Saturday, October 18, 2008

Who is Rocket Johnson?: Trick or Treat (part one)

So for all those of you who were unable to get a copy of our comic book "Who is Rocket Johnson?", I thought I'd post my story for you to see. It's Halloween themed so now seems like a good time.

The only requirement for the book was that each of us answer the question "Who is Rocket Johnson?".

Maybe after this I will go through it and talk about the process of creating every page. I certainly made a ton of mistakes and there are a lot of things in the final product that drive me crazy, but the whole process was a great learning experience so it seems worth writing about.

Here is part one; part two to follow.

One of the things that surprised me was that a few people told me they never read my story because there was just too much dialogue for them to read. I actually tried to be very disciplined about paring my dialogue down to the bare minimum, especially because I didn't know how to plan the placement of my word balloons and how to estimate how big I needed to draw them to fit all of the words - that's definitely something you don't think about until you try drawing your first comic book!

I didn't realize people had such an abhorrence to reading words in a comic book. I know that pantomime is the heart of animation and we all know that you should never use dialogue when an action or visual will tell the story by itself, but at the same time dialogue is another tool in your toolbox and should be used when it adds to the story. I love the characters Dumbo and Dopey as much as everyone else does and I would never say that they ought to talk. At the same time I would say that, without dialogue, I don't think Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck would be the great personalities they are. There are so many great animation characters that wouldn't be as great without hearing their voices: think of Woody or Buzz without their voices, or Shere Kahn, Bagherra, Tramp, Trusty, Jock, Captain Hook, Jiminy Cricket or any other number of great characters for that matter.

When creating dialogue for a movie or a TV show, a good rule of thumb, as I mentioned, is of course to never use words when an action or a visual can put the idea over better. Another good rule of thumb is to make sure that every line you write either carries the story forward or reveals the personality of a character, or in the best cases, does both at the same time. If a line of dialogue doesn't do either of those things it's probably either exposition or a line you're keeping just because you think it's either clever or funny. Those are both improper uses of dialogue and you ought to find a better way to accomplish what you're trying to do.


Taber said...

I'll admit that when I see a comic book page crowded with words I hear a groan in my own head, but yours is hardly crowded.

It's strange too because I'm a big fan of reading novels, but somehow when it's a comic, the cap on how many words is "too many" drops waaaay lower. Probably because of the immediacy of pairing words and images together. Too many words just ruins it by taking you out of the "present" in the story.

Loved the pages you posted by the way!

Anthony Holden said...

Fabulous. My personal favorite moment is the four-panel stretch that ends with "Dangit, kid!"--great timing.
I also appreciated how totally independent your take on "Rocket Johnson" was.

galvinator said...

Beautiful work and a great little story. The banter between the house owner and the short-armed guy is really well carried off, especially when the little girl emerges with a list of things she managed to screw up inside the house owner's toilet, and the short-armed guy chases after her.

Great work man. Great personality in the strip.

Pat said...

Thanks for sharing, Mark! I'd be really interested in knowing how you made this.

People are so damn lazy these days( including me, sadly)! But the story is not even close to being text-heavy. They probably got scared by that big panel.

Ben Williams said...

I can't believe people think this story is text heavy!

There is no more dialogue in here than you would find in an Asterix or Uncle Scrooge book. Your story was my favourite in the book and I feel you did wonderful job of balancing image and text.

You should be proud.

David Cousens said...

It's definitely not too text heavy Mark. The pacing was great. I'm really looking forward to seeing the next part.

M Kitchen said...

Alan Moore says:

“If you’ve got 6 panels on a page, then the maximum number of words that you should have in each panel, is 35. No more. That’s the maximum. 35 words per panel. Also, if a balloon has more than 20 or 25 words in it, it’s gonna look too big. 25 words is the absolute maximum for balloon size. Right, once you’ve taken on board those two simple rules, laying out comics pages – it gives you somewhere to start – you sort of know: “OK, so 6 panels, 35 words a panel, that means about 210 words per page maximum” …and if you’ve got 2 panels you’d have 105 each. If you’ve got 9 panels it’s about 23-24 words – that’ll be about the right balance of words and pictures.”

... who am I to argue with Alan Moore.

David Nethery said...

I did not find your pages to be overloaded with dialogue.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Robert said...

I enjoy your comic and while I don't think it's way too wordy, I did realize one thing that is a red flag for me in reading comics...

When I first scan a page and see a series of panels that appear to be all the same camera angle and same characters, that puts me off a bit because if the panels are all identical then I know I've just been trapped into a bunch of dialog to read (Doonesbury used to be atrocious in this regard) and if they are slightly different then I have to search thru each one in detail to make sure I'm not missing some small element that's important to the narrative. If each panel is quite different than the last I tend to trust (not necessarily wisely, but I do) that the artist has used good staging principles to draw my eye to what is important. But repetitive panel situations always tend to be an interruption in the easy flow of a comic book page.

k. borcz said...

I liked all the Rocket Johnson stories they were fun to read. Never noticed anything too wordy in my opinion. But I read lots of thick books with no pictures in a few days.

I could be biased cause the Rocket Johnson booth people at the San Diego Comic-con were really nice to me and my friends who kept coming back to visit them to do interviews. lol.

mark kennedy said...

taber - really glad you liked the pages...the rest coming soon. Tell me what you think. The ending has more dialogue than the beginning so you may not enjoy it as much...anyway let me know.

anthony - thanks, I really thought that part turned out well myself. I did try to be unique in my take on RJ so that I wouldn't be too similar to what anyone else had done for the book.

galvinator - I appreciate it, I worked hard to try and get distinct personalities and I am glad it came through. Originally there was more back-and-forth between the characters at the door there but I had to cut it down.

pat- yeah, the dialogue-heavy part is towards the end. I'll be sharing a lot more about my "process" so I hope you'll enjoy it. I always like when people talk about that stuff so I hope others will enjoy reading about it.

ben - thanks so much! Hope you still feel that way when you see the ending...anyway, let me know what you think after you read the whole thing.

david - cool, thanks! The end part is coming soon.

m - a good formula. I will try to use that formula on my next book. Thanks for posting that!

david - cool, thanks!!!

robert - I don't like it when all the panels look identical either. I tried to avoid that - I think if you look at my panels you'll see that there is a big change in the action of each panel. The reason I repeated the same staging from panel to panel was that it was inherent to the rhythm I was trying to create. I feel that dramatic camera angles would have been inappropriate to the character story I was trying to tell. So I kept them restrained to let the characters take the foreground.

k - so glad you liked the book! I don't think i got a chance to meet you while I was in SD but I am glad you met some of the other guys. They are all very good people!

Wim said...

great comic and a story that has meaning.
I liked the dialogue, and for me there wasn't too much of it.

kind regards,


Neal said...

I really want to get a copy of this book! I've been checking e-bay over and over and nothing! I thought for sure someone might sell a copy! I bought the Totoro Forest Project book for $40 and now people are selling it for upwards of $200 on e-bay. I won't sell my copy of Totoro because I prize the book too much, but I expected to see people selling "Who is Rocket Johnson" on there, too. But nope! I wish I had a copy! :(

Anyways, beautiful work! Wonderful!

Tom Dougherty said...

Your comic is excellent. I don't know what the hell is going on when adults won't read a comic page because there are "too many words". I hate to say it, but those people are not your audience.

This is sweet and sincere and disgustingly well done. Thanks for doing it.

Tom Dougherty said...

I'm back with this link. Can you say you wrote as much dialogue as appears here, in this Barks Scrooge McDuck comic? 'Course not!

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