As I continue working on my graphic novel (GN) I am coming face to face with some of my scared beliefs about comics and graphic novels.
I have been getting every recent GN from our library and picked up a few others at book stores. Overall, lots of amazing work. But when it comes to GN work for younger readers there’s one issue that is starting to bug me. The pages are so dense, so full, so overdrawn, I am not sure how to even read the pages. And for a younger reader, I can’t imagine they actually get through the story when each page has a minimum of say, 90,000 lines. It’s one thing to fill a page in a 32 page Where’s Waldo book. It’s quite another to fill 234 pages with that level of detail.
This coming from an illustrator who loves to draw lines. I have a habit of overdrawing. Can I PLEASSSSE cross hatch one more item in this scene?
But with Earthling, I’m trying to consider when a background helps propel a story forward and when it just adds visual clutter. I talked with the colorist, Ken Min, (also an amazing illustrator, who in a weak moment let me talk him into coloring this book) this morning and we talked about the main issue which is, what helps tell the story the best. Not how many times you see a well executed wall in the background.
My POV is that the characters need to have a certain amount of focus, and on a small page, drawing in too much background clutter takes away from being able to easily follow the story the characters are telling us, with how they look, how they pose how they gesticulate.
Granted, there is something soothing about drawing all those background lines isn’t there? That’s the obsessive part of cartooning. And it can be a style in itself. I have some favorite cartoonists who heavily fill each and every frame. But I believe it doesn’t fit well with younger reader material. It’s similar to introducing 4 or 5 plots in the first page of fiction. Be careful or the reader won’t care about any of them.
At the same time, if it gets too clean and reduced, it feels emotionally vacant to me. And the caveat to all this is, it’s about personal taste. There is no ‘right’ way to accomplish a graphic novel. But there are ways that will reduce readability and clarity. But the technique in itself won’t make a bad story good or a good story great. This is an engineering tasks which often overwhelms comics and cartoons for some reason.
Anyway, I’m trying to walk a line where my characters stay front and center. Where a reader can easily follow them on their journey and the ‘sets’ and locations enhance the story and don’t distract the readers eye.
Working in full color also leaves room for letting the painting carry some of the story. For instance, once we introduce that grey wall with a ventilation grill why not in the next frame, when the main character is talking, just have a grey background? Fewer lines, less visual commotion and more opportunity for a reader to focus on my characters dilemma. And at times of high action, don’t just show me LONG shots of chaos with my main character looking like a hair in an omelet. Get me close to the main character as soon as you can. With comics we have an opportunity that *historically films had to work hard to accomplish – getting rid of a background’s distractions in medium and close shots. And in comics it’s a painless process. You just have to trust that the number of lines in every frame doesn’t increase the quality.
I’ve included a sample page that’s nearly complete which I reworked to reduce the background clutter. We have an established location, and know where characters are. But once my characters have something to say, I think it’s important to let them say it with the full attention of the viewer. Color also helps this page. But I won’t be sharing color pages until closer to the finish line!
* I say historically because shooting on green screen you can do a lot more with artistically adjusting a background to fit a medium or close up shot.