From Layouts to Finals
A Journey Through a Comic Page
by Christopher Yao
When I’m eagerly awaiting my turn with the script from the writer, I am always thinking about the most dynamic way I can bring my graphic visuals to the story. It can be a tough process, or it can be a walk in the park. One thing it will never be is unachievable. The key to the process is making the eye pop with every panel and keep the reader moving through the page.
The first thing that I approach the script with is attention to everything in the scene–whether a car, building, fire hydrant or birds flying through cornfields. In this instance, I am using page on of the story I worked on , The Last Tango, to illustrate the process.
1.Initial Layouts from Script
Here is the first layout of page 1, where the script called for a tango scene between Trey and Gabriel while Ryan watches and films from the sidelines. The description of the setting was for a classy ballroom in Argentina. Since the emphasis was to be on the alluring dance between Trey and Gabriel, this layout didn’t exactly scream TANGO. The poses were too static, as were the horizontal panels, making things seemed too squished and ordinary. I was encouraged not to be so passive in my panel structure, and give the characters of Gabriel and Trey that room to breathe, and to sway to the music.
2. Revised Layout page 1
This page was designed to show more dynamism by focusing the tango. A long sultry panel with both in a pose worthy of DWTS (Dancing With the Stars) became the focal panel of the page. The supplementary panels show the same interactions between Trey and Ryan, but never take away from the main connection of Trey and Gabriel. As a result, the story flow, anchored by that sweeping pose, moves the eye through the page. As the artist working up the pages all the way to inks, my emphasis on the backgrounds is quiet at this point, but I knew exactly where everything was going to be in the scene. This, however, is not to say that backgrounds take any less precedence. In fact, they’ll always be integral to story flow; without them, the characters don’t have an existence anywhere.
Admittedly, the first instinct when constructing a layout for a page, is to be as stiff and nailed to the words in the descriptive script as possible, which can turn out to be too literal a translation. The artist’s job when making a comic page is to bring as much life and vigour to each panel as possible, and not to shy back from taking things to a powerful extreme to get that punch that every image deserves. Be it a slanted camera angle, or a extreme close up of an eye, or in this case, a sweeping dance with a curved back and hiked leg.
3. Final Pencilled page
The finished page, with its pencils tightened up and details added , reinforces the page to knock home what the writer had envisioned in their script. Making sure to ground the characters in their setting, and finding the balance of light and shadow, and most importantly, making the eye move properly through the page. With a few more tweaks the page is ready to head to inking.
I tend to keep a focused eye on how I approach each project and its layout. The structure I use for Holmes, Incorporated will differ from the structure and approach I use for say, my own book, Fauntkin.
As a final quick example, here are the layouts from page one of the first issue of Fauntkin:Journey to the Electric Horizon-
As you can see, since I work on my own structure for my own work, the layouts are looser, but there is a unconscious use of objects and structures to lead the eye down the page to the bottom. Since this page deals with setting up our characters’ environment, more emphasis is going to be placed on object structure and texture. And the pencils finished –
Remembering that building a page from the layout stage is a journey that has to start with a strong step forward. Don’t be afraid to bring those dynamic angles and textures and gestures into the layouts. Never settle, but never overwork it to death. Be confident. More importantly, don’t forget to keep them in your pencils. The worst thing an artist can do when going from layouts to finals, is give away those nice loose flowing lines they achieved when storytelling the page.