creators to experiment or show-off. Often because they’re unpaid, and because the audience is a subsection of a niche.

Kristyna and I knew that we could created something fun and playful, while packing it with more story than our six pages should allow. We could tell a story, while offering little snapshots into the wider world the story existed in.

We could do that by manipulating the brain’s desire to finish things. Closure is how Scott McCloud refers to the thing the brain does to connect panels to panels and words to pictures. Matt Fraction‘s excellent talk The Batman Dreams of Heironymus Machines shows how that closure extends into the real world, and how you populate comics with your own world.

And so we took from the world around us – Leeds Library was where the residency was based – and brute forced a great big world into a short story about a girl looking for something.

We had a lot of fun that week, speaking a story aloud to one another, finding out about our shared processes and interests and basically having an extended comics ‘date’. It was grand. From a distance of nine months, I think four things proved their importance that week.

Our first day together was spent working out where the other person’s head was at. In terms of how we work, what we wanted to do with comics, how we wanted to spend the residency.

At the time that could have risked being a waste, but it meant we were in a way better position to be clear about things that would help or hurt the project, and when different approaches to work would be useful. Basically, a day learning one another’s boundaries was incredibly valuable in the long run.

We worked out what we wanted to deliver pretty quickly. It evolved over the week, but we spent time making sure we were working off of the same template, ‘Let’s do a six-page comic, and let’s have these characters and this library as the central through-line’.

We didn’t have a brief, so this was critical to us being able to communicate well throughout the making of the comic.

Kristyna’s thumbnails were so tiny. So so so tiny. But with tiny nibs and tinier rubbers she kept framing and reframing panels and structures and the flow of the story, which led to changes in the script which led to changes in the thumbnails and so on.

None of it was polished, little of it clear to anyone but us, but it proved the comic would flow and that the story could be told.

The reason we shared so much of our process – the reason we spent a week in and out of one another’s notebooks – is because the finished comic wouldn’t be happening for a long time. We knew it’d be a while before Kristyna could squeeze a concentrated burst of attention on it into her schedule. So we swapped every tiny piece of knowledge we could so that, when the time came, she could just zero in and Get It Done.

In an ideal world all four of those things would play a part in every project. I think I’ve definitely worked on things where a notable failure to think about or apply one of those has scuppered a job, or at least left everyone feeling a bit dirty at the end.

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For those of you looking for more links, I also referenced the work of Adam Cadwell, Julia Scheele and Tom Humberstone, in particular the latter’s anthology Solipsistic Pop.

You can also find out more about Phonogram, ‘Marvel method‘ scriptwriting and Alan Moore’s scripts using the internet.

EDIT: I also see that Kieron’s Decompressed deals with ‘Marvel method’ writing this week. You should have a listen.

As a super special bonus the collection of the anthology I publish, Paper Science, is available for just £5 plus postage. That’s half price. You should totally buy it before I change my mind about that.

Thanks to Kristyna, and to the folks at IxDA London.