My first six-part series for SCRIPTMAG dot com, “More Than Storyboards” focuses on the storytelling potential of integrating comics and film. These six posts function as a deeper companion to both my book, COMICS FOR FILM, GAMES AND ANIMATION: USING COMICS TO CONSTRUCT YOUR TRANSMEDIA STORYWORLD and the book’s companion website, COMICSTORYWORLD.
The series ran from July through November of 2013.
More Than Storyboards #1: On Writing Comics (12 July 2013)
I’m going to start this series the same way I started my book:
Comic books are more than storyboards.
They are more than a stepping stone to a star-studded career as a screenwriter. They are more than research and development for franchises. They are more than tights and fights. Comics is (I treat the word “Comics” as a singular, as Scott McCloud does in his seminal Understanding Comics) NOT a genre. Let me repeat that.Comics is not a genre. Brad Bird, director of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, said it best (of animation, a medium facing many of the same prejudices as comics): “… next time I hear, ‘What’s it like working in the animation genre?’ I’m going to punch someone!”
More Than Storyboards #2: Finding the Gutter (26 July 2013)
If you want to look at comics as the “back door” you’ve been waiting for to get your failed screenplay traction as an adaptation, turn away now. You’re more than welcome to be part of the denigration of one of the most vibrant art forms of modern times into a stepping stone, but my words won’t be the fuel for your fire. That said, if you’re interested in something a little different, like the integration of comics as part of a larger storyworld, read on (and welcome).
In my last article, I said that the magic of comics comes from the gutter, the space between panels, the space that has to be filled with your imagination to create the movement between iconic representations of moments and complete the story. Like comics, transmedia storytelling–the crafting of stories that unfold across multiple media platforms, in which each piece interacts with the others to deepen the whole, but is capable of standing on its own, giving the audience the choice as to how deep into the experience they go– also finds magic in the space between, in the gutter. When you consider deepening your screenplay into a transmedia storyworld via comics (or any medium), you have to find that gutter. What did you have to leave out? What are alternative ways of viewing the events in your film? Other perspectives? Is there a character that turns from ally to opponent? What happened there? All of these considerations are ripe gutter pickings.
More Than Storyboards #3: Swords, Sandals and Comics (15 August 2013)
So far, we’ve looked at the differences between comics and film storytelling and we’ve taken your mind into the gutter. Now, thanks to reader @DailyGreenDiva’s suggestion, we’re going to conduct a little thought experiment (in my book, Comics for Film, Games and Animation, I added a comic book to American Beauty… see warning below), adding a comic book to a pre-existing film: Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic, Gladiator, the story of a general turned gladiator turned savior of Rome.
Before we go further, a word of warning: just because I say a comic could be added, it doesn’t mean that itshould be added. Most works that existing in a single medium (mono-media) are perfect just as they are; conversely, if they suck, you can add the greatest comic or great American novel to it and the final product will still suck. Transmedia deepening is not a cure for crap; it’s an option for exploration. With that in mind, a mono-media work, especially a film–a medium whose running times are controlled by number of theatrical showings, the bladder capacity of the audience and other extraneous concerns–will invariably have holes, stories that could–not should–be filled in.
So, Gladiator. Comics. Let’s go. First, let’s look at the easy answers. And what’s the easiest answer?
More Than Storyboards #4: Collaboration – The Smartest Person in the Room Isn’t You (12 September 2013)
We’ve already talked about writing; from the nine elements of comics storytelling to finding the gutter to adding a comic to Gladiator. Now it’s time to talk about an integral–scratch that: the integral–element in comics creation: collaboration and the roles that make comics comics.
When you embark on any creative collaboration, you should seek to NOT be the smartest person in the room. The best collaborations are all about the end product, and making it the best it can be. Along the way, each person in the collaborative effort should learn something new, from technical issues to scripting issues to pacing to dealing with other people. Everyone teaches everyone else on the road to something awesome.
More Than Storyboards #5: Digital Comics Publishing (10 October 2013)
Since this series began, I haven’t been talking about comic books, the format, necessarily. I’ve been talking about comics, the medium. With the advent of digital publishing, the floodgates of the medium have been opened to near-limitless possibility.
In conversation with the great Will Eisner (The Spirit, A Contract with God, Into the Heart of the Storm), Frank Miller (Batman Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, 300, Sin City (we’ll forgive him his own abysmal film adaptation of Eisner’s The Spirit—for the moment)) remarked on the nature of creating comics in a collector’s world:
“Essentially, we are slaves to people’s Mylar plastic bags. And that’s insane!”
More Than Storyboards #6: Love It (05 November 2013)
So here we are: The final installment of “More Than Storyboards.” In this series, you’ve seen that comics are, hopefully, more than storyboards. You’ve seen examples of how to integrate them with the world of your own story (and in the world of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator), and we also looked at the opportunities for boundless storytelling offered by digital comics. I’d like to make this final installment a plea. Here are three key thoughts I hope you take with you into the wild blue yonder of telling great stories in the comics medium.