One of the things that has changed most for me creatively as we’ve moved through the Code 45 project is how I communicate with artist Joe Ng about the appearance of each comic book page.
When we first sat down together to do Issue 1’s layout, we spent significant time together working out how each page would look, one-on-one. Given that we live in different cities, once we had established the dynamic for the book’s general visual themes, the following issues were laid out remotely, with Joe and I going back-and-forth during the process online, using our original issue notes and layout as a guide.
By the time we go to Issue 3, however, I began to realize that we could improve Code 45’s visual impact by getting Joe involved in page design much, much earlier. Rather than having me write the script and then send it to Joe once it was completed so that he could begin doing layout, I began to call him up while in the process of writing certain pages to get his opinion on how things should flow.
Primarily, this took the form of determining the number of panels for a given sequence. Pacing is important, and I found I was often breaking down dialogue-heavy scenes into multiple panels that slowed down the narrative simply to show communication between two characters.
Unsatisfied with the pages I was writing, but not completely certain as to why, I approached Joe for advice, whereupon he was often able to show me how certain panels, or even entire pages, could be combined together. This preserved the flow of the story while also improving how the reader perceived the passage of time, and ultimately gave us more space in the book for super cool imagery in other sections that warranted a bigger splash.
Once we established this new page design dynamic, I began to approach scripting from a new perspective. Previously, I had often imagined how Joe might render certain panels, and then used that to inform how I wrote. Now, I am much more likely to pick up the phone and call Joe for input on very specific sections, or even single panels, of the book, and use his perspective as an artist to guide how I trace out the dialogue and action.
It also lead to the discovery that action sequences were often better left less-detailed on the scripting side in order to obtain the best possible result. As I’ve mentioned in the past, learning to trust Joe as an artist with the book’s most important visual elements was crucial in my early going as a comic book writer, and this was now extending to the conception of certain types of pages.
As it turns out, action sequences that forced Joe to balance what I had written out on the page with the creativity and imagination that he wanted to bring to a scene presented a real challenge from a visual design perspective. The less specific guidance I offered in terms of panel content and structure, the wilder and more exciting Joe was able to draw the action, accessing the deepest wells of his creative impulse without having to cram in details I had scripted that served more as reigns than building blocks. Rather than lay out the entire path through a series of action panels, it was better for me to provide a skeleton of the key points that ‘needed’ to happen on a specific page’s journey, and then have Joe hang the meat on those bones.
A lot of this might seem obvious to an experienced comic book writer, but as I’ve mentioned before Code 45 is my first graphic novel project. I’ve enjoyed sharing with you the experience of what it’s been like for me to grow during the process of bringing Code 45 to life, and I’m extremely fortunate to work with someone as experienced and talented as Joe Ng who has been willing to support and nurture our creative process.