I thought it would be fun this week to start a deep dive into my process for Harrow County. I'm a firm believer in having a clearly defined process. I'm also a firm believer that the instant a process stops working it should be abandoned and a new process should be established. The important thing is that I never want to be in a situation where I don't know what I'm trying to accomplish and I always want to know what I'm going to be doing next.
With that in mind let's dig into the first step in my process: the rough layout.
It can take me anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours to do the rough layout for a page. I think this is the hardest part of the comics making process. It's the part of the process where I am interpreting the script, deciding on compositions, working out staging, figuring out the basics of the acting and making sure that everything is not only clear but fun to read. It's a lot like those plate jugglers who do somersaults while keeping a dozen plates spinning on the ends of sticks.
It starts with reading the script that Cullen Bunn sends me. His scripts are wonderfully easy to read. Each scene pretty much always has a clear purpose within the overall story and is designed for clarity and emotional impact. Cullen is rad. He's a really good writer. So I go over the script until I have a clear understanding of what I need to accomplish on a page. Then I grab a pencil and start working out my panel layout.
One of the less glamorous things that has a huge affect on my layouts is the number of panels on a page. If there are 4 panels on a page (like the one shown above) there are actually a limited number of ways that you can layout the panels and have them still be readable. I may have missed some but I think this is all of them:
The relative sizes of the panel might change but there are not that many ways that the panels can fit together and still conform to the basic English rules of reading (left-to-right, top-to-bottom). So for this page I chose the layout highlighted above. The idea on this page is that Kammi and her butler are approaching an derelict barn and talking to a monster called the Abandoned. So I built the flow of the page around the approach of the barn. In each panel we get closer and closer until we are peaking in through the crack in the door and see the eyes of the abandoned peeking back. As we get closer to the door, I wanted the panels to get smaller. In fact, I kind of wish I had made that last panel a bit smaller. My idea was that the reader would feel like they were tightening their focus a little bit more with each panel.
The other big consideration I have is the speaking order of the characters. With this page it's not really an issue because there is only one person speaking in each panel. But in most cases, I work to get the character's heads to line up so that the first person speaking is on the left and the last person speaking is on the right. I will often break the "180 rule" to achieve this because I think speaking order is more important than the 180 rule in every instance I have run into. This can get pretty tricky when the speaking order keeps changing and there are three or more characters speaking in each panel.
Here's what the final page looked like. Maybe I could have picked a better page to illustrate all the thinking that goes into my layouts. But I picked this page because I liked how this one turned out and there's nothing worse than ruminating on a lousy page. There's probably a lot more that I could say about the way I do layouts. It's a deep and interesting part of the process. But I'm going to stop there.
Next week I'll dig into my penciling process. I've been getting a few questions about that on Instagram so hopefully folks will find it an interesting topic.