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Old 09-22-2009, 09:14 AM   #40
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Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Arlington, VA
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Making Them Move

The third class in our Writing for Comics course focused on what happens in-between comic panels (the gutters). We borrowed heavily from McCloud's Understanding Comics with this one so I suggest you all go to your library and pick up this book if you haven't already read it. We started with a discussion of closure and how the mind can often resolve what happens from one panel to the next provided the writer and artist give the reader enough visible cues to make the connection. We showed examples from Watchmen (below) where Alan Moore and David Gibbons effectively established scenes within a nine-panel grid by keeping at least one object consistent while moving from one panel to the next. Looking at the first page, for example, we follow the button to the foot to the man with the hose to the blood splotch to the hand on the windowsill to final shot. There's something familiar in each new panel that allows us to instantly understand where we are and where everyone is in relation to each other.

After discussing the Watchmen pages we flashed several more pages on the screen to get the students opinion on how time was being handled in each one and how the gutters were being played with in order to manipulate time. Those pages are below:

Feel free to take a couple of these pages and start a discussion on them. On thing to start you off/keep in mind. BLANKET is about the past, it's a memoir, so time has a specific meaning with that book, ELK'S RUN takes place in the present so time is supposed to be real and deterministic, and with SANDMAN time is endless. So keep that in mind when you think about these pages.

We then went into exercises. We started by asking students to thumbnail several short scenes borrowed from Matt Madden & Jessica Abel but instructed them to do the scenes in either three or four panels. It allowed us to discuss different ways to compress and expand on otherwise short scenes. Feel free to write the scripts to several of these scenes for discussions or, preferably (if you have a scanner), thumbnail them. You can probably even thumbnail most of them in Paint and save the jpg.

For the second exercise we asked the students to craft a nine-panel comic about how they got to class. This exercise allowed us to comment on how much space there is in a panel, especially for a nine-panel page, and how time between well-structured panels is often perceived as a constant for reader. Feel free to write out a script about how you got to work today for discussion.

The third exercise was borrowed from Paul Hluchan (page seems to be down). The students teamed-up into four groups and told the story of an astronaut that went to the moon and came back to the wrong planet. One group did four panels about the launch, one did four panels about the flight, one did four panels about the landing, and one did four panels about the return. Once we had sixteen panels we hung them up on the wall and the students systematically removed one panel at a time while ensuring the story still made sense. As expected, the panels at the beginning of the story disappeared pretty quickly, mainly because it's always easy for the brain to intuit what happened before the story's actual start point. Seriously, if you ever need to cut something down, chances are you can just throw away the opening. I started a writing exercise called Flashing on my web page and talked about something I like to call Act Zero in my hint fiction piece. The basic idea is, every story has an Act Zero, which is basically everything that happened before Act One. The idea is, if properly crafted, you can skip to the very end of the third act and make your act 1 and act 2 your act 0. It's an interesting exercise, and I challenge some of you to try and do a hint fiction (25-word) complete story. And if that's not enough of a challenge, try a microfiction (6-word) story. The point is to try and edit your story down to the essentials.

The fourth exercise was borrowed from Isaac Cates. Pretty self-explanatory, we presented Panel 1 and Panel 3 to the student and asked them to give examples of a panel two that showed moment-to-moment, subject-to-subject, action-to-action, scene-to-scene, aspect-to-aspect, and non-sequitur transitions.

And that was it for that class. The fourth week focused on dialog, but I think we have a lot to discuss here, first.
Jason Rodriguez
Editor, Writer
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