Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Science of Writing a Comic Book

First full week of Script Frenzy done, and I did kind of meh.

To be fair, this opening week was filled with craziness. Namely, Easter. I maxed out on hours the past two weeks and this week is yet another max work schedule. It's nice for the money; not so much for the free writing time. The obvious increase was to prep the store for the Easter rush, and now for the "OMG, it's actually nice outside!" rush.

I just as obviously didn't do any writing on Easter itself. Focused more on the meaning of the day, getting dressed up, eating good food, and spending some time with the in-laws.

Which leads me to yet another reason why this past weekend was crazy:
My niece's 2nd birthday was this weekend; Easter, to be exact. My in-laws wanted to make sure the sacredness of Easter wasn't overshadowed by her birthday, and so they celebrated it the day before. An adorable Hello Kitty-themed party. My sister-in-law even added red food coloring to the boiling water when making pasta salad so the bowtie pasta came out an insanely vibrant pink! So cool.

Best part is, I finished her present in time! Sadly, I missed getting pictures of her and her father playing with the toy - I think her dad had more fun with it - she seemed super excited. I don't know if I ever saw ANYONE as excited to see something I crocheted for them, so that was awesome. A blanket and pillow within her first year - eh, they're not toys and she was young, so I get why she wasn't excited about them. A giant giraffe for Christmas? Well, she was a bit overwhelmed with gifts, but she still didn't seem all that thrilled with it. This time, though, this time she instantly started playing! I think I'm finally figuring out this kid.
The girl LOVES trucks. I blame her dad. ;)
Now to figure out what to make her for Christmas....

All of this craziness doesn't mean I've slacked completely though. I DID write this week. Not nearly as much as I would have hoped and not nearly as much as I needed to be "on track" to hit 100pgs before April 30th, but still.

First of all, writing a script for a comic book - at least the way the Celtx program has it formatted - is a lot trickier business than I originally gave it credit. I can't just create panels and Celtx will automatically spill over pages like it would if I were writing a screenplay or a novel. In other words, I can't just create panels until I run out of juice for the day and then look back and go "Oh cool, five pages today. Sweet."

No, no. I have to calculate EVERYTHING. How many panels do I want on a page? What size/spacing will these panels be? Do any of them overlap? Is there a series of about seven super skinny panels lined up right next to each other in the middle of the page so the action moves quickly? Yup, that means I have to think of the pacing while doing this too.

It's way more involved than a description of the image I want with some dialogue or caption boxes. I have to plot out so much more. It is taking way more time than I originally envisioned. Because of that, I asked for help from the two people I felt knew the most about the subject.

Phfylburt is my walking Marvel/Comic Books Encyclopedia. He loves the medium, and knows so much about both the stories themselves and the structure of them. Imagine you don't really know how to write a good book because you have only read a couple a year. Now imagine one of your friends plows through about three a month and has done so for years. It seems logical to believe that said friend knows the structure of novels inside and out. He's read good ones and bad ones and best knows what formulas are the most successful, which are the most creative/inventive, and which are becoming stale. This is the exact reason why writers should be avid readers as well, so they can pick up on this structural knowledge. Sadly, I don't have the money nor the access to plow through hundreds of comics in order to prepare for this project. Although, in retrospect, I could have done some research for free via webcomics....

Anyway, the other expert I contacted is Chopfe. He's worked as a comic strip artist for newspapers for a little while now. Plus he has a few comics that he posts on his DeviantArt account. He actually DOES this for a living, or at least for some cash on the side. If any of my friends would know how to structure a comic, it would be him.

Well, as it is with most forms of art, the method of getting to the end result is highly individualized depending on the artist. It's also a lot easier to create a comic if you are both the author and the illustrator. Chopfe is one such creator, and so he just needs a rough outline of what he's planning on doing, and then he just goes from there. He doesn't really describe what he's going to draw, nor does he plot out the panelling. He just does it and sees how it ends up. A lot of comic book creators are like that. It's similar to my theory of "Medium" writing. Much like how I only have a vague outline of the story I wish to tell, and then I act like a Medium for my characters. I let them work through me to tell their story. Well, non-script comic book creators do the same thing, except instead of just letting their characters speak through them, they also allow the characters to take over their hands in order to SHOW their story as well.

There's also teams of writers and artists that have complete faith in each other. The author just needs to write a script closer to a screenplay - vague descriptions of environment, action, and character design - and then trust the illustrator's creativity to fill in the blanks and bring the story to life.

Visually speaking - mostly because I SEE my story unfold in my head as I write it - I'm a bit too much of a control freak. I'm a complete "Director" writer when visuals are included; I did the same thing with other scripts. I may let my characters "improv" but when it comes to specific actor looks, set design, and costuming I am a highly involved "director" with my mitts in everything.

On the other hand, I love to purposely NOT give minute details on my character designs when asking friends to draw fanart/commission art renderings because I'm curious how they imagine my characters given the way I describe them in my works. Which is why Willow in particular doesn't quite match my typical image of her in ChibiSunnie's Christmas card for me a few years back.
I love Willow's hair like this, though. <3
Willow Uniform       Cajun
My version of Willow       My version of Chayse

She got surprisingly close to both Chayse's design and Willow's X-Men uniform design...

My point is this. On the first day of attempting to write a comic book I only managed to write ONE page in over an hour of work. And that ONE page had almost 700 words! Most of them describing exactly what Willow, Chayse, Devon, and Lia are all wearing and what they look like - from color and cut of hair to the shade of skin/eyes - as well as some detail of the urban cyberpunk world they are running around in.

On my second go I decided to shift all the character description - minus their age and basic build - to the notes section of Celtx. Once I did that the word count dropped by about 200! Still a BIT wordy for a five-panel first page, but much better to have about 475 words than nearly 700...

I was able to blow through the next couple of pages easily enough, although I DID do a bunch of going back and editing. Unfortunately, much like NaNo, the point of Script Frenzy is to go for speed over quality. To get the story out of your head as fast as possible in order to hit the goal and keep you in the flow of writing. To instill a new habit of daily writing; given that habits take six straight weeks of never faltering in order for them to stick. You're not supposed to edit during that month. Not supposed to delete anything - which is how I somehow managed to rewrite the same three paragraphs right after each other when I did NaNo a few years ago. Editing is for December and beyond. Or - in this case - May and beyond.

So, all of my editing is slowing me down more than the learning curve of writing a comic already did. Still, I strive to get things right the first time. Since Script Frenzy itself doesn't technically exist any longer I'm just using the month as an excuse to write. Screw getting to that 100pg goal before April 30th, as long as I write SOMETHING daily and keep up a moderately steady pace.

Still, I am a bit disappointed that I'm only on about page SIX when I should be around page 26 by the end of the day. TWENTY PAGES BEHIND. Sheesh.

Well, along with the learning curve of "How do I plot every detail out!?" when it comes to creating comic book pages, I'm also doing far more research than I had intended. I knew I was going to need to do some research while I write; I ALWAYS research WHILE writing. I never plot out nearly far enough ahead of time to get all my research done before I start. I really need to work on that.

Anyway, I've been researching things like comic book layouts. Then when I transferred the character descriptions on to the notes section of Celtx I noticed I could also include reference pictures. I got lost for a while because of that. Finding out the difference between combat boots - what Devon wears - and work man boots - what Chayse wears while on missions. I knew that Chayse wore gloves similar to Gambit's - who only has the middle and ring fingers on his gloves - but I needed them to be different and "real world" so the design wouldn't scream "GAMBIT KNOCKOFF" so much. So I spent some time researching 3-fingered gloves; I knew I had seen some in real life SOMEWHERE. I found out that archers wear 3-fingered gloves to protect the drawing hand from cutting on the string. That's cool to know, but the look didn't really match what I had in mind - only the thumb and pinkie bare. I thought "bowling!" but that was back to being too close to Gambit's gloves, and the fabrics didn't seem right. Finally I landed on exactly what I was picturing: billiard gloves! They cover the thumb, index, and middle fingers to protect from friction while using pool sticks. Next up was trying to find ones that matched my mental image of what Chayse wears.

Once I was done wasting about an hour or so researching different actual items that would work as the characters' gear I got stopped by a technical question. Similar to the Fullmetal Alchemist character Roy Mustang, Devon has gloves that create sparks that he could then use to grow in to a legitimate flame he could manipulate. Not wanting to COMPLETELY rip off the manga/anime Fullmetal Alchemist - although Ronoxym swears he didn't even pick up on how much the anime influenced Devon's creation - Ron had Devon's gloves have a bit of flint and steel sewn in to the pads of his fingers. That way when he snapped the flint in the middle fingers would strike the steel on his thumbs and create the spark. While I'm still not 100% convinced this has legitimate real-world applications, considering the X-Future world takes place around 2050 I can pretend technology increases to the point where "fire starter gloves" can be realistic. I mean, there are those gloves specifically designed to work with touch screens, so is it really such a stretch that materials such as striking flint and steel could be incorporated in to gloves over the next 35 years? Eh, it might make more sense to follow a page from FMA and just say the gloves are made from a special fabric.

Either way, my technical issue came up when I had Devon pivot on his hand as he tumbled across asphalt. Granted, without Devon purposely trying to ignite the spark it's not all that harmful to have his gloves spark in such a situation, I still wanted to know IF they would spark. That's when I realized that the whole flint and steel fire starting kit works because the sharp flint chips off a very fine layer of rust off of the steel - so fine the red coloring isn't visible. This chipping off of the protective rust coating exposes the steel - more specifically the iron inside the steel - to the air. Iron can spontaneously combust at temperatures as low as 70-degrees, which is why the newly exposed steel sparks - combusts - as it quickly tries to reform the protective rust covering. It's sort of like our bodies healing our skin.

So, if Devon did scrape the steel thumb of his gloves across something other than the flint on his middle fingers the sparks COULD still fly and allow him to use his powers, but only if the steel was scraped to the point of flaking off the outer protective layer. I'm not sure if a skid across asphalt will do so, but I just opted for "no". Maybe with further research or the encouragement of my future artist - whomever that ends up being - we can have his thumb spark a bit. It would be a could visual, and like I said, the sparks would be harmless without Devon's help to ignite them - or some other pyromancer.

Not quite done with my scientific research for this project - although Devon's fire use ended the opening scene and ended my second day of actual script writing - I had to figure out my next section of the story. Namely, the set up of the world for the reader.

Even more specifically, I was going to give a brief history of evolution and how that "created" the mutants - Glitches in my story - and then the political repercussions that lead to "Kitty" creating the orphanage and "Logan" creating the arcade.

I still need to rename just about ALL of the X-Men canon characters, as well as come up with names for both the orphanage and the arcade. I also need a name for "Logan's" elite group of Glitches that are tasked to protect the orphanage; in other words "the X-Men." Plus, I need to rename "The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" in to something original and sort of vigilante/street gang sounding.

I have a LOT of naming to do... good thing I'm so good at it...

I'm getting off topic here. Back to the other scientific research. As I mentioned, I wanted to start by giving sort of a refresher course on evolution, which meant I needed one myself. Image wise, I was going to do the generic image the mass populous imagines when thinking of evolution: either the fish that grew legs and became the first amphibian, or monkeys becoming humans. Problem is both images are horribly false in what evolution actually is.

Humans did NOT evolve from monkeys/apes/etc. Which is why the Creationist argument of "If we evolved from apes why are there still apes?" is kind of the equivalent of asking "If you are part of this family tree why do you have cousins?" See, apes and humans evolved separately and equally from a shared ancestor. Somewhere down the line some "missing link" gave birth to two different defects. One grouping of birth defects mated with each other and eventually created a new species. Humans evolved from THEM. The other group of defects mated with each other and created another new species that eventually became apes and monkeys and chimps and the like. The original species we were jointly birthed from eventually died off.

So, it's not a matter of This Fish grew legs and then generations later the tail shrunk and then more generations later lungs grew beside the gills and eventually a primitive frog emerged. So, no, raptors did NOT evolve in to say an ostrich. However, an ostrich became it's own species after a certain birth defect in a past species became prominent in that grouping. Another way to think of it is to think of dogs. Some grey wolves were surprisingly docile compared to the rest of the pack. They were the omegas, the bottom rung and almost the equivalent to slaves or second-class citizens of the pack. Humans took these omegas and kept them as pets. They bred docile wolves together and ended up with more docile cubs in the litter. After generations of breeding docile wolf pups together resulted in more and more docile litters until being playful and friendly became the dominant gene. Same was done with wild cats and foxes. Every pet is just a docile descendant thanks to - in a way - man-made evolution.

Alright, enough with Evolution 101. The point here is showing how evolution works in simple paneled pictures is a lot trickier - and near impossible - than I originally planned. I debated on how scientifically accurate I want my story, especially since Science and History were my two worst subjects in school. They just never clicked with me for some reason. Still, I am an obsessive fan of realism, even in fantasy. If a person can read my High Fantasy or Sci Fi story and go "wow, cool, that could ACTUALLY happen" then I'm good to go. Otherwise I'm too worried that the History and Science buffs will give up on my story due to unrealism. I mean, I'm sort of that way whenever I see video production or writing depicted incorrectly in books, movies, or on TV - although how TV and movies can possibly manage to screw up portraying how a show/movie is made is beyond me....

I'm off topic again, sorry. I know I've been rambling a bit here... It's just been a lot that I had to take in this week, and I guess I just wanted to share all of my hard-earned knowledge with SOMEONE. Back to my point, I swear.

After a day or two of debating and further research I finally gave up on true accuracy. Instead I decided to opt for how evolution was presented by the fathers of the theory: Darwin and Lamarck. Basically, I went the Natural Selection route. The original idea of evolution - the one most people think of and the one that creates the most tension in both the X-Men and X-Future worlds - is that a birth defect turns in to a survival advantage. The ones that survive pass on the gene that allowed them to survive while those who don't have this advantage die off. Thus the advantageous birth defect becomes the species' norm: boom, evolution!

It's best showcased in Lamarck's view on why giraffes have such long necks; an image I decided to use in the comic book. Lamarck envisioned giraffes to originally be built more like horses, but the low grass they would graze on was in too short supply to feed the population. While most starved there were a few that were born with slightly longer necks and were able to use this advantage to reach tree branches; finding a new food source. As the species became flooded with longer-necked offspring - due to Natural Selection - these low-bearing trees became overfed on as well and the same problem as with the grass came about. Thankfully, more longer-than-normal necked giraffes were born and found yet higher branches. This increase in neck due to necessity - needing harder-to-reach food to avoid competing with other animals - continued for generations and centuries - maybe millenia - until the modern-day giraffes came to be. Since nothing else can really reach their main food source there is no real need to evolve any further. So the longer-than-normal necked giraffes don't out-live the shorter-than-normal necked giraffes. The shorter-necked giraffes don't die off and the average neck length stays the same throughout the generations.

There is a very important reason why this particular view - while dated and quite possibly not ENTIRELY true - is best suited for a story about mutants. Mainly because it shows why average humans are terrified of the idea. Not only are they defenseless against the powers of the mutants, but they are essentially Neanderthals to the mutants' Homo Sapiens. Eventually the higher-evolved humans will survive while the lesser will die off - just like the shorter-necked giraffes that starved to extinction. Marvel itself plays off of this by having the character Magneto refer to mutants as Homo Superior; equating them to the next evolution of man that will overtake Homo Sapiens just like Homo Sapiens overtook the Neanderthals.

I lost a bunch of you back there, didn't I? Well, no worries, I'm done with my science lectures. Boy, I should come up with a little Professor LycoRogue icon to warn you guys before I do stuff like that again.

Well, I guess I wasted enough of everyone's time here. I should get back to writing my comic book. I need to finish up the evolution history. I hope to also have some names figured out by my next update. Poor Phfyl is going to have walls of text to wade through in the upcoming week, I just know it....

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