How to approach a script by analyzing story beats

May 22, 2012 0 Comments

I need a consistent approach that is easy for me to understand in order to tackle my comic book pages once I get the script.  It’s easy to get too excited and just dive into drawing pages but soon I find myself overwhelmed with a bunch of problems and having to re-draw a lot of material and toss a lot of wasted drawings out.

I am still figuring it out as I go so this is by no means carved in stone but here’s some notes that I kept for myself to make the whole process of penciling my comic book pages relatively manageable.

Once I get the script, I write a list of story beats which are the most essential moments that are absolutely necessary to move the plot from beginning to end.  Then I will sketch all of these story beats out.  There are tons of things that I take into consideration as I draw but before I gather any visual reference, I try ask myself for each story beat:

What’s happening?  Who’s driving the scene forward?  Who’s the lead character in this scene?  What is the mood in this moment?  What time is it?  How can I evoke the senses and make an emotional impact?  How should I pace this moment?  Is it a fast action part of the story or a slow thoughtful or building up moment?  What details are necessary?  Is the character going to run into difficulties next?  Or are they going to get their way in the next scene?  My drawing has to answer all of these questions in order to make the storytelling as clear as possible.

I’m not going to write a book here, but for I will use Batman as an example:  If I figure out that Batman is in trouble and the Joker is driving the plot in this moment, I would draw the Joker really big proportionally to Batman in the drawing.  I would try to convey Batman’s fear, surprise, or worry through his body gesture and acting out his emotions on his face.  If the scene is very dramatic, I would use a very harsh high contrast single source direct lighting to create large bold black shadows.  I might want to make the scene look cold using color notes to make the viewer feel more uncomfortable.  If it’s a fast paced moment, I might not want to draw too many unnecessary details because the viewer’s eyes will get stuck on the image and have a hard time moving onto the next moment.  If Batman is going to face difficulty, I might place him in the bottom right corner of the composition with his back pressed against the image border to suggest that he is trapped, and has to move from lower right to upper left.   This is using direction to tell the story.  If Batman is going to rip a pipe out of the wall and hit the Joker with it in the next moment, I will draw it in there where you can see it.  Lighting is something that needs to be carefully considered because it plays a huge role in conveying the mood in the scene.  It can tell the audience what temperature it is because a dark scene feels colder and a bright scene warmer.  Lighting can tell what season the story takes place in or what time of the day it is  Light can tell the character’s comfort level as well as the audience’s.  A soft ambient light conveys a dreamy non-fatal scene like when Bruce Wayne has a love interest.  So this is how I generally approach drawing story beats that are taken out of a script from the writer.